To Die in this Way

Nicaraguan Indians and the Myth of Mestizaje, 1880-1965

To Die in this Way

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 11 b&w photographs, 2 maps Published: July 1998

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Central America, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Challenging the widely held belief that Nicaragua has been ethnically homogeneous since the nineteenth century, To Die in This Way reveals the continued existence and importance of an officially “forgotten” indigenous culture. Jeffrey L. Gould argues that mestizaje—a cultural homogeneity that has been hailed as a cornerstone of Nicaraguan national identity—involved a decades-long process of myth building.

Through interviews with indigenous peoples and records of the elite discourse that suppressed the expression of cultural differences and rationalized the destruction of Indian communities, Gould tells a story of cultural loss. Land expropriation and coerced labor led to cultural alienation that shamed the indigenous population into shedding their language, religion, and dress. Beginning with the 1870s, Gould historicizes the forces that prompted a collective movement away from a strong identification with indigenous cultural heritage to an “acceptance” of a national mixed-race identity.

By recovering a significant part of Nicaraguan history that has been excised from the national memory, To Die in This Way critiques the enterprise of third world nation-building and thus marks an important step in the study of Latin American culture and history that will also interest anthropologists and students of social and cultural historians.


“Twenty years from now To Die in This Way will still be read as a classic work heralding (one can only hope) a wave of studies deconstructing ethnic identity and nationalism throughout modern Central America.” — Lowell Gudmundson, Mount Holyoke College

To Die in This Way is an extraordinary achievement. The research required to sustain such an innovative and original argument is truly impressive, ranging from searches through political and legal archives to ethnography and oral history. In short, this is a pathbreaking major work in Latin American history." — John Coatsworth, Harvard University

“Delving into Nicaragua’s myth of mestizaje, Gould provides a powerful analysis of the political and cultural mechanisms that eradicated indigenous identity throughout Latin America. His careful analysis of indigenous cultural loss, unlike that of others, does not require an essentialist reading of indigenous culture.” — Carol Smith, University of California at Davis


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Jeffrey L. Gould is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at Indiana University. He is the author of To Lead as Equals: Rural Protest and Political Consciousness in Chinandega, Nicaragua, 1912–1979.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2098-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2084-5
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