The Grimace of Macho Ratón

Artisans, Identity, and Nation in Late-Twentieth-Century Western Nicaragua

The Grimace of Macho Ratón

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 19 b&w photographs Published: February 1999

Author: Les W. Field

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Art and Visual Culture > Art History, Latin American Studies > Central America

In this creative ethnography Les W. Field challenges a post-Sandinista national conception of identity, one that threatens to constrict the future of subaltern Nicaraguans. Drawing on the works and words of artisans and artisanas, Indians, and mestizos, Field critiques the national ideology of ethnic homogeneity and analyzes the new forms of social movement that have distinguished late-twentieth-century Nicaragua. As a framework for these analytic discussions, Field uses the colonial-era play El Güegüence o Macho Ratón and the literature relating to it.
Elite appropriations of El Güegüence construe it as an allegory of mestizo national identity in which mestizaje is defined as the production of a national majority of ethnically bounded non-Indians in active collaboration with the state. By contrast, Field interprets the play as a parable of cultural history and not a declaration of cultural identity, a scatological reflection on power and the state, and an evocation of collective loss and humor broadly associated with the national experience of disempowered social groups. By engaging with those most intimately involved in the performance of the play—and by including essays by some of these artisans—Field shows how El Güegüence tells a story about the passing of time, the absurdity of authority, and the contradictions of coping with inheritances of the past. Refusing essentialist notions of what it means to be Indian or artisan, Field explains the reemergence of politicized indigenous identity in western Nicaragua and relates this to the longer history of artisan political organization. Parting ways with many scholars who associate the notion of mestizaje with identity loss and hegemony, Field emphasizes its creative,
productive, and insightful meanings. With an emphasis on the particular struggles of women artisans, he explores the reasons why forms of collective identity have posed various kinds of predicaments for this marginalized class of western Nicaraguans.
This book will appeal to readers beyond the field of Latin American anthropology, including students and scholars of literature, intellectual history, women’s studies, and the politics of ethnicity.


“[B]eautifully written and carefully researched. . . .” — Henry Cohen , Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies

“[D]etailed historical and cultural analysis. . . . An enthusiastic and academically sound text.” — British Bulletin of Publications

“[Field’s] creative, multi-layered work explores discourses of identity in Nicaragua before, after, and especially, during the Sandinista revolution. . . . The book steers skillfully among passages of ethnographic field data, contemporary Nicaraguan history, feminist analysis, anthropological theory and literary history and criticism. While traversing this complex terrain with Field is challenging, the journey is worth the effort.” — Christine M. Du Bois , TLS

“[R]efreshingly experimental ethnography. . . .” — M. W. Thurner , Choice

“This book has many strengths. First, the study is well grounded in the contemporary academic literature on Nicaragua; second the author presents intimate stories of two groups of artisans . . . . third, the book offers a poignant discussion of the links between individual artisans, unionized artisans, and artisans operating within cooperatives and state institutitions. . . . and finally, Field employs a novel literary approach, using El Güegüence, to craft the body of the text.” — Michael J. Pisani , Hispanic American Historical Review

[S]olidly researched and theoretically sophisticated. . . . [T]he first-rate ethnography illustrates the complexities of culture and politics at the end of the twentieth century, a complexity that was often ignored by Sandinista partisans and their detractors." — Howard Campbell, Journal of Anthropological Research

The Grimace of Macho Ratón will make a stimulating addition to anthropological interpretations of nationalism and ethnicity, as well as to the broader Latin Americanist literature on the relationship between intellectual production and cultural policy in the modern era.” — Joanne Rappaport, Georgetown University

“Field’s study of small-town and rural artisans meets an evident need in the literature on Nicaragua. This innovative, stimulating, and important book is a prime example of the ‘new ethnography’: theoretically sophisticated, critical of the anthropological enterprise yet empirically rich and grounded.” — Charles R. Hale, University of Texas at Austin


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Les W. Field is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

Table of Contents Back to Top


Introduction: Regarding Macho Raton

I. A Class Project: El Gueguence, Masay-Carazo, and Nicaraguan National Identity

2. Nobody as to give me permission for this, Lord Governor Tastuanes, or, Why the Artisans Did Not Become a Revolutionary Class 1979-1990

3. Breaking the Silence: Suche-Malinche, Artisan Women, and Nicaraguan Feminism

4. The Time of the Blue Thread: Knowledge and Truth about Ethnicity in Western Nicaragua

5. Whither the Grimace? Reimagining Nation, State, and Culture



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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2288-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2255-9
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