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Diaspora Conversions

Diaspora Conversions: Black Carib Religion and the Recovery of Africa

Paul Christopher Johnson
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 343
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  • Book Info
    Diaspora Conversions
    Book Description:

    By joining a diaspora, a society may begin to change its religious, ethnic, and even racial identifications by rethinking its "pasts." This pioneering multisite ethnography explores how this phenomenon is affecting the remarkable religion of the Garifuna, historically known as the Black Caribs, from the Central American coast of the Caribbean. It is estimated that one-third of the Garifuna have migrated to New York City over the past fifty years. Paul Christopher Johnson compares Garifuna spirit possession rituals performed in Honduran villages with those conducted in New York, and what emerges is a compelling picture of how the Garifuna engage ancestral spirits across multiple diasporic horizons. His study sheds new light on the ways diasporic religions around the world creatively plot itineraries of spatial memory that at once recover and remold their histories.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94021-5
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-29)

    Proust’s masterpiece,À la recherche du temps perdu (The Remembrance of Things Past),begins with the rush of memory erupting from a particular place and time. The narrator has returned to his old home. He feels cold; his mother serves him tea and a small cake, a madeleine. As he dips the cake into the tea and tastes it, his mind is flooded by places and people of the past. They return from across a chasm, “like souls,” crossing a great space (1: 49–50). The place of recollecting—his mother’s house—and the sensations of that place transport the...

  6. CHAPTER 1 What Is Diasporic Religion?
    (pp. 30-59)

    This chapter lays out the parameters for the central theoretical issues of the book, moving from the widest to the narrowest distinctions. I examine, in turn, diaspora, diasporic religion, African Diaspora, and African diasporic religions, the latter specifically in New York City. The attempt to establish a solid theoretical footing for the starring phrase among these,diasporic religion,may appear a fool’s errand, since bothdiasporaandreligionare highly conflicted terms. How can we cheerfully head for the mountains with only these two frayed ropes in our packs? I wager that the two ropes can be sufficiently rewoven, and...

  7. CHAPTER 2 “These Sons of Freedom”: Black Caribs across Three Diasporic Horizons
    (pp. 60-98)

    Garifuna diasporic religion presupposes a distinction from something else from which it departs, namely Garifuna religion as it developed at home. But Garifuna homeland religion, too, emerged from a historical and spatial journey, out of dislocations from Africa to St. Vincent to Central America to the United States. It was formed across three diasporic horizons and out of the memories of three different homelands left behind. Only one of these, the Central American Caribbean coast, is today actually visited by New York Garifuna. The other two, St. Vincent and Africa, are imagined places, in the sense that few contemporary Garifuna...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Shamans at Work in the Villages
    (pp. 99-124)

    What does it mean to join a diaspora, to become diasporic, in practice? The next four chapters try to answer this question. They are arranged in two pairs: this chapter and the next compare shamans’ work in homeland villages of Honduras and in the Bronx, respectively; chapters 5 and 6 compare large-scale ritual events as performed in Honduras and the Bronx. I attempt to discern the distinctive qualities of diasporic religion by comparing it with the homeland models it emulates, yet from which it also departs and differs.

    There are several reasons why the opposition between New York and Honduras...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Shamans at Work in New York
    (pp. 125-145)

    In this chapter I consider Garifuna religious leaders in New York and the processes through which a religion derived from African, Amerindian, and European sources is being remade as an African Diaspora religion—a set of practices consciously part of a specific religious family that includes Santería, Palo Monte, Vodou, Candomblé, and Spiritism. I first present shamans’ own stories of how they became buyeis in a wider religious field and describe their altars as material indices of practice. I then give special attention to spirit geographies, examining the shifts in the places spirits are said to come from. I also...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Ritual in the Homeland; Or, Making the Land “Home” in Ritual
    (pp. 146-185)

    This chapter and the next juxtapose readings of ritual performance in the homeland and in the diaspora. In the homeland, the central ritual event brings into being, through performance, the momentary fusion of kin, ancestors, and territory. With the external boundary of the ethnic group rarely in question in Garifuna villages, the ritual primarily works on social relations at the level of the extended family. In the diaspora, the central ritual event defines and defends the social boundary of the ethnic group as a whole in relation to the plural urban context. This difference of emphasis transforms the ritual process....

  11. CHAPTER 6 Ritual in the Bronx
    (pp. 186-204)

    With the exception of the dügü, all Garifuna rituals can be, and are, performed in diaspora. The requirement that the dügü take place on homeland soil enhances its prestige in the Bronx. It is distinguished as the return par excellence, a veritable pilgrimage. Yet many Garifuna will never take part in a dügü. For some, their illegal status in the United States would render the voyage a one-way journey; others could never muster the required resources; and others yet are uninterested in such traditional rites because they are skeptics or Protestant converts. Few, however, avoid all the rituals of traditional...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Finding Africa in New York
    (pp. 205-226)

    When I have asked Garifuna leaders why Santería exerts influence over other religious groups in the Bronx, I have received many conflicting responses. One informant asserted simply that “Santería is more encompassing—it’s the respect for nature.” Others frequently responded that they were impressed with the dramatic spectacle of oricha like Baba Luaye (the “king of the earth” and ocha of smallpox, who, when manifested in trance, wears a full-body dress made of raffia grass) or Shango (the royal oricha of the kingdom of Oyo and of fire, who sometimes carries fire on his head or in his hands). “That’s...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 227-246)

    If ritual is a genre more resistant to innovation than other kinds of human action—whether because it is kinetically based and buried beneath conscious critique, or because it has no author and is collectively owned and resistant to individual innovation, or because its very efficacy depends on the notion of faithful repetition—still, like other memory forms, it must be constantly renewed with fresh enactments, or it will die. Even faithful repetitions of homeland rituals change when performed in new surroundings and in response to new crises.

    While diasporic religion sacralizes continuity with a place and people left behind,...

  14. Appendix. Trajectory of a Moving Object, the Caldero
    (pp. 247-250)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 251-286)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 287-290)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-318)
  18. Index
    (pp. 319-330)