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Governing Spirits

Governing Spirits: Religion, Miracles, and Spectacles in Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898-1956

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  • Book Info
    Governing Spirits
    Book Description:

    Freedom of religion did not come easily to Cuba or Puerto Rico. Only after the arrival of American troops during the Spanish-American War were non-Catholics permitted to practice their religions openly and to proselytize. When government efforts to ensure freedom of worship began, reformers on both islands rejoiced, believing that an era of regeneration and modernization was upon them. But as new laws went into effect, critics voiced their dismay at the rise of popular religions. Reinaldo L. Roman explores the changing relationship between regulators and practitioners in neocolonial Cuba and Puerto Rico.Spiritism, Santeria, and other African-derived traditions were typically characterized in sensational fashion by the popular press as "a plague of superstition." Examining seven episodes between 1898 and the Cuban Revolution when the public demanded official actions against "misbelief," Roman finds that when outbreaks of superstition were debated, matters of citizenship were usually at stake. He links the circulation of spectacular charges of witchcraft and miracle-making to anxieties surrounding newly expanded citizenries that included people of color.Governing Spiritsalso contributes to the understanding of vernacular religions by moving beyond questions of national or traditional origins to illuminate how boundaries among hybrid practices evolved in a process of historical contingencies.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0468-8
    Subjects: History, Religion, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-22)

    “Tú sabes cómo es la gente aquí.” In the last months of 1995, my mother, Ana Isabel García, repeated that sentence nearly every time we talked on the telephone.Her bemused “you know how people are here” punctuated the conversation whenever we spoke of thechupacabrasor the rumors surrounding the latest animal killings. She offered the refrain as a sociological truism, a knowing echo of the often-heard assertions linking the depredations of the “goatsucker” to the proclivities of Puerto Rico’s people. Puerto Ricans, she reminded no one in particular, were as given to overindulgence in supernaturalism as they were susceptible...

  5. 1 GOVERNING MAN - GODS IN CUBA: Hilario Mustelier and Juan Manso
    (pp. 23-50)

    Few locales have been witness to as many theogonies as the Hispanic Caribbean in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.¹ The proliferation of new deities, prophets, and saints and their irruption into the public realm so soon after the calendar welcomed the 1900s caused modernization’s boosters throughout the region grave concern. The new arrivals announced that the conditions for progress were not in place everywhere; miscreants blocked the roads to regeneration and threatened to lead the popular classes astray. In Cuba, journals and newspapers ran reports in late 1901 about a man they dubbed mockingly “el Dios nuevo.” The...

  6. 2 GOVERNING SAINTS IN PUERTO RICO: Elenita and the Hermanos Cheos
    (pp. 51-81)

    In 1904 and 1905, several Puerto Rican Spiritists and freethinkers were traveling and residing in Cuba, where they contracted a Manso fever that they helped spread in both islands. During their sojourns, they attended the meetings of local societies, promoted the organization of an islandwide Cuban Spiritist federation (modeled after the one established in Puerto Rico in 1903), and sang the healer’s praises. These travelers took proselytism seriously; they wrote regularly forEl Iris de Paz, Puerto Rico’s leading Spiritist journal, and sent home dozens of clippings from Cuban publications. Manso, they maintained, represented “a revolution” in the “character” and...

  7. 3 GOVERNING WITCHCRAFT: Journalists and Brujos in Republican Cuba
    (pp. 82-106)

    The year 1919 opened a grim new chapter in the annals of what scholar Ernesto Chávez Alvarez has called the “militant Negrophobia” of the Cuban republic. This year witnessed a public fright of witchcraft, or brujería, that seems to have bordered upon genuine panic. White families circled the wagons, many fearing or claiming to fear that their children would be abducted and sacrificed by the negros brujos, a group of blacks imagined in counterpoint to the familiar black figures who had long been entrusted with child-care responsibilities in many households. Because of the scare and its surveillance tactics many Afro-Cubans,...

  8. 4 SELF - GOVERNING SPIRITS: La Samaritana and Puerto Rico’s Espiriteros
    (pp. 107-129)

    Sometime in the mid-nineteenth century Spiritism arrived in Puerto Rico in suitcases and wrapped parcels. Students returning from European universities, travelers, and purveyors of forbidden tracts brought back to the island books, periodicals, and investigative practices that circulated first via informal circuits. Before the first centers were organized—reportedly in Mayagüez during the late 1870s or early 1880s—Spiritism found a home in a district of the island’s incipientciudad letrada, which at the time offered some refuge from a church and a state suspicious of rationalist doctrines that preached the gospel of progress.¹ This city of letters emerged as...

  9. 5 MANAGING MIRACLES IN BATISTA’S CUBA: La Estigmatizada and Clavelito
    (pp. 130-159)

    La Dolce Vitatold us much of what we need to know about the making and unmaking of miracles in an era of spectacles. After following a diminutive convertible conveying Marcello Rubini, his tormented fiancée, Emma, and the original Paparazzo to the site of the Madonna’s apparition in the Italian countryside, Fellini conducted a trenchant inventory of dour skeptics, assorted opportunists, contrived emotions, and self-serving machinations. The director paused, however, to offer a counterpoint; his impish camera recorded intimate moments of genuine fervor amid the circus acts. Immediately after a television director calls for a break in filming preparations, a...

  10. 6 MANAGING MIRACLES IN THE COMMONWEALTH: The Virgin Visits Sabana Grande
    (pp. 160-193)

    Journalists and publicists had a hand in some of the most salient religious dramas that unfolded in Cuba and Puerto Rico in the last century. In 1953, thousands of Puerto Ricans tuned in to WKAQ’s live broadcasts and kept up with the newspapers to learn about a new round of Marian apparitions unfolding in the southwestern corner of the island. This public recruited the media industry in the performance of miracles and depended on its production for spiritual sustenance. The supernatural events taking place in barrio Rincón, a poor, sugar-growing community three kilometers outside of the town of Sabana Grande,...

  11. EPILOGUE: THE CHUPACABRAS: Discourses and Social Action
    (pp. 194-214)

    A few years ago, the renowned anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff called attention to the rise of a new “planetary species” of monstrous beings given to conflating “the virtual with the veritable, the cinematic with the scientific, gods with godzillas, the prophetic with the profitable.”¹ The Comaroffs proposed that the sightings of uncanny fauna reported around the world in the last decade are linked to the conquests of neoliberalism, an economic arrangement that many have experienced as paradoxical. Under this post-Fordist dispensation, consumption itself can appear to generate wealth more readily than manufacturing and trade, the mainstays of nineteenth-century capitalism....

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 215-244)
    (pp. 245-262)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 263-273)