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ISSN 0008-6495

Caribbean Quarterly
Volume 24 Nos. 3 & 4
Sept.-December 1978



VOL. 24 Nos. 3 & 4 SEPT-DEC 1978



Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.

v Foreword
1 Revivalism: A Disappearing Religion
Barry Chevannes
18 Yoruba Religion in Trinidad Transfer and Reinterpretation
Maureen Warner Lewis
33 Kekchi Birth and Marriage Custom
Carlos Cabarrus, S.J.
37 Haitian Voodoo: Its True Face
Gerard A. Ferere
48 Puerto Rican Spiritism: Contrasts in the Sacred and the Profane
William Penn Bradford
56 A Preliminary Rastafari Bibliography
59 Aquellos Que...
Luis Carlos Toro translated by Fragano Ledgister
60 Cancion
Victor Casaus translated by Fragano Ledgister
61 read: The Rastafarians o amaica by Joseph Owe
revwed byB arry Cnevanes
70 Notes on Contributors
71 Books Received
72 Publications of the Department



Editorial Committee

Hon. R.M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
Uoyd Braithwaite, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Sir Sidney Martin, Pro-Vice- Chancellor, Cave Hill, Barbados
Roy Augier, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica
G.A.O. Alleyne, Professor, Department of Medicine
Uoyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor

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The Editor,
Caribbean Quarterly,
Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona, Kingston 7, Jamaica.

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Religion, as an index of culture, remains one of the prime sources of energy in
Caribbean social dynamics. Manifold manifestations present themselves in the creolising
process which characterises the Caribbean response to the contradictions which have
arisen out of the collision of transplanted cultures or of one transplanted culture
confronting an established indigenous one in the plantation and colonial society that
the entire region has been forced to be for some four centuries. A conventional view of
such manifestations would quickly designate the syncretised products, born of the
collective popular creative imagination, as the nativistic aberrations of the norm which
is determined by the religious orthodoxy of a ruling power. When this orthodoxy is
seen as a primary instrument of the imperial civilising mission, it naturally becomes
both target for anti-colonial defiance and model for the road to recognition and
status. The tension forged from such a situation is at once the cause and occasion of
the new and burgeoning Caribbean religious expressions which have been the subject
of study for scholars in varying disciplines such as social anthropology, sociology,
history and folklore.

This issue of CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY seeks to transmit some of the findings
of more recent studies pursued in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, Haiti and
Puerto Rico. Each community shares the common experience of a European colonising
power serving as culture-carrier of the Christian religion even if it came from Protestant
Britain (in the case of Jamaica) Catholic Spain (Belize, Trinidad and Puerto Rico) or
Catholic France (Haiti). If Europe here governed, Africa it was that ruled; and the
active and enduring ancestral memory of those who came as slaves served as main
source for both practice and beliefs of faiths which were aids to spiritual survival.

Barry Chevannes in his contribution Revivalism: A Disappearing Religion examines
the life of a small Revival Church in Kingston which is no longer able to exist on its
own as an independent force and is being absorbed into American sects. He concludes
that Revivalism (and its variant Pocomania) have virtually disappeared in the face of
these American-derived evangelical sects and the native Rastafarian movement. The
"disappearance" of Revivalism in Jamaica does not mean death to indigenous spiritual
forms: rather it may well emphasise the continuing dynamism of the syncretising

The enduring power of ancestral elements are part of that very process and Maureen
Warner Lewis brings this out in her Yoruba Religion in Trinidad Transfer and
Reinterpretation as much as she does the nature of the creolismg process. Her chief
informant is Titi a third generation Yoruba descendant in Trinidad. Trinidad like
Brazil, Haiti and Cuba is witness to the ready syncretism of Yoruba and Catholic

religious rituals in the belief that the Old and New Testament were documents on black
history and religion; that Jesus, Mary and the Apostles were all black people. Titi's
interpretation of Judeo-Christianity goes beyond the curiosity of folkloristic amateur-
ism and stand as bulwarks against Europe's massive efforts (through religion no less)
to denigrate African belief-systems and cultural experience. Titi and like believers
adduce biblical, scientific-historical and anthropological support for their theory.

The religious belief-systems of all civilisations share more in common than con-
querors would care to admit when evaluating the religious systems of the colonised.
But Father Carlos Cabarros in studying the Kekchi Indians of Belize concludes in his
essay Kekchi Birth and Marriage Customs that in "every society there are the rites of
the life-cycle." The syncretic name-giving ritual drawing on ancient Kekchi customs
and Catholic Christian practice again affirms the nature of the acculturation process.

Products of the process have thrown up misconceptions usually to the disadvantage
of the 'subordinate culture.' Haitian voodoo has been the victim of this jaundiced view
of popular religions. Gerard Ferere attempts in his Haitian Voodoo: Its True Face
to offer a corrective. He asserts that as a religion voodoo aims at honouring its gods
and spiritual entities from whom the followers ask "what men have always asked of
religion: remedy for ills, satisfaction for needs and the hope of survival."

Such elements as here in the past faced the fear of destructive attacks in voodoo,
revivalism/pocomania, and Shango both from outside and within Caribbean society,
find institutional legitimacy in modem Puerto Rico as part of that growing belief by
metropolitan citizens in what William Penn Bradford in his article Puerto Rico
Spiritism: Contrasts in the Sacred and the Profane, as "spiritism." Professor Bradford
is a believer and practitioner of spiritism as practised in Puerto Rico. 'Spiritists', like
revivalists and voodoo and shango worshippers, believe in a life beyond ordinary
corporeal existence which takes the form of spirit entities that can communicate with
the living through specially gifted persons called mediums. These spirit entities, accord-
ing to the believers, are capable of revealing the past, of seeing the present more clearly
and of predicting the future. None of this is foreign to the practice and belief-system
of the syncretised religious forms of the region and Professor Bradford's exposition
in a way reinforces the commonality of universal Caribbean response to the elemental
need for religious expression.

Rastafarianism as such a response has been the subject of a recent study by Father
Joseph Owens entitled Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica and so this issue
appropriately offers an extended review by Barry Chevannes of the work.



The 1970 Census of Jamaica reveals a dramatic growth of evangelical sects, over the
past thirty years. The Seventh Day Adventists account for 6.5% of the church going
population, as contrasted with 2.2% in 1943, while the Churches of God account for
17%, as contrasted with 3.5% in 1943.1 The 1970 Census does not list Rastafari as a
category although their impact on Jamaican society has been increasingly greater over
the years and is without dispute. 1943 was the last time that Pocomania (a category
which includes Revivalism also) was mentioned in a national Census accounting for
0.3% of the population. The trend, therefore, is this: Pocomania and Revival have
virtually disappeared, and in their places come the native Rastafari movement and the
American-derived evangelical sects, as religions of the rural and urban poor.

In this paper I shall examine the life of one small Revival church in Kingston,
which is no longer able to exist on its own as an independent force, and is being
absorbed into American sects.

Revival Zion
In 1969 Mother Burs' church bore the sign, "African Methodist Episcopal Zion
Church." A.M.E. Zion had its beginning in 1796 when a group of blacks, dissatisfied
with the discrimination they were meeting at the Methodist Episcopal Church at John
Street in New York, decided to set up their own church.2 They gave it the name
"Zion." The mother church continued to provide ministerial services until 1820 when
the minister, William Stillwell, broke away from it, charging clerical control of the
church. Instead of asking for a new appointment the members of Zion invited Stillwell
to remain for another year as their pastor, thus severing their association with the
John Street mother church. The new denomination was called the African Methodist
Episcopal Church. "Zion" was later added to distinguish it from a similar movement
in Philadelphia.

An inspection of the A.M.E. Zion Discipline, a manual for the clergy, emphasizes
the Trinity, the sufficiency of Scripture for salvation, free will, and other derived
doctrines of traditional Protestant orthodoxy. Head of the Church is the Bishop,
followed on the local level by pastors, elders and deacons. The entire Church as a body
is administered by all the bishops sitting together as a board.

How did A.M.E. Zion come to Jamaica? In 1966 Reverend C.D. Wright, a Revival
Leader, at the time a Member of Parliament from St. Elizabeth, visited New York. He
related that his brother took him to a Zion service, which so impressed him that he
decided it would be good to have the same thing in Jamaica.3 Contact was made with

the Zion leaders and on July 17th of the same year Wright organised the first meeting
with Bishop H. Bell Shaw at Black River in St. Elizabeth. The results of the meeting
were: (1) the incorporation of autonomous Revival churches into the A.M.E. Zion;
(2) the ordination of pastors to oversee up to four or five churches at a time; (3) the
election of Wright as Presiding Elder in Jamaica. Jamaica now fell into Shaw's district,
along with New York, part of North Carolina and Nassau.

In joining up with A.M.E. Zion, Mother Burns' church did not lose much. Beliefs
and rituals remained as they were and she retained her position of authority although
the pastor was constitutionally above her.

Mother Burns herself is the wife of a streetcleaner and mother of their seven
children. In October 1961 she received "a call" hearing a voice recite the words, "For
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth
in him should not perish but have everlasting life". She began acting strange, taking no
food and unable at times to communicate with anyone. The family thought her the
victim of obeah, but a nearby obeah man pronounced her sane and reassured them that
she had received a gift from God. And so Mother Burns began preaching, journeying to
the rural parishes when the Spirit in dreams or in waking hours told her to, until
encouraged by friends she decided to build a church right in her yard and confine her
preaching there.

Mother Burns specialises in the Indian Spirit, who, when he possesses her causes
her "to dance like Indian people", and to speak in and understand the Indian tongue.
Waterhouse, where she lived and adjacent areas have a higher than normal concentra-
tion of East Indians. Possessed she sometimes becomes semi-conscious or loses her
vision. When, during a ceremony, her hands begin to shake and tremble, the followers
know it is time for healing. In between sentences of the "Indian tongue" she often lets
out shrill gasps. An armour bearer stands by her side to keep her sometimes limp body
from falling. To maintain contact with the Indian Spirit she fasts and prays every first
Monday. Thus armed she can spot the various spirits moving around a meeting seeking
to possess someone, who sometimes taken unawares begins to talk in tongues which
only Mother or perhaps one of the leaders can understand. She can also spot the devil,
Satan, and has to "cut him away" with a pair of scissors or a piece of red cloth. Now
and then she is called upon by the Spirit to go on a journey preaching the word.
Failure to obey results in spiritual illness, that is a severe state of depression.


The following numbered about forty members. During the research, which lasted
three weeks, no service received more than fifty percent attendance. Women out-
numbered men three to one, and most members were over thirty-five. There was one
notable exception to this super-annuation, namely one of the leaders, a young boy of
sixteen. He was called on Good Friday, 1965, at the age of twelve by a voice which
told him to go to church. He picked the nearest revival church and there experienced
movements of the Spirit. Invited by a friend, he visited Mother Bums' church, where
he got into the spirit and was "laid low" on the ground for three hours. On rising he

found himself talking in the Indian tongue, which only Mother understood. As a
leader now he used to officiate during her absence. In spite of his age (perhaps because
of it) all members treated him with respect. He seemed to confirm in them their
belief that the Spirit calls whoever he wishes. He was in a sense like a prodigy.

None of the informants held a job during the three weeks of research, with the lone
exception of a young woman employed 6y the organization in running a basic school
in the shed. Unemployment would seem to account for their ability to consistently
stay up dancing and worshipping until sometimes well past 1 a.m., three of the five or
six working days in the week.

The church was organized in the following way:

Pastor responsible to the Presiding Elder and ultimately to the
Bishop, who makes an annual visit to Jamaica in January.

Mother founding and acting pastor, sometimes referred to as

Leader 1 to act in the absence of Mother.

Leader 2 to act in the absence of Mother and Leader 1.

Deacons 1 and 2 appointed to preach and testify. The same leaders acted
as deacons.

Missionary appointed to make "journeys."

Evangelists appointed to preach and convert outside the church, but
not to go on journeys; their rank is slightly below that of

Secretary to keep all the books, documents, roll, to "track" the
songs (that is, to shout the words for the singers) and t.

Armour Bearer to attend Mother whenever the latter gets in a trance

Offices were taken seriously. Each was assigned a particular function and executed it
beneath the watchful eyes of members. On one occasion a very minor conflict of roles
merited the severe condemnation of members, including some who had come from
another church under the care of the same pastor. A man danced until he became
possessed and fell into a trance. But he lay in an unfortunate position in the open
doorway, his legs across the threshold, his head and shoulders outside and several
inches below the rest of his body. Now when a person is laid low, he is supposed to
remain in his original position for as long as the trance continues. But fearing that the
posture of this particular man would cause him physical injury one non-official
member ordered him to be lifted and placed inside. The armour-bearer objected on the
grounds that it was wrong to interfere with the work of the Spirit. Mother Burns

being absent, words were exchanged and the armour-bearer declared her intention to
quit. But a few advised her to call a meeting of the church after the service, which
being done ended in the reconciliation of both. Meanwhile, however, the impasse was
resolved by the man.himself, who rose up, went home and returned minutes later in a
clean, dry shirt.

In such cases of conflict the pastor has authority to punish offending members.
Punishments range from sitting at the back to suspension from active participation, or

Promotion to offices comes upon exhibiting great virtue, constancy in membership,
the ability to make good testimonies, being laid low in the Spirit, and, in the case of
the secretary, the ability to read and write well.

Simpson, in his 1953 study of thirteen revival groups in West Kingston, found little
distinction between Revival and Pocominia, but he listed four:
"less emphasis in preaching and Bible explanations and more emphasis on singing
and "spiritual" dancing; greater use of witchcraft; more extreme techniques of
healing; and, perhaps, more emotional instability among the leaders, in Pocomania
than in Revival Zion."

Both movements can be traced to the resurgence of African religion in the Great
Revival of 1861, and before that to the myal and Native Baptist movements.5

Among the urban and rural poor Pocomania is closely associated with obeah or
witchcraft. Revivalists are therefore quick to deny being Pocomanians, people who they
say belong to the "sixty-one". Such people in their mode of dancing bow to the earth,
home of the fallen spirits like Satan and Rutibel. Rather, Revivalists say, they belong
to the "sixty". The meaning of these numbers was difficult to ascertain. The reference
is most likely to the 1861 Revival. The Revival at first gained the support of the
churches of the colonial ruling class, since it took the minds of the people off the
famine and bad economic conditions raging at that time. But it quickly earned their
condemnation as the manifestations of African religious survivals intensified and swept
through the population, signifying to the planter class a loss of control. The "sixty"
people, therefore, would refer to those who turned out to fill the churches at the start
of the Revival. The "sixty-one" were those who departed from the practices and
beliefs of Christianity.

The characteristic of the beliefs of Revival which interests social anthropologists
most is its mixture of culture elements, that is to say, the process it exhibits of African
acculturation in a European environment. Thus, Simpson is able to list at the very end
of his study on Revivalism all the European and all the African elements which have
been retained, reinterpreted or reintegrated into "The Revival Complex" Moore also
stresses the acculturative process in his study of Kumina.7

Simpson enumerated those African retentions which he found in West Kingston:

importance of the dead, the uses of stones, blood, herbs, swords, snakes, the pouring
of libation and the throwing of food for the spirits.
In Mother Burns' church several of these figure prominently, such as the use of
herbs and feeding the spirits. But as we shall also see there are other points which bear
out the lingering traces of African beliefs and practices.

The most basic element in Revival beliefs is the Holy Spirit, sometimes referred
as "The Messenger", or simply as "The Spirit." He occupies a unique position, as is
clear from the fact that the only altar in Mother Burns' church is dedicated to him.
He is by far the most frequent possessor of devotees, speaks to them, decides how an
altar or a table is to be arranged, demands offerings. His will is to be obeyed at once,
his workings not to be tampered with, as was shown in the armour bearer's fuss.
Attitudes to him border on fear.

Other spirits include the prophets, Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah, Hezekiel and Isaiah,
but their places and functions are secondary. In fact, the pastor once remarked that
they were the same as the Holy Spirit. Simpson wrote that his revivalists were hazy on
the question what powers and interests each spirit had.8

There is also the "Indian Spirit", which rules Mother Bums. Mother Burns is vague
as to whether he is the same as the Holy Spirit, or an Indian god. At any rate his
function is quite distinct from the Holy Spirit, because he comes only to Mother and
sometimes to one of the leaders, causes them to speak a tongue which they claim any
East Indian can identify, and to heal. He also causes a special dance, which Mother
Burns claims to be the way Indians dance. One of the motions consists of fixing the
ball of one foot behind the heel of the other and shuffling thus to the rhythm of the
drums, in the manner of Indian girls. But this dance is also common among the African

Finally, there are Satan and his fallen angels. These are harmful spirits who try to
destroy the works of Zion. Sometimes they hover around trying to possess people,
and have to be "cut away" with a pair of scissors or the fanning of a red piece of cloth.
Each night the altar is covered with a white sheet to keep them from settling down
upon, thereby desecrating it.

Jesus does not occupy as large a place in Revival as he does in orthodox and some
fundamentalist religions, where there is a more or less clear Trinitarian theology there
is only one god but in three persons each of whom is himself a god. Revivalists make
little distinction between Jesus and God the Father. In fact, Jesus is often addressed as
"Father Jesus."

Nevertheless, he plays a prominent part in rituals, thus showing the influence of
Christianity on African religion in Jamaica. Pictures of him and his crucifixion decorate
the altar; songs, especially from Sankey's collection, are dedicated to him; and prayers
are addressed to him. A testimony always begins: "Greetings in the precious name of
Jesus." His actions are: giving access to grace by his resurrection, snatching the sinner
from the world, and dying to save. His most prominent place comes at Communion

service when members are called upon to eat his body and drink his blood. Com-
munion, however, is a practice derived from A.M.E. Zion, and only the pastor may

In Simpson's study the seal, or pole, or station, or centre, is the first thing one sees
on entering a revival yard. It consists of a tall pole flying a multicoloured flag or
supporting a miniature house (ark), and serves the function of honouring the spirits.
In Mother Burns' church a seal was the spot over which a spirit hovers and is

The most sacred seal is the three-tiered altar in the sanctuary. All solemn ceremonies
such as Communion and Christening of infants take place around the altar. During
other services no one, except the pastor or leader, is allowed near. On it one finds
fruits, a pair of scissors, candles, aerated water, several glasses of water, flowers, and a
picture of Christ in the middle. These are there to entertain the Holy Messenger.

Next in importance is the inner seal or station. This is a small table within the
church, with a large basin of consecrated water, more fruits, grains of corn, a grape-
fruit and a coconut, one or two candles, sacred herbs, and salt. The coconut was
observed in other revival churches visited; dashing it to pieces on the ground wards
off impending evil. All these objects are, as above, to entertain the Messenger. From
this seal the secretary begins services, and around it the devotees dance and spin. It
is set in the large open space between sanctuary and benches.

Outside, in a yard better swept than most in the area, are several other seals.
Largest and most important of these is that which would ordinarily carry the long
bamboo pole and flag, except that Mother Burns does not like it the "sixty-one"
people, she says, also use it. Situated on the inside of the gate, this seal occupies a
prominent place. It consists of a small circular plot marked off by white-washed stones.
In the enclosed space are planted the sacred herbs and flowers; basil, the Holy Ghost;
croton, Jeremiah, and so on. Another seal is dedicated to the dove. Situated at the
back of the yard next to Mother Burns' own house, this one has the appearance of a
bird-bath: a white basin full of water on top of a six or seven foot pole. Finally, other
seals are unmarked except at nights when a lamp is placed beside them.

All seals, including the altar and the temporary hovering places of the spirits have
to be well lit at nights with candles and tilley lamps. The belief behind this custom is
quite simple, and may be traced in western culture to the symbolising of evil by dark-
ness and God by light. "Let there be light, and there was light", one of the deacons
explained. For this reason, the lights burn all night.

But there is more to it than that. Jamaican peasants, especially in those rural areas
untouched by electricity, are afraid of the night. All kinds of ghosts (duppies) lurk
ready to scare and harm mortals. Stories are told about "rolling calves", baby duppies
and other spirits. The folk have evolved a tradition on how to deal with harmful
spirits; recite the "Our Father" out loud wear a rosary; warn them before dashing

water outside; or, strike three sticks of matches successively, fling away the first two -
the duppy will stop pursuing you to look for the third. Normal dreams at night are
considered real experiences of one's spirit wandering during sleep and returning to the
body. Failure to return results in death.
The nocturnal precautions taken by this revival church are not based solely on
Christian mythology, although it is reinforced by it.

In the light of the foregoing, it is easy to understand the special place candles
occupy in Revival. One is always burning on the altar, night and day, or at the head of
a member who falls in the spirit. Candles are carried in procession, after which they
are allowed to burn to the ground. Meaning is attached to each colour: yellow brings
on the Spirit, green is for healing, white for purity, blue for prosperity and red for the
blood of Jesus and for cutting and clearing evil spirits.

The ritual of Revival displays many survivals of African religious customs: the
place of the drum, the song and dance, possession, dreams, isolation of candidates, even
the practice of forming a circle. Dress is also quite important. The cincture and head-
wrap date back to the Native Baptist and Myal movements. Great stress is laid on
ritual symbolism: the Bible, the sign of the cross, pencils, scissors, whistle, fruits. Even
yawning is ritualized into a prolonged musical note accompanied by a shudder through-
out the limbs of the body. Many of these aspects will emerge from the following
description of the ritual, taken from field notes. Rites not observed in Mother Burns'
group are not included: these are a convention procession by candle-light, observed in
St. Thomas, and baptism.

Services are held four times a week, Monday (healing), Wednesday (testimony),
Friday and Sunday (divine services). Since all services begin the same way, it is best
to describe once the opening part.

When a sufficient number gathers (three or four), the singing of choruses begins,
accompanied by the drums. If the people are late in turning out, Mother Burns begins
a steady quadruple beat on the bass drums with a rest on the fourth. As the member-
ship swells singing becomes more lively and the swaying and stepping from side to side
turns into dancing. Not everyone dances at the same time; sometimes three or four,
but never less than two, and usually males pair with females (as females outnumber
males, one man will often dance with as many as three women at a time). There are no
canons regarding movements (in St. Thomas an elderly woman performed movements
akin to the Ska), but good dancing seems to require taking off the shoes as was done
at the table discussed below. Dancing involves spinning, headwork, footwork, and far
greater use of the limbs and whole body than is permissible in secular dances. Revival
dancing is free and uninhibited, allowing the dancer wide range for creative expression.
It knows no conflict between the sacred and the secular, and can accommodate simple
skills such as dancing with a grapefruit balanced firmly on the head to movements of
an unmistakably sexual nature. For closeness to developed African cultural heritage no
other form of dancing in Jamaica can equal that of Revival and the peasant cults, such

as Kumina or Convince.

Hand in hand with dancing go drumming and singing, In fact, dancing is impossible
without these two. Drumming enlivens singing, forces one to dance, and all three,
drum-dance-song, sustain each other. There are two drums in Revival: the bass, a large
circular drum about eighteen inches in diameter, which keeps up a steady pulse; and
the rattler, a smaller tenor drum which varies the rhythm. The bass is beaten by a
hammer (a short piece of stick with one end wrapped tightly with cloth to form a
head), the rattler by two slender piecesof stick each a foot long. Sometimes a tambou-
rine joins in. Songs sung to the accompaniment of drums and tambourines are simple
four or five line choruses, such as this one which seems to date the Great Revival of

Cool walk dong a Betel,
Cool walk dong a Betel,
Yu no hear Revival call yu dong a Betel,
Yu no hear Revival call yu dong a Betel.
or this one sung in a mode:
Jonah, Jonah, Jonah,
Jonah, Jonah, Jonah,
Jonah gaan to Ninivi, Jonah,
Jonah gaan to Ninivi, Jonah.

Songs like these are sung over and over, a good one lasting forty or sixty times. Only
two choruses were heard in triple time, the rest in quadruple.

Highlight of this part of the service is the possession of one of the dancers. At all
services except the healing services and the table witnessed, however, possession is dis-
couraged because it holds up the services. Two or three members support the possessed
and begin "trumping."

'Trumping' is the trampling of evil spirits underfoot, and consists of stamping hard
with the right foot while the body is bent forward from the waist and breath is
expelled, and stamping more lightly with the left foot as the body straightens up
and as the maximum amount of air is breathed in."10

The breathing-in and breathing-out is done audibly to produce an "ee-hama, ee-hama"
effect. Two qualifications must be made to Simpson's definition, however, (a) in the
group studied trumping was used to check spirit possession, not to induce it, and
(b) there was no. feeling that it was evil spirits being trampled underfoot. While trump-
ing goes on, the drums relax their rhythm and members are led in a low, sweet straining
of notes designed to calm the meeting. The straining sometimes follows a well-known
air, sometimes an improvisation by the pastor thus:

O leri-leri-leri-luuuuuuu
O leri-leri-leri-luuuuuuu
O leri-leri-leri-luuuuuuu

When all are back to normal the secretary announces a "sankey", that is a song from
the collection of Sacred songs and Solos by Ira Sankey. All stand and the service for
the particular night begins.
The healing service is conducted by Mother Bums, although on one occasion the
young leader, Brother Clive, substituted for her. She dresses for the occasion in a red
turban to ward off evil. After the sankey is sung, Mother offers a prayer, followed by
the leader and others. Soft humming accompanies prayer. Sometimes two people pray
simultaneously, but nothing was seen approaching the free-for-all in the small
American-derived fundamental churches where everyone prays aloud at the same
time. Another sankey follows prayer, and during the singing members spontaneously
begin to greet the Spirit who is near, by waving one or both arms. Here and there, in
addition to the greeting, a member wheels about, or takes short steps in a circle outside
of the circle of members. As soon as Mother gets into the spirit her armour-bearer
rushes to support her, a line of members and spectators is formed, and a healing song is

Heal them, my Lord, with a dove from on high,
Heal them, my Lord, with a dove from on high,
Heal them, my Lord, with a dove from on high;
Heal the sick and afflicted ones.

One by one Mother Bums rubs them over the head, breast, stomach, thighs, and waist,
spins them round, then sends them on to a minor functionary who describes circles
around their heads, arms, waists, thighs and legs with a lighted candle. They are given
a glass of consecrated water to drink before they return to their places.

On one occasion, Brother Clive deputised for Mother Bums. Neither he nor anyone
else expected the healing spirit to come, for not only was he not dressed for the occa-
sion, but when the spirit did come the attendants at first did not seem to know what
to do. His head and waist were then wrapped in red and a line formed before him. His
entranced state did not last for long but he nevertheless managed to finish the line.

After healing is over, an altar call is made by the leader "for sinners and those in
need of prayer." He exhorts them to turn the searchlight into their hearts and give God
a chance. If the unsaved fail to answer the call, the saved may also go for a blessing.
Few non-members usually come. Those who do each receive a member as sponsor,
whose duty it is to stand over them and give them courage by laying the right hand on
their shoulders. Respondents are addressed by the leader and prayed for by each
sponsor amid the soft humming of the church. After the service they are congratulated,
and their names and addresses taken, the intention being to follow up their conversion.

The healing service finally ends with the doxology.

The healing service shows the influence of Pentecostalism as much as it does African
religion. According to Calley the altar call and healing rites are closely associated in
Pentecostalism. 11In fact, his description of the altar call, originally a method of

recruitment, corresponds exactly to that practised by Mother Burns' group. But
whereas in Pentecostalism healing involves either prayer, or laying on of hands, or
anointing with oil, in Revival it is far more elaborate, relying less on prayer and faith,
more on material things such as rubbing, candles and water. According to Herskovits
theie are two kinds of healers in West African religion, the medical group and the
magicians. 12 The former are supernaturally endowed, and perform openly, the latter
are practitioners by choice and perform secretly. Mother Burns' healing practice would
seem to be influenced by the former, inasmuch as it is through the power of the
Indian Spirit that healing is effected. No major cures were effected during the survey,
nor any claims made of cures in the past. People who enter the healing line do so for
minor ailments such as pains and aches often associated with old age, or else for

Testimonial Service
This is another service which also shows strong influence of Christian practices
found in Pentecostalism, Church of God, and other fundamental sects. The ritual is
slightly different from the healing service. Three psalms are read, a sankey is sung
and the Spirit is greeted in the customary fashion. Then, one by one the worshippers
begin to pray against a background of humming, which continues through the reading
of the three lessons. At this point the pastor calls on the members to testify. The
ability to give moving testimonies is one means of qualifying oneself for promotion to

Testimonies are stylized. They are always prefaced by the words, "Greetings in the
precious name of Jesus", and punctuated by responses from the congregation. The
following is a sample:

"Greetings in the precious name of Jesus! I am glad to stand in this consecrated
spot. I could have passed and gone and I could have read the secret of an unknown
world. But I am here. I am not feeling sick. I am not wealthy but wealthy in the
Spirit. One Thursday I received the Spirit, and one Sunday morning he washed my
sins away. Brothers and sisters please pray for me. Take salvation; it's free. The
table is spread, all can get a taste. Pray for me."

Thie idea of having a spiritual abundance of those things lacking in material life is a
recurrent motif in testimonies, and is an indication of the role that poverty plays in
religious conversion. It is always the poor who are getting saved. The rich have no
need for salvation.

Divine Service
Divine service is almost identical with the testimonial service. In place of testimo-
nies, however, the leaderess and leader, and pastor, if he so desires, give messages.
Messages are sermons. A text is chosen and as the secretary reads it each verse is
punctuated by brief exhortations and commentaries, often involving the recounting
of personal spiritual experiences. Thus Mother Bums, choosing John 5 as her text:
"I'm happy, I am rejoicin'. I says I'm happy. Yes, sir. We are small here tonight,

but great in number because angels are here. We are all pure and clean; we
gwain jump in heav'n, but the rest a tonback people ["the rest are turn-back
people"]. Di spirit run through a lame man an' cure 'im. Same ting can happ'n

Thus Brother Clive:

"From the time I went down to the river it was di firs' time I saw so many people"

in reference to his baptism.

When Communion is to be served, and this occurs once every month, the pastor
preaches from the altar in full ceremonial dress: black cope, white stole and gloves.
Communion follows A.M.E. Zion ritual with such variations as preaching and
admonishing instead of reading from the minister's manual.

No account of the ritual of Revivalism is complete without a description of the
ceremony called a "table." An extended account of different types of tables is con-
tained in Simpson,13 and a picture of the lay-out of one in Seaga. 14 A table is a feast
held in honour of an event or a person, but involving a long drawn out ritual perhaps
reminiscent of the combined Eucharist and feasting of the primitive Christians during
their early practice of primitive communism. Tables may be held to raise money, to
give thanks, to mourn the dead, and, in the case of Pocomania, to destroy. During the
research the only table held was in honour of a neophyte who had been laid low by the
spirit and raised up twenty-one days later. This table was, therefore, a "rising table",
and the following describes the entire ceremony.

The table was held in Central Village, between Kingston and Spanish Town where
the pastor had his second church, and where the woman, middle-aged, about forty-
five, fell in the spirit. It was attended by the Kingston church, that is, Mother Burns'
group and other residents of Central Village.

The table itself, about ten feet long, was spread with a white table cloth and laid out
with candles of all colours. Twenty white ones lined the outer edge, eight stood in
bottles of aerated water, five on a candelabra, and two red ones stood guard beside
two basins of water underneath the table, Two other basins of water lay on top of the
table, and over one of them was placed a sword. The crown breads, specially ordered
from the bakery, were also on the table, and strewn all over was a wide variety of fruits,
corn, oranges, coconuts, ripe bananas, okras, mangoes, tomatoes, hot peppers and
corn. Flowers decorated the lay-out.

The Kingston members arrived in a group. Led by one of the evangelists, with a
lighted candle, they marched into the church singing, pausing at the entrance to greet
the spirit with the customary hand-wave. They then circled the table and, having
offered a prayer, broke up.

Shortly before the beginning of the evening's activities, Mother Burns entered the

church with a party to consecrate the vestments she was to wear that night. The head
wrap, four yards of madras, was unfolded and held flat out. With a large Bible she
made the sign of the cross over the length and breadth, then sprinkled it with water
Meanwhile the leader Brother Clive, raised a chorus, and during the singing of it,
Mother, using the bottom of a lighted candle described curls and spirals all over the
cloth. Next, her dress was laid out on the head wrap and the same rituals were repeated.
The secretary then read three psalms, the eighth at one end of the cloth, the ninth at
the other, and the twentieth underneath it, prefacing each with the words: "In the
name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost", and closing each with the
doxology: "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was
in the beginning, is now and ever shall be world without end. Amen." The next two
hours was the same as at other services except for the procession and lighting of the
candelabra by the neophyte. Choruses were the same favourites, and the prayers and
lessons were as usual punctuated by sankeys. After eight or ten rounds of choruses the
neophyte was led by the leader, bearing a lighted candle and escorted by Mother
Bums, the armour bearer, and the evangelist responsible for feeding her during her
twenty-one days on the ground. Coming from the houses in the same yard as the
church, where she had been in isolation all this time, they marched once around the
outer seal, greeted the Spirit at the entrance of the church and marched once around
the table. Then, seats were taken at the head of the table, with attention paid to
hierarchy and office: the neophyte beside Mother Burns, then the evangelist, then the
leader. After the usual prayers, the pastor directed the initiate to light the candelabra:
from the lowest to the highest, first the blue ones, then the green, then the white, then
a red candle at the other end of the table. All throughout she was attended by Mother,
while members hummed softly. Three lessons were read and the secretary handed
the meeting over to the pastor.

This man, himself a Revival leader before joining the A.M.E. Zion, knew the entire
ritual. He handled the ceremony with expertise, injecting humourous relief into the
long service as he introduced tie guests and the neophyte. He gave his listeners the
details of her fall: not a member of his church she had come there on her first visit
when the Spirit struck her down for twenty-one days, and instructed her to feed on
raw calalu and hot pepper. Her husband took it well and remained at home to look
after the children. What happened to her during those three weeks she would tell
later on.

The next half hour was spent raising funds. This was done by "paying no less than
one shilling" to light one of the candles placed around the edge of the table. The pastor
cleverly placed the Kingston group in charge of one side and the Central Village group
in charge of the other. The ensuing rivalry amid the singing of choruses was a source
of delight to all, especially the children, and prepared the way for the climax of the
evening, a sustained two hours or more of dancing, culminating in possession.

First, shoes were taken off. The pastor himself took control of the rattler. In no
time everyone was dancing or swaying vigorously. At first the principal dancer was

very tall, graceful young man, who was being prepared to become a leader, Brother
Prince. He led about three women, one of whom was the armour bearer, and who was
saved from possession by trumping, since her services were necessary in the event of
Mother Burns suddenly becoming possessed. Then Brother Clive and the neophyte
took over, much to the delight of many of the members, some of whom stopped and
stood by to watch. The dance had a strong sexual motif and at the end when bodily
contact was made pelvis to pelvis the sister muttered, "Happiness." Clive later said
that this was called the "maroon or bongo dance." Both of them received the Spirit:
he acting first like a lame then like a beggar, she eating raw calalu and hot pepper and
forcing a young girl to do the same.

Without warning the healing spirit descended on Mother Burns. Dancing stopped, a
line was formed and the healing song began. Several times her armour bearer had to
keep her on her feet, as she convulsed and lost balance.

The climax past, it now became the duty of the pastor to calm the members and
bring them back to normal before the end. Trumping began to a background of
straining of the notes of "On Jordan's Bank", and rice grains were thrown on the
table in appeasement of the spirit. Finally, when all were subdued (and sleepy) the
pastor directed the neophyte to relate her experiences. This woman told the following:

In her vision she began to travel. A voice told her to eat calalu on her way and take
with her the words of the song "O for a closer walk with Jesus." On she travelled
until she came upon a man.

"Sister, where are you going?" he asked her.

"I am a traveller," was her reply, "in a strange and foreign land.'

"I have nothing to give you", he said, "but take these."

And he gave her one banana and a water cracker. Next she met another man, who
asked her the same question and received the same reply. He gave her the words of
the song. "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds." Then she reached a river. There a
man gave her the song, "On the other side of Jordan." Next was an Indian woman.

"Tarry with me," she begged.

"I cannot, for I am a traveller in a strange and foreign land."

But tarry she did, for two days, at the end of which the Indian woman gave her two
candles, two crackers, a leaf-of-life and the song" O for a closer walk with Jesus."
At a cross-roads she had to struggle with a man before being allowed to continue.
She met another woman who gave her a mission-house, where a woman led her
around a large pool, gave her a turban and a handkerchief to take with her. The
vision ended, and she related it to her pastor when her time was up.

After the vision was recounted, the pastor preached a sermon. It was necessarily
brief, for by then the yawns were becoming louder and more frequent. The doxology

was sung, and the bread, fruits and drinks devoured. It was past two in the morning
when the ceremony came to an end.

The concept of a journey in the course of which one struggles with and overcomes
evil in the final analysis owes its origins to a view of the world which is determined by
man's struggles against nature and by the historical limitations on man's contacts with
the world outside his social grouping. The dangers from these include both known and
unknown, a river to cross, a cross-road, a "strange and foreign land." Against these
dangers the traveller arms herself with spiritual songs, food and charms given by the
forces of good, here described as a man and an Indian woman. The narrator does not
say whether it is the same or a different man she meets at each stage or the journey,
but if we follow other folk tales involving the cross-road, it is plausible to believe that
the African God of the cross-road, Legba, appears in Jamaican religion but without his
original identity. In one Jamaican folk tale he gives both the good and the bad each
three eggs with instructions how to react when each egg is broken at each cross-road.
The bad disobeys and is devoured, the good obeys and is rewarded.

This African retention is reinforced by beliefs that the soul is an entity separate
from the body, and that dreams are but the real experiences of the soul, while the
body sleeps. To sleep, therefore, is really the same as entering the spirit world, and if a
deceased relative or friend wishes to communicate with the living, he does so by
"dreaming" the person. According to Herskovits, West Africans consider the soul
separate and apart from the self. AVd Trinidad Shouters themselves also have the
custom of relating spiritual journeys made during the period of seclusion called


The affiliation of Mother Burns' Revival church to the Africa Methodist Episcopal
Zion of United States reflects the deep processes of change taking place among this
stratum of the Jamaican urban population. Mother's motive in linking up was that she
could thus obtain a licence to preach. No alteration of the beliefs and practices of
Revival Zion was necessary, since the American church, itself a creation of blacks who
found themselves unable to identify with the Methodism of their white Americans
contemporaries seemed willing to accommodate the strong African elements. A.M.E.
Zion worship in the United States includes dancing, hand-clapping and enthusiastic
outbursts which would shock the more middle class-conscious Methodists and
Episcopalians of British missionary tradition in Jamaica. The introduction of a
communion service and the subordination of the Revival Zion leaderess to a pastor
and to a bishop were the only elements foreign to this religion of the Jamaican
peasant. But they were important innovations for the following reasons:

It has been generally established since 1943 census that returns on Revival and
Pocomania do not truly reflect its actual numerical strength.17 Many people when
questioned will give not the religion they practise, in many cases Revival or Pocomania,
but the religion they were christened in. Pocomania as such no longer has the status
it once had in Jamaican society. The attention given to the contemporary Revival

leader, Kapo, for example, or to the Kumina remnants in St. Thomas derives from
the search of a nationally conscious intelligentsia for its roots, in the wake of the
national liberation movements in Africa and rise in nationalism in the Caribbean. But
as far as the peasantry is concerned, it is no longer a force. The political leaders of
today are not the obeah man and revival leaders of the not too distant past, whose
practice of religion was a necessary ingredient of their power, and their sway.
Alexander Bedward was the last of a long line dating from the eighteenth century and
including Nani, Taki, Sharpe and Bogle. All these heroes were religious leaders. The
strength and importance of the middle class have given rise to national leaders of
modern Jamaica drawn from this strata. In the light of this A.M.E. Zion served to lift
the status of traditional Revival in line with other religions. The American connection
brings to it a sort of missionary status, and thereby makes it a part of an international
Church. Material assistance becomes possible. But there is also the probability of
doctrinal changes as well. The introducing of communion shifts more of the focus on
to Jesus, a figure which occupies a relatively little place in the Revival pantheon. This
willingness to adapt is at the same time a necessity, which forces on us the conclusion
that Revival no longer has an independent place of its own in the context of a rapidly
changing society. So that even after breaking with A.M.E. Zion, Mother Burns had to
seek another affiliation.

The break with A.M.E. Zion came about in the following way. She used to assist
the pastor in his other churches, especially the one located at Central Village which
she claimed to have built up from a membership of two people. This work required
extensive travelling with the pastor away from home, sometimes overnight. Meanwhile,
several of the female members of her own church, who she claimed used to sleep with
the pastor, succumbed to the suspicion that their frequent sallies from Kingston
together were not always solely in the.interest of spreading the faith. Jealousy took the
better of them and they confided in Mother Burns' husband, himself holding the office
of deacon. Deacon, seized with rage, proceeded to "mash up" the church, throwing
out and overturning sacred and other furniture. Weeks afterwards the truth
eventually came out and caused a schism in the church. Seven of the ladies went
with the pastor and the A.M.E. Zion sign was taken down. Mother Burns then made
contact with the local Bishop of Christian Emmanuel Church of Boston. who agreed to
an affiliation, but on several conditions. Possession was to be de-emphasized. If a
worshipper accidentally became possessed she was not to become the centre of
attraction but must control herself. Trumping was to be abolished altogether. This
restriction meant that Mother herself could no longer allow the Indian spirit to take
hold of her. Thus the healing service had to be abandoned. The post of armour bearer
also became a casualty. Since possession was banned, the rituals designed to induce it
were also banned or curtailed. Dancing was ruled out by the Bishop, but he permitted
drumming and tolerated the seals and minor spirits. It goes without saying that these
demands cut deep into the fabric and structure of the church. It was my view that the
church could not survive this affiliation. But the point I wish to make here is that
Mother Burns' capitulation to such demands reveals her own subjective grasp of the
failure of Revival to follow its own independent path. The church must adapt or

altogether, and the only traces of them are the still lingering superstitions which
emerge at critical points in the life cycle, such as birth and death, or which emerge
under stress of poverty and force resort to the obeah man. But as an organised force,
Revivalism is virtually dead. More so in the city, where it has become buried under the
forces of change. In Kingston it is the Rastafari religion which has become the move-
ment of the urban poor. Revival may still be found here and there but it is more like
an anachronism. In fact, nothing shows this more than the treatment of it in the annual
National Festival of Independence. In some of the Festival entries spirit possession and
trumping are parodied, much to the sometimes embarrassed amusement of audiences.

This is not to say that the Revival tradition will be completely lost as a vital part of
religious life of the urban and rural poor. For just as the Baptist and other non-
conformist religions were transformed and stamped with Africanisms so too the
assimilation of Revivalism by the evangelical, pentecostal and other sects has its
price. Vigorous dancing and possession are integral parts of the workings of many of
these sects. Rastafarian belief, for all its denunciation of "poco-ism", owes its songs,
the simple shuffle and even the forms of its public services to Revivalism. Thus is the
religious continuity preserved in an era which has seen increased penetration by North
American religious forces.



1. Central Bureau of Statistics, Eighth Census of Jamaica and its Dependencies, Kingston,
Jamaica, 1945.

2. David Henry Bradley Sr., A History of the A.M.E. Zion Church, pt. 1, 1796-1872. (Nashville,
Tennessee: The Parthenon Press, 1956).

3. Interview with Reverend Wright, August 1969.

4. George Eaton Simpson, "Jamaican Revival Cults", Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 5, No. 4,
December 1956, p. 342.

5. See my "Religion and Black Struggle", Savacou, No. 5, 1971.

6. Simpson, pp. 441-442.

7. Joseph C. Moore, Religion of Jamaican Negroes: A Study of Afro-Jamaican Acculturation,
Thesis, Northwestern University, 1954.

8. Simpson, pp. 344-345.

9. Simpson, p. 360.

10. Simpson, p. 354.


11. Malcolm Colley, God's People: West Indian Pentecostal Sects in England, London, Oxford
University Press, 1965, p. 93.

12. Melville Herskovits, The Myth of the Negro Past, Boston, Beacon Press, 1958, pp. 239-376.

13. Simpson, pp. 371-376.

14. Edward Seaga, "Revivalist Cults", Jamaica Journal, VoL 3, No. 2, June, 1969, p. 4.

15. Herskovits, p. 194.

16. George Eaton Simpson, "Baptismal, 'Mourning' and 'Building' Ceremonies of the Shouters in
Trinidad", Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 79, No. 314, October-December, 1966,
pp. 545-46.

17. "It is believed that the Census figures do not completely show the extent of the following and
the practices of Pocomania and similar sects", Eighth Census of Jamaica and its Dependencies,
p. LXIV.


"This day have I covenanted with you (with blood), for you are my people, and I
am your God."1 These words were addressed to the first man a black man and
pledged the black race to the continuance of God's religion. The Old and New Testa-
ments are documents on black history and religion. Jesus, Mary, the Apostles were all
black people. Samson "had orisha or saint.. power" which allowed him to lift up the
gates of Gaza.2 Peter's symbolic keys the religious code which entitled him to
bishopric of the early Catholic Church are, for Titi,3 documents stolen from Paul,
an African, when he fell along the road to Damascus. 4These documents contained the
laws of African religion. Although the Catholic Church denies its derivation from
African religion5 the link is manifest in the frequency with which Catholics "fall to
the drum", that is, become possessed by African deities. Titi, herself officially a
Catholic, revealed that in her youth she often became possessed at the moment of the
Elevation of the Host during the Mass. Yet another aspect of the relationship between
the African religion and Catholic belief is that many saints, like the orisha, ascended to
heaven without undergoing mortal death. She cited the instances of ascension by
Jesus, Mary, and St. John the Divine. Their ascension resembled that of Shango, a
Yoruba deity. Her grandfather, Farode,6 had formally taught her Yoruba religious
belief and ritual and had told her that in Yoruba country a chain sunk deep in the
ground and extending upwards to the sky marked the place where Shango was
transported heavenwards. Indeed, Odud wa, the first Yoruba, had descended from
heaven to earth by means of a long chain. The Yoruba believe that all the deities had
originally made their way from heaven to mankind by the same means. And Olurogbo,
son of Moremi, the woman who saved the sacred city of Ile-lfe from destruction, is said
to have climbed to heaven using a long ladder or chain.9

In its details, Titi's interpretation of Judeo-Christianity may be unique, but black
nationalism asserting African religious and cultural primacy has a long and research-
worthy history. This line of thought has several facets which are not necessarily
mutually exclusive. On the one hand, it may be directed towards establishing that the
earliest human being was black; it may seek to show that African religious thought and
ritual pre-dated those of the Jews; it may throw emphasis on the identity of Judaic
and African rites and concepts; it doggedly affirms that ancient Egyptian civilisation
was black. Whatever the case, these arguments were largely prompted as a response to
Europe's massive efforts to brand the African as inferior, as a zero-factor in the evolu-
tion of human civilisation. As such these ideas are part of the oral folklore of black
people in the New World, in the Caribbean certainly, though Eurocentric reaction has
confined them to a lunatic fringe in society. But the proponents adduce Biblical,

scientific-historical and anthropological support for their theories.

Edward Blyden wrote in 1908: "It is certain that Religion originated in Africa. It
went from Ethiopia, that is to say, from Negroland eastward to the heart of Asia. All
representations of Buddha which we have seen are painted black." 10 He then quotes
Lady Lugard acknowledging the black ethnicity of ancient Egyptians. Marcus Garvey
asserted that "the first civilisation that was ever built was built by the black man on
the banks of the Nile, Congo, Abyssinia and Timbuktoo and that civilisation passed
into South Europe and across the seven seas and planted itself into five substantial
continents."11 J.A. Rogers, in his book Sex and Race amasses in his Appendix formid-
able evidence of the occurrence throughout history of black gods and messiahs, these
including Lao Tze of China, the Buddha, the Egyptian Osiris, the Greek gods,
Quetzacoatl of Mexico, Krishna from whose name "Christ" is derived and the
numerous black representations of the Madonna and Child in the earliest sculpture and
icons of Christian Churches in Mediterranean and Northern Europe.12

Neither Farode nor his granddaughter, Titi, was likely to have been insulated from
similar ideas, bearing in mind their folkloric currency and the surfacing of black
nationalist undercurrents in the Garvey movement during the 1920's.13 Also, the link
between Sudanic Africa and Ethiopia and Egypt is a recurrent motif in the oral
histories of many West African peoples, like the Hausa, Akan and Yoruba, who trace
their origins to north-east Africa. Certain political institutions, artistic motifs, religious
rituals and technological skills in the southerly states have also been shown to derive
from Egyptian and Meroitic/Axumite sources.14 This might have been the seminal
reason why Farode taught Titi that Yoruba culture originated in the Nile region, and
that there is a link between the Yoruba language and Hebrew. The latter idea Titi
expressed in two ways: that Yoruba is related to Hebrew and that Yoruba is itself,

Yet another basis for their interpretation of religion in terms of colour may lie in
the symbolic significance of blackness in Yoruba cosmogony. Mysticism and the origin
of creation are associated with the colour black. Ifa or Orunmila is the deity of divina-
tion and of foreknowledge who is believed to have witnessed creation. He is thought to
be a very black man, and the impenetrability of the mystery which he embodies is
represented by the black shiny ikin or palm kernels which are strung at intervals along
the Yoruba divining chain, and also in the use of the isin or ackee seed to represent
him.16 Similarly, in Yoruba ritual, the elemental force of the earth is symbolised by
pure black mud taken from the river-bed, while the Sky Principle is symbolised by
white chalk.17 Perhaps there is a universal symbolism at work here. Godfrey Higgins
summarised, "We have found the black complexion or something relating to it when-
ever we have approached the origin of nations. The Alma Mater, the Goddess
Multimammia, the founders of the oracles; the Memnon or first idols were always

Another fundamental aspect of Titi's religious ontology lies in the cosmological
significance of the earth. "Yoruba people say the earth is more important than we.

The earth is "God's footstool." Because it produces the basic items of sustenance, like
food and water which allow man's existence, and also because it eventually "eats"
man's body, the earth is "higher than man." The superiority implied in man's standing
upon the earth is merely illusory. The second of the litanies she sings during the
drazon 19 coming after that to the Almighty is in honour of the earth. In the litany
there is a line which says
Eriwo wa 1'ale
meaning that the eriwo reside in the earth. Eriwo is an ancient, esoteric term which
appears synonymous with orisha or 'divinity' literally interpreted as 'head/fount
of mysteries/secrets.' The Earth therefore embodies a powerful, transcendent spirit
in the universe; it holds the secret of death, at the same time that its fruitfulness
manifests a regenerative principle. For this reason it is often identified with the
mother-figure. Paradoxicall however, despite its ascendancy, the Earth loses its
viability without the Sky. Because rain is needed to fructify the earth, because
the seasons are dependent on the movement of the sun and moon, the heavens are
also seen as the abode of powerful deities. However, since men "live on the earth...
Mother Earth is nearest to men and linked with them by many bonds. . The land is
generally sacred, for it belongs to the earth spirit and to the ancestors as well as the
living community.. ."22

The Earth Principle, Onile, is the deity to which the powerful law-enforcing
religious cult called Ogboni is dedicated.23 "Onile is symbolised in the cult by the
left. The Ogboni sacred sign is of the left fist clenched over the right with thumbs
concealed. Members always dance to the left in the Ogboni temple... Many other
African peoples distinguish between the left and the right sides of the body, the right
being symbol and seat of strength and virility, the left of weakness and feminity. We
may perhaps read into this among the Yoruba the primacy of the spiritual and
ineffable over the concrete and the material, expressed in its central symbol of the
left clenched fist planted over the right."24 The regenerative force of Earth, and at
the same time its closeness to the principle of death account for the fact that Titi's
grandfather sought healing from the earth in case of grave illness. He would beat his
bare body upon the earth in his compound of shrines.25

The mystical significance attached to the earth explainsthe rationale behind the
laying of ground altars or shrines in Yoruba religion. The power of each deity is
localised in his symbols which are further ritually placed in the earth. These symbols
are certain "natural substances, materialising the concept of the orise or god" 26
S. ."objects which transmit from generation to generation those secrets which gave
the first priest power over the orisa, coercive words pronounced at the time of the
cult's establishment, elements which enter its mystical constitution leaves, earth,
animal bones, etc."27 "Such substances, buried in the earth floor or the earth wall of
the shrine, are held to contain the spirit of the orisa; they localise this spirit and
render it open to communication and control."28

Titi uses the terms "saints", "powers",29 and orisha to refer to the Yoruba deities,
but the Yoruba term occurs as orishe in her "litany to Creation." Of this archaic

term, Idowu advances the following interpretation: "I am very inclined to the view
that the name Orisa is a corruption of an original name Orise Head-Source. Ori is...
the name for man's physical head. It means also ... the essence of personality, the ego.
Se . is a verb meaning 'to originate', 'to begin', 'to derive or spring (from)'... Ori-se
then . is the Deity himself, the Great Ori from whom all ori derive. .." 30

Ashe, a noun derived from se, is vital force or energy "the principle of all that
lives or acts or moves. . everything which exhibits power, whether in action or ... in
passive resistance like that of the boulders... The orisa is only part of such forces, the
part that is disciplined, calmed, controlled..."3

The orisha who possesses or controls ashe is Eshu. Possession of the Word itself,
energy incarnate, makes Eshu more powerful than any other orisha except the
Supreme Deity, Olorun, whose messenger he is. Eshu is a highly ambiguous and
paradoxical force in that he is the embodiment of chance, the inexplicable, the
unpredictable in the universe. Yet he stands in close relationship both to Olorun and
also to Orunmila, the principle of order, whose messenger he also is. Because Eshu's
actions, according to legend, show him to be the arch-trickster, the divine paradox,
the embodiment of mischief and uncertainty, he is easily equated with the Christian
and Moslem Devil wherever Yoruba religion has come into contact with theologies
which promulgate a more exclusive concept of evil.

It is this quizzical combination of elements that accounts for Titi's chuckle every
time she spoke about Eshu, and the imprecision surrounding his attributes. The latter
veers between innocent playful mischief and intentional malice: "You see, he is such
a wicked and miserable man that he always put obstacles so that you should be
wanting to turn your back on the holy saints and serve him." Referring obliquely to
legends in which Eshu destroyed human and divine friendships through his impersona-
tions, she explained: "He would raise up enmity between yourself and a person so
you would call him in to settle the quarrel and do work against that person." She
described him as "more serviceable than other saints. .. Whatever evil you would want
him to do you go to him and you ask him because we have the privilege of talking to
him as much as we talk to the saints. I talk to him just as I talk to the saints, but I
would not serve him."

Eshu's crucial and lofty position in the divine hierarchy is acknowledged by the
order in which chants are sung at the start of the drazon service. This order is similar
to that observed by the babalawo or herbal/diviner priest when invoking the orisha at
the commencement of each divination. 32 "After you sing to the Almighty God you go
to put out the bad man, the miserable fellow, that is Eshu. . So we see about him
early." This referred to five chants in his honour and offerings to him of water, kolanut
and ashes. Titi explained his preferential treatment by claiming that Eshu is "envi-
ous of St. Michael [Ogun] and the other saints. .. He always feel that he is first, so we
give him first. First drums. Then we turn the drums. The same part of the drum we
beat on for him, we don't beat on for the saints." There is, in fact, a relationship of
tension between Eshu and the other orisha. No orisha except Olorun can curb

his power. He is therefore called 'Esu, the adversary of the divinities' an expression
born of his mischievous dealings with them."33 Despite his arrogance and jealousy,
however, Eshu represents an important aspect of creation. Because he is chaos itself in
certain of his aspects, he can either permit or subdue chaos. Once honoured by the
devotees "he would remain outside and any bad person coming in he won't let them
come in. . But don't do that to him, and cutlass... and war and fight will pass. He's
going to make mischief. . But in the end of it, God had his plan and God knows
everything, so he cannot be destroyed. He must have been there for a purpose. He has
his purpose."

The salutation uttered during the libations to him also emphasises his unpredict-
ability. Interpreting the Yoruba phrase she explained, "You're telling him that you
don't want him walk behind you. You putting him in front. He is so wicked and
mischievous you've always got to keep your enemy in front your eyes."

Eshu's libations are poured both outside the gateway to the home and also at his
shrine in the backyard. The location of Eshu's shrine is a compromise arrived at for
reasons of the inadvisability of properly siting it at the entrance to the home in a
society where an exposed shrine belonging to an unorthodox religion is likely to be
desecrated. Titi described this shrine as being marked by a piece of iron split in two.3
This two-pronged motif may signify his dual aspect, especially since offerings in his
honour are tied to one prong while offerings to solicit his aid in evil ventures are
attached to the other.

Shigidi or Shugudu is the orisha which represents the abstraction of evil out of the
ambivalent personality of Eshu. 35 Its representation is moulded by the babalawo or
diviner/medicine-man who wishes to employ it. Titi had been told by Farode that the
shugudu was made of monkey skin and given a parrot's tongue. It had slit eyes. Its
blood was made of boiled leaves and other substances. The shugudu was put to live in
a hut by itself and fed on oil exclusively, oil being the favourite sacrificial food of
Eshu. Like many other supernatural creatures it spoke in a fine high-pitched nasal

Titi's statement that Farode defined the shugudu as the African means of gaining
foreknowledge of events certainly indicates a confusion either in his mind or hers
between the function of the shugudu and that of the osanyin. Where the latter
prophesies or makes public the hidden, the shugudu is an agent of his owner's evil
intentions. According to a contemporary Yoruba informant, the shigidi is moulded
from clay and "harmful medicine put inside." It is kept hidden. Should its owner want
to harm someone, he approaches the shigidi at night, places a lighted lantern at the
creature's feet, puts a cane or club in its hand, and verbally instructs the shigidi, point-
ing with the lantern the direction in which the enemy lives. When the shigidi returns
from its evil mission of thrashing or killing the opponent, it must find both its owner
awake and the lantern still lit. Else "even-handed justice returns to plague the
inventor" and the shigidi kills its manipulator with one blow.36

In spite of Eshu's power, and the fact that he represents the indifferent, impartial

use of ashe for good or evil, the principal orisha for Titi as well as for the Yoruba is the
beneficent Olorun. His other names as known to Titi are Oluwa, Olodumare,
Elefon and Jehovah. In addition, titles such as Adimula 'the one who saves' and
Olojo 'the owner of the day', 'the completion' occur in a litany for the drazon.
Olorun, 'the owner of the heavens', is associated with the original creative act and is
seen in polar opposition to Death. Titi tends to conceptualise death as the most
extreme form of divine chastisement rather than as a biologically natural phenomenon.
She claims, "I pa tini glorification nan mort" 'there is no glorification in death' -
because it is only in life that man can glorify God and the saints.

The litany sung for Olorun asserts:
Olorun fo fun'ye Olorun speaks the word of life
O ma de Life has certainly come
O ma bi'ku ni o Life pushes back death, certainly
Olorun fo fun'ye Olorun speaks the word for life
It is significant that the litany indicates that the creative act was brought about by the
agency of speech. The Word symbolises the active principle of energy itself ashe. In
fact, ashe means also 'authority', 'command.' The seat 3of Olorun's ashe is centrally
placed in Titi's rectangular compound of shrines which adjoins her home. The shrine is
a stout square-shaped log of wood driven into the earth. The post serves as a tether for
sacrificial bulls, and the attributive of the Supreme God which is used in connection
with this shrine is Elefon 'the owner of the bush-cow/bull' probably because
this term links God with his appropriate sacrificial animal. Atop the wooden post
stands a calabash half containing water and kola-nut valves.

Titi divines by using four kola-nut or obi cotyledons taken from this calabash. It is
through divination that she ascertains the commands of the saints. "Strict obedience is
our law", she says, even though she confesses to doubt. This doubt appears to have
been in part induced by class factors. Contrary to the class provenance of the over-
whelming number of orisha devotees,39 Titi belongs to the black middle class40 and
received a junior secondary school education in the 1920's.

There are five possible positions in which the obi segments can fall. "If all land with
their flat sides up or down this is very bad; if two turn up and two down, it is very
good; if three turn up or three down more questioning must follow, for this denotes
that something has not been done correctly or that something is missing."41 Titi
rightly does not refer to this method of divining as Ifa, which is the much more
complex divinatory system involving the use of sixteen palm kernels. Neither did she
recognize Ifa as an orisha,42 though she isolated the name in one of her verbal praise
salutations. This one is addressed to Shakpana whom she equates with St. Raphael:43
Ifa, Ifa Ifa, Ifa
O fa'wo You bring (scrape/pull) money
O fa'mo You bring money
On the other hand, Orunmila is one of the orisha to whom she has a shrine. Orunmila
is properly the Yoruba god of divination and represents the principle of order in the

universe. The four points of the compass represent this order and the motif of egigun
merin aye 'the four covers of the world' not only recurs in Yoruba prayers and
invocations, 44 but offerings to the orisha are first lifted heavenward and then pointed
to the four cardinal poles before being placed on the orisha's ground altar. Four is the
mystical number connected with Orunmila; this accounts for the significance of four
squared in the Yoruba divinatory system. Perhaps it is because of Orunmila's connec-
tion with order that he is equated with St. Joseph, the carpenter, whose tools are
reckoned to have been the compass and set-square, now the insignia for Orunmila.

Where four stands for order, "the number three to the Yoruba is part of the symbol
complex of the deified Earth, the home of the ancestors, and signifies mysteries."45
Kneeling to cast the obi, Titi touches the earth three times with her forehead each time
an answer is obtained. This action is accompanied by the words "k'a b'iye s'ile", mean-
ing 'long live the earth' and 'we prostrate before the earth.' Each libation is thrice

The link between earth and divination produces a union of two numbers which
symbolises "in the number seven, the creation of a new form from the union of
opposites."46 It is as if seven is a symbol of the renovative force within the universe
produced by the harmonious interrelationship of man (earth) and god (through
divination). The combination of threes and fours in Yoruba iconography 4is also
evident in the shape of a sacred stick that is found at least in Akan, Yoruba and Igbo
cultures. This stick is placed in the earth and has one central vertical column from
which three shorter limbs radiate at the top. In Titi's kwe 48 there are three such
forked sticks one upholding a pottery jar of well-water marking Shango's shrine; and
others, each supporting a long-necked calabash, to Oya, "mistress of the wind", and to

The motif of three is consciously invoked in Titi's cosmology through reinforcement
by Christianity. For example, she conceives of Elefon, Obatala and Oshala as the God-
head of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In Yoruba belief, Obatala and Oshala are
identical. On the other hand, an extremely close link exists between the Almighty and
Obatala in that Olorun, having formed man into a lump of clay, delegated Obatala to
give man a moulded shape.49 Another trinity is to be perceived in the sorority of the
Virgin Yasan,50 St. Philomen Oshun, and Oba or St. Elizabeth, mother of St.
John the Baptist. Shango's maternity is here wrongly attributed to Oshun, but this
trinity contrives to make Shango a cousin of Jesus. And a confusion clearly arises
from the fact that Oba, Shango's aunt in this scheme, is correctly acknowledged by Titi
to be one of Shango's wives. Titi came even closer to Yoruba orthodoxy when on
another occasion she isolated Yemanja, goddess of streams and rivers, as Shango's
mother. Her confusion in part arose from the common association of Oshun and
Yemanja with the river, though, in terms of Yoruba belief, she made the unconven-
tional distinction between Yemanja's habitation of "the whirlpools and suckholes" at
the confluence of the river and the sea, and Oshun's domination of the free-flowing
upper reaches of the river.51 Yemanja's symbols are therefore an anchor, a harpoon,
and a boat, while Oshun's is a "coryal" or canoe.

Because he is Titi's principal patron deity, the most frequented shrine in her
compound is that for Ogun, synonymous with St. Michael the Archangel. Here, a
cutlass has been driven into the earth, an iron tip protruding. His shrine is the first,
taking an anti-clockwise direction,52 that is situated on the L-shaped ridge of shrines
surrounding that to Elefon. Ogun's is first, no doubt because he "opens the gate."
This is a reference to the Yoruba myth of Ogun's use of an iron tool to carve out a
path to link the gods with mankind. "Ogun gave mankind the cutlass and the hatchet
and the hoe to enable civilisation." In his earthly existence Ogun became a blacksmith
and is the patron deity of the forge. Farode himself was a blacksmith and manifested
as both Ogun and Shango. This combination of factors may account for Titi's associa-
tion of Ogun with the natural force of lightning. This idea is somewhat contrary to
Yoruba belief, in that Shango is the orisha manifest in the thunder and the hurling of
thunderstones, as well as in lightning. These are the weapons by which he exposes liars
and thieves, for lightning and thunderstones assail their homes. This role lies behind
Titi's description of Shango as a "revelator." 53 To Titi's knowledge, Shango 'is "a
thunder deity" whose other titles are Obakuso 'king of Koso'54, Olubambi 'the
leader helps me give birth', Jakuta 'the hurler of stones', St. John of the Cross, and
Osogbo.5 Other titles occurring in the chants are Obaluaye -'Lord of the world',56
and Alado 'the owner of many gourdlets of charms.' 57 In Yoruba legend Shango is
associated with fire and also with lightning because in his earthly existence as a king of
the empire of Oyo, it was said that fire issued from his mouth when he spoke or that
he frightened his enemies by breathing fire.58

However, in the mythology a number of attributes are shared between Shango and
Ogun, both being given to passion and tyranny, both sharing the double-headed axe
and celts as insignia,5 and both being associated with fire. These correspondences
appear to stem from an evolution in the ideas which have attached to the personality
and function of Ogun.61 In any event, they have helped to blur distinctions and may
therefore account for Titi's ascription of lightning to Ogun.

Because Ogun manifests in Titi she is empowered to make sacred incisions on the
body of others for the purpose of ritual and healing. This is because Ogun has charge
over metal and a metal instrument is used to make these tiny incisions. Farode himself
also manifested under Ogun, and the incisions he made were located variously on the
scalp, arms, ankles, temples and cheeks. He also ritually marked Titi's forehead close
to the hairline. This was made by the impression of a thumb previously dipped in omi
ero or water in which sacred leaves had been immersed. Apart from Ogun, Titi is also
manifested as Erinle St. Jonas "a mighty mass of water", "master of the mighty
ocean", and as Osanyin (Osahin, Osain). He is St. Francis, the healer. Erinle carries the
titles Ajaja, Erin Ajaja and Ajakputa. Erinle was a hunter who, through injured pride
after wrongful accusation, drowned himself in a river and was apotheosised. In
Yorubaland he is a forest deity because of his hunting associations, but in Trinidad he
is linked instead with the ocean. This makes him somewhat of a male counterpart to
Olokun whom Titi refers to as "mistress of the sea." Titi's manifestation as Erinle
made sea-water an efficacious cure for illnesses she treated. Additionally, herbs serve as
cures. Herbal medicine is the particular province of Osanyin. Her reference to his slow

physical movements recalls a legend which ascribed to him immemorial age.63 His
power is such that his is the force manifest in the earthquake a concept which so far
is in want of supportive material. She further described Osanyin as "a search-warrant
for the spirits." This hints at the use by some diviners and herbalists of a figure called
an osanyin. It is moulded out of rags, sticks and clay and is manipulable. It is some-
times carried around in public but when kept at home is screened from public view by
a white cloth.64 The osanyin's chief function is prophecy, doing this in the high-
pitched nasal voice associated with supernatural beings.65

Among minor orisha recognized by Titi is Oranyan, St. Gabriel, who "dances on
fire." Oranyan was the son of Oduduwa, founder of the Yoruba people. Oranyan was
once ruler of Ife and is reputed to have been Shango's father, whence apparently
Titi's association of him with fire. Banyan, derived from Bayanni, an Oyo deity, seems
from her verbal salutation to him to be linked with justice. Titi considers him to be
St. Anthony, "barrister of the heavenly court" before whom issues are placed for
judgment. Orisha Oko, goddess of agriculture,66 is for Titi "mistress of the stars",
no doubt because the agricultural cycle is linked with planetary movements. The
mythological expression of this fact says that Orisha Oko's natal town was Irawo, a
word which means 'star/s.' Ibeji 'twins' sacred to the Yoruba, are conceived of
as Saints Peter and Paul.67 Abuku is thought to be Jesus an overlap with Obatala.
It appears that by abuku is meant abiku 'the one born to die' a term for a category
of child spirits who recurrently enter women's wombs to be born, but who do not
reach adulthood. The term may inappropriately have come to be applied to the
Christian Saviour. For indefinable reasons, Aganju, derived from Aginju, is identified
with St. George, and Ogere with St. Daniel. Aginju is a son of Obatala and Oduduwa
and is the desert itself. The antiquity and mythological aura of Aginju's paternity
suggest a dimly remembered event in Yoruba historical experience. Ogere appears to
be a personal name for Earth, as the Yoruba amplify their reference to Ogere by
describing him as the one whose head is scraped or combed by the hoe.68

In traditional Yoruba belief, the divine is manifested in Man, both as historical
personage and as contemporary individual, as well as in the physical landscape. This
belief and the rituals which surround it constitute for Titi the essence of 'religion',
whereas she considers as organizationss' those religious groups with formal administra-
tive and hierarchical apparatus. The cornerstone of her ritual is sacrifice or ebo the
pivotal expression of man's relationship with the divine. She in fact calls her religion
ebo, not 'shango.'69 When Titi asserts that "blood is to flow on the earth, like water"
she attests to the fusion of opposites, of man with god, the seat of created life merging
with the Ineffable Mystery.

Sacrifice can take the form of libations of water and alcohol. Vegetal and animal
offerings are sometimes made as burnt sacrifices. Lighted candles are also used as
offerings, indicating Old Testament and Catholic influence. Blood sacrifice is so power-
ful that it can redeem an individual from death. Such a sacrifice "pays the earth" for
the life of the person "travelling" in death. Recovery is possible once the appointed day
for death has not arrived. The Yoruba concept underlying this belief is that the

individual's fate is self-chosen before entry into the world. It is therefore subject to
modifications only in the intensity of good luck or misfortune which characterises it.
Such modification is dependent on the on-going relationship between the individual
and the orisha as evidenced in the regularity of sacrificial offerings to them. Similarly,
the optimum life-span, pre-destined cannot be changed, though the day of death may
be advanced.70

Another form of sacrifice is the self-surrender involved in possession. Titi
distinguishes between "conscious" and "unconscious" possession. The former is a
"compulsion" from outside of self which at the same time allows the possessed person
self-awareness. In "unconscious" possession, the devotee loses awareness of his/her
actions. Healthy possession is expressed principally through dancing, but another form
is fainting, referred to as "over-shadowing." The surrender of the human body to be
the vehicle of the orisha allows the divinities to impart healing and wisdom to man.
Possession is not meant, affirms Titi, for the purpose of exhibitionism and excitement.
Expressing herself in the syncretic language and thought of Yoruba religion and Judeo-
Christianity, Titi expanded on the meaning of the central rituals of her worship:
"Sacrifices and feasts71 were not to serve as temporal occasions of rejoicing, they
were to serve as a typical covering through which might be seen the true light of the
coming Messiah. As the flower bud turns towards the approaching light of the sun,
the Mercy Seat, the Cherubim, the Holy of Holies, the Pillar of Fire, and Solomon's
Temple are all symbolical manifestations originating in magical vision through (ebo)
sacrifices and pointed to the coming of Christ. (He was a sacrifice)."72



1. Quoted from a letter written in 1972 to the author by the chief informant used in this study.
Cf. Exodus 6:7: "And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God." Cf. also
Deuteronomy 7:6-8. The informant's reference to the Mosaic and Palestinian covenants here
that Moses rather than Adam is treated as the first man.

2. Cf. Judges 13-16. In addition to what may be interpreted as his moments of possession, the
sacred aura surrounding Samson's locks of hair is reminiscent of the Yoruba religious response
towards children born with matted hair. They are considered wise, and are sacred to the
orisha, Dada. Their hair remains uncut till aged 9 when it is shorn at a religious ceremony.
Cf. fn. 67.

3. Titi is the Yoruba name of Lucy Charles, a third generation Yoruba descendant in Trinidad.
She died in 1975. Interviews and correspondence with her were conducted between 1968
and 1974.

4. Cf Acts 9 and 22.

5. Trinidad, like Brazil, Haiti and Cuba, places where Catholicism is traditionally dominant, is
witness to the ready syncretism of Yoruba and Catholic religious ritual Cf. Melville Herskovits,
"African gods and Catholic saints in New World Negro belief', American Anthropologist 39,
1937, 635-643; William Bascom, Shango in the New World, Occasional Publication, University
of Texas at Austin, 1972. The opposition of a Catholic parish priest to Titi's Yoruba rituals
caused her to cease regular attendance at church for many years.

6. Apparently a native of Old Oyo, or at least a descendant of parents who were.

7. The site where Shango is reputed to have hung himself was renamed Koso 'he did not hang'
by Shango loyalists who considered the rumour blasphemous. One Trinidad chant claims
that Shango died at a ward of Old Oyo city called Ajagban. "Shango entered the earth at
Ajagban." His descent into the earth and then ascension affords a link with Jesus. The percep-
tion of such an association is treated elsewhere in the essay. Cf. also fn. 53.

8. Cf. George Simpson, The Shango Cult in Trinidad, 1965, reprinted in Religious Cults of the
Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica, and Haiti, Institute of Caribbean Studies, Puerto Rico, 1970,
113. Simpson did not uncover reference to Oduduwa in his Trinidad researches, but Titi knew
of him and his historical significance, though it does not necessarily mean that she knew of this
legend of his descent, nor was he one of the orisha she recognized.

9. Afolabi Ojo, Yoruba Culture, University of Ife and University of London Press, 1966, 198.

10. Edward Blyden, African Life and Customs, African Publication Society, 1969 impression,
first published 1908, 62.

11. Amy Jacques Garvey and E.U. Essien Udom, eds., More Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus
Garvey, VoL III, Cass, 1977, 36, Speech delivered in Toronto, August 29, 1937. Cf. also "Who
and What is a Negro", January 16, 1923, Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, VoL II,
Amy Jacques Garvey, ed., Aro & the New York Times, 1969, 21.

12. J.A. Rogers, Sex and Race, J.A. Rogers Publications, New York, 1940, 265 ff.

13. Cf. Tony Martin, Race First, Greenwood Press, 1976, 16 where it is shown that outside the
United States, Trinidad had the third largest concentration of branches of Garvey's Universal
Negro Improvement Association; also Tony Martin, "Marcus Garvey and Trinidad, 1912-
1947", in Garveyism: International Perspectives, Rupert and Maureen Lewis, eds., Institute
of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, forthcoming.

14. Cf. G. Wainwright, "Pharaonic survivals between Lake Chad and the West Coast", Journal of
Egyptian Archaeology 35, 1949; Eva Meyerowitz, Divine Kingship in Ghana and Ancient
Egypt, 1960; M.D.W. Jeffreys, "Ikenga: the Ibo ram-headed god", African Studies,
(Johannesburg), 1:1, 1954.

15. Cf. the approach to Yoruba etymology taken by J. Olumide Lucas, The Religion of the
Yorubas, C.M.S. Bookshop, Lagos, 1948, and Yoruba Language: its structure and relationship
to other languages, Lagos, 1966.

16. Cf. Rowland Abiodun, "Oral tradition in the study of Yoruba art: Ifa divination sculpture and
apparatus", cyclostyled, Institute of African Studies, University of Ife, Seminar Paper 4,
10 March 1975. Cf. also the black Ka'aba at Mecca; also Exodus 20:21: "... Moses drew
near unto the thick darkness where God was."

17. Denis Williams, Icon and Image, Allen Lane, 1974, 24.

18. Godfrey Higgins, Anacalypsis, VoL I, New York, 1927, 286, quoted in Rogers, op. cit., 266.

19. A Creole French word apparently derived from the French des oraisons '(some) prayers'.
Titi uses this term for a night vigil before the dawn start of the 5 to 7 day orisha ceremony.
There is no musical accompaniment for the chants sung during the drazon. Titi describes the
vigil as "solemn."

20. Cf. C.L. Adeoye, Oruko Yoruba, Caxton Press, Ibadan, 1969?, 144.

21. Cf. Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, Heinemann, 1958, 1969 reprint, 48. Virtually the same
tale is "Canacana, el aura tinosa, es sagrada, e iroco, la ceiba, es divina" in Lydia Cabrera,
Cuentos Negros de Cuba, Ediciones Nuevo Mundo, La Habana, 1961.

22. Geoffrey Parrinder, Religion in Africa, Penguin, 1969, 53. The name Emi L'ale "spirit/
breath of the earth' is found in a prayer recited by Sandrin LeGendre, Marabella, Trinidad. A
phonological variant of this name is Omela, cf. Frances Mischel, "African "powers" in
Trinidad: the Shango cult", Anthropological Quarterly 30, 1967, 58. Another name is the
Creole French Mama Latay, Le. Mama La Terre. Cf. Simpson, op. cit

23. Cf. Achebe, op. cit., 33 where the social and moral laws of the Igbo are said to come within
the jurisdiction of the Earth Mother.

24. Williams, op. cit., 235.

25. Cf. Abiodun, op. cit. The baring of the human body in worship is an act indicative of utter
subjection before the orisha. Farode's action differs from that of writhing upon the ground
during possession. Titi describes the latter as a sign of chastisement by the orisha.

26. Williams, op. cit.. 24.

27. Pierre Verger, "The Yoruba High God: a review of the sources", Odu 2, 1966, quoted in
Williams, op. cit., 24.

28. Williams, ibidem.

29. The derivation of this word is clear from the discussion of the term ashe below.

30. Bojali Idowu, Olodumare: God in Yoruba belief, Longman, 1962, 60.

31. Verger, op. cit, in Williams, op. cit., 21.

32. William Bascom, Ifa Divination: communication between gods and men in West Africa,
Longman, 1969, 38.

33. Idowu, op. cit., 83.

34. No such emblem has been found for Yorubaland in the literature dealing with Eshu, but
Lucas, op. cit, 56 refers with pertinence here to the saying that "there is a good Esu and
there is a bad Esu." Brazilian practice in treating Eshu's insignia offers points of comparison
and contrast with this Trinidad example. Cf. Wande Abimbola, "The Yoruba traditional
religion in Brazil: problems and prospects", cyclostyled, 24: "The symbol of Esu in Brazil is a
mound of earth on which are planted pieces of iron, lances and three-spiked iron rods."

35. Eshu and shigidi are semantically related words.

36. Information from G.O. Olomola, Department of History, University of Ife, 1975. Cf. varia-
tions of this account in Lucas, op. cit., 172-4, and Idowu, op. cit., 83-4.

37. Cf. Simpson, op. cit, 86: "Olorun. . has not been transferred by name to Trinidad." While
this may be the impression to be gained from listening to chants at orisha centres in Trinidad
and from speaking to the general run of members, research among third generation Yoruba
descendants revealed that Olorun is the word they use for the Yoruba and Christian Supreme
God both in speech and in song.

38. The concepts behind the localisation of the orisha's ashe discussed above probably account for
the use of the word "stool" in Trinidad to refer to the ground shrine. Cf. too the concept of
the ritual stool as embodiment of the spiritual essence of an individual or corporate group in
Akan society. See R.S. Rattray, Ashanti, 1923.

39. Cf. Simpson, op. cit., 17.

40. Conflict between class and religion appears to have surfaced overtly in adolescence evincing
itself in resistance to orisha worship, a conflict which appears responsible for prolonged
debility and weight loss. Although Titi never dealt directly with class as an issue related to her
religion, it would appear that her class differentiation from the majority of orisha devotees
may have been responsible for the exclusion of the public from her ceremonies. Only relatives
and invited friends were allowed though these included peasants and working class people.
In addition, unlike many orisha priests and priestesses, it appears that Titi never commer-
cialised her herbal and divinatory skills. She had no public clientele. Her income was derived
from house rents, sale of agricultural produce from lands, and when her husband was alive,
from his income in the industrial sector.

41. Phillips Stevens, "Orisha-NIa Festival", Nigeria Magazine 90, September 1966. 184.

42. Cf. Bascom, Ifa Divination, 107; also Wande Abimbola, "An exposition of the Ifa literary
corpus", Ph.D. dissertation, University of Lagos, 1969. Introduction. Ifa refers to both the
divinatory system and the presiding orisha, while Orunmila refers only to the orisha himself.

43. A gap exists in the information here. Titi never discussed Shakpana's attributes. In Yoruba-
land he is the god of smallpox. A Trinidad informant attributed to him the scourge of leprosy
and "copper pox." His association with sickness may ironically have some bearing on the
synonym, St. Raphael, whose name means 'God heals.'

44. For example, it occurs in a prayer recited by Sandrin LeGendre. Cf. fn. 22.

45. Williams, op. cit., 30.

46. idem.

47. Cf. Williams, ibid., Chap. 5; also J. Wescott and P. Morton-Williams, "The symbolism and ritual
context of the Yoruba laba Shango", Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great
Britain and Ireland 92:1, 1962.

48. Titi's phonological variant of the Fon (Dahomean) word kep 'altar.' One of several
Dahomean terms in her religious vocabulary. Cf. fn. 55. Also Maureen Warner, "Africans in
19th century Trinidad" Pt. 2, African Studies Association of the West Indies Bulletin 5, 1972,
45. Titi's forebears had social and religious ties with Dahomeans in Trinidad. She referred to
Dahomeans as "Ajase" people and said that her mother had relatives among them. Ajase is the
Yoruba name for Porto Novo in Dahomey, now Benin, a town where many Yoruba live.

49. Her litany to Creation appears to contain oblique reference to Obatala. At least there appears
to be mention of albinos. In a drunken stupor, Obatala one day fashioned abnormalities such
as albinos, cripples, and hunchbacks, who have since become sacred to him. Titi spoke of
abuke 'hunchbacks' as Africans, and as "a race of people who live on the other side of the
sun", and claimed that the litany contains reference to them, though the word abuke does not
occur. This suggests that her chant is a fragment. If indeed Obatala is part of the subject of the
litany, then the chant contains a conceptualisation of his physical location as being in the
upper regions beyond the visible sun. It may be noted that orun, one nominal element
contained in Olorun supreme God means 'sun' as well as 'sky.'

50. The only information found in the available literature is a gloss in Herskovits, op. cit., 642,
indicating that Yansan was one of the titles of Oya, principal wife of Shango.

51. Both goddesses are associated with rivers: Oshun has a river named after her, and Yemanja is
patron of the Ogun River. Despite this particularisation, both are associated with rivers
generally. In Trinidad, Oshun is widely connected with the sea. The overlapping in their
constituencies accounts for Titi's reference once to Osun Yemanja.

52. Dance circles in Yoruba religious culture move towards the left. Reference to such leftward
movement in Ogboni ritual is mentioned earlier in the text

53. She compares him in this role to Jesus, the Sacred Heart "from whom no secrets are hid."
Another instance of the close relationship between Shango and Jesus. See fn. 7.

54. See fn. 7.

55. A further dimension to the syncretic aspect of Titi's religious beliefs is the correlation of
Yoruba and Dahomean deities. In addition to Osogbo, there is Aflegede-Oya; Parada-Orunmila;
Adosoji-Banyan. Damballa is equated with St. Dominic, though no Yoruba counterpart was
named. Adangbe seems somewhat linked with Damballa. Ziwon was also named though once
linked, perhaps mistakenly, with Shango. Naite was the Virgin. For the Fon derivation of these
names and for an exposition of Dahomean religion in Trinidad, see Andrew Carr, "A Rada
community in Trinidad", Caribbean Quarterly 3:1, 1953.

56. An attributive usually used of Shakpana in the literature.

57. This implies his warrior status. Numerous charms were attached to the clothing as a protection
in hunting, war, or other dangerous enterprises.

58. It is interesting to see here a link with the representations of kings in various West African
cultures with fire issuing from their nostrils, a motif apparently symbolising their divinity and
sun-like essence. Cf. Williams, op. cit., 128 ff. 225 ff.

59. Cf. idem., 78, 82. In Trinidad, Shango's insignia is the simple hatchet

60. Cf. Wole Soyinka's poetic treatment of their inter-relationship in the opening stanzas of
"Idanre", Idanre and Other Poems, Methuen, 1967, and in a less apparent fashion in the first
two lines of Ogun Abibiman, Rex Collings, 1976.

61. Cf. Williams, op. cit., 81 ff.

62. A rite called singbehreh in Trinidad. Cf. Simpson, op. cit., 92. The term derives from the
Yoruba sin gbere 'to cut incisions.' Titi did not use this term, though it is likely she knew it.

63. Cf. Cabrera, op. cit., "Osain de un pie."

64. Information from Olomola. See fn. 36.

65. Compare the vocal quality ascribed to Anansi the spider in Jamaican oral narratives.

66. Simpson, op. cit., 87 claims not to have found mention of this orisha in Trinidad, but mention
of her occurs in one of the very familiar opening chants of the orisha ceremony.

67. Dada is the god of new-born babies, especially those born with matted hair. See fn. 2. Titi did
not however refer to him as an orisha, but instead named Konkoto or St Jerome as the
patron of little children. In some of her references though it appears that konkoto refers to the
offering of uncooked food made to the orisha rather than to the god himself.

68. A verse collected from Lucretia Williams, Manzanilla, Trinidad speaks of Ogere entering the
earth on a horse in the company of his brother. An orisha devotee in Trinidad identified Ogere
with St George and remarked that during possession Ogere carried a lance and pranced like a

69. Shango is the generic term used in Trinidad to refer to orisha worship. Titi rejects this on the
ground that Shango refers to a deity.

70. Bascom, idem., 116: "The allotted span of life can never be extended, but it can be
shortened by offended deities, by.evil spirits, by 'witches', by the curses or evil magic of one's
enemies, by swearing falsely, at human hands as punishment for crimes... Those who are
killed before their time is up become ghosts and remain on earth until their appointed day

71. A term in the vocabulary of Catholics and African religious adherents in Trinidad. It pertains
to religious celebrations in honour of the saints of the respective faiths. Cf. Maureen Warner,
"African feasts in Trinidad", African Studies Association of the West Indies Bulletin 4, 1971.

72. Quoted from the letter referred to at fn. 1. Despite Titi's emphases, which indicate that she
perceived of Jesus as a human blood sacrifice, she rejected the practice of human sacrifice in
Yorubaland which Farode had told her about.


The Kekchi are found in both Belize and Guatemala and common beliefs are found on
both sides of the international borders. Rev. Mr. Cabarrus, S.J., is a Kekchi speaker
who has done research both in Belize and in Guatemala.

Vital Rites
In every society there are the rites of the life-cycle. Although in Kekchi culture
there exists a custom concerning the way to give a name to a newborn child, usually,
this is done a few days after birth. At the same moment that the woman gives birth,
the midwife alone thanks God and makes a report on the health of the child. An
informant states:

"When the child is born, the old woman picks up the child, bathes it and says:
Oh God! Here is an angel of God. . Oh God! Holy Virgin, Oh God, the Father,
cleanse him.. Oh God! He is healthy. Oh God, how pretty he is!"

She immediately looks for a name. The Kekchi have great interest in verifying
which day it is and which saint's day. Here, we have a continuation of the ancient
custom of following the Mayan calendar. In this calendar each day had an owner who
placed his mark above the day and controlled all those born on that day. When a child
is named, the adults come out and shout it to the four corners so that the Cerros keep
an account of it. But it is perhaps the rite of the ch'up, (the umbilical cord) of the
navel, which still has more significance.

The same midwife cuts the umbilical cord and according to what town it is, places
it in a distinct place. In some places the umbilical cord is placed in the branches of the
tallest tree; this will make the child very intelligent. In other places the umbilical cord
is buried, so that the child never leaves his homeland at any time. In some places the
grandparents hurriedly bury the umbilical cord of the child in the walls of the house,
to insure that their grandchild will be very attached to his home. The mother of a girl
always puts the umbilical cord of her daughter under her pillow, so that she never
leaves home, and when the time comes for her to marry she will not live far away. If a
father wants his son to travel a lot, he throws the umbilical cord in the waters of a
river, etc. All of these customs depend on the place but there always exists a sacred
relation between the navel with the future of a child:

"The umbilical cord is buried, but if it is found by an animal, it is bad, it is a sin,
because it is the body of a child. The scab is also buried. If it is placed in a tree the
man will be able to climb trees. To keep away bad luck it is placed in the trees. The
umbilical cord of girls are placed in the base of a grinding stone so she will learn to

grind. For these reasons the women's are buried in the earth and those of the men
are hung in the sky."

After this custom, the rite has to be ratified with a meal and boj (a type of alcoholic
drink). The favoured one is the mother; nevertheless the midwife also receives a good
portion of the food and drink.

"The woman picks up the creature, cuts the navel, keeps the cord and wraps it in a
cloth. Others bury it under the house. The midwife bathes the child and leaves it
prepared in the bed. If it is a girl, you kill a rooster. They kill the rooster and make
soup and the midwife eats. The woman is given a cup filled with soup in which they
ground a head of garlic with enough pepper, with two pixtons in pieces in the cup.
The woman takes breakfast. . All this is to keep the woman from getting weak.
And she takes half a glass of an alcoholic beverage to strengthen the body."

In this ritual what is most evident is how the future life of the child is conditioned
precisely by fulfilling a series of conditions. For example the child will be of good
character if born on a Wednesday. If his umbilical cord is well placed this will guarantee
a good part of his luck. We can see this birth rite custom has the importance of
establishing a definite way for a person to lead his life. In truth, the responsibility of
the future of this child resides, then, in the "orientation" which his parents and society
offers. This "orientation" remains stable and is explicit in the choice of the parents
concerning the place or setting of the umbilical cord.

Ties to the land

Usually, the umbilical cord stays in a place near the house. Here it gives a feeling of
security to the Indians in general (since it is a custom found also in the Altiplano) and
to the Kekchi in particular. There is a great love of the land. An informant used to tell
me that he had found steady work on a farm in the north but that he returned because
his umbilical cord was left behind in his home village.

Therefore, the family in the first place is not only bound together by the rite of the
ch'up but also bound to the society in a symbolical manner. The child will find him-
self tied to his land and his people. It is for this reason that a part of his body is buried.

The umbilical cord is definitely a part of the child's body (like the hair or nails).
Perhaps that is the reason the Kekchi who have moved here to Belize have a great feel-
ing of kinship with those on the Guatemala side and they consider themselves in truth
one people. The phrase with which the Guatemalan Kekchi receive the Kekchi of
Belize says: Xcuil jun sut chic, ru lin tenamit. (Again I have seen the face of my
people). The basis of this phrase rests in the fact that Kekchi has left his body, his
umbilical cord in his home town.

The Wedding
Another type of rite of the life cycle is the sumlac, the wedding. It has two parts:
the asking and the wedding itself.

In the asking the parents of the bridegroom pick several men of their confidence to
act as their intermediate. Those go first to the church and there in front of the altar
they pray for the girl to be the wife of their friend. They excuse themselves before
God for their incapacity and burn a candle before all the images. This rite is called
xq'uehbal Xcut li usilal rubel rok' li Kacua' (to set the foundation of the bond under
the guidance of the Lord). After the visit to the church they go to the girl's home. If
she is at home she guesses what they are about and disappears. The visitors greet-the
parents of the girl warmly and they kneel in front of the altar of the house, where a
candle is lit. With extremely courteous and poetic words they explain their business.

The girl's parents normally respond that their daughter is not yet prepared to marry
because she cannot work very well yet. The visitors will answer that she will find in her
mother-in-law a true mother who will teach her. At last the parents say that they will
think about it, and the visitors fix a date for their return. Meanwhile, the girl may
oppose this marriage something that doesn't usually happen. In the case of the
parents, if they do not approve of the boy they will use courteous phrases such as:
"May God forgive this fault, we do not think of this grace for her... we cannot abuse
of this kindness . we have to say no for now, we cannot permit that you wear away
your feet in coming here; you all are not our toys." This ceremony is the Tz'amanc
(the asking).

Kekchi marriage ceremony
In addition to the civic and religious wedding, the Kekchi celebrate a rite that has
true value to them. It occurs depending on the place, before or after the marriage in
church. This custom is called uc'iha (the taking of the water). Here is the narration of
a uc'iha in Chamil (a village of Chamelco).

"On arriving they greet all. The wedding couple stays seated before the saint. The
man and the woman sit on a chair set on a petate. The godmother is in front. They
begin the uc'iha. Everyone there carries a calabash. The uncles and aunts, the grand-
parents and all other relatives attend. Friends also attend. Everyone has to give a
chocolate drink. If 20 arrive, then they drink 20 times and burn incense, and they
light a candle before the saint and from there they begin to drink boj (an alcoholic
beverage). The married couple drink coffee with bread. Only the invitees begin to
drink . from there they bring a dish of chicken and place before the saint, this be-
longs to the saint they say. Then the married couple eat from the same dish ... the
godmother cuts a poch (a type of tamale). She breaks it and gives a piece to the hus-
band and the other to the wife. The soup also is taken from the same cup and so it
goes . when this is finished they all drink boj . they burn incense when they
begin and when they finish eating ... they go before the saint again. They kneel ...
then the godfather of the man . un c'eba tiox (one who talks to God) takes the
boj saying, "They should not fight, or tell each other lies, they are now the main
ones", and quite a few more things. They have to say this for three hours. When this
is finished everyone stands. They make the sign of the cross and say, Ch'ona' ch'ona
(health to the man and woman). When this is finished the godmother and the girl
are in the house of the groom they take her to the kitchen and leave her there.

She returns crying. From there everyone returns but they are all drunk."

It is evident that the only thing that is rigid is the structure, the prayers and the
words are personal and vary from c'aba tiox to c'aba tiox. Even the signs have varia-
tions. The sharing of the tortilla and the cup of soup is something that is always the
same. In Cahobon an informant told me that they joined the heads of the couple. This
same informant told me the type of advice that they give.

"You are for your parents, obey your parents, your mother and her orders. Love
your wife, love your brothers, love the old ones, help the blind. You should not pass
in front of a blind person or old people without greeting them although you don't
know them. You should not only greet the well dressed, you should greet all.
And you woman, don't be informal, don't be angry over minor trifles. With all your
heart, you will work, wash the clothes of your husband and your in-laws and you
will do the work of your in-laws because they are your parents also.
This is your wife, this is your husband. This man has to work and this woman has
to work. He has hands and feet. Don't love her because of her beauty nor for her
appearance, because a man who also presumes, but can't work, is not wanted
because of his work.
This is your woman. You will care for her and when she is sick you will cure her,
you will also cherish her, waken her in a nice manner and when the cock crows you
will say to her, let us get up, the cock is crowing. That is being a man. You may not
beat your woman because there are men who do so. Don't do that, don't frighten
her, look at the scarecrow, (aj xibeom C'al), they are made from leaves and dressed
in a shirt, pants and hat, so also dresses a woman. You will buy her clothes.
You will give her soap to bathe and keep herself clean. That is being a man.
And you woman if you wash, your husband will be clean, and sweet smelling and if
you don't, he will smell of sweat. Then you will say that you do not want him.
Why? Because he is not clean. All this the old people say to the man and the

Part of the same matrimonial rite is that the newly-weds should not have sexual
relations until after three days. Going against this is a serious sin. One of the reasons
that they explained was that they had received the body of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to
whom respect is due.

The Kekchi of Belize and Guatemala have adopted Christian sacraments in their
celebration of these two important times of the life cycle: birth and baptism, choosing
a mate and matrimony. But, the above information also indicates that the aspects of
their own culture, probably of a pre-Columbian origin, are still quite important.


Reprinted from Belizean Studies, Volume 4 No. 3, 1976 by kind permission of the
author and editor.


1. A case of mistaken identity
The image that many people have of voodoo is one involving satanic rituals, secret
ceremonies, mysterious deaths, witchcraft, bloody sacrifices, cannibalism, and other
similar inaccurate or false descriptions often invented or promoted by dishonest
writers in search of gaudy sensationalism. More recently, there has also been the less
offensive but no less misleading exploitative touristic commercialism, directed toward
taking advantage of the foreign visitor's naivete, such as the availability in any tourist
gift-shop in Haiti of the so-called voodoo-doll, when such an artifact has no role in the
mythological, superstitious or religious traditions or practices of real voodoo. Together
with the werewolves, the vampires, the burning of witches, etc., the doll was always
and still remains a part of European superstitions. I can only share Rene S. Benjamin's
indignation when, as he notices

.. .the average American constantly asks the Haitian immigrants if they still
believe in 'voodoo dolls and pins.' This seems to imply the Haitian origin of that
gadget. However, one has only to read the history of France to know that the
figurine, made of wood or wax, that was stabbed with a pin in order to kill the
King or another person, was in use even before the discovery of Haiti. .

In fact, although this was current practice in Europe since the 13th century, its
popularization in the Court of France was the work of Signor Cosimo Ruggieri of
Florence, a protege of Catherine de Medeci. (Benjamin 1976:18) (My translation).
Together with that of the doll, the origins of many other superstitious or magic practi-
ces of Haiti have been falsely associated with the African component of voodoo.
Alfred Mdtraux warns against that tendency:

.in talking so much of Africa, we incline to forget France whose contribution
to the magic and sorcery of Haiti is far from negligible. A great many beliefs and
practices in Haitian magic originated from Normandy, Berry, Picardy or ancient
Limousin. (Mitraux 1959:269).
Within all religions, old or modern, one can find instances where the members believe
in the supernatural power of certain magic or pseudo-religious rituals or practices.
Voodoo is certainly no exception; voodooists do believe in talismans, charms, 'wangas',
etc. But if such superstitious rituals or practices are exploited in the pursuit of evil,
voodoo fundamentally regards them as sacrilegious. Those who participate in them are
avoided and despised; for instance, the derogatory names of 'bokor' or 'gangan' are

reserved for the priests who specialize in satisfying the baser instincts of their clients
by obtaining favours from bad gods pejoratively called 'loa diab.'

Haitian voodoo, in reality, is a harmless mixture of religious beliefs of African
origin, with the Christian, more exactly the Catholic faith. As a religion, it aims at
honouring its gods and spiritual entities from whom the followers ask

"what men have always asked of religion: remedy for ills, satisfaction for needs and
the hope of survival." (M6traux 1959:15).

2. The struggle for survival
Voodoo has had to face many destructive attacks from abroad and from within
Haiti. Its ability to withstand them in spite of its primitivism is noteworthy. It was
deeply wounded by Seabrook's Magic Island and Spencer St. John's Haiti or the Black
Republic. More recently it was able to survive the mortal assaults of the champagnee
anti-superstitieuse", such ah important chapter in its modem history, that its mere
mention is not enough.

In 1941, under the presidency of Elie Lescot, the Catholic Clergy and the govern-
ment of Haiti organized an all-out war against voodoo, a real demon-hunt, as they saw
it, their way of saving the souls of the voodoo devotees from eternal damnation.
Together with conversion to Catholicism, the goal of the crusade was also to destroy
voodoo in all its manifestations once and for all. The result was instead the destruc-
tion of irreplaceable folkloric treasures. Let's hear the testimony of an impartial eye-

"I was in Haiti in 1941, and I remember seeing in the back-yards of presbyteries
vast pyramids of drums, painted bowls, necklaces, talismans all waiting for the
day fixed for the joyous blaze which was to symbolize the victory of the Church
over Satan." (Me'traux 1959:343).

In 1942 in fear of political complications, the government withdrew its support to
the crusade which in fact had failed to reach any beneficial goals. Thanks to the
influence of the immortal Jacques Roumain, many Haitian leaders returned to their
senses. The remaining three years of the Lescot presidency could well be described as
years of truce. Beginning with the presidency of Estimd in 1946, the last three decades
have been an era of relative peace, freedom and tranquillity.

Today, voodoo is losing some of its scary aspects. Educated Haitians more and more
appreciate it as one of the most genuine expressions of their folklore. Detractors are
rarer, and the wounds created by the persecutions of 1941 seem to have healed. But
the commercial exploitation of the tourist's naivete needs badly to be controlled, or
voodoo will remain the victim of widespread ignorance: each American who goes to
Haiti expects to witness some ceremony. Fake priests in false temples abound. Hotel
maids, taxi drivers, tourist guides are ready to satisfy the visitors' curiosity by taking
them to voodoo shows. Shows indeed, this is what is offered most of the times.

Although artistically no harm is done, what is performed is in fact a sacrilegious mix-
ture of economic exploitation and religious prostitution. A sad situation, since voodoo
is essentially the religion of all the rural and of much of the urban population.
According to Benjamin (Benjamin 1976: 13) it is practised by "more than 50% of the
population." Personally, I believe that 80% is a more realistic figure. In the rural areas,
the family is grounded around its beliefs and teachings. Those beliefs and teachings
have in no small part contributed to the proverbial honesty, integrity, and goodness of
the heart of the Haitian peasant. Those beliefs and teachings are no doubt a factor in
the practically complete absence of criminality in Haiti, a miraculous phenomenon
indeed in this modem world.

3. Early historical background

The history of Haitian voodoo begins with the arrival of the slaves in Saint
Domingue. Its African features were imported then. The word "voodoo" itself is
African etymologically: in Dahomey a 'voodoo' is a "god" or spirit. Some gods found
in Haiti are identified geographically: Siniga (Senegal), Ibo, Congo, Wangal (Angola),
Erzulie-Freda-Dahomey, etc. Many of the Haitian divinities are still honoured in
Africa under the same names: Legba, Damballah-Wedo, Aido-Wedo, Zaka, Ogou,
Shango etc.

After their forced transplantation into Saint-Domingue, the Africans lived through
numerous years of religious confusion, having been physically separated from their
native places of worship and gods, and presented with a purposely imperfect
instruction in the religion of the European settlers. French law made it an obligation
for masters to baptize their slaves and give them Catholic instruction. After baptism,
however, real evangelization was systematically avoided. M6traux cites Vaissiere's
La Society et La Vie Creole where it is reported that

". .in Catholic religion, (the slave owners) saw nothing but the teaching of an
equality which it would be dangerous to put in the minds of the slaves."
(M6traux 1959:34)
To which the clergy answered:

"by rehearsing to the owners the advantages of religious education in terms which
the owners might appreciate. They described it as the only brake strong enough to
contain a slave's desire for freedom, since 'only by fulfilling the duties of the
condition and situation to which Providence has called him, can a man achieve
sanctity.' (M6traux 1959:34)

In short, it is obvious that during the three centuries of European domination,
temporal utilitarianism took precedence over spiritual enlightment. When some
Jesuits tried to propagate the true Christian gospel, their daring action was added to
the crimes for which they were expelled in 1762. It is thus not surprising that the
Africans had to develop their own interpretation of many Catholic rituals, and merge
them with their religious substratum.

4. The organization of modern voodoo
Today, voodoo has crystallized into an organized, although not completely
standardized system of rituals with its theology, its temples, its clergy, etc., and music
as one of its most important features.

Each voodoo temple has its priests, 'houngan' (man), 'mambo' (woman), their
assistants 'hounsi', and its congregation, serving certain well-designated gods. In addi-
tion to their supernatural powers, 'houngans' and 'mambos' are expected to know
the liturgical terminology, the names of the gods or 'loas', their symbols, their tastes,
along with the various ceremonial rituals, prayers, and songs. They are also expected to
practise exorcism and to cure the sick. The priest is called to his vocation by super-
natural means: dreams, predestination, trance. The profession can also be hereditary.
The person who is called cannot refuse to serve the god for fear of being severely
punished. The future houngan or mambo studies under a master for many months or
years. When he is finally ready for the priesthood, he is locked into the 'Dj6v6' (initia-
ton room) for nine days during which he sleeps with his 'Asson' (sacred rattle), while
observing complete purity and chastity, under the watchful eyes of his master. The
last day, after receiving all required instructions from his gods, he is declared a priest
during a special ceremony. The voodoo temple or 'houmfor' is just a regular house
with an adjoining or neighboring covered patio or 'peristyle.' The peristyle is where
most of the ceremonies take place. In the rooms are found a variety of sacred objects
depending on the god served: Legba's crutches, Ogou's sabre, Zaka's hat, Baron
Samedi's cross, etc., or the pictures of the gods themselves.

5. The voodoo gods
In voodoo there are important gods, and there are secondary gods. Their exact
number has not been determined. There are good gods, but there are also bad gods
called 'loa diab', 'mauvais loa', 'loa achetW', and good voodoo followers must stay away
from them. Moreover, above all the gods, voodoo places a supreme God or 'Grand
Maitre.' The notion of 'Grand Maitre' is that of a force superior to the 'loas', but who
has traditionally delegated his power to those. He takes care of natural sicknesses,
meteorological phenomena, rain, earthquakes, etc. He holds the key to everybody's
destiny, but in his decisions he generally follows the advice of the 'loas.'

There have been several attempts at classifying the 'loas.' The best known classifica-
tion is that which follows the binary division of the rites: the 'Rada' rite and the
'Petro' rite. 'Rada' gods are mild and gentle, while 'Petro' are rough, mean, and served
by people searching for material results, good or bad, for which the gods demand a
dear price. The separation 'Rada-Petro' doesn't imply that the two categories cannot
honour the same divinities. It only means that the gods will have different characteris-
tics. For example, there is an Erzulie goddess of love in both, but while in 'Rada' we
find the enamouring Erzulie-Frida, in 'Petro' she is known as the jealous and selfish
Erzulie-Yeux-Rouges. The two categories also differ in chants, music, dances, etc. For
instance, 'Rada' uses sets of three drums, while 'Petro' uses sets of two; 'Petro' ritual
acclamation is 'Bilobilo', compared to 'Radas' 'Abobo.'

The pictorial representation of the voodoo divinities is one area in which strong
Catholic influence is evident: images of Christian saints are used to represent most
voodoo gods or 'loas.' The choice of a saint is not based on his or her Christian
characteristics or virtues, but simply and only on some physical detail of the drawing
or painting, that is interpreted as representing an important trait of the 'loa.' For

Papa Legba, the most powerful of all voodoo divinities, is believed to be a very old
man walking on crutches. Thus, Saint Anthony Abbot is chosen to represent him
because of the white beard, while Saint Lazarus is also similarly identified because of
the crutches. The image of Saint Peter holding the keys is also thought to be that of
Legba, honoured this time as the protector of the home. Saint Martin is Ogou, god of
war, while Saint Joseph is Loco-Attiso, god of plants and flowers. The image of the
Immaculate Conception with the snake at her feet is, for the voodooists, that of Aida-
Wedo, the snake goddess, while the presence of the snakes in Saint Patrick's picture
explains the identification of the Irish Saint to Damballah-Wedo, the snake-god and
husband of Aida. The choice of the image of a saint to make it represent a voodoo god
does not mean that the voodooists do not also honour that image as that of a Catholic
Saint. One of the most peculiar characteristics of voodoo is that its followers must also
be practising Catholics who regularly go to church, to confession, to communion, etc.
Devotees are sincerely convinced that they are not doing anything wrong by mixing
the two religions.

In margin of the two main groups of gods, there are various subgroups of 'genies',
some with African names: Ibo, Nago, Bambara, Haoussa, Mondongue, Congo, etc. as
well as the popular subgroup of 'guides', the ill-behaved rascals of voodoo.

One of the most poetic features of voodoo is its animistic mythology. For instance,
it attributes spirits or souls to many manifestations of nature, the sun, the earth, the
moon, the trees. The spirit of the plants cures illnesses and diseases, and before taking
the leaves for medicine, its permission must be asked. Before cutting a tree, a peasant
will hit it three times with the back of his axe to notify its soul, and address a prayer
to the Holy Ghost. Lagoons and rivers have a goddess residing in them, the 'maitresse
dlo' whose permission is required before crossing. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday
have good souls; Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday have bad souls. January, March,
May, July, August, and October have good souls; the other months have bad souls,
December being the worst, which explains for the voodoo devotee, why most deaths
occur during that month.

6. The voodoo trance: theomorphosis not theolepsy

While in most religions the gods are entities endowed with a strictly immaterial
existence, and judged to be the ultimate models of the perfection for which the
devotee should strive, it is indeed important to realize that in voodoo, we find divini-
ties that are yearning to be human. They want to be materially alive, to feel, to suffer
or to be happy like the common people. They have human desires, habits, tastes, etc.,
which they manifest when they incarnate in their chosen faithful. That incarnation is

what is known by most people as the "possession trance." It should be clearly under-
stood from the start that this so-called possession is irrefutably viewed by the believers
as possession by a god and is in no way to be associated with any kind of demoniacal

Before any explanatory discussion of the phenomenon, a short descriptive presenta-
tion of the trance may be helpful.

Voodoo followers believe that each person has two souls, the 'big soul' and the
'small soul.' The 'big soul' is responsible for thought, memory, feelings, while the
'small soul' is the protecting spirit. At the beginning of the trance, the 'small soul' is
chased away by the 'loa' who then takes its place. The person talks, acts, behaves like
the god. He loses control of his motions, or finds himself capable of doing physically
things he doesn't normally do. Convulsions, spasms, shaking, perspiration, fast respira-
tion, are also part of the condition. The future evolution of the trance depends on the
'loa' who wants to manifest itself, as well as on the experience and knowledge of the
person. Meanwhile, since possession usually takes place at the height of the ceremony
and is expected everything is foreseen to please the god: the necessary ornaments
his clothes, tools, food, etc., are brought to him. After the trance, which may last
from a short time to several days, the expossessed doesn't seem to remember anything.

During the last few years, a lot of research has been centred around the study of
the theomorphic phenomenon. However, after many books, articles and discussions,
there is still a wide diversity of opinions, and no commonly accepted explanatory

Those who have observed and studied the trance have tried to answer the obvious

Are those states to be classified as psychopathological?
Are we in the presence of supernatural possessions?
Are they simply the culmination of pre-planned rituals?

Most researchers agree that the questions raised cannot be satisfactorily answered
by simply viewing the phenomenon as a psychopathological state, comparable to
hysteria, psychosis or any other kind of psychic or psychosomatic disorders. M6traux,
for instance, after stating that:

"The symptoms of the opening phase of trance are clearly psychopathological.
They conform exactly, in their main features, to the stock clinical conception of
hysteria." (Mdtraux 1959.:120),

recognizes, after discussion that:

"Possession could hardly be explained entirely in terms of psychopathology. Such
an explanation is probably only valid for a limited number of people who are
unquestionably truly neurotic. ." (Mdtraux 1959:136).

Dr. Louis Maxmilien is of the opinion that the trance is:

". .. an artificially induced hysterical state, caused by suggestion or hypnotism."
(Maximilien 1945 quoted on page 148 of Benjamin 1976) (My translation).

Closer to us chronologically, Rend S. Benjamin sounds like a disciple of Maximilien,
whose "suggestion or hypnotism" explanations he widens considerably by proposing
what could be called the "reflex modelization theory." For Benjamin:

"The trance is not, in fact, a 'possession' of the individual by a god, but a
'modelization' accomplished by the process of reflex conditioning .......
Consequently, the possessed is entirely under the control of the reflex laws, his
conscious self having been oriented toward the modeling of a conventional
character. .. The 'modelization' phenomenon is a total, though unconscious
identification of an individual with an imaginary character, a fictitious model."
(Benjamin 1976:150, 153) (My translation).
Benjamin's theory, in my opinion, makes a lot of sense, indeed. Louis Mars, the well-
known Haitian psychiatrist, in a recent article published in the Port-au-Prince news-
paper Le Nouvelliste (April 30, 1976), offered his newest explanation, one based, he
says, on the "theory of communication." He calls religious possession:

".. .a language inherited from the most remote past, and transmitted more or less
accurately by the peasants from generation to generation." (Louis Mars 1976).
(My translation).

Mars' article, indeed a descriptive model more than an explanatory theory, contains,
among other things, very valuable advice. The author stresses the danger of not making
the indispensable strict distinction between religious possession and psychopathologi-
cal conditions, and warns the reader against some previous misleading approaches or

"The first observations on Haitian voodoo were compiled by physicians who used
clinical accidental models in their diagnosis of possession. Little by little, we have
realized our mistake and offered the necessary correction." (Mars 1976).(My transla-

Louis Mars, himself a medical doctor and one of the foremost experts on the
subject, is in the best possible position to offer reliable guidance. While I have found
his article interesting and enlightening, I judge it necessary, however, to disagree with
what I think constitutes a poor choice of terminology. My disagreement focuses on
his emphatic use of the word "theolepsy" in the title and throughout the article, and
on his proposal in favour of the adoption of such a term to designate the voodoo

I am by no means arguing that the word "theolepsy" is not etymologically correct;
it is. As Dr. Mars says, it means "seized by the God." My contention is that, in the
context of Haitian voodoo, such a label could be misleading and even harmful. I feel
that "theolepsy" contains dangerous psychopathological implications, especially for

the average layman who may analogyze it with "epilepsy" or catalepsyy", and come
to the conclusion that the trance is a disease or an abnormal state. Too often already
has voodoo been the victim of popular misinformation. I would like to suggest a less
confusing term, "theomorphosis", which from now on I will use in this paper.

I wish to make sure that my own position in the voodoo theomorphic controversy
is clear and unambigious. First, although I do not subscribe to the voodoo creed, I have
jood reasons to be certain of the sincere and deep faith of the devotees in their gods
and their supernatural or mystical manifestations.

Second, I have no intentions of disguising my extreme antipathy toward pathologi-
cal or medical explanations in general whose implications would be to make Haiti a
nation of psychopaths, considering the number of natives normally subject to the
phenomenon especially when I realize that voodoo theomorphosis is far from being
the first or only victim of medical theorization or pseudo-empirical scientism. Fortu-
nately, scores of trustworthy and highly respected authors and researchers have held
very tolerant positions. May I be allowed here to call upon the testimony of just one
of the most reliable, the great American psychologist and physician William
James. Three quarters of a century ago, he isolated the real problem, when he warned
his students at Edinburg against "medical materialism":

"Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to
Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It
snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Asisi as an hereditary
degenerate." ........

"it attempts to discredit the states which it dislikes, by vaguely associating them
with nerves and liver, and connecting them with names connoting bodily afflic-
tion. ." (James 1902:14, 16).

Voodoo is not, of course, the only religion where trance-like states, or mystic mani-
festations, can be commonly observed. The boudhists have what is known as the
'dhyana' or state of higher contemplation, and some modem Christians "shake", or
participate in "charismatic" rituals.

Al Ghazzali, "one of the greatest doctors of the Moslem Church", is quoted by
William James, in reference to what he calls "the Science of the Sufis":

"The Science of the Sufis aims at detaching the heart from all that is not God..
From the beginning, revelations take place in so flagrant a shape that the Sufis see
before them, whilst wide awake, the angels and the souls of the prophets. They hear
their voices and obtain their favours. Then the transport rises from the perception
of forms and figures to a degree which escapes all expression. ." (James 1902:
394, 395).

James also reminds to our attention that in India:

". .. training in mystical insight has been known from time immemorial under the

name of yoga. Yoga means the experimental union of the individuals with the
divine." (James 1902: 391).
I personally believe that in voodoo, as well as in other religions, those who

"have frequently fallen into trances, heard voices, seen visions, and presented all
sorts of peculiarities which are ordinarily classed as pathological" (James 1902:8),
should not as a consequence be declared degenerate, hysteric or neurotic. Why do we
have to listen to the forever repeated agnostic arguments of scientism? Why can't we
accept the possibility that those people could be exceptional

"individuals for whom religion exists not as a dull habit, but an acute fever
rather. ."? (James 1902:8).
Such a tolerant position would allow us to view all the states of "mystic consciousness"
cultivated by many religions, as exercises readily accessible to the healthy and normal
mind, and not signs of psychic derangement.

Finally, I consider of great importance that in most cases of authentic theomor-
phosis, there seems to be a well-prepared plot to be followed by the participants and
the audience. Otherwise, how can we account for the perfect chronological arrange-
ment of the event? Genuine theomorphosis seems to occur as part of some strict ritual
arrangement, during ceremonies, sometimes collectively.

One additional word of warning is in order. Let us not allow our desire to be
tolerant to carry us beyond reasonable limits. In Haiti, as anywhere else in the world,
there are real psychopathological cases which must remain within the domain of
medicine. Too often in Haiti, however, clearly abnormal manifestations that have
nothing to do with religious or mystic expression are viewed commonly as theomorphic
possessions. No! No! No! A thousand times no! Haitians in general are so deeply
religious that they tend to see a trance whenever some hysterical individual comes up
with a crisis.

7. A typical voodoo ceremony
Now let us imagine we are attending a voodoo ceremony. Here is what we
would see:

First would come the salutations and the parade of the flags. Signs of respect are
shown among the dignitaries, for example, the 'hounsis' turning three times in front of
the 'houngan', and kissing the ground, or the dignitaries kissing the flags. Then would
come the invocations to the god being honoured, beginning often with "in the name
of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The invocations are followed
by the libations or special salutations with water, in front of the sacred objects, and
the ritual drawing of the 'veves' (symbolic signs of the gods) on the floor of the
'peristyle' with powder or flour, accompanied with sacred prayers and ceremonial
gestures. Next would come the sacrifice if one is called for. This feature of the voodoo
rites has so often been the victim of wrong or dishonest presentation that, in the
name of fairness, clarifications are imperative.

The voodoo sacrifice fits perfectly within the classical tradition found in many
religions, including Judeo-Christianity, to offer an animal to the gods to appease their
ire or to obtain their favours. In voodoo moreover, an animal is sacrificed only if and
when it is specifically prescribed in the rituals. In many cases fruits and vegetables, or
ordinary gifts are used instead. Among the animals offered, chickens seem to be the
favourite, followed by goats; a bull may be killed if the circumstances require it,
meaning often if there are enough guests to eat it. Petro gods are especially fond of
pigs. For the sacrifice, the priest must be in a state of complete purity, and have taken
a bath in perfumed, blessed water. The animal also is washed before its immolation; a
dish of sacred food is placed in front of it, if it doesn't eat, this means that the god
wants it to be replaced by another animal. After the animal is ritually killed, its body
is laid on the veve, (symbolic drawings on the floor). It is cut and cooked to the taste
of the god whose favourite parts and pieces are set apart and reserved.

The voodoo ceremony (or party!) reaches its paroxism after the offerings, when the
audience is invited to participate in the dances which are such an important feature of
the rituals, that voodoo could be called a religion of dances. This part of the service is
when most theomorphic trances take place. And from there to the end, the whole
thing is just a big party.

8. The future of Haitian voodoo
One cannot overstress how regrettable it is that most people still do not understand
or know the true face of voodoo. Such ignorance worsens the damage attributable to
the primitivism of the religion itself. But in spite of voodoo's primitivism the historico-
cultural heritage that it represents should not be disdained. The Third World in general,
and Haitians in particular, should at no time forget its catalizing role during our War of
Independence, the greatest indeed of all world revolutions, since its fruit was the free-
dom of a whole race. Long live the "Serment du Bois Caiman."

Some well-meaning people honestly believe that voodoo constitutes today a hind-
rance to the progress of Haiti. Personally, I would rather think that the traditional lack
of development of the country instead is responsible for the everlasting survival of the
primitive aspects of voodoo. It is my conviction that the day that will see Haiti
definitively engaged on the road to progress, will also signify the eventual disappear-
ance of voodoo as a religion, while its survival as folklore is most likely. Meanwhile, in
spite of its identification with primitivism, backwardness or hindrances, it is still
contributing a great service for the mental health and social happiness of the unbeliev-
ably miserable Haitian peasant: its dances and parties give him joy, his faith gives him



Bach, Marcus, VADOU, Religion, sorcellerie, magie, Paris: Hachette, 1955.

Benjamin, Rene S., Introspection dans l'inconnu, New York: French Printing Publishing Corp.,

Dorsainvil, J.C., Vodou et nevrose, Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie La Presse, 1931.

---- Une Explication philologique du vodou, Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie Pierre-Noel, 1924.

Foisset, J., "Quelques considerations gdnerales sur les superstitions." Port-au-Prince: La Phalange.
Feb. 25, 1942.

Herkovitz, Melville, Life in a Haitian Valley, New York: A.A. Knopf, 1937.

James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience, New York: The Modern Library, 1902.

Leyburn, James G., The Haitian People, New Heaven: Yale University Press, 1945.

Mars, Louis, "La Crise de possession dans le vadou." Paris: in La Vie Medicale. Noel, 1952.

--- "Une nouvelle tape dans la reflexion sur les theolopsies en Haiti." Port-au-Prince: Journal
Le Nouvelliste, April 30, 1976.

Maximilien, Louis, Le Vaudou haitien, Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie de l'Etat, 1945.

Mdtraux, Alfred, Voodoo in Haiti, (1972 edition of translation by Hugo Charteris), New York:
Schocken Books, 1959.

Rigaud, Milo, La Tradition vaudou et le vaudou haitien, Paris: Niclaus, 1953.

Roumain, Jacques, A propos de la Campagne 'antisuperstitieuse', Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie de
I'Etat, 1942.

St.-John, Spencer, Hayti or the Black Republic, London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1884.

Vaissiere, Pierre de, Saint-Domingue (1629-1789): La Socidte et la vie creole, Paris: Perrin, 1909.


My special thanks to my friend and colleague Jack lannucci, Chairman of the
Language Department of St. Joseph's College, for his careful reading of this paper. His
suggestions were useful and deeply appreciated

My affectionate gratitude to my daughter Magali, for her patient proof-reading of
the manuscript.


Spiritism, as practised in Puerto Rico, is an organized religious cult which adheres
to Christian beliefs and bases its authenticity on Biblical passages. (Spiritism: Although
this relatively new term for spiritualism has not attained widespread popularity, I
choose to use it in an attempt to avoid confusion with the more general metaphysical
meaning attached to the term "spiritualism"; also, it is a better translation of the
Spanish term espiritismo). Spiritists believe in a life beyond our ordinary corporeal
existence which takes the form of spirit entities that can communicate with the living
through specially gifted people called mediums. These spirit entities are capable of
revealing the past, of seeing the present more clearly and of predicting the future. They
are specially adept at diagnosing diseases or any abstruse situation, and at prescribing
remedies for them. Spiritist services are held regularly in temples and centres. In
Puerto Rico these have such descriptive names as House of Souls, Centre of Love and
Charity, The Spirits' Dwelling, Centre of the Good Shepherd, and many others.

It was in 1954 when I went to my first Spiritist centre. This was my introduction to
Spiritism as an organized movement. The Federation of Spiritists of Puerto Rico, a
non-profit organization of Spiritist practitioners, proudly dates its beginnings back to
the year 1903. There are upwards of two hundred Spiritist centres or temples in
Puerto Rico. Dona Ana's Centre of the Good Shepherd was one of these. It was located
in a crowded working class neighbourhood of San Juan.

The Centre of the Good Shepherd consisted of a room about thirty by forty feet in
size, occupying the basement of Dona Ana's house. Two long tables stood at the front
of the room, with a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd hanging on the wall directly
behind them. The tables were covered with white table cloths, and a vase of flowers
stood on the main one, along with a religious statue of St. Anne, a collection plate,
and pads and pencils. Chairs were placed behind the tables for Dona Ana and the
three or four mediums who assisted her at the Centre. The public sat on wooden
benches and folding chairs which formed six rows on either side of a centre aisle.
There were probably fifteen to twenty people already seated when I arrived.

Dona Ana, I would judge, was sixty-odd years old, an unpretentious, motherly type
of woman who professed dedication to her cause of helping others. No money was
solicited, but it was understood that Dona Ana had no other means to continue her
work and keep the Centre open other than through contributions from the people who
attended her services. If I remember correctly, one of the assisting mediums made an
announcement to that effect. On days and at times that regular meetings are not being
held, a person with a problem can consult her about it privately. If one went to her

house with some such intention, it would be very much like visiting a country doctor's
office. The anteroom would be full of people and one would just sit and wait his turn.

That night the meeting opened with long prayers read from the Spiritists' prayer
book, A Collection of Selected Prayers by Allan Kardec, by one of the assisting
mediums, a man. Then, Dona Ana started her invocation, which was directed more to
Christian religious figures than to the spirit world. Shortly, she passed from prayer
into a semi-trance state; this was announced by a short spasm-like contraction of her
whole body and an abrupt change in her speaking voice. Dona Ana's spirit protection,
or spirit guide, was a mischievous little girl, fond of playing pranks, and the medium's
voice took on that quality with a great deal of giggling and uncontrolled laughter.

In this state the clairvoyant received some messages for various members of the
public, who were motioned to stand when they were being addressed. For the outsider,
none of these messages from the beyond were very interesting or in any way transcen-
dental. They seemed to have some significance, however, for those to whom they
were directed. This rather unimpressive, emotionless atmosphere dragged on for about
an hour and a half, with various members of the audience leaving and new ones
arriving during this time. Some of the other mediums had visitations too, but, here
again, nothing spectacular.

The audience by then had probably doubled its original size. I was growing rather
weary and was about to leave since nothing so far had impressed me very much. A little
earlier I had noticed a middle-aged man, helping a younger woman, who was decidedly
ill, come in. The woman's face was pained; in addition, she had that helpless, vacant
look of the mentally ill. The man sat her down near the door and then went up to the
table and spoke to the assistant who had opened the meeting. After several minutes of
talking together, he sat down beside the sick woman. I was just getting up to leave
when Dona Ana broke out in a revitalized voice, punctuated with the ridiculing
laughter of a mischievous child. "Ha!" she interjected, "you are a fraud. You come
here and try to deceive us!" I momentarily made a startled jump but then realized that
her words had not been addressed to me but to the man with the sick lady.

"You are a medium yourself," she continued, "you have taken this woman to
many centres, but you always try to paint the sickness as something that it is not.
You say that your neighbours and friends flee from her; no one wants to go near her,
that she is insane. Rubbish! Rubbish!"

Here, Dona Ana was seized by a spell of violent coughing. She reached out for a
white handkerchief and put it over her mouth, coughing into it. Then, in a triumphant
voice, she said, "This woman is no more insane than I am! See this?" She brandished
the handkerchief she had been coughing into, and it was spotted with blood. "This is
what is wrong with her!"

The man admitted the truth that his sister was under medical treatment for tuber-
culosis but that he wanted to find out if, in addition, she might have some type of
spiritual trouble. He thought that perhaps some malevolent spirit from the other

world was attached to his sister, causing additional strain and grief. Dona Ana assured
him that the woman had kindly spirits protecting her and that the only thing to be
done was to pray and to continue the treatment prescribed by the doctors. With this
vivid scene of sacred Spiritism engraved upon my mind, I left Dona Ana's Centre of the
Good Shepherd.

Prior to this experience, I had never been overly impressed by Spiritists' claims.
They had told me personally very few things of any consequence, and most of those
could have been arrived at by any educated guessing process. I had been even further
soured on the subject when one of the mediums who held meetings in my apartment
told an acquaintance of mine that she was spiritually involved and that he could free
her from this involvement for the sum of one thousand dollars. By contrast, Dona
Ana's performance had truly impressed me and I do not feel that her Spiritist work
was motivated by anything but an earnest and sincere desire to help her fellow man.
She asked for nothing for herself in return for her services and many who visited her
were not in circumstances to leave even a small offering. Yet, she gave freely of herself
to all that visited her.

Both sacred and profane Spiritism may be practised in many ways. In Puerto Rico
the parapsychological manifestations and phenomena of mental mediumship along
with spirit healings are the most prevalent forms of Spiritism to be found. Cases of
spirit photography and materializations or other such phenomena of physical medium-
ship are rarely encountered. In the years that I have lived here, some accounts of
supernatural phenomena have appeared in the public media. Only three in particular
relating to material manifestations stand out in my mind because they were given extra
coverage by the local press. The three cases were: the appearance of the Virgin in a
rural area, the shedding of visible tears by a religious figure, and the secretion of a
darkish substance from the wounds of another religious statue. None of these
materializations, however, was confirmed nor denied by the clergy at the time.

Diviners, soothsayers, geomancers and crystalgazers have always existed throughout
history. Their means of stimulating psychic activity are as varied as their names. Some
commonly known ones are card, teacup, sand and astral reading, automatic writing,
the divining of animal entrails, seashells, knots, and so forth. Whatever the instrument
used, it serves a single purpose that of focussing the diviners' concentration in such a
way as to induce partial self-hypnosis. In this state of separation from the physical
world, psychic clarity is more easily achieved. Mediumistic seizures may be variably
manifested through the Spiritist practitioner in a continuum of states running from
spasms or contortions to simple deep breathing or a stupor-like trance.

The gift of mediumship is highly respected and not to be dealt with lightly.
Mediums in Puerto Rico are often highly esteemed members of the society. Ruth
Benedict, in Patterns of Culture, writes generally that "a mild mystic is aberrant in
Western civilization." But this was not always so, since during the Middle Ages an
ecstatic experience was the mark of sainthood for the Catholics, and ". . the trance
experience was greatly valued. Among primitive peoples trance and catalepsy have
been honoured in the extreme."1 In Puerto Rico people are neither living in the Middle

Ages nor in a primitive society; however, psychic experiences are seriously regarded
and respected.

Psychic phenomena are being studied seriously in many parts of the world. The
Society for Psychical Research of London, the American Society for Psychical
Research in New York City and other investigators in parapsychology have made
sufficient experiments under controlled laboratory conditions to estimate that about
fifty percent of humanity either have or can develop clairvoyant faculties of percep-
tion. Psychic faculties are quite prevalent in the very young but since these are often
ignored and seldom cultivated, they are lost as the child grows older. An uncomfortable
uneasy feeling attached to the supernatural, manifesting itself sometimes in fear
of anything paranormal in the psychic sense, is probably the reason for parents'
scolding and even punishing children who speak of psychic phenomena. In this way
the child is conditioned to repress his natural faculties. Later in life, when the natural
medium learns the beneficial aspects of psychic powers, it is a difficult task to
properly cultivate and control these powers.

In Puerto Rico, some Spiritists believe that many occupants of insane asylums
would not be there had someone understood how to properly control a latent
mediumship which was struggling to reach the surface of self-expression in these very
patients. This correlates closely the beliefs in many primitive societies about magic,
witchcraft, sorcery and mediumistic practices. In speaking of shamans and religious
practitioners, Paul Radin in Primitive Religion states that these are selected "on a basis
of their neurotic-epileptoid mental constitution. ."2 Ethnologists accept this state-
ment as applying to some societies, but they would not generalize it as widely as Radin
did. Ruth Benedict, in describing the same general characteristics, refers to them as
borderline psychological states of being. Few writers on the subject take objection to
the general observation that many such religious activities provide an outlet for
nervous tension and serve as therapy for real or potential psychotic and neurotic

A Puerto Rican Spiritist will explain away many mental disorders in an identical
manner. A very close friend of mine with a son who has been diagnosed by psycholo-
gists as a borderline case of mental retardation the youth's I.Q. is scarcely fifty -
took him to a very renowned and successful Spiritist medium when the young man
had a recent mental collapse. For many weeks he had been under constant vigilance
since his actions were completely irrational. The psychiatrist who regularly treated
him had merely prescribed drugs which put him in a stupor-like state but did not seem
to improve his condition. In desperation the family consulted the medium, and she
assured them that the patient did not have a "spirit cause", i.e. he was not possessed
by any evil spirits. She diagnosed his case, however, as that of a developing medium-
ship and said that he definitely would not become maniacal. She worked and prayed
over him, invoking St. Judas Thaddeus and St. Michael the Archangel and, at the same
time, made the sign of the cross with a lighted candle over his head, at the nape of his
neck, in front of his eyes and over his heart. She prescribed three herb baths on three
successive days, the first to be administered on a Tuesday. (For a description of the

contents, see Appendix I). After each bath the youth was to make seven complete
turns to the right and then seven to the left. In his shoe, under the right foot, he was
to place two petiveria alliaceae leaves forming a cross; an herb of grace leaf (ruta
graveolens) was to be carried in his pocket at all times. She also prescribed eight
bottles of "Tonique Roche" to be taken one tablespoonful three times a day. This
is a tonic made in Switzerland and is described as a "fortifying agent to increase
physical and mental vigour and performance, for prompt and lasting relief of the
symptoms of physical and mental exhaustion" (quoted from the label of the bottle).
Within a week the young man returned to his normal behaviour.

Many will argue that the psychiatrist's medicine brought the boy back to his normal
state. His parents argue that the psychiatrist had had him under his care for over two
months, and he had not responded at all, but the medium, Dona Sylvia, had brought
him around in less than two weeks. There is no empirical evidence in this case which
would favour either of the arguments.

Mediumistic faculties and the gift of healing may be revealed in many different
ways, just as they manifest themselves differently in different persons. In some
societies it is through a vision that this talent is recognized. This is particularly true of
the North American Indians. Some cultures consider dreams as indications of spirit
activity. Throughout Micronesia and Melanesia, mediumistic powers are protected
from contamination by all persons of lesser sanctity through adherence to strict
taboos. "To know what to do is the key which unlocks supernatural forces for men."3
In Puerto Rico, a country whose population is predominantly Roman Catholic, signs of
Spiritist inclinations are closely allied with Catholic beliefs and rituals. William Madsen
in Mexican-Americans of South Texas has described how a devout Catholic of Mexican
heritage had his gift for spirit healing revealed. Stories identical in substance abound in
Puerto Rico.

A male curer received his gift during a pilgrimage to a distant shrine where he gave
thanks for his daughter's recovery from a critical illness. As he knelt before the
altar, he felt pain and great weariness from the long trip. He looked up at the altar
and said, "But, I would suffer anything to repay your blessedness in curing my
daughter." At that moment, his pain and fatigue vanished. "My body was suddenly
filled with strength and joy," the curer recalled. "I saw an added brightness around
the altar and felt a cool, loving pressure on my head. And I heard a voice say, "It is
through you that I cured your daughter. You have my power within you. If you
wish to truly repay me, use this gift to help the sick and suffering."

True Spiritist powers reveal to us the psychic world that world which is outside
ourselves, outside the human realm of physical perception. This is the manner in which
psychic powers differ from the psychological manifestations expressed in hunches or
intuition. Intuitions come from within ourselves and are shaped by our own feelings,
emotions, experiences and memories. The psychic world is observed independent of
ourselves, if often unrelated to us, and is completely impersonal. Psychic perception,
which Professor C.G. Jung calls intuition and defines as any and all forms of perception
which are experienced through means other than the physical senses, registers two

different classes of objects. One class is the physical world which is seen in a manner
our ordinary perceptive senses cannot capture an unopened letter is read, hidden
objects are discovered, an internal body injury or ailment is seen, things happening at a
far distance are heard or seen. The other class takes in objects which have no physical
properties history can be relived. Future events are predicted, people's emotions and
thoughts can be revealed without the subject's conscious aid.

When are persons more prone to seek Spiritist aid and consult mediums, diviners or
any other supernatural practitioners? It is at times of great stress, perturbation or
misfortune. The most common of these is at times of sickness or during a natural
catastrophy. Advice, both sacred and profane, is sought in affairs of the heart, in
business adventures or trips, successful lottery numbers have been given and horses
that will win in a race. There seems to be almost no limit to what advice can be sought
and received through Spiritist revelations. Supernatural beliefs "are a means of coping
with events. To act is better than to remain inert in the face of actual or threatened
misfortune, and where the victim cannot refer to a body of empirical knowledge for
help, then magical and ritual procedures, which are not ordinarily subject to empirical
testing in the same way as practical techniques, may provide a socially acceptable
recipe for action."5

Occasions of stress are experienced at one time or another by all people; no class or
cultural barriers are known here. It is for that reason that I must take exception to
Lloyd Henry Rogler and August B. Hollingshead when they write in the American
Journal of Sociology that Spiritism is practised in Puerto Rico principally by the lower
classes.6 I know "doctors, lawyers, merchants and chiefs" who regularly attend
Spiritist services and believe unreservedly in their works. To be thoroughly convinced
of this claim, one need only to visit several of the active centres administering Spiritist
aid and make a simple survey of the means of gainful employment of the participants.
The results will show that all economic and social strata are represented in the
Spiritist movement.

Not all times of stress are motivated by good or are solved through sacred measures.
The solution of these other marginal problems may also come under the jurisdiction of
a Spiritist practitioner; these fall in the category of profane practices. A person may
hate someone and wish to do him harm, a wife may want to "cure" an unfaithful
husband or a man may wish to disqualify a rival, a woman may be childless and want
children, a thief may want for punishment even though his identity is unknown, a
house or business place may seem unlucky any number of such stress situations
may need attention. Profane practices to remedy such things come under the general
title of black magic and according to the locality in which it is practised, may be
called sorcery, witchcraft, voodoo, obeah, or any number of other names. Both
contagious and imitative magic are used for these purposes. Dr. L.J. Bendit, a British
psychologist, in distinguishing the difference between magic and Spiritism, calls magic
nothing but "the active or willed aspect of psychic activity. .."7 Black magic is prac-
tised daily in Puerto Rico.

The use of fetishes, spells, charms, amulets, incantations and even prayers
to attain the desired results are all a part of black magic practices. They may be
carried on the person, put in the food or the bed a person uses, placed in or near
his dwelling, recited when he is nearby; very frequently they are put under or
beside a lighted candle whose flame and smoke carry the intended action upward
into the cosmos with it. Some of my acquaintances believe so fervently in Spiritist
powers over an individual that they will not eat or sleep in any house but their

The list of substances used for profane practices is almost as long and varied as is
human inventiveness. Some of them are: perfumes, herbs, leaves, flowers, roots,
feathers, lizards,.spiders, sea urchins, shells, alligator teeth, parrot beaks, eggshells, cat
claws, animal skulls, broken bottles, grave dirt, blood, rum, lodestone, coral, agate,
magnet, human faeces, nail clippings and hair. The profane practices of Spiritism are
not generally as widely known, nor are they as openly practised, as the sacred ones.
However, as stated before, in times of stress people turn undauntingly toward the
supernatural, and stress comes in a variety of guises and visits all peoples.

One of the characteristics of the Western mind is scepticism. Another is inquisitive-
ness. These qualities, used singly, would inevitably lead to frustration, for unbelief
without further enquiry is purely negative, while inquisitiveness without the ability
to doubt leads to credulity. Together, however, they are a powerful team, and
indeed, may be said to have given to the West the technical ascendancy which it has
had and is now losing over other peoples.

The truth or falsity, effectiveness or ineffectiveness, goodness or evil of Spiritist
practices has been disputed by both great and humble persons throughout the ages
since recorded time, and it will undoubtedly continue to be disputed ad infinitum.
Many countries have officially outlawed any and all forms of black magic practices.
The Roman Catholic church in 1898 decreed Spiritist practices as prohibitive but at the
same time made provisions permitting scientific investigations of mediumistic pheno-
mena. No attempt is made here to evaluate or to convert merely a statement of facts
as we have known them. In citing such varied sources in the paper, the author has
attempted to show how widespread the belief in Spiritism is and that the Puerto Rican
variety has its counterpart in many other places in the world. Spiritism, in both its
sacred and profane aspects knows no boundaries neither economic, social, politi-
cal or geographic. Its practice and belief are universal.



1. (New York, 1934), p. 245.

2. (New York, 1937), p. 154.

3. William A. Lessa, Ulithi: A Micronesian Design for Living, (New York, 1966), p.66.

4. (New York, 1964), pp. 88-89.

5. John Beattie, Bunyoro: An African Kingdom, (New York, 1960), pp. 78-79.

6. "The Puerto Rican spiritualist as a psychiatrist", AJS, VoL 67, No. 1, July 1961, pp. 17-21.

7. Phoebe D. Payne and L.J. Bendit, The Psychic Sense, (London, 1958), p. 59.

8. Ibid., p. 19.


Bath 1.

3 drops of creosote
6 sweet potato plant leaves
3 sprigs of petiveria alliaceae bush
several sweet geranium blossoms

These are all mashed to a fine pulp and mixed in a quart of water. This solution is
left overnight in a place where dew will fall on it.

Bath 2.

All of the above ingredients except for the creosote, which is substituted by any
pleasant smelling cologne.

Bath 3.

The same ingredients as bath one plus cinnamon bark, cloves and patchouli roots..
All the ingredients are boiled in a quart of water with three tablespoonsful of honey


BARRETT, L.E. Soul-Force: African Heritage in Afro-American Religion. Anchor
Press, 1974.

---- The Rastafarians: A Study in Messianic Cultism in Jamaica. Rio Piedras:
University of Puerto Rico, Institute of Caribbean Studies, 1968. Caribbean
Monograph Series No. 6. (Out of print).

---- The Rastafarians: The Dreadlocks of Jamaica. London: Heinemann Educa-
tional Books, 1977.

BURRIDGE, K.O.L. New Heaven, New Earth: A Study of Millenarian Activities.
Oxford: Blackwell, 1971.

CASHMORE, E. "The Rastaman Cometh" article, New Society, V. 41, No. 777,
25 August 1977. Pp 382-384.

CLARKE, A.J. (ed.) Marcus Garvey and the Vision of Africa. Vintage Books, 1974.

DIZZY, I. Ras, "The Rastas Speak" article, Caribbean Quarterly, V. 13, No. 4,
December, 1964. Pp 4142.

GARRISON, L. "Back to Africa: Rastafarians-Protest Movement of Jamaica" article,
Afras Review, V. 1, No. 1, 1975. Pp 10-13.

HEBDIGE, D. Reggae, Rastas and Rudies: Style and the Subversion of Form. Birming-
ham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham.

JAMES, C.L.R. "Rastafari at Home and Abroad", article, New Left Review, No. 25,
May-June 1964. Pp 74-76.

JOHNSON, L.K. "Roots and Rock: The Marley Enigma" in Race Today, V. 17,
Oct. 1975.

KITZINGER, S. "Protest and Mysticism: The Rastafari Cult of Jamaica" in Journal
for the Scientific Study of Religion. V. 8, No. 2, 1969.

--- "The Rastafarian Brethren in Kingston, Jamaica" in Comparative Studies in
Society and History, V. 19, 1966.

KUPER, A. Changing Jamaica, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976. Rastafarian-
ism within the wider social context.

LOWENTHAL, D. The West Indian Societies, London: O.U.P., 1972.


MAIS, R. Brother Man, London: Heinemann, 1974. (Caribbean Writers Series).

MAY, C. "Living is hard in a Babylon Yard", A Party Political Broadcast on behalf of
the Rastafari Party in Black Music, V. 4, issue 48, November 1977. Pp 12-13.

NETTLEFORD, R. Mirror, Mirror, Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica. London:
Collins, Kingston: Sangster, 1970.

"Rastafari in the Sixties", Munroe, Trevor (ed.) Readings in Government and
Politics of the West Indies. 1971. Pp 41-53.

OWENS, J.V. Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica. Kingston, Sangster, 1977.

Literature on the Rastafari: 1955-1974 a review, Savacou, No. 11/12,
September 1975. Pp 86-105, 113, (bibliography).

PATTERSON, O. The Children of Sisyphus, Kingston (Ja.): Bolivar Press, 1971. A

"Ras Tafari: The Cult of Outcasts", New Society, November 1964. Pp 15-17.

Rasta: A Modern Antique, Kingston (53 Laws Street): Rastafari Movement Associa-
tion, 1976.

RECKORD, V. "Rastafarian Music An Introductory Study", Jamaica Journal,
V. 11, Nos. 1 & 2, August 1977. Pp 2-17.

ROGERS, C. "What's a Rasta?" in Caribbean Review, V. 7, No. 1 Jan/Feb/March
1977. Pp 9-12.

SIMPSON, G.E. Religious Cults of the Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica and Haiti. 2nd ed.
Rio Piedras: Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of Puerto Rico, 1970.

--- "Political Cultism in West Kingston Jamaica" in Social and Economic Studies.
June, 1955. Pp 133-149.

"Culture, Change and Reintegration found in the cults of West Kingston
Jamaica", in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 1955.

SMITH, M.G., AUGIER, R., NETTLEFORD, R. The Rastafari Movement in Kingston,
Jamaica. Monograph. Department of Extra Mural Studies, University of the West
Indies. 6th reprint, 1978.

WHITE, G. "Rudie, Oh! Rudie" in Caribbean Quarterly. V. 13, No. 3, 1967.

WILSON, B.R. Magic and the Millennium, Heinemann, 1973.


"There is nowhere I would rather be than in Rasta Country", Black Music, V. 4,
issue 38, January, 1977. Pp 16-23.

Caribbean Quarterly acknowledges with gratitude the works of Joyce Gordon
of the Library, University of the West Indies and Roger Hughes, Area-Librarian for the
Caribbean of the Commonwealth Institute, London.

no digas el temblor
cuando la tierra agite sus alas,
ni asomes el miedo
en la cara de todos
Es el pueblo
que canta la victoria de un resuscitado
de un cristo
presintiendo la desnudez de la cruz
en los olivos.
Es el pueblo
que acompana al maestro
por la calle dolorosa
de un viernes de dolor,
ligrimas y furia.
Y camina el pueblo
ante la mirada
de los que odian
de los que tienen
de los que ya cuelgan
en el anzuelo.

Don't speak of quake
when the earth shakes its wings,
nor show fear
in the face of all
It is the people
who sing the victory of one resurrected
of a christ
foreseeing the nudity of the cross
among olives.
It is the people
who accompany the master
along the via dolorosa
of a painful Friday,
tears and fury.
And the people walk
under the stupid
of those who hate
of those who have
of those who already hang
from the hook.

(translated by fragano ledgister)


Aunque haya oscuridades relimpagos
nunca dejen de mirarme esos ojos
ti lampara
que enciende los aires que me envuelven

Aunque haya ruidos silencios
no dejen de hablarme esos ojos
td limpara
de cobre y luz que resplandece

Aunque llueva escape o sople brisa viento
o sangre
no dejen de seguirme esos ojos
ti l1mpara
que envuelve los aires que me encienden

Although there is darkness lightning
those eyes always watch me
your lamp
that lights the airs which wrap me

Although there is noise silence
those eyes always speak to me
your lamp
of copper and shining light

Although it rains stops raining or breeze wind
or blood whistle
those eyes always follow me
your lamp
that wraps the airs which light me.

(translated by fragano ledgister)

DREAD: THE RASTAFARIANS OF JAMAICA. By Joseph Owens. Sangster, King-
ston, 1976. 257pp.

This book is a very popular exposition of the theology of the Rastafarians, written
by a theologian himself from a very sympathetic point of view. The popularity of
Dread is in part explained by the fact that the book is the first major work on the
Rastafari, since Leonard Barrett's Study in Messianic Cultism. Secondly, it is a locally
produced book, which marks the importance of a still embryonic industry, and the
scope existing for development through the promotion of works on vital areas of
Jamaican life. Thirdly, the title captures and aptly sums up more than any other word
could the tremendous evolution of the Rastafarian movement from groups of street
preaching followers calling themselves the "King of Kings" people into a movement of
dreadlocks. The word "dread" covers a variety of functions: personal pronoun,
verb, adjective, salutation, exclamation. More than any other word, it characterises the
hardship and poverty of the rural and urban poor, out of whom the Rastafari
religion was bom and on whom it continues to find its mass support. Fourthly, and
most importantly, Dread is greeted by a widely sensed attitude that the Rastafari
movement is ours, that is, belonging to the Jamaican people, hence we should know
and understand it more, why the locks, why the ganja, why repatriation, and so forth.

Not since the necessarily brief summation of Rastafari beliefs by Professors Smith,
Augier and Nettleford in 1960 have students of this religion been treated with such a
look at its belief system. The authors found four points common to all Rastafari: the
divinity of Selassie; Ethiopia is the black man's home; repatriation is redemption; the
evilness of the white man.l On this summary as well as Professor Simpson's, which
appeared in 1955 and which stressed the racialist aspects2 have been based all articles
and books on the Rastafari up to the present. Yet between Smith et. al and Owens, a
period of sixteen years, two tremendous developments took place. The first is the
complete identification of Rastafari with dreadlocks. In 1955 there were no dread-
locks in Simpson's study. Five years later Smith et. at found the treatment of hair
"the most obvious source of division and dispute among the brethren." 3 Today, the
number of Rastafari who comb, or worse, shave, is negligible.

Secondly, the religion has been adopted by the rural and urban youth, a stratum of
the working people hit hardest by the chronic unemployment which has attended us
in the course of the last two "development decades." This growth in the movement is
reflected in the several groups of youths cited by the author as among his informants
(pp. 26-27), as also by his remark that "except for a very few young Rastas who would
have no truck with any white man, most have accepted me as an honest and earnest

'brother'." This anti-white hostility is explained by the fact that the youths have been
for the last ten years in Jamaica the most politically active and militant stratum.
Inevitably many of them become drawn to Rastafarianism, the only purveyor of black
consciousness among the urban masses. Thus Owens notes that "even the 'rude boy'
delinquents who wander the congested streets of Kingston's shanty-towns are some-
times wont to carry a small Bible in their hip pocket and to quote from it at apt
moments", and cites from the Jamaica Daily News the story of a 12-year-old dread-
locks, on a charge of ganja possession. Wearing both a black power button and a picture
of Selassie, he sat reading passages from his Bible. Unfortunately, Owens does not tell
us whether there are any religious differences between "the older heads" and the

Dread, therefore, marks another chapter in the study of Rastafari beliefs. It is
based upon the exposition by scores of dreadlocks of their religious and philosophical
views. Where Professor Simpson's approach was ethnographical, concentrating more on
Rastafari street meetings, Owens' is thematic, although in the treatment of the
various theological themes it is the dreadlocks who are the main speakers, and Father
Owens their editor. The virtue of this approach is fairly obvious. It invests the work
with a certain amount of authority as well as conveys the Rastafari proverbial love for
words and word-play. For example, many people are puzzled that Rastafari can
believe so ardently that as long as they remain true to their faith they shall never die.
To hear Teddy claim "I see myself as one that cannot die" or Daniel reserve judgement
on his own beloved deceased grandmother is to realise the powerful hold which
religious ideology is capable of having in spite of the fact that reality teaches other-
wise; is to begin regarding the Rastafari as serious advocates of a religious view which
runs counter to other prevailing views. The fact that only ten or twelve out of the
more than sixty circles are obviously the main voices heard, should not be taken to
mean that Father Owens merely scratched the surface of the religion and that there-
fore his work is unrepresentative. While it is true that there are subtle and not so subtle
differences among the brethren, there are nevertheless several themes or items of faith
common to the broad masses of Rastafari. These Father Owens concentrates on
pulling together, from among research contacts spread out across the fourteen miles of
the Kingston waterfront and beyond, but showing greatest cluster in West Kingston.
Those who have experienced contact with the Rastafari and have heard them reason
will know that no more than three or four of any given circle play the leading roles as
expounders of the doctrine and interpreters of events.

Nevertheless, Father Owens sets out to do more than mere editing. "I hope," he
says, "to succeed in this ambitious endeavour because I am exploring here the most
fertile source of a people's mythology, their religion and theology." (p. 3). In this
regard he makes two claims. The first is that this mythology arises out of the Jamaican
people: "Rasta has endured and survived because Rasta has attached itself to the
people. ." (p. 2). What this seems to suggest, and quite correctly, is that the origina-
lity of the Rastafarians is the originality of the Jamaican masses, or, as Professor Rex
Nettleford says in his preface to Dread: "It is the independent voice of the rebellious
oppressed asserting itself." (p. xiv). Which is to say that the new religion is deeply

rooted in tradition. Thus, we note, for example, Father Owens' observation that
"inspiration comes to the brethren in a number of ways, of which the Bible is one,
and not necessarily the most important. As one Rastafarian stated, 'We get our
spiritual communication daily from our Imperial Majesty, the Emperor Haile
Selassie' (p. 35). To Alexander Bedward and the revivalists, communication with
God, or properly speaking with the spirit, takes place through direct possession, in the
course of which secrets are revealed and the possessed speaks with the authority of
God, becomes God. And elsewhere throughout the book, one is struck by numerous
points where it is clear that the Rastafari are building upon an ideological tradition.
To mention a few: the view of the church as the religious arm of the state, a view also
held by the followers of Bedward; the concept of reincarnation and general view of
history which "enables the brethren to range up and down the length and breadth of
history and to find analogies and parallels and even identities, between persons and
events of widely separated times and places (p. 143), also articulated by the Bed-
wardites who saw Bedward and Bedward's contemporary, Garvey, as Aaron and Moses
respectively. As Father Owens observed, the view that history is a cycle is derived
from the peasantry, summed up in the proverb: "As it was in the beginning, so shall it
be in the end" (p. 188). The Rastafarian's predilection for nature, and things natural,
and his antipathy to things artificial are, likewise, based upon the remnants of animism
which have survived man's most primitive past and which sees man as an integral part
of nature, undifferentiated from it. As Father Owens interprets: "Nature is not
essentially a force external to man; it works within his innermost being" (p. 144).
According to one of his informants:
"God is in man, and God is man, because things are natural. We are a people that
deal with naturality. We don't deal with superstition about 'God in sky' and duppy
and such thing." (p. 145).
The Jamaican peasant held the view that certain plants and trees are sacred, such as
the cotton tree (ceiba Pentendra) and herbs which adorn the Revival seal.4

From this ancient animistic retention comes the I-tal food complex. Says Father
"In its 'unspoiled' state, the earth produces an abundance of 'natural' foods and
herbs which provide man with adequate nourishment. In their efforts to be true to
nature, the brethren attempt in their dietary customs to return to the more 'ancient'
way of 'I-tal' cooking." (p. 166).
Similarly, the special attention given to ganja (marijuana) which, as a drug, Jamaican-
ised by the East.Indian workers over a century ago, is regarded among the peasants
and agricultural workers as a cure for all ills of mind and body.

It follows from this that the progress of man over nature is not viewed positively
by the Rastafari. Space exploration, for example, is denounced (p. 147), and the use of
fertilisers regarded as harmful to plant and animal life. Some Rastafari "try to stay
close to the earth" (p. 145) so much that they refuse on principle to travel in an
aircraft, an attitude which is alleged to have been .responsible for breaking up a few
reggae groups. Blind adherence to the past thus results in backward and utopian views

For instance, Africa is regarded as a place where nature is still relatively unspoiled by
man, despite the news of serious drought and diseases. Father Owens quotes one of his
informants as characterising middle class existence, not that of the poor, as alienated
from nature, because of the lack of neighbourliness. In this way the life of the poor is

A close reading of Dread, therefore, reveals that the Rastafari are very much inside
the mainstream of Jamaican life and folk culture. Indeed, it could not be otherwise,
for all new religions build on old ones. Rastafari has brought to Jamaican social and
political life a sharper criticism of racialism than the old Revivalism. Father Owens
conveys this in his book. Dread, however, suffers from two serious weaknesses.

The first stems from an undialectic treatment of the racial problem, which leads the
sympathetic Father Owens to adopt an apologetic attitude:
"Notwithstanding certain statements with apparently racist import, the essence of
Rastafarian teaching is that all races are basically equal. That the Rastas consider
themselves especially chosen by God does not so much signify superiority as dictate
a prophetic role which puts them at the service of all nations." (p. 60).
The first-among-equals interpretation does not at all solve the problem which Owens
himself recognises, namely the racialist character of "certain statements." What does
black supremacy mean, if not the supremacy of the black race? What is the import of
black being the "fullness of colour", the healthiest, richest of colours, or the belief
that white comes from black, but not black from white (or as the Bedwardites put it,
black people can produce white offspring but whites are unable to give birth to
black)? Says the author: "The brethren hold for a type of ascendancy of black over
white and of black man over white man, but at the same time maintain that in the end
skin colour counts for nought..." (pp. 61-62).

Were there no racial problem in Jamaica, there could have been no Rastafari. The
essential doctrines and beliefs, which Father Owens has thematically put together in
Dread are proofs of this. Such are, for example, the beliefs that "no other colour
could be more fitting for the incarnate God" (p. 114); "that the Bible records Us
Black people as Israel" (p. 31); that, since every race must return to its own land,
repatriation to Ethiopia "is not just a dream, not just a home, not just a longing it is
a must!" (p. 231). This black ideology developed precisely because of white racism,
which for two centuries tried every conceivable argument and opinion to justify the
forced labour of Africans, and their continued subjugation long after the laws of
development under capitalism required the end of slavery. When evolution was still
only a hypothesis, the African was thought close to the orangutan; now that evolution
is a scientific discovery, his native intelligence is questioned. In response to racism the
Black Muslim sect in the United States of America go so far as to develop its own
mythology on the creation of white people through the mischiefs of the mad black
scientist, Yakub. We know the Rastafari have their own, too, although Father Owens
does not touch on it; and that is when God said: "Come let us make man" he was
addressing the sons of God, black men like himself. Together they then created the
white race. Sin entered the lives of black men when they, as sons of God, looked upon

the daughters of men (white men) and seeing that they were fair took them as wives.5
In thus inverting and reacting to white racism, the Rastafari provided black Jamaicans
with a point de resistance. Therein lies its militancy and revolutionism. What the
Rastafari did, in creating a black divinity, as Rex Nettleford notes, was to take "a
great and courageous psychological leap into a positive perception of self and the
acceptance of blackness on its own terms." (xvi).

Yet the Rastafari were not the first Jamaicans in our history to make race and
colour rallying cries. The St. Thomas peasants used the slogan "Colour for Colour"
during the 1865 uprising against the rich landowners of that parish. And in his own
attack against colonial society Alexander Bedward, the revival leader from August
Town, couched his agitation in terms of a black wall which must rise and crush the
white wall of oppression. Thus, we can see that behind each formulation of the racial
problem lies the class struggle of the poor peasant and workers against the wealthy
landlords and white ruling class. In our history of racial conflict the class struggle
inexorably asserts itself. George William Gordon was a mulatto, but in identifying
himself with the St. Thomas peasants became a victim of the revenge of the colonial
government; indeed, the peasants slew a black man, whose interests they recognized
lay with the ruling class, and they did this while using the racist "Colour for Colour"

In short, behind the racial assertions of the Rastafari lies the reality of class
oppression. There the dialectic is to be found. The early Rastafarians at one time
thought that Bustamante was the man they believed Marcus Garvey had prophesied
would appear to relieve the suffering of the masses, and in the 1960's they had much
respect for the white English barrister, Peter Evans, because of his defence of them in
the colonial law courts. The acceptance of Father Owens, a white American, is of the
same order.

Thus, it is class interest which makes it possible to transcend race, not, as Father
Owens asserts "the essence of Rastafarian teaching. . that all races are basically
equal." (p. 60). Owens' attack on Simpson as "quite unfair" (p. 58) in the impression
Simpson leaves the reader that Rastas are essentially racist is itself born of an intuitive
grasp that race is not the prime motive force of Rastafari religion, "notwithstanding
certain statements." But the grasp is intuitive, not scientific; hazy, not clear. And so
Owens tries to develop what he calls "the fuller contest", the "harsh realities of
Jamaican society." (p. 61). Far from denying that racialism plays an important role in
Rastafari ideology, or apologising for it, as Owens does, the dialectics of the class
struggle makes it possible to understand it. And not merely the question of race, but
of religion, too. For the response to colonialism took a religious not a secular form,
which it is necessary to understand also.

Thus we must finally come to the question of the content of Dread and its value,
and here is revealed the second weakness. Given the position that the treatment of
ideology cannot be divorced from the underlying class forces, in this case the struggle
of the Jamaican people against colonialism and its vestiges, one must necessarily see
Dread as quite incomplete, indeed only a preliminary to the main question of the

political activity and overall importance of the Rastafari. Now Father Owens reminds
us that his is not a sociological treatise, but an attempt "to be as true and as authentic
as possible" to conveying what the concept "dread" has meant to his informants.
Write, they exhorted him, as if you were a Rasta. But in carrying out this task and
nothing more the author gives us a subjective treatment of an important religious
movement. Not only that, he goes further and attempts to elevate subjectivity into
scientific status.

In an amazing passage Father Owens makes the claim that theological analysis of
religion is logically prior to all other.

".. the only legitimate exposition of another person's religious faith is in terms and
propositions that the other person can understand and accept. No other approach is
justified. Every man's religion must be respected as an integral whole, as a complete
response on his part to the world as he sees it. Any further analysis which attempts
to judge a religion according to its 'truth', its functionality, or its integration with
the larger society must be subsequent and secondary to the type of exposition
which the believer himself finds orthodox." (p. 13).
At first, it would appear that all he is saying is that respect for another's beliefs
requires not distorting what the person actually believes; not claiming that a person
believes X when in truth he believes Y, which would fit in quite well with his
desire to be "authentic." But this is not so. On page 8 he states that "Rastafarianism is
a religion; it is a way of knowing in the deepest sense", which sounds like the minor
premise and the conclusion of a syllogism, whose unarticulated major premise should
read: "All religion is the way of knowing in the deepest sense." Of knowing what?
Father Owens tells us that we cannot understand the Rastafari religion "unless we
open ourselves up and try to live it and experience it through the contact of subjecti-
vities" (p. 8), and he goes on to reject both a romantic uncritical view of it and an
ideological critical view of it. So what is left? The experience. To know the Rastafari
religion implies reproducing their experience of oppression.

Apart from the obvious fact that the Rastafari are not the only sufferers under
imperialism, this position contains an epistemological fallacy, namely that every bit of
knowledge requires an experience. If this were so there could be no science at all. To
know the cargo cults of the Melanesians one does not need to have the experience of
oppression under British colonial administrators; to know the nationalist cults of the
Bantu one does not have to share the experience of apartheid. Yes, indeed, without
any human experience at all there could be no knowledge whatever. But it is precisely
our ability to generalise and to discover the laws inherent in behaviour that precludes
the kind of existentialism which underpins Father Owens' approach to the Rastafari
and makes it possible not just to understand without having to share the experiences
of Rastafari, cargo cultist or Shambe follower, but to grasp their progressive and
reactionary features at the same time. The science of the laws of human development
is what provides "knowledge in the deepest sense not religion. Having given such a
high place to the religious outlook, Father Owens must treat the Rastafari as another
religion for its "truth" value over against Roman Catholicism, for example. This would

inevitably call into question his motive, so if he rejects this he has no other choice but
to be uncritical, despite his own grasp of the contradictory nature of the religion.

"At one and the same time a symbol of rebellion and of reaction, of progressive
forces and of archaic impulses, of praise and of contempt, of freedom and of nega-
tion, of hope and of despair." (p. 6).
One detects in Dread an initial impulse to break out of the constraints of bourgeois
To understand, make sense of the contradictions of the Rastafari-humanist but at
the same time racialist, "loving peace but called to war" (p. 203), spitting fire against
the white man but preaching love for all men, to understand this we must recall the
discovery of Karl Marx.

In his Introduction to the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of
Law Marx formulated the dialectical materialist view of religion. Religion is the
consciousness of alienated man. Not this man or that man, but "the world of man,
the stage, society."6 Religion is the product of the State. The concept of the State is
itself an ideological disguise for the rule of one class over other classes. In this disguised
form the State appears, as Engels pointed out, as something standing over and above
society.7 The laws of the State, its power and authority, the rights of its citizens are in
reality the laws, powers, authority and rights of the ruling class, but appearing to be
otherwise. Religion as its product, said Marx, "is the general theory of that world, ...
its logic in a popular form, . its moral sanction.. ."8 The world of God sitting on
his heavenly throne surrounded by archangels, angels and saints was the theological
reflex of the feudal State, which was thus provided with the sanction it needed to
preserve the rule of the feudal landlords over the masses of Europe's peoples. Inevit-
ably, the overthrow of the feudal monarchs meant also the overthrow of the theologi-
cal notions of the Roman Church and with the entrenchment of the new ruling class,
the bourgeoisie. God becomes the just father who rewards men for "hard (read
"capitalist") work" to which he has called them. The German bourgeois scholar, Max
Weber, has shown the theological changes which took place as a result of the
Reformation.9 The saved is he who "succeeds" in life and thereby shows that he has
been blessed and chosen by God. Translated in materialist terms, the saved is he who
succeeds in crushing his competitors and enriching himself from the labour of the
working class. Thus, whereas under feudalism the rich landlords earned their heavenly
reward by "good works" on earth such as alms-giving to the poor, the rich bourgeois
earned theirs by the very opposite, thrift.

On the other hand, said Marx
"Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the
protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart
of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of
the people.

To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real
happiness. The demand to give up illusions about the existing state of affairs is the

demand to give up a state of affairs which needs illusions. The criticism of religion is
therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of tears, the halo of which is

When bourgeois scholars quote Marx on religion it is from this passage that they
usually do so. The sections prior to it they hardly refer to at all, because the point
Marx is making there is that religion is an instrument of the State. Father Owens shows
a grasp of this, when he says: "It is well recognized that the religion of the coloniser
is an important ideological weapon in the subjugation and the exploitation of the
conquered and the colonised." (p. 4). 11 Hence, he quite correctly links the criticism
of the Church by the Rastafari with their criticism of the State. To the Rastafari the
Church is an extension of the State which teaches the masses not to struggle for their
improvement in this life but to await the "pie in the sky when you die." Rastafari is a
protest against, real, not imaginary distress.

But the dialectic also requires a critique of illusion itself, and this Father Owens
fails to do. The substitution of a black God for a white one cannot be the demand for
the real, material and spiritual happiness of a people under real, material and spiritual
distress, notwithstanding the strength of conviction and intimidating confrontation
noted by Father Owens (p. 9). One must admit that the concept of reincarnation, for
example, is pure mysticism. Father Owens' explanation is even more mystical as when
he interprets the Rastafari to mean that: "True reincarnation does not follow on death
but occurs in the midst of life, as a regeneration of the exhausted forces." (p. 142).
Similarly, while understanding the material basis for repatriation, we nevertheless
understand that its promise is illusory; and can furthermore understand the process
taking place when in times of political upheaval in the country which promise an end
to oppression the Rastafari will be a vital part of that process. Or, again, while under-
standing the material basis for the racialist doctrines, we nevertheless understand their
progressive as well as backward features; and can fully understand Rastafari necessity
sometimes to speak of whites having a black heart or blacks having a white heart. In
the long run, then, the theology of the Rastafari cannot be a substitute for nor can it
precede the politics of the Rastafari. Marx again: "Thus, the criticism of heaven turns
into the criticism of the earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law and the
criticism of theology into the criticism of politics."12

As a comprehensive and rich presentation of Rastafari theology, Dread inevitably
leads the reader to the question why is Rastafari not recognized, given their highly
developed philosophy. Rastafari is not legal, despite constitutional guarantees about
freedom of conscience and worship, not because the society did not hitherto realise
their profundity, or any such reason, but precisely because, as I have been saying,
behind the appearance of religion is the reality of the class struggle. Father Owens gives
some indication of this when he says that the doctrines are a "critique of the very
foundations of capitalist/imperialist society and culture" (p. 8), or properly speaking
of the very foundations of colonial society and culture. For Rastafari to be made legal,
with the right to preach that "Babylon" must fall, meaning the very State which
oppresses the classes it speaks for, or the right to wear locks, worship and be free from

police harassment must mean one of two things: either the State must be able to
contain Rastafari critique of it, through reformism, or it must itself undergo trans-
formation into an instrument of the power and rule of the masses. In either case, much
depends on the agitation of the Rastafari themselves and of the strata of the popula-
tion whosecry of distress they are.



1. M.G. Smith, Roy Augier and Rex Nettleford, The Rastafari Movement in Kingston, Jamaica.
Institute of Social and Economic Research, University College of the West Indies, 1960, p. 24.

2. George Eaton Simpson, "Political Cultims in West Kingston", Social and Economic Studies,
Volume 4, No. 2, 1955.

3. Smith et. aL, p. 25.

4. See my article on Revivalism in the present volume.

5. See my article on Claudius Henry in Frances Henry (ed.), Ethnicity in the Amerians, The
Hague, Mouton, 1975, p. 274.

6. Collected Works, Volume 3, Moscow, Progress Publishers.

7. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.

8. Collected Works, Volume 3, p. 175.

9. Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, New York, Scribner, 1958.

10. Collected Works, Volume 3, p. 176.

11. The devil was at work in the preparation of the proof of this sentence. As it stands it reads:
"It is well recognized that the religion of the colonised is an important weapon in the subjuga-
tion and the exploitation of the conquered and the colonised." It is clear from the text that
"religion of the colonised" was intended to be "religion of the coloniser." The sentence which
follows it begins: "At the same time the coloniser's religion..." Owens was making the point
that religion plays a "supremely paradoxical role."

12. Collected Works, Volume 3, p. 176.


Barry Chevannes

Maureen Warner Lewis

Carlos Cabarrus, S.J.

Gerard A. Ferere

William Penn Bradford

Luis Carlos Toro

Victor Casaus

is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Social and Economic
Research, UWI, Mona.

lectures at the Department of English, UWI, Mona and is
a leading member of the African Studies Association of the
West Indies (ASAWI).

is a graduate student in anthropology; he has done field
work among the Kekchi of Belize and Guatemala.

is Associate Professor in Modern Languages at St. Joseph's
College, Philadelphia, USA.

is Professor of Applied Linguistics, Faculty of Humanities,
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras.

is a young Cuban poet of Colon. The poem is one of many
presented at a writers' workshop in 1974.

poet, film-maker of Cuba participated in the Carifesta, '76
Film Festival in Kingston, Jamaica.


Poems From Cuba (ed.) Joe Pereira, published by Research and Publications Commit-
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Crossing of Rivers (New Poetry in India) ed. Keki N. Daruwalla published by Oxford
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The dynamics of an African Society
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