Creole Religions of the Caribbean

Creole Religions of the Caribbean: An Introduction from Vodou and Santeria to Obeah and Espiritismo

Margarite Fernández Olmos
Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert
FOREWORD BY Joseph M. Murphy
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 262
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Creole Religions of the Caribbean
    Book Description:

    Creolization-the coming together of diverse beliefs and practices to form new beliefs and practices-is one of the most significant phenomena in Caribbean religious history. Brought together in the crucible of the sugar plantation, Caribbean peoples drew on the variants of Christianity brought by European colonizers, as well as on African religious and healing traditions and the remnants of Amerindian practices, to fashion new systems of belief.

    Creole Religions of the Caribbeanoffers a comprehensive introduction to the syncretic religions that have developed in the region. From Vodou, Santería, Regla de Palo, the Abakuá Secret Society, and Obeah to Quimbois and Espiritismo, the volume traces the historical-cultural origins of the major Creole religions, as well as the newer traditions such as Pocomania and Rastafarianism.

    Chapters devoted to specific traditions trace their history, their pantheons and major rituals, and their current-day expressions in the Caribbean and in the diaspora. The volume also provides a general historical background of the Caribbean region.

    Creole Religions of the Caribbeanis the first text to provide a study of the Creole religions of the Caribbean and will be an indispensable guide to the development of these rich religious traditions and practices.

    With 23 black and white illustrations

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-4211-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    M.F.O. and L.P.G.
  4. Preface to the First Edition
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    Joseph M. Murphy

    It is wonderful to see this new edition ofCreole Religions of the Caribbean. Margarite Fernández Olmos and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert have expanded and updated their first offering to bring out the most comprehensive introduction to Caribbean religions available. The new volume does yet more to educate and delight its readers as it breaks down misunderstandings and presents the various traditions in their beauty and power. One of the signal contributions of the new volume is a careful consideration of the term “Creole” and its various meanings in the experience of the Americas. For me “Creole” means creative, and Creole religions...

  7. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    Luis is a young man who works in the stockroom of a tourist café in Havana. An inventory reveals five boxes of missing supplies and, despite his claims of innocence, the police consider him a suspect. In his distress, he seeks out Marín, his spiritual godfather or padrino, a lifelong friend whose spiritual work in Santería, Regla de Palo, and Espiritismo follows the practices of his African ancestors. Marín summons the spirit of Ma Pancha, an African slave with whom he has communicated on previous occasions. Marín sits before a home altar that contains, among other things, the statues of...

  9. 1 Historical Background
    (pp. 20-32)

    The islands of the Caribbean—the focus of this book—were Europe’s first colonies in the New World, and as such, the site of the first multicultural experiment, the cradle of ethnic and cultural syncretism. Spain, the nation responsible for Columbus’s momentous “discovery” of these new lands in 1492, ruled unchallenged over the region for a century, but by the final decades of the sixteenth century other aspiring European maritime powers—England, France, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Denmark—had begun to contest its hegemony over the area that would become known as the West Indies.

    The diversity of the metropolitan...

  10. 2 The Orisha Tradition in Cuba: Santería/Regla de Ocha
    (pp. 33-87)

    Afro-Cuban religions were born and developed within three principal institutions of colonial Cuban slave society, which became “improvised temples” of profound cultural resistance (Castellanos and Castellanos 1992, 3:15): the urbancabildoor mutual aid society, thebateyor slave barracks of the sugar plantations, and the mountainpalenquesor fortified cimarrón settlements. The three major religious practices of Santería or Regla de Ocha,¹ Regla de Palo, and the Abakuá Secret Society follow the traditional African approach of dynamic and flexible cultural borrowing and merging, a resourceful and creative strategy common in Africa where religious ideas travel frequently across ethnic and...

  11. 3 The Afro-Cuban Religious Traditions of Regla de Palo and the Abakuá Secret Society
    (pp. 88-115)

    While Regla de Ocha is commonly compared to a marriage with a santo or orisha, a dedicated, daily commitment to render worship in offerings, prayers, and ritual ceremonies to keep the orisha contented and appeased, Regla de Palo can be more accurately understood as a binding but more occasional and intermittent sacred pact with a spirit. The spirit is summoned when needed, being a reliable magical enforcer who carries out one’s will. Esteban Montejo described the Congo rituals he observed as a slave in Cuba as follows:

    All the powers, the saints, were in that cazuela. . . . They...

  12. 4 Haitian Vodou
    (pp. 116-154)

    Before the 1791 slave rebellion that laid its complex network of sugar plantations to waste, the colony of Saint Domingue, which occupied the western third of the island of Hispaniola, was the most valuable possession in the French colonial empire. A small territory, it had been nonetheless the destination of hundreds of thousands of African slaves, captives from west Central Africa and the Bight of Benin, home to such groups as the Yoruba, the Fon, and the Ewe. In the plantations of Saint Domingue they lived and died under a system of ruthless exploitation unlike any previously known, a system...

  13. 5 Obeah, Myal, and Quimbois
    (pp. 155-182)

    Obeah—a set of hybrid or creolized beliefs dependent on ritual invocation, fetishes, and charms—incorporates two very distinct categories of practice. The first involves “the casting of spells for various purposes, both good and evil: protecting oneself, property, family, or loved ones; harming real or perceived enemies; and bringing fortune in love, employment, personal or business pursuits” (Frye 1997: 198). The second incorporates traditional African-derived healing practices based on the application of considerable knowledge of herbal and animal medicinal properties. Obeah, thus conceived, is not a religion so much as a system of beliefs rooted in Creole notions of...

  14. 6 Rastafarianism
    (pp. 183-202)

    Rastafarianism is an Afro-Jamaican religious movement that blends the Revivalist nature of Jamaican folk Christianity with the Pan-Africanist perspective promulgated by Marcus Garvey, and Ethiopianist¹ readings of the Old Testament. It is a twentieth-century religious and political phenomenon that originated in Jamaica and has gained international attention as a Pan-African approach to the problems of poverty, alienation, and spirituality. Founded in 1932, Rastafarianism was inspired by the crowning in 1930 of Ras, or Prince, Tafari Makonnen as Emperor of the Ethiopian Kingdom, at that time one of only two sovereign nations on the African continent.² The momentous event, which brought...

  15. 7 Espiritismo: Creole Spiritism in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the United States
    (pp. 203-250)

    In the mid-nineteenth century another component was added to Caribbean Creole religiosity. While African-based religions were undergoing a consolidation throughout the region, the Spiritualist and Spiritist practices of North America and Europe were making their way across the seas to the Caribbean. The enthusiasm for Spiritist philosophical, religious, and healing notions can be understood as a response to several important factors in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Caribbean societies, among them the social upheaval created by the quest for democracy and the diaspora of Caribbean peoples to the United States. In the Caribbean, the creolization process led to the creation of distinctly...

  16. Glossary
    (pp. 251-258)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 259-278)
  18. Works Cited
    (pp. 279-294)
  19. Index
    (pp. 295-308)
  20. About the Authors
    (pp. 309-309)