Pueblo street fighting to national martial art: Nation building and the nationalization of a Venezuelan civilian combative practice

by Michael Ryan

In this article, I examine how local groups are often instrumental in the establishment of nation-states whose legitimacy is later threatened through acts of resistance or subversion by these same groups or their heirs. In Venezuela, groups who maintain a tradition of stick fighting provide a case in point. Developed among the rural civilian population in the postcolonial era for defensive purposes and sometimes deployed in the service of the nascent Venezuelan state, stick fighting has recently been promoted as a national martial art. As one group of stick fighters helped link the popularization of this art with Venezuelan nationalism, it simultaneously drew on strategies of misdirection and secrecy associated with the art to restrict its dissemination. In doing so, it maintained local forms of sociality against the cultural domination of state and global forces.