San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

2 Books Paint Different Pictures of Caribbean Culture

Depending on which of the two books released here last week that you read, you might come away with very different conclusions about Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.
The first book, a scholarly collection of research papers by professors from various disciplines at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua-Managua (UNAN), stresses “regionalism” – and in a way suggests that the story of the Caribbean coast belongs over there.
The second, a book written by award-winning novelist Sergio Ramírez, uses historical documents to prove that Africans brought to Nicaragua as slaves left a cultural legacy across the entire country – not just “over there” on the Caribbean side.
During the launch of Ramírez’s most recent book, “Tambor Olvidado” (Forgotten Drum) Feb. 6, the former vice president called the African legacy the “concealed, invisible and isolated” third element of Nicaraguan culture.
He said Nicaraguans from the Pacific side of the country tend to believe their culture and history is the blended product of two cultures: the indigenous groups who have lived here for centuries and the Spanish colonizers who arrived 500 years ago.
In  believing that, Ramírez says, society has deliberately forgotten the African role here in order to glorify “mestizaje” and convince itself of whiteness.
At one point in Nicaragua’s history, he documents, more people of African ancestry lived in the Pacific side of the country. Their legacy rests in Nicaragua’s most celebrated traditions: from the Güegüense folkloric dance and the cornmeal nacatamal, to everyday slang and the marimba instrument.
Historia de la Costa del Caribe de Nicaragua,” released Feb. 7, is the sixth installment in a university series that aims to tell the history of every region of the country.
Apart from historians, contributors to the book included linguists, anthropologists and mapmakers, many of whom are from the coast.
UNAN history professor and project coordinator Jilma Romero Arrechavala said the series “aims to fill the void that exists in regional history.”
Both books are in Spanish and on sale in the country.
“Tambor Olvidado” can be found at most local bookstores for 266 córdobas (about $14); the UNAN collection can only be found at the university’s history department for 200 córdobas.

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