William G. Acree Jr.
Theater in Argentina and Uruguay, which together compose the Plata river region of Latin America, has been a predominant form of entertainment since the 19th century. Theaters abound in Montevideo, while its sister city. Buenos Aires, has its own Broadway in the famed Corrientes Street. In the age of digital culture, the theater remains a mainstay of cultural life for Argentines and Uruguayans. The success of theater and the making of a theatergoing public in the region have their roots first in the variety of entertainment offered by hemispheric travelers to the region from the 1820s through the 1880s and then, most significantly, in shows put on by itinerant circus troupes in the countryside that only later filled urban theaters. From the mid-1880s through 1900 these circus troupes performed plays known as dramas criollos that dealt with rural traditions and explored issues of migration, social stratification, and tensions of economic modernization. These Creole dramas, like the narrative and poetic tales of gaucho heroes that informed them, became wildly successful, attracting spectators in the countryside and city alike, in venues ranging from makeshift tents to the most opulent theaters. They also became the namesake of the circo criollo, which referred as much to types of performers staging the tales as to the circus event where people flocked to see the new main attraction—the dramas. In effect, the Creole drama phenomenon expanded the presence of popular entertainment across the region and consolidated a theatergoing public. It also gave way to a new strand of modern popular culture in which storylines and characters reappeared in other media, and the impact of the Creole drama experience long outlived the spectacle itself.
Timothy Wilson and Mara Favoretto
In the 20th century Argentina experienced a series of dictatorial regimes of varying intensity, but the last dictatorship stands apart. The Process of National Reorganization or Proceso (1976–1983) was not only the most brutally repressive, “disappearing” 30,000 of its own citizens into concentration camps, but also the most ambitious in terms of ideological mission. Its campaign, officially called “the war against subversion,” was committed to the total eradication of leftist ideas from the political landscape of the country by any means necessary. This radical transformation was to be brought about not only in the torture chamber, but in the media as well. The regime planned an Orwellian redefinition of words: the systematic creation of a national vocabulary that would exclude certain ideas and parties. In order to achieve its overt project of the appropriation of language, the junta maintained obsessive control over the media, instituted strict censorship reinforced by terror, and bombarded the airwaves and newspapers with official communiqués. In the face of this repression, most journalists and writers and many artists could not express dissent of any kind. Yet singers of a new Argentine music genre that came to be known as rock nacional developed codified and oblique metaphorical expression in their lyrics that allowed them to evade censorship and to continue to criticize the military regime with relative impunity. Moreover, many Argentine youths found solace in the music and used it to create communities in which they could meet and express themselves. The regime had sought to deny young Argentines a forum for public speech; however, together artists and listeners created a rock nacional culture that provided community for the isolated and lent a voice to the silenced.
Richard Price and Sally Price
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin American History. Please check back later for the full article.
Fifty years ago, we began wide-ranging anthropological and historical work with Saamaka Maroons, the descendants of slaves who had escaped from the plantations of coastal Suriname in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and established an independent society and culture deep in the Amazonian rainforest. Then a colony of the Netherlands, Suriname became an independent republic in 1975. Events of the 1980s and 1990s—most notably a civil war between the State and the Maroons and the subsequent decision by the State to exploit the timber and mineral riches of the Saamakas’ traditional territory—have led to wrenching changes for people who were once the masters of their forest realm. As the most visible and activist academic supporters of the Saamakas, the authors were barred from Suriname by the national government and, since 1986, have been condemned to continuing work in neighboring French Guiana (Guyane), where tens of thousands of Saamakas in exile have become part of a complex multi-ethnic society driven by strong assimilationist policies authored in Paris. During this same period, the authors have become increasingly involved in activism, assisting the Saamaka people in Suriname in their struggle to protect their territory, which has unfolded before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
What are the moral dilemmas posed by this activist work? What has it been like writing Saamaka ethnography and history from the excentric location of Guyane? How do we imagine the book that we will never get to write, about changes and continuities in Saamaka life over the past fifty years?