Literacy and custom in a Ladino peasant community
By: Peter Craig Wright
Published: 1967
Uploaded: 10/19/2006
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations
Tags: Guatemala, Jutiapa (Dept.), literacy

06 no.pdf
Statement of the Project
The project was undertaken in 1962 to assess the role and effects of literacy in El Jocote, a typical Ladino peasant community in the Department of Jutiapa, Guatemala. The campesino of El Jocote shares a life common to peasants throughout Central America: isolated, illiterate and dependent upon a subsistence economy where attachment to the land and family, the value of work, respect for custom - ˘the way things have been done÷ - not only have meant survival but have provided security and the warmth of human relationships based upon likemindedness and pathways that are familiar. El Jocote came into existence following the breakup of the Hacienda of Quezada between 1895 and 1900 and the equal distribution of land among the workers. The project describes the way of life dictated by custom over a period of 65 years and examines more closely the effects of literacy on this way of life from the perspective of 4 families: the history of education, population growth and economic change over 4 generations, and the differences observed over a period of 4 years between literate and illiterate members of the 4 families.
Procedures Employed
El Jocote was selected for study from among 18 communities. Following the mapping of El Jocote in 1962, an interview schedule covering family, education, housing, agricultural practices, economics, health, diet and a series of opinion questions was administered to every third household in the community. In 1963, the living descendents of 4 of those who participated in the division of the hacienda were selected as the population for further study. A genealogy of each family was compiled, noting education, land ownership and permanent and seasonal emigration for each generation. Family histories and autobiographical statements were taped. A definition of functional literacy was formulated and the literacy of subjects determined by testing. Twenty-two drawings depicting a variety of local situations were used in taped interviews with a sample of the population. Daily field notes were recorded. Photographs were taken of role activities. Two projective tests were used experimentally. Local and national archives were consulted. El Jocote was revisited in 1964, 1965 and 1966.
With the exception of one individual and his immediate household, little use of literacy skills and few changes in the customary way of life were observed or reported. The formal education of the campesino has had little or no relevance to the life and problems fashioned for him by custom and geography. Literacy has been an ornament of status rather than an instrument for improvement or a skill to be improved. Few literates read anything after leaving school and many lost their literacy skills.
Population growth, diminishing per capita land and productivity threaten the customary way of life. With increasing economic pressure, greater exposure to other areas through forced seasonal emigration and recognized concern for the future, young adults placed greater importance upon literacy than their parents. Illiterate males over 14 showed interest in night literacy classes and young illiterate parents sent more of their children to school than did their parents.
Although few individuals believed that literacy had been useful in the customary way of life, the hope that it may provide ˘light÷ in the future is supported by these findings: (1) literates show greater understanding of the causes of illness, (2) a higher percentage of literates emigrate seasonally and permanently, (3) literate parents have fewer children, (4) illegitimacy is lower among literate females, (5) while cause and effect have not been demonstrated, there is a straight line relationship between the literacy of a household and land ownership, income, illness and infant mortality.

Dissertation Committee: Francis Shoemaker, Margaret Mead,