Vol. 10 No. 3, 2003
of that encounter finds a pale reflectionin the stereotypical images of the Lienzode Tlaxcala, which is like the portfoliosof an unimaginative artist.
Contrary to the romantic legend,indigenous societies were not gardens ofdelight. The social contrasts must havebeen great. For example, in the placeknown today as San Andrés,
sometwenty minutes by car from the capital,which flowered between the years 600–900 of our era, of that splendour only thevestiges of the monumental conglomeratein which the powerful lived remain. Thearea that held the homes of the poor hasnot been sufficiently excavated, butarchaeological researchers estimate that itwas not very different to the area of bayhuts and cane of Joya de Cerén
(300–900of our era) which the archaeologists, witha poor sense of scale, have named ‘thePompeii of America’. In fact, that suburbof agriculturalists bears no resemblance atall to that opulent bathing place that is theBay of Naples. Herein lies an unfortunatecomparison.The Spanish conquistadores thereforefound themselves in a highly hierarchicalsociety at whose peak was found acomplex mix of wealthy families of nobletitles, military chiefs and religious leaders;and in the middle and lower classes,soldiers, merchants, hunters, farmers,artisans and prostitutes. I will not enterinto detail about the new disasters thataccompanied the coming of theEuropeans; suffice it for the moment tomention the butcheries of the wars ofconquest, the deaths caused by forcedlabour and — worst of all — the plagues.The first century after the coming of theSpaniards brought about a major drop inthe indigenous population.
The countrybecame a death camp. Malaria, yellowfever, measles, smallpox and tuberculosisspread with the speed of lightning andextinguished humans in large areas of theland. The tale of a cleric in 1636 isterrifying: ‘I have seen large indigenouspopulations almost destroyed after theindigo sawmills were installed near them… Several times I have witnessed a greatnumber of Indians with fever and I havebeen there when they have been takenfrom the mills for burial.’
The years have passed and in ‘groundzero’ there has developed a culture which,as if in a fatal cycle which defies theimagination, continues to live under thesigns of the diaspora and the disasters. Butit is the imagination itself which seemsstubbornly to resist leaving a freshmemory of such misfortune.We are aware that the fountains ofknowledge symbolic of the past expressthemselves principally in literary andpictorial ways. My argument insists thatcertain origins of today’s Salvadoreansand their identity have been shaped, andare the way they are, partly due to theabsence of elaborate forms ofrepresentation from the arts and literature,capable of spilling themselves over thesocial corpus and of creating imageswhich would grant greater quality to thatkind of traction which is the memory, andwithout which societies seem to lose theirgrip as they step on the ladder.In El Salvador there exists a kind oflethargy of the arts and literature — andit is even worse in the field of scientificresearch — in relation to our history ofnatural calamities.Shouldn’t we, the writers, the painters,the musicians, pause more often in thoseplaces of grief?Perhaps it is not possible for us to offera response to such a question with thetools of psychology or sociology, butrather, as a