Religion is one of the most important elements of Afro-Caribbean culture linking its people to their African past, from Haitian Vodou and Cuban Santeria—popular religions that have often been demonized in popular culture—to Rastafari in Jamaica and Orisha-Shango of Trinidad and Tobago. In Afro-Caribbean Religions, Nathaniel Samuel Murrell provides a comprehensive study that respectfully traces the social, historical, and political contexts of these religions. And, because Brazil has the largest African population in the world outside of Africa, and has historic ties to the Caribbean, Murrell includes a section on Candomble, Umbanda, Xango, and Batique.
This accessibly written introduction to Afro-Caribbean religions examines the cultural traditions and transformations of all of the African-derived religions of the Caribbean along with their cosmology, beliefs, cultic structures, and ritual practices. Ideal for classroom use, Afro-Caribbean Religions also includes a glossary defining unfamiliar terms and identifying key figures.
Over a lifetime of studying Cuban Santería and other religions related to Orisha worship—a practice also found among the Yoruba in West Africa—Stephan Palmié has grown progressively uneasy with the assumptions inherent in the very term Afro-Cuban religion. In The Cooking of History he provides a comprehensive analysis of these assumptions, in the process offering an incisive critique both of the anthropology of religion and of scholarship on the cultural history of the Afro-Atlantic World.
Understood largely through its rituals and ceremonies, Santería and related religions have been a challenge for anthropologists to link to a hypothetical African past. But, Palmié argues, precisely by relying on the notion of an aboriginal African past, and by claiming to authenticate these religions via their findings, anthropologists—some of whom have converted to these religions—have exerted considerable influence upon contemporary practices. Critiquing widespread and damaging simplifications that posit religious practices as stable and self-contained, Palmié calls for a drastic new approach that properly situates cultural origins within the complex social environments and scholarly fields in which they are investigated.
In the summer of 2000, two award-winning photographers, Claire Garoutte and Anneke Wambaugh, were researching Afro-Cuban religious practices in Santiago de Cuba, a city on the southeastern coast of Cuba. A chance encounter led them to the home of Santiago Castañeda Vera, a priest-practitioner of Santería, Palo Monte, and Espiritismo, a Cuban version of nineteenth-century European Spiritism. Out of that initial meeting, a unique collaboration developed. Santiago opened his home and many aspects of his spiritual practice to Garoutte and Wambaugh, who returned to his house many times during the next five years, cameras in hand. The result is Crossing the Water, an extraordinary visual record of Afro-Cuban religious experience.
A book of more than 150 striking photographs in both black and white and color, Crossing the Water includes images of elaborate Santería altars and Palo spirit cauldrons, as well as of Santiago and his religious “family” engaged in ritual practices: the feeding of the spirits, spirit possession, and private and collective healing ceremonies. As the charismatic head of a large religious community, Santiago helps his godchildren and others who consult him to cope with physical illness, emotional crises, contentious relationships, legal problems, and the hardships born of day-to-day survival in contemporary Cuba. He draws on the distinct yet intertwined traditions of Santería, Palo Monte, and Espiritismo to foster healing of both mind and body—the three religions form a coherent theological whole for him.
Santiago eventually became Garoutte’s and Wambaugh’s spiritual godfather, and Crossing the Water is informed by their experiences as initiates of Santería and Palo Monte. Their text provides nuanced, clear explanations of the objects and practices depicted in the images. Describing the powerful intensity of human-spirit interactions, and evoking the sights, smells, sounds, and choreography of ritual practice, Crossing the Water takes readers deep inside the intimate world of Afro-Cuban spirituality.
In Fragments of Bone, thirteen essayists discuss African religions as forms of resistance and survival in the face of Western cultural hegemony and imperialism. The collection presents scholars working outside of the Western tradition with backgrounds in a variety of disciplines, genders, and nationalities. These experts draw on research, fieldwork, personal interviews, and spiritual introspection to support a provocative thesis: that fragments of ancestral traditions are fluidly interwoven into New World African religions as creolized rituals, symbolic systems, and cultural identities.
Contributors: Osei-Mensah Aborampah, Niyi Afolabi, Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, Randy P. Conner, T. J. Desch-Obi, Ina Johanna Fandrich, Kean Gibson, Marilyn Houlberg, Nancy B. Mikelsons, Roberto Nodal, Rafael Ocasio, Miguel "Willie" Ramos, and Denise Ferreira da Silva
Rastafari has been seen as a political organization, a youth movement, and a millenarian cult. This lively collection of papers challenges these categories and offers a "new approach" to the study of Rastafari. Chevannes and his contributors suggest that we can better understand Rastafari-and Caribbean culture, for that matter-by seeing the movement as both a departure from and a continuance of Revivalism, an African-Caribbean folk religion. By linking Rastafari to Revival, we can enrich our understanding of an African-Caribbean worldview, and we can appreciate Rastafari not only as a political force but as a powerful expression of African-Caribbean culture and tradition.
Barry Chevannes provides a concise overview of Rastafari and Revivalism and clearly lays out the volume's "new approach." Leading scholars of Rastafari illustrate and develop the theme with chapters on Rastafari as resistance, the origin of the dreadlocks, Rastafari and language, women in African-Caribbean religions and more. With chapters that range from the specific to the general, this volume will be important to specialists of Caribbean religion and the African diaspora and to those with a burgeoning interest in Rastafari.
The contributors include Jean Besson, Ellis Cashmore, Barry Chevannes, John P. Homiak, Roland Littlewood, H.U.E Thoden van Velzen, and Wilhelmina van Wetering.
The word “possession” is anything but transparent, especially as it developed in the context of the African Americas. There it referred variously to spirits, material goods, and people. It served as a watershed term marking both transactions in which people were made into things—via slavery—and ritual events by which the thingification of people was revised. In Spirited Things, Paul Christopher Johnson gathers together essays by leading anthropologists in the Americas that reopen the concept of possession on these two fronts in order to examine the relationship between African religions in the Atlantic and the economies that have historically shaped—and continue to shape—the cultures that practice them. Exploring the way spirit possessions were framed both by material things—including plantations, the Catholic church, the sea, and the phonograph—as well as by the legacy of slavery, they offer a powerful new way of understanding the Atlantic world.
They can be found along the side streets of many American cities: herb or candle shops catering to practitioners of Voodoo, hoodoo, Santería, and similar beliefs. Here one can purchase ritual items and raw materials for the fabrication of traditional charms, plus a variety of soaps, powders, and aromatic goods known in the trade as “spiritual products.” For those seeking health or success, love or protection, these potions offer the power of the saints and the authority of the African gods.
In Spiritual Merchants, Carolyn Morrow Long provides an inside look at the followers of African-based belief systems and the retailers and manufacturers who supply them. Traveling from New Orleans to New York, from Charleston to Los Angeles, she takes readers on a tour of these shops, examines the origins of the products, and profiles the merchants who sell them.
Long describes the principles by which charms are thought to operate, how ingredients are chosen, and the uses to which they are put. She then explores the commodification of traditional charms and the evolution of the spiritual products industry—from small-scale mail order "doctors" and hoodoo drugstores to major manufacturers who market their products worldwide. She also offers an eye-opening look at how merchants who are not members of the culture entered the business through the manufacture of other goods such as toiletries, incense, and pharmaceuticals. Her narrative includes previously unpublished information on legendary Voodoo queens and hoodoo workers, as well as a case study of John the Conqueror root and its metamorphosis from spirit-embodying charm to commercial spiritual product.
No other book deals in such detail with both the history and current practices of African-based belief systems in the United States and the evolution of the spiritual products industry. For students of folklore or anyone intrigued by the world of charms and candle shops, Spiritual Merchants examines the confluence of African and European religion in the Americas and provides a colorful introduction to a vibrant aspect of contemporary culture.
The Author: Carolyn Morrow Long is a preservation specialist and conservator at the the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.