Importance of initiation rituals and tattoos in Central American “maras” and “pandillas”
The main purpose of the paper is to analyse the phenomenon of the identity of some criminal gangs in Central America (maras y pandillas). It shows mechanisms and symbolic aspects of their activities in this region, especially in Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras, exemplified by a group called la Mara Salvatrucha. The article presents the cultural and social background of these criminal communities involved in many illegal activities and the multidimensional problem of violence. The paper is focussed on the identity of the members of the criminal gangs analysed as the subcultures of violence and as a kind of contemporary urban tribes. It shows the most important symbolic aspects of their identity: rites of passage, the tattoo meanings, the importance of the image etc. The article refers to the factors of popularity of these criminal groups among many young, poor and marginalised people in Central America.