The Sound of Barking Dogs: Violence and Terror among Salvadoran Families in the Postwar


This article examines the trans generational transmission of trauma among campesinos living in a rural, repopulated community in El Salvador. Research with Holocaust survivors and their children has shown that traumatic symptoms can be transmitted to children who did not directly experience the Holocaust. The mechanisms by which this transgenerational transmission occurs have not been fully explored and require an expansion of medical and anthropological conceptualizations of post-traumatic illness. Through their reactions to and interpretations of everyday events, campesino parents who lived in the guerrilla camps explicitly transmit trauma to children who did not experience the recent civil war. Illness narratives by sufferers of nervios transmit trauma and point to the basic immorality of the war, an immorality that continues today. In addition, the symptoms of nervios constitute a mechanism by which trauma is implicitly transmitted. Symptoms of nervios point to what generally is not and, indeed, cannot be voiced; the destruction of primary relationships in the family and unresolved grief and helplessness, which, through the responses of family members to the sufferer, are reproduced and reenacted in the present family context.