Afro-Cuban religious experience

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Afro-Cuban religious experience cultural reflections in narrative
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Matibag, Eugenio ( author )
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Blacks -- Religion -- Cuba ( lcsh )
Blacks -- Religion ( fast )
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Noirs -- Religion -- Cuba ( ram )
Orisha -- Cuba ( ram )
Vaudou -- Cuba ( ram )
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Cuba ( fast )
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Blacks -- Cuba -- Religion
Cuba -- Religion -- 20th century
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Afro-Cuban Religious Experience


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The Florida and the Caribbean Open Books SeriesIn rf, the University Press of Florida, in collaboration with the George A. Smathers Libraries of the University of Florida, received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mel lon Foundation, under the Humanities Open Books program, to repub lish books related to Florida and the Caribbean and to make them freely available through an open access platform. te resulting list of books is the Florida and the Caribbean Open Books Series published by the Li braryPress@UF in collaboration with the University of Florida Press, an imprint of the University Press of Florida. A panel of distinguished schol ars has selected the series titles from the UPF list, identied as essential r eading for scholars and students. te ser ies i s composed of titles that showcase a long, distinguished history of publishing works of Latin American and Caribbean scholar ship that connect through generations and places. te breadth and depth of the list demonstrates Floridas commitment to transnational history and regional studies. Selected reprints include Daniel Brintons A GuideBook of Florida and the South (), Cornelis Goslingas e Dutch in the Caribbean and on the Wild Coast, (n), and Nelson Blakes Land into WaterWater into Land (f). Also of note are titles from the Bicentennial Floridiana Facsimile Series. te series, published in n in commemoration of Americas bicentenary, comprises twenty-ve books regarded as classics, out-of-print works that needed to be in more librar ies and readers bookcases, including Sidney Laniers Florida: It s Scen ery, Climate, and History (n) and Silvia Sunshines Petals P lucked from Sunn y Climes (f). Tod a ys readers will benet from having free and open access to these works, as they provide unique perspectives on the historical scholarship


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tis book is reissued as part of the Humanities Open Books program, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


For Karen


Contents List of Illustrations ix Preface xi Abbreviations xvii I Afro-Cuban Religion in Narrative 1 1 The Lucumi Sign System 45 J The Orishas in Republican Cuba 86 4 AIsForAbakua 120 I Re-marking the Bantu Center 152 6 Versions of Vaudou 184 I Religion and Revolution 226 Notes 261 Works Cited 263 Index 279


> Illustrations 1. Eleggua by the door at Casa del Caribe, Santiago de Cuba, 1991. 2 2. "Chango/Santa Barbara." Oil on canvas, 1991. Collection of Maria Antonia Carrillo, Old Havana, Cuba. 25 3. Binary oppositions in narrative (from Greimas). 3 5 4. Ritual setting and attributes of Obatala. 1991. Museo de Regla, Old Havana, Cuba. 47 5. Ritual setting and attributes of Olokun. 1991. Museo de Regla, Old Havana, Cuba. 63 6. "Obba." Oil on canvas, 1991. Collection of Maria Antonia Carrillo, Old Havana, Cuba. 65 7. Attributes of Oggiin: rake, spike, shovel, and other iron implements. 1991. Old Havana, Cuba. 66 8. Ritual setting and attributes of Babalu-Aye. 1991. Museo de Regla, Old Havana, Cuba. 68 9. "Dia de Reyes," by Federico Mialhe. Lithograph, c. 1850. Museo Nacional de Cuba, Old Havana, Cuba. 122 10. "Dia de Reyes," by Victor Patricio Landaluze. Oil on canvas, nineteenth century. Museo Nacional de Cuba, Old Havana, Cuba. 123 11. A nganga from Old Havana. 1991. 153 12. The tendwa nzd konqo, or Bantu-Kongo cosmogram. 161


Preface Sociologist Fernando Ortiz, in numerous studies, discovered the African con tribution to Cuban culture in the island's art, religion, and language and "in the tone of the collective emotionality." Writer and folklorist Lydia Cabrera would later ask, not waiting for an answer: "What piece of our soil is not saturated with secret African influences?" Fidel Castro would more recently declare, "We are Latinoafroamericans!" In the structures of perception and discourse, in the everyday language of thought and feeling, Africanity runs through and colors everything that can be called uniquely Cuban. The pro cess of cultural transplantation, diffusion, and synthesis of course is not unique to Cuba but exemplifies what has occurred generally throughout the Caribbean since the colonial period. African culture, observes Dathorne, gave the region "an air of new cultural autonomy" and new patterns of culture, especially where the absence of indigenous culture was most strongly felt (1). Indeed, as developments in religious forms have perhaps most clearly demonstrated, the amalgamation, synthesis, symbiosis, or crossing of di verse West African and Hispanic cultural elements in the American setting produced a new religious culture. In Cuba as elsewhere in the Antilles, the "peculiar institution" of slavery made possible the birth of this distinctly Afro-Caribbean culture. And religion, as I hope to demonstrate, has func tioned in Cuba as elsewhere in the Antilles as a social subsystem that gave form and unity to the insular culture. The present study is intended for an audience of literary scholars, cultural historians, and critics as well as those simply interested in the printed literature on Afro-Cuban religion. It ap proaches a number of modern narrative texts that address themes and sym bols of the Afro-Cuban religions with the premise that those texts provide


IN 0 Pltffltt keys to unlocking some of the mysteries of Afro-Cuban religions and their cultural context. Afro-Cuban religionsespecially the ones known as Regla de Ocha, la Sociedad Secreta Abakua, Palo Monte, and the Regla Araraare those Cuban systems of faith and worship that originated from transcultural processes by which elements from West African and Catholic belief systems were com bined and transformed; from preexisting rituals, doctrines, mythologies, and cosmologies, new religions were assembled and reconformed. Afro-Cuban religions therefore, as the hyphenated denomination indicates, were religions that were originally reinvented by African peoples who were transported to Cuba during the period of colonization and forced to labor as slaves for the benefit of the Spanish, and later the Creole, plantocracy. In creating new, semicovert religions out of the components of preexisting religions, the trans planted Africans forged a source of identity, an arm of psychic resistance, and a medium of social cohesion to the extent that it could exist under the dehu manizing conditions of slavery Beside the transculturative processes by which they developed, other char acteristics common to these religions mark their distinctiveness within Cu ban culture. Those characteristics include polytheistic and animistic beliefs; rituals mediating between humans and divinitiessuch as initiation, pos session, sacrifice, and divination; magic, in the form of spells or ethnomedi-cine; and the central importance of music and dance in religious ceremonies. A little more than a century after the abolition, Afro-Cuban religions continue to fascinate, and they continue to gain believers and practitioners throughout the two Americas despite numerous distorted or oversimplified representations of those religions in the mass media. The body of Afro-Cu ban literature is substantial, and its systematic study, to which this book as pires to contribute, is only just beginning. That literature will impress gen erations of scholars not only with its beauty and evocative power but also with its intellectual challenge to Eurocentric modes of reading culture. This book is an examination of the treatments that Afro-Cuban religion has received in Cuban narrative during the period extending from the middle of the Republican era (from the late 1920s through the 1930s) to the con temporary period of the Revolution and the so-called Second Diaspora of African culture. My approach to the subject includes a reading of Afro-Cuban religious signs and discourse incorporated into the systems of that narrative in works by both major and lesser known authors associated with the move ment called el afrocubanismo. Afro-Cuban religious motifs in the texts of that literary movement often refer to the subtext of West African myths in which


Preface o iiii the principal actants are the gods, variously called orishos, ochas, dioscs, santos, espiritus, mpungus, ngangas, loas, mystcres, or vaudoux. As literary texts reveal, the deities populate the religious subtexts of mythical storytelling and divination rituals, which maintain their own archive of narrative knowledge. As if the connection between literature and popular culture did not give reason enough to embark on this study, the list of major Afro-Cubanist au thors concerned with religious issues reads like a who's who of Cuban letters. That list includes such names as Fernando Ortiz, Romulo Lachataiiere, Alejo Carpentier, Jose Antonio Ramos, Lydia Cabrera, Nicolas Guillen, Dora Alonso, Nancy Morejon, Miguel Barnet, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Antonio Benitez Rojo, and Manuel Cofifio. As will be evident in our reading of these and other authors, the texts of Afro-Cubanism have from the movement's inception signaled the effort to redefine the "Cuban national identity"and often at the same time to redefine the very concept of "identity"with a language cognizant of the African contribution to that identity And from its own beginnings, as we will see, that African contribution to Cuban identity has been preserved and passed on in the wealth of Afro-Cuban religions whose beliefs and practices continue to give form and coherence to the AfroCuban legacy Yet since this dimension of Latin American literary culture has been ig nored or subject to frequent ethnocentric misunderstanding, I hope that my account will clarify the nature of Afro-Cuban religion both as background or subtext to literary texts and as itself a repository of narrative discourse. Chap ters 2 through 7, following an introductory chapter, are thus devoted to read ings of a range of twentieth-century Cuban authors who either have written down versions of the Afro-Cuban religious texts or have incorporated ritual, mythological, or doctrinal elements of the religions into their writings. In addition to literary, mythological, and folkloric works, these texts also in clude manuals and Afro-Cuban "hagiographies," which provide additional materials and interpretations for commentary, analysis, and further interpre tation. Recent theories of narrative will illuminate the use of Afro-Cuban religious sign systems (including myth) in fictional narrative, whereas ideas from performance and folklore theory suggest ways in which ritual pro cesses may be reconstructed for an ethnologically informed understanding of the literary text. In examining the aspects of Afro-Cuban ritual revealed in and by literary narratives, I will also consider the paradigmatic role of narrative in AfroCuban rituals of divination and especially the divination narratives known by the Yoruba-Lucumi designation patakis. The pataki is the recited or cited nar-


iii o prefitt rative of the diloggiin or Ifa ritual; as a part of that ritual, it functions vari ously, by modeling behavior, offering counsel, and serving as a mnemonic device for conserving, organizing, and transmitting cultural information. Vari ous series of patakis discussed in the present study have been transcribed or summarized in printed form, where they signal the transition from an oral to a written or "print" culture. Once these narratives have been thus con served and fixed as literary texts, they become available for a formal and narcological analysis. In addition to the published patakis, printed collections of Afro-Cuban myth, folktale, and testimony also demonstrate the way an oral culture un dergoes a process of textualization in "becoming literature" and enters into another order or "economy" of signification, one that profoundly overdetermines the reception of that oral culture's artifacts. From the viewpoint of this second order or economy, however, a dialectics of inscription is shown to be already implicit within "oral literature" of the Afro-Cuban tradition, with the possibility that that oral literature's "transcription" into print, with its narrative refunctioning, may contribute to the undermining of the theocentric authority credited to sacred verbal utterance. By so fixing and objec tifying sacred discourse, the transculturation process of literary narrative sub jects that utterance to contact with the viewpoints, languages, and ideologies of other discourses and signifying practices, promoting in effect a dialogical relationship with other perspectives. In short, the language of religion as inscribed in literature becomes recoded, often for the sake of nonreligious ends. This asymmetrical dialogization between writing and sacred speech occurs most saliently, as we shall see, in the documenting and recontextualizing of Lucumi and Abakua liturgy in the nationalist narratives of the 1930s, in the neutralizing conversion of religious myth and doctrine into "folklore," and in the related portrayals of African-based religion for the end of affirming the goals and values of the Cuban Revolution after 1959. The signifiers of Afro-Cuban religion are thus dismembered, remembered, and transmuted with every literary reinscription. At the same time, a conservative countertendency within this transculturative process must be noted as well. A religion is an institution, and one of the functions of institutions is that of conventionalizing signification, of reducing ambiguity and checking the slippage of signifiers by establishing frames of reference and the protocols of reading. Such conventionalization encodes the institution's version of the real, constructing the Lebenswelt of its participants in that fashion. As they draw from real religious ritual, myth, and doctrine, Afro-Cuban literary narratives evoke the concentrating focus


Prefcce o u that religion creates in its discourse practices, practices that give form and sense to the experience of those who profess belief in Afro-Cuban religion. Yet because not all readers are familiar with the signs of Afro-Cuban religious culture, literary interpretation must for their benefit reconstruct the ritual, mythical, doctrinal, and social contexts that made the signs meaningful in performance. If it reads and explicates religious signs as much as possible from the viewpoint of their institutional contexts, interpretation may on oc casion speak out of the silences imposed by the dominant viewpoints of the incorporating narrative or out of the gaps of the master narrative that has authorized the use of Afro-Cuban religious discourse for other, more classi cally rationalist or statist purposes. In reading against the grain of the text, or in expropriating the expropriating reading, Afro-Cubanist interpretation pro duces something "new": namely, a sign of internal difference that challenges and subverts the apparent, "authorial," or official meaning of the text. Or, to cite one of Lydia Cabrera's collected Afro-Cuban proverbs, interpretation may see and acknowledge that even textually, una cosa piensa el caballo y otra el que \o ensilla: the horse thinks one thing and the one who saddles him another. Many are those who along the way have given me the meansintellec tual, material, and oftentimes spiritualto write this book. My gratitude goes to Christiane von Buelow and John Carlos Rowe, great advisers. Lucia Guerra-Cunningham taught me Latin America s connection to theory. Maria Antonia Carrillo in Havana opened my eyes. Diana K. Metz's analysis of syn cretism in Cabrera set me on Eleggua's crossroads. Julie Minkler discussed many of this book's ideas over coffee and sarbos. Patrick Taylor, in writings and personal communications, has bottled the wine of astonishment like no other. Antonio Benitez Rojo and William Luis guided me like mentors, both through their writings and through their com ments on the manuscript. Emilio Bejel, Delitta Martin-Ogunsola, and Eduardo Gonzalez also read considerable portions of the manuscript, as did my friend and colleague Robert Bernard. Encouragement and counsel also came from Nancy Morejon, Manuel Zapata Olivella, Charlotte Bruner, Norma Wolff, David Roochnik, Berardo Valdes, Jose Rodriguez, and Susana Sotillo. Jorge Sanchez's tireless searching and typing provided the critical mass. Elias Miguel Munoz continued our never ending discussion on la cubanidad. Alex Leader and Michael Senecal at University Press of Florida contributed their invalu able editing skills. I thank all these friends, colleagues, and readers, acknowl edging that any errors appearing on these pages could be only my own and would bear no reflection whatsoever on their own considerable knowledge and high standards.


iii o Prtfice Portions of my article, "TheYoruba Origins of Afro-Cuban Culture," from Journal of Caribbean Studies 10, nos. 1-2 (Winter 1994 and Spring 1995), have been incorporated into chapters 1 and 2 of this book. A portion of another article, "Self-Consuming Fictions: The Dialectics of Cannibalism in Recent Caribbean Narratives," from Postmodern Culture 1, no. 3 (May 1991), has been incorporated into chapter 5. To my parents, Ramona and Dalmacio Matibag, and to my brothers, Jose and John, and my sisters, Leticia and Julie: maferefun e ibae. And the love of Karen Piconi, Cris, and Tessa sustained me throughout the process by which this book was written.


Abbreviations Abbreviations in the parenthetical notes refer to specific works, listed below, by frequently cited authors or editors, or by authors of two or more works cited in the present study. Unless an English translation of a work is cited, the translations of passages in Spanish are my own. AP Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Asi en la paz como en la guerra. APA Julia Cuervo Hewitt, Ache, presencia africana: tradiciones yoruba-lucumi en la narrativa cubana. AVL Lydia Cabrera, Anago: vocabulario lucumi. BH Jose Antonio Portuondo, Bosquejo historico de las letras cubanas. CA Castellanos, Jorge, and Castellanos, Isabel. Cultura afroeubana. Vol. 1: El negro en Cuba, 1492-1844. Vol. 3: las religiones y las lenguas. CBA Carlos Moore, Castro, the Blacks, and Africa. CN Lydia Cabrera, Cuentos Negros de Cuba. D Jacques Derrida, Dissemination. DALC Benjamin Nunez, with assistance from the African Bibliographic Center, Dictionary of Afro-Latin American Civilization. DI Rogelio Martinez Fure, Didlogos imaginarios. EQT Isabel Castellanos, Elegua quiere Tambo: cosmovision religiosa afroeubana en las condones populares. ES Julio Garcia Cortez, El Santo (la Ocha). Secretos de la Religion Lucumi. EYO Alejo Carpentier, ;Ecue-Yamba-0! FS Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit. FV* Miguel Barnet, La fuente viva. ID William Bascom, Ifd Divination. IR Antonio Benitez Rojo, la isla que se repite.


xriii o JMreiiitiNs KI Lydia Cabrera, Koeko iyawo: aprende novicio. ISD Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, Introduction to Seashell Divination. LB William Luis, Literary Bondage. LSN Lydia Cabrera, La Lengua Saqrada de los Ndnigos. M Lydia Cabrera, El monte. MC Alejo Carpentier, La musica en Cuba. MS Romulo Lachatanere, Manual de Santeria: El sistema de cultos "Lucumis." NNH Salvador Bueno, El negro en la novela hispanoamericana. OC Natalia Bolivar Arostegui, los orishas en Cuba. OMY Romulo Lachatanere, jjOh, mioYemayd!! P Julio Garcia Cortez, Pataki. PQ Lydia Cabrera, Por que ... (Cuentos negros de Cuba). RA Mercedes Cros Sandoval, la religion afrocubana. REM Alejo Carpentier, El reino de este mundo. RNV Lydia Cabrera, Refranes de Negros Viejos. RR Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric of Religion. RSD Tomas Fernandez Robaina, Recuerdos secretos de dos mujeres publicas. RSS Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, la ruta de Severo Sarduy. S Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, Santeria. SAS Joseph M. Murphy, Santeria: African Spirits in America. SC William Bascom, Sixteen Cowries. SE Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, The Santeria Experience. SMD Joel James Figarola, Sobre muertos y dioses. SP Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena. SR Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, Santeria: The Religion. SRL Romulo Lachatafiere,"El sistema religioso de los lucumies y otras influencias africanas en Cuba." SSA Lydia Cabrera. La Sociedad Secreta Abakud. TC Antonio Benitez Rojo, "La tierra y el cielo." TO Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, Tales of the Orishas. TOM "Thunder over Miami: Chango in a Technological Society." TN Fernando Ortiz, "La tragedia de los fianigos." TTT Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Tres tristes tigres. VU William Luis, ed., Voices from Under. WD Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference. YM Ulli Beier, Yoruba Myths. YO Lydia Cabrera, Yemayd y Ochun. YSN William Bascom, The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria.


I Jllre-Cubu Relifjoi ii Dorratife ... una multitud presentdndose en su misteriosa unidad [a multitude presenting itself in its mysterious unity]. Jose Lezama Lima, Paradiso At 9:00 P.M., when the cannon of La Cabana Fortress was fired, as it has been every evening since colonial times, many Havaneros would throw a bit of water out the front entrance of their homes and knock loudly on the door three times. The knocking was to drive away evil spirits, for everyone knew, and knows today, that the cannon belongs to Santa Barbara, the protectress of artillerymen and the double of Chango, the Yoruba-Lucumi god of fire and thunder. This and other accounts of African-based custom appear in Tomas Fernandez Robaina's Recuerdos secretos de dos mujeres publicas (Secret remembrances of two public women, 1983), in which the personal histories of two former prostitutes suggest the extent to which religious belief and practice have given form to Cuban experience since before the Revolution. Throughout Fernandez Robaina s testimonio, the "public women" of the title make other references to the signs of Afro-Cuban religion encountered or exchanged in daily experience, in particular the signs of Regla de Ocha (Santeria) and spiritualist occultism. The women go to santeios and cartomanciers for advice on their daily affairs; they read horoscopes in Carteles or Bohemia; they pray to the Yoruba-Lucumi god Eleggua for protection. Consuelo la Charme s devotion to Eleggua also includes lighting candles to him on Mondays, giving him caramels and cane liquor or aguardiente, and wearing his amu let or resguardo, which Consuelo "feeds" from time to time with sacrificial blood. When on one occasion Jehovah's Witnesses condemn the "images and objects" of the religion as "instruments of the devil," the women reply that they could not abandon their religion for without it they "would die." Consuelo adds, referring to the prostitutes who believed as she did, "We always flushed out the business house with purslane, abrecamino, white flowers


2 o (tipterOit I. Eltf f i< kf the in\ it h si M driN, Siitiw it (iki, WL and essences of every kind; nor did we fail to put out glasses of water for the dead of our families and, especially, for our protector-guides, whether these be Francisco the Congo, the Indian, the Gypsy, the Nun or the Priest" (RSD 55-56). In another personal narrative recorded by Fernandez Robaina, a certain prostitute named Maria, nicknamed la Canosa, recalled opening up a restau rant as a cover for her brothel. Good times come to Marias business, and at the height of her prosperity Maria buys the gold jewelry that adorns her person as it honors the goddess Ochun, the deity who loves precious metals and revels in sensual pleasures. In yet another account, Consuelo describes a compared religious procession called La Sultana in the barrio carnival.That pro cession includes a Queen of Italy played by "very well-known santero," a Regla de Ocha priest, masked and dressed for the part (RSD 46-47, 63). These and other examples given in Fernandez Robaina's testimonio illus trate the quotidian presence of Afro-Cuban religion in Cuban social life be fore 1959.The practice of this religion, the examples show, was not reserved exclusively for holy days and places but formed a part of the fabric of every day life. It has had, and continues to have, a "fundamentally immanent char acter," as Isabel Castellanos characterizes it in her study of the Afro-Cuban "cosmovision" and popular song lyrics: "These are not religions of the 'be-


Ifri-dliiMiiJNiilirrgtife o ) yond' but of the 'over here/ there is no aspect of earthly life that is not per meated by the active presence of the supernatural" (EQT 28-29). The "mas aca" and the "mas alia" of the quotethat is, the natural and the supernatural, the human and the divine, the temporal and the eternalinteract and communicate normally in the world of Afro-Cuban religious experience. This book is a study of the treatments that Afro-Cuban religious experi ence has been given in modern narratives. Here we will explore the ways in which the signifying systems constitutive of that experience have been reenacted, recodified, analyzed, critiqued, and otherwise represented in Cuban stories, novels, and, to a more limited extent, poetry and drama. In this ex ploration, I will establish, in a series of analytical and interpretive readings, some analogies between Afro-Cuban modes of religious discourse and the representational strategies of narrative, especially prose fiction. The method I have chosen is to elucidate the religious content of Afro-Cuban narratives and articulate the function of Afro-Cuban religious elements in each case, while taking into account the forms and functions of literary elements spe cific to those narratives. In dividing my subject into chapters, I have classified its matter under headings that correspond to each of the major Afro-Cuban religious traditions. The very concept of "experience," I realize, has, like the related concepts of "subjectivity," "consciousness," and "perception," come under the post modern suspicion cast upon all phenomenological postulates based on the desire for a metaphysical "center." This desire would overlook the signi fying, constitutive, differential, and mediatory activities of a structure while putting faith in an immediate act of making the center present in perception or thought. Yet experience, on the contrary, is constructed in the production and transmission of signs, which substitute themselves for any center. In his critique of Husserl's phenomenology of signs, Jacques Derrida tenders the neologism differance to denominate the process of difference and defer ment inherent to signification and to what is experienced as "meaning." Language and other sign systems effect "meaning" not by immediate or ver tical relations of signifier/signified and sign and referent but by differance, the horizontal transfer-displacement of meaning from signifier to signifier. This semantic necessity, produced by radical differentiation and deferment of signs at the origin of perception or experience, puts in question the as sumption that either a noumenal referent or an ideal signified exists as such. Among the many implications of this anti-idealist, anti-empiricist theory of signs, cultures can be said to "mediate" reality by in effect creating it, pro ducing perception and experience in the very cross-referencing of signs that


4 o (kotcrta makes use of consciousness as a personal nexus of apersonal semiosis (SP 88, 90-93). And yet, for all that, there is something that undeniably "feels like" expe rience, something I experience as experience even as I put in question this "I" that experiences. While putting such subjectivist categories within brack ets (or quotation marks), we must acknowledge too that the "subject" who "experiences" does not disappear altogether under the postmodern theoreti cal construct. Rather it finds itself situated, positioned, in particular signify ing systems that constitute the relationships of both the subject with the world and the subject with other subjects. Because there is paradoxically no immediate presence of things or meaning to the perceiving or thinking sub ject except through the mediating languages of culture, the "living present" of consciousness and perception depends on a "reading" of traces of past and future significations: the retensions and protensions of signs, as explained by Husserl's theory and Derrida's grammatology (SP 142-43). Religion offers itself as an example of a signifying institution that constructs the subject s experience as such by situating the subjectconceived as a "grammatical function"in the chains of signifiers that relay meaning (through retentive memory and protensive anticipation) and mediate the encounter of the subject with the object world inclusive of other subjects. Religion's own systematicity and relative autonomy make it, among other things, a complex machine for producing significations and for constituting the subject as a sign-processing, focalizing "function." The postmodern deconstruction of the subject and experience of religion does not annul them, but it discredits the assumption that they originate meaning and perception, precisely by situ ating them within systems that produce, authorize, and organize significa tion. The present study proposes a poetics, or systematic literary study, of the modern Cuban narrative texts, both fictional and nonfictional, that incorpo rate signifying elements of Afro-Cuban religions. References to textual seg ments will serve to exemplify Afro-Cuban religious ideas but with the un derstanding that the literary texts in question belong to a different order of discourse altogether, constituting what Rimmon-Kenan calls "junctions of various compositional principles" (Narrative 4). In consideration of this difference and construction, it will be acknowledged that the literary system or subsystem to which texts belong sustains relationships with a varied and heterogeneous sociohistorical context: that is, with the system s "outside," which is also, for the sake of knowledge, constituted textually, grasped as a series of junctions of compositional principles. It isTynjanov who describes


lfra-(iiiikli|JMiilimtif( o J a "literary system" as "first of all a system of the functions of the literary order which are in continual interrelationship with other orders" ("Literary" 159). Engaged in such interrelationships, the orders of Afro-Cuban religion present themselves as a multitude of functions susceptible to being incorporated into and refunctioned in the heteroclite unity of Afro-Cubanist narratives. Those narratives may in turn be subsumed again within the broader literary and cultural sys tem that recontextualizes and refunctions elements, aspects, and motifs of the religious system that have been reworked in literature. In the light of these considerations, the present text will focus on three interrelated questions: In what distinctive ways have modern Cuban narratives addressed each of the major Afro-Cuban religious traditions? Which elements of Afro-Cuban religion have been incorporated into modern Cuban narratives? And, assum ing those elements and these orders originate in other signifying systems, what sort of refunctioning do those elements undergo within their new nar rative orders? In attempting to answer these questions, this study will trace some of the reflections, refractions, and rarefactions that Afro-Cuban religion has under gone in its literary recodifications, not only in folkloric transcriptions and versions of myths and patakis but also in the narrative fictionalizations of the novel and short story genres. This effort is guided by the homology between reading fiction and reading signs of the culture-world that Tzvetan Todorov formulates in his Introduction to Poetics; that homology, I believe, both illumi nates the nature of religious representations and clarifies the approach of this study. And although Todorov s assertion misleadingly suggests an unproblematic correspondence between narrative and experience, or between read ing and perception, his homology nonetheless indicates a fruitful direction for collating and connecting signs across literary and religious spheres. Todorov writes, "Just as we engage in an effort to construct fiction starting from a discourse, in exactly the same way the characters, elements of the fiction, must reconstitute their universe starting from the discourse and signs that surround them. Thus every fiction contains within itself a representation of this same process of reading to which we submit it. The characters con struct their reality starting from the signs they receive, just as we construct the fiction starting from the text read; their apprenticeship to the world is an image of ours to the book" (Introduction 55-56). In fiction, the subject apprenticed to the world of Afro-Cuban religion would construct a signuniverse in a manner that has similarities to the way we, delivered unto literature's form-giving language, construct a world in reading. By means of its synthesizing figures, in other words, Afro-Cuban fiction may reconstitute,


i o (lifter OM within its own order and in an idiom proper to itself, a religion's prayers, myths, rituals, music, icons, dances, and associated lore and superstitions. Todorov s homology also suggests that, like literary fictions, religious images and practices signify by virtue of a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the participating subject. The schools of critical theory issuing from the intellectual cultures called structuralism, poststructuralism, and narratology, to which Todorov has con tributed significantly, have given much credibility to the notion of reading reality as a text and indicate a method by which Afro-Cuban religiona cultural system, a discursive field, a space of semiosiscan be read as having made the text of itself into a reality, a simulacrum of a universe that replaces, for the subject s practical and cognitive purposes, the universe "itself." This method would be a tropological one for which the figures of a text are to be isolated and read as epistemological motifs as well as syntactical organizers. Joseph Murphy's study SonteriaiAfricon Spirits in .America has already presented a suggestive "way to organize the many different metaphors of divinity inYoruba religion" (my emphasis). Murphy's major metaphors are initiation, sacrifice, possession, and divination, and within Santeria they serve above all to honor the ancestors, to worship the orishas, and to order life (SAS 8). Religion's metaphors of divinity, as well as the "social dramas" (Turner) that are raised into religious ritual, serve to codify experience in a manner susceptible to textual recodification and interpretive decodification. Narrative texts, both within religion as myth and doctrine and outside religion as Afro-Cuban literature, participate of course in this recodifying and decodifying activity as they reinscribe, examine, critique, and reinterpret Afro-Cuban religion. A few definitions will help to delimit our subject matter. Religion is a cultural universal, a multiform human activity and institution, by which humans hold intercourse with the divine. It is a complex of collective beliefs and behaviors engaged in the worship of what is designated as "the holy" or "the sacred," always and everywhere distinguishing this designatum from what is considered "profane." Religion commonly addresses the mystery surrounding birth and death and usually teaches something about supernatural beings and a transcendent realm, bringing humans, through this process, into communication with gods or God, with the cosmos, and with one another. Religion also consists of instituted forms of worship that mediate the ex perience of humans with the divine, the cosmos, and other humans. From the perspective of cultural anthropology, moreover, a religion appears as a system of knowledge, or episteme, and as a complex set of patterned behav-


Afrt-(itai RelifiM w krritite o I iors. Among its other functions, it gives a sense of meaning to its believers. It unites them into a community. It rechannels or sublimates instinctual drives into socially acceptable form. These functions are congruent with the schema of the six "dimensions" of religion outlined by theologian Ninian Smart. Smart's dimensions or categories comprising the key aspects of religion, which have helped to organize the argument of the present study, are the ritual, mythological, doctrinal, ethical, social, and experiential dimensions. To these I also add a seventh aspect or category, namely, a semiotic dimension, in which religion is constituted in and as a system of signs that pro duces experience, mediating the individual's encounter with the world as those signs refer to one another within a more or less coherent and self-referring discursive universe. Religion most clearly appears in this aspect as a languagethat is, as a mode of expression, communication, and aesthetic creation. This is not to say that religious phenomena themselves may be fi nally reduced to their linguistic or semiotic dimension as material signifiers but that at least their "principles of verbalization" may be recodified as dis cursive paradigms and decodified in interpretation (RR 1). In this frame work and perspective, what obtains for the informed reader holds true for the Afro-Cuban officiant as well: working inside the Afro-Cuban religious system, the babalaos or iyalorishas are hermeneuts who have the will and pos sess the competence to read signs generated by this system and to carry out interpretations and appropriate responses based on their knowledge of the system's codes. Studies in cultural anthropology and folklore have revealed that religion functions as the central, binding force of Afro-Cuban culture. Yet "religion" in the normative Western sense of the term does not do justice to the com plex system of systems that is Afro-Cuban religion, a comprehensive system that syncretizes, articulates, and reproduces extensive orders of knowledge in the areas of psychotherapy, pharmacology, art, music, magic, and narra tive. Numerous twentieth-century works of Afro-Cuban literature, appearing before and after 1959, refer specifically to the beliefs and practices of the major Afro-Cuban religions that will be considered in this book. Those reli gions are Regla de Ocha, known popularly as Santeria; \a Socicdad Seereta Abakud, often called Naniguismo; Palo Monte, or la Regla Conga; and la Regla Arard, the Cuban variation on Haitian V&udou. Such Cuban writers as Alejo Carpentier, Lydia Cabrera, Miguel Barnet, Manuel Cofino, and Severo Sarduy have sought to recodify the texts and rituals of these religions in narratives that, in effect, have contributed to the literary redefinition of a national identity, which is a principal obsession even of Cuban authors who have relocated themselves,


t o Chapter tat for whatever reason, outside of Cuba. For all Cuban writers, Afro-Cuban reli gions have constituted a field of cultural subtexts; for the readers of those writers, a knowledge of that field is indispensable to making sense of a sig nificant body of Cuban narratives. As a special category of discourse that assimilates other "languages" or cultural codes into itself, literature defamiliarizesby its own "literariness," that is, by the mediation of its particular formthe modes of signification of those other languages. Through its literarization (and concomitant aestheticization), religion is made to lay bare the functioning of its unifying, uni versalizing, absolutizing principleswhat Kenneth Burke calls the "thor oughness" of religion's rhetoric of persuasionat the limits of language (RR vi).Two complementary processes come to bear in their mutual interillumination: religious rhetoric, relying on its figures of divinity or transcendence, comes to reveal a striking "literariness," whereas literary language comes to reveal the often muted assumptions of a theological nature implicit in its own forms of absolutization, either linguistic or metaphysical. This latter in sight recalls Nietzsche's observation, in Twilight of the Idols, to the effect that even if we have eliminated God, we still believe in grammar (48 3). Yet as the signs signifying God are taken up into new discursive contexts, they are remotivated by new "grammars": that is, they take on new and multiple signi fications within other frameworks, signifying not just "God" but "gods," but also not just words but the Word. Contrary to its own unifying, absolutizing tendencies, religion is also a diverse and sometimes divisive issue, motivating group differentiation and dissension. William James's pluralist reflections on the "varieties of religious experience" include the observation that the universe is "a more many-sided affair than any sect, even the scientific sect, allows for." Since a comprehen sive examination of different religious experiences would demonstrate the unavoidable conclusion that "the world can be handled according to many systems of ideas," we would do best to respect that diversity by practicing a scholarly eclecticism in studying them (Varieties 120). In examining the vari eties of experience associated with the aforementioned set of Afro-Cuban religions (Regla de Ocha, la Sociedad Secreta Abakua, Palo Monte, and Regla Arara) in twentieth-century Afro-Cuban literature, I elaborate, following Ed ward Kamau Brathwaite, the premise that religion provides a unifying focus to Afro-Cuban culture, a culture in which the texts of symbolic performance play a central role in storing and trmsmitting knowledge, creating consensus, forging identity, and forming community. As illustrated in the references made by Fernandez Robaina's informants at the outset of this chapter, the


IMikiillelifJNiilirrfti!! o f unifying discourse of the supernatural in Afro-Cuba has undergone a double cultural reprocessing. In the course of its evolution, African-based theology has availed itself of metaphors drawn from the everyday realm. The things of quotidian reality provide the language that makes the metaphors of divin ity: segments of reality become rcalia, which evoke a transcendent realm of essences and archetypes. Once they are sufficiently formulated, the now divinized metaphors of this theology sooner or later enter into the talk and thought of Cuban peoples, in Cuba and abroad, becoming a part of that culture sometimes called "folklore" or "subculture." This reciprocal move ment of signs continues in the circulation of empirical terms that come to serve religious purposes and in the secular use of religious terms that be come common currency in Cuban speech.' The Afro-Cuban Palimpsest In "The African Presence in Caribbean Literature," Brathwaite challenges the Eurocentrist assertion that the Africans brought to the New World in the slave trade lacked any culture that was not imposed by the slaveholding colonizers. Far from being, as was believed, too primitive or dependent on the domi nant culture to develop its own languages of custom, African culture, notes Brathwaite, underwent a process of "transference" to a new setting and "ad aptation" to a new environment. The integrity and vigor of that culture owe much to its particular "culture-focus," its "distinguishing style of characteristic": African culture is above all religious, and "it is within the religious net work that the entire culture resides" ("African" 104). That network is an entire "cultural complex" in which religion is inextricably interwoven as a centralizing and foundational construct. Brathwaite's religiocentric concept is also organicist: with everything tied to religion, no discipline within this culture is separate from another. Religion, art, and practical sciences, con ceived in other social spheres as distinct forms of cultural expression or dis ciplinary technology, are considered in Afro-Caribbean culture to take part in the same activity. Brathwaite s general theory of African religion in the Caribbean suggests a useful framework for organizing more specific knowledge about the subset of Afro-Cuban religion. Brathwaite distinguishes five "interrelated divisions" or aspects of religion, all of which will be reiterated in my treatments throughout this book. Those divisions are worship, rites de passage, divination, healing, and protection. In defining the first category of "worship," Brathwaite negates the Euro-Christian assumption of a congregation's passive, "monolithic relationship" with God. He valorizes in its stead the Afri-


II o (kiptcrkt can concept of celebration, in song and dance, of the orishos or gods. That is, the African and Afro-Caribbean practice a social, physicopsychical, interac tive form of worship often involving vigorous bodily movement and possession. Healing and protection as obeahmagicmeans more than "mumbo-jumbo." It involves a profound knowledge of the medicinal qualities of herbs, plants, and foods and an understanding of "symbolic/associational procedures" by which the causes of disease may be identified and eliminated (Brathwaite, "African" 105). Antonio Benitez Rojo in La isla que se repitc (The repeating island, 1989) echoes Brathwaite s view in asserting that "the influ ence of Africa in the nations of the Caribbean is predominantly religious in the totalizing sense" (162).That is, African-based religion there functions in "totalizing" by gathering, involving, ordering, translating, and mastering the disparate phenomena of existence and experience into a more or less cohe sive system. At the same time, the African influence in the Caribbean and particularly in Cuba is varied and multiple. Robert Farris Thompson, in a suggestive pas sage of Flash of the Spirit, characterizes Afro-Brazilian religious history in Rio de Janeiro as a "palimpsest marked by Kongo, Yoruba, and Roman Catholic infusions" (FS 77). If a palimpsest is a document, inscribed on vellum or parchment, that contains several messagesthe earliest of which have been imperfectly erasedthen Thompson's metaphor perfectly describes the situation in Cuba, where, as in Brazil, religious history is a layering of super imposed markings left by distinct religious traditions. In Cuba as well, the infusions come from a variety of cultures: Kongo, Yoruba, Calibar, Dahomeyan-Fonand Roman Catholic-Spanish, among others. The chal lenge for any reader of that multiply inscribed parchment is to recover the texts of those overlaid, partially erased, partially reconstituted and recombined religions. In approaching the strata of religious sedimentations in mod ern Afro-Cuban narrative, one must also consider the manner in which that narrative itself adds yet another layer to the Afro-Cuban palimpsest. One pe culiarity of this layer would have to consist in what could be called its metareligious viewpoint: that perspective of a writing that reflects and comments on the means of religious signification. The religious culture-focus manifests itself even in those texts in which religious belief and practice are not domi nant concerns, in which references to characteristics of Afro-Cuban religion may stand as the hallmark of authenticity or seriousness. Jorge Castellanos and Isabel Castellanos identify the characteristics shared by Afro-Cuban religions in their comprehensive Cultura afrocubona (vol. 3), on which I base much of the following presentation of Afro-Cuban religion's


Uri-(ikiiR(IWHiiIirritif( o || identifying features. The list below, in addition to defining the characteristics fundamental to the major Afro-Cuban religionsRegla de Ocha, la Sociedad Secreta Abakua, Palo Monte, and the Regla Arara, among othersalso pro vides some theoretical considerations under each heading. In all Afro-Cuban religions, then: 1. Monotheism and polytheism are combined. Godsthey include orishas, santos, mpungus, ngangas, vaudoux, and espiritusare genealogically or ontologically linked with a supreme god. William James provides a clarify ing note here in his definition of polytheism as a pluralistic vision of a uni verse, one "composed of many original principles/' as long as those prin ciples are seen as subordinated to the principle of the divine (Idowu 58). All orishas are emanations of Olodumare or Abasi or Nsambi or Mawu. More on specific conceptions of the gods in this book will come under each chapter's section on the religious pantheon. 2. An active supernatural power comes from a divine source and can be invested into objects. This power is called ache in Lucumi, and the name roughly translates as grace, virtue, spirit, power, cachet, and sometimes luck. "Through the consecration," writes Cabrera, "which is to say, through the transfer of a superhuman force to an object, the latter takes on personality, acquires the power, the ache of the god or of the spirit who pays attention to him" (YO 156). Ache, similar to the impersonal mana of the Polynesians, works according to the belief that objects may be animated with a force that gives them sentience and personality. When theYoruba religious system, un der the conditions of slavery, was made to coalesce with the Catholic reli gious system, the resulting Reglas Lucumis retained the notion of ache as that metaphysical substance inspiriting and consecrating matter in accord with ritual properly carried out. Such investment of powers, marked by the appropriate signs, plays its part in determining the critical difference be tween the sacred and the profane. Ache corresponds to a creative notion of language as well: the imperatives "Be" or "Come to pass" are implicit in the word, more literally translatable as the "power-to-make-things-happen." In saying "Ache," one says the equivalent of "So be it," "May it happen" (FS 7). Ache is also regarded as an ontological foundation. In Pierre Verger's descrip tion of ache in "The Yoruba High God," it is "Power itself in an absolute sense, with no epithet of determination of any sort. The various divine pow ers are only particular manifestations and personifications of it" (SAS 147n. 7). Ache thus names a monistic, unifying principle underlying the multi plicity of forms. As personifications of this unifying, energizing ache, the orishas of the


12 o (lipter IM Lucumi tradition inhabit the sacred stones or otoncs, and for that reason one must wash the stones and feed them a regular diet of blood or the herbal mixture called omiero, both of them rich in ache. The preparation of eggshell, boiled and ground up, becomes coscahlla or cfun.This efun, its whiteness sym bolizing purity, is "the universal conductor of ache," used in many Lucumi rituals (SAS41, 79, 80,83). 3. Rituals, numerous and complex, mediate relationships between hu mans and gods. These rituals are performed in ceremonies of initiation and in divination, spiritual trances or possessions, sacrifices, cleansings or limpiezas, healings, and thanksgivings. Subsequent chapters will include expositions on the varieties of Afro-Cuban ritual, but here I would like to elaborate some key notions for the explication of its symbolism. Victor Turner's conception of a "syntax" organizing symbolism in African religion suggest a method for explicating scenes of ritual such as those de picted in Afro-Cuban prose fiction. In his article "The Syntax of Symbolism in a Ndembu Ritual," Turner finds three "major dimensions of significance" in ritual symbols: the exegetic dimension, or explanations of symbols by informants; the operational, which consists in their use by participants and their associated affective states; and the positional, reading off the symbol's placement within the series or cluster of other symbols in the same struc ture. Furthermore, Turner elaborates the three bases he attributes to the symbol's exegetic significance, namely: the nominal basis, or "the name as signed to the symbol" both within and outside the ritual context; the sub stantial basis, consisting in the material and natural aspects of the symbol; and the artifactual basis, involving the manner in which the symbol is worked upon in the culture ("Syntax" 125-26). Sacrifice is one ritual readily explicable by the exegetic, operational, and positional dimensions of its symbols. To speak exegetically, sacrifice feeds the divinities, releasing the ache of the sacrificed animal and gaining the favor of the orisha to whom the petition is made. A subtext of tradition and myth determines the nominal, material, and artifactual bases of the sacrifice: only the prescribed animals, agents, instruments, and procedures may be em ployed, often denominated with their West African (for example, Yoruba, Efik, Kongo, Dahomeyan) names. Operationally, the symbolic act of sacrifice puts life into an abstract schema of the petition to the god. It simultaneously binds the community together by staging an act of violence that averts vio lence among members of the community, assigning a scapegoat value to the sacrificial offering. The sacrifice inspires the participating subjects through a histrionic sense of seriousness and perhaps also by clarifying guilt and carry-


Afrt-Cibii RCIWM ii Itrritifc o II ing out expiation. Positionally, or in terms of the syntactical significance proper, the symbolic acts of ritual take place in their proper sequence, an invariant temporal order whose ritual repetition harks back to an original instance of the ceremony. 4. Divination is one privileged ceremony practiced as an integral part of the Afro-Cuban religious culture, with diviners consulted for all major junc tures and events of the lifespan. The major oracles are the obi or biague, divina tion with four pieces of coconut; the diloggun or sixteen-shell divination; Ifa divination, which uses either the ikine palm nuts or the more common ckpuelc chain, cast only by the babalao; and the mpoka horn of Palo Monte, with its smoked mirror of revelations. In operational terms, divinatory practices can be called subsystems of symbolic reproduction, manipulating combinatory schemes by an aleatory procedure for producing and organizing information. That information is given in the form of counsel, which typically in cludes diagnostics, prescriptions, and prognostications. In giving counsel, diviners retell indicated sacred narratives selected from a body of narratives belonging to the particular divination system. The divination ceremony thus brings believers together with the personnel of the religion for the purposes of communication and in so doing gives coherence and significance to the rituals, doctrine, and mythology of the religion as well as to other aspects of its encompassing culture. In Afro-Cuba, the most popular oracle is the sixteen-cowrie divination, or diloggun, on which I will comment at length in chapter 2. A sort of mediumistic divination also takes place in the ritual of possession, where the possessed subject speaks with the voice of the possess ing god or "saint." 5. Magic, which includes conjurations or spells and herbal or ethnomedical therapies, is practiced to solve problems or to secure some aim desired by clients, in whom a magical predisposition toward the universe is produced by the myth, ritual, doctrine, and social structure of the religion. "Magic is the great preoccupation of our blacks," writes Cabrera in El monte (1954), "and the obtainment, the control of powerful occult forces that obey them blindly has not ceased to be their great desire" (16). The magic of spells, called ebbo in Lucumi and mayunga in Congo, which control events by means of sacrifice and the use of charms, seems to work toward gaining the love of another or for repelling another; for inflicting harm; for attracting luck; for achieving success in business; for cursing another's business enterprise; and for curing disease. In the light of semiotics, such magical operations work in accordance with a logic of rhetorical tropes, according to their own figural "language." That


14 o Chapter One language is constituted in detours or deviations from ordinary language use that effect a shift of meaning away from the literal, denotative significations of words. More specifically, magic operates in a manner analogous to the literary significations organized by the master tropes of metaphor and me tonymy, along with what is sometimes called the subclass of metonymy, syn ecdoche. This poetic substructure, of identifying one thing with a similar thing (metaphor) or one thing with a related thing (metonymy) or the part with whole (synecdoche), constitutes the hidden logic of spells and charms. Roman Jakobson, following Frazer, synthesizes this tropological system in his influential essay "Two Aspects of Language." For Jakobson, metaphor and metonymy vie for dominance in any symbolic process, either intrapersonal or social. Thus in an inquiry into the structures of dreams, the decisive question is whether the sym bols and the temporal sequences used are based on contiguity (Freud's metonymic "displacement" and synecdochic "condensation") or on simi larity (Freud's "identification and symbolism").The principles underlying magic rites have been resolved by Frazer into two types: charms based on the law of similarity and those founded on association by contiguity. The first of these two great branches of sympathetic magic has been called "ho meopathic" or "imitative," and the second, "contagious magic." ("Two Aspects" 80-81) Jakobson could be faulted for placing only "similarity" in the camp of "iden tification and symbolism" since metonymy or displacement can function to identify or symbolize as well. Yet Jakobson's association of metaphor with similarity on the one hand and of metonymy and synecdoche with contigu ity on the other holds up as a useful distinction for classifying forms of symbolization. In Afro-Cuban religious practice, homeopathic or imitative magic works by way of analogy or resemblances under the law of metaphor (or similea metaphor using "as" or "like"): performing a ritual on a portrait or effigy of a person amounts to performing an operation on the person so represented. Contagious magic works by way of contiguity or imputed causality, under the law of metonymy (or synecdoche): performing an operation on a person's belongings or even the person's name also signifies the will to do the same to the person so represented. Synecdoche in particular functions by treating a part of a person as representative of the whole person; this part could be some strands of hair, fingernail clippings, or blood. In the Palo Monte nganga, or cauldron-charm, a skull often represents the dead spirit controlled by the


Afro-Cuban Reiigion in Narrative IS charm and thus draws in that spirit s power for use by the ngangulero, or Palo Monte priest. In the logic of narrative itself, both metaphor and metonymy perform analogous symbolic operations in the formation of utterances and in the or ganization of narrative functions. Metaphor, obeying the law of similarity, is the trope of selections, substitutions, or condensations; metonymy, working by virtue of contiguity or contagion, is the trope of displacement or combi nation. The operations of these master tropesmetaphor, metonymy, and synecdochethus account for the "magic" of narrative causality and symbolization as well. 6. Music and dance have a prime importance in the liturgy They function, over and above the role of providing ambience or background, to supply a language of worship, a form of prayer, and a vehicle for entering into the state of consciousness that allows an extraordinary mode of perception. The protagonist Menegildo of Alejo Carpentier's jEcue-Yamba-O! (1933) is described as singing the yambu or the sones of the famous Nanigo Papa Montero during the toques de tambor, or drum-playing parties, also called guemileres, that he fre quents. Repetition in the verses of the sones creates "a kind of hypnosis"; the drums in the battery form a "magnetic circle," producing what the narrator calls a "[pjalpitating architecture of sounds" (EYO 50). In La musica en Cuba (Music in Cuba, 1946), Carpentier gives a more ana lytical characterization of Lucumi and Nanigo singing. A soloist leader and chorus or two semichoruses sing antiphonally, the chorus(es) doubling the part of the leader. Each chorus sings in unison or octaves in long notes ex tended against the busier polyrhythms of the drums. Often the melody is based on one of various pentatonic scales, lacking in semitones (MC 296). Rhythmic percussion, dance, and repeated chant-formulas in the guemileres, by modifying the frame and focus of consciousness, produce a new organization of perception and signification, an altered state of con sciousness that recenters thought and feeling. In his "Deauto-matization and the Mystic Experience," Deikman finds that a "deautomat-ization of cogni tive structures" takes place in the altered state. Cognitive hierarchies are re shuffled, "sensory translations" occur, for "the undoing of automatic per ceptual and cognitive structures permits a gain in sensory intensity and richness at the expense of abstract categorization and differentiation" (Deikman 224). Normative ratiocination cedes to the language of the un conscious. The psychological operation of deautomatization found in musi cal activity, I would add, bears much in common with Viktor Shklovskfs formalist notion of ostranieni"estrangement" or "defamiliarization"as the


M o Chapter Oie operation specific to literary art, that of making things appear as new by "creating a particular perception of the object, creating its vision and not its [mere] recognition" (Shklovski 65). Music and dance are furthermore the vehicles for bringing on the state of consciousness propitious to possession by the initiate's orisha.The relation ship of the dynamic arts to worship is based accordingly on the coding of musical rhythms and danced gestures to the identities of each of the gods. 7. The worship community is a dispersed collectivity whose members consider themselves members of the religion but not of any church. There is no central authority ruling over the Regla de Ocha: as one informant tells Cabrera, "We have no Pope!" (YO 132). Although Afro-Cuban religions dis play defining characteristics of religious "institutions" (in purposive organi zation, "clergy," customs, gatherings, sites), believers do not constitute a "homogeneous community." This is because worship is individualized, sub ject to endless reinterpretation, and community-centered rather than ecclesi astical, that is, taking place at homes and in other spiritual gathering places, with active participation of members (CA 3:16-17). Authority is nonethe less invested in the spiritual leaders: santeros, santeras, iyalochas, babalaos, mayomberos, paleros; all the plazas of the Abakua society; the houngans, bokors, mambos, and hounsis of theVaudou-Arara society. In addressing these seven broadly defined categories of Afro-Cuban reli gious belief and practice, this study employs a semiotic approach to studying Afro-Cuban religious experience and its discursive-practical foundation. Semiotics, the science of sign systems, follows the structuralist model of Ferdinand de Saussure's synchronic analysis of the language system. In that analysis, the principle of difference is regarded as that which determines the values of individual functions in any symbol system, both among the func tions themselves and with relation to what is considered outside the system. Difference is inherent in all the systemic characteristics of the above list, predi cated as they are on the exegetical and operational distinction between the supernatural and the earthly, the sacred and the profane, the true and the false, the inside and the outside, the authentic and the inauthentic. Such char acteristics, occurring in all the distinct Afro-Cuban religious systems as so defined by differences, must also be produced and reproduced: ritual, myth, doctrine, and even experience viewed as "within the religion" must be re peated in order to exist as such. Repetition and reproduction, inherent in any symbol system, thus underwrite the apparent uniqueness of any artifact, symbolic act, experience. For the symbols, motifs, and figures of Afro-Cu ban religions, signification means not only repetition but also repeatability:


Afr-ikii ReliffM lirrftite o 1/ all signs "written" and "read" in religious practice are so executed within the structure of reiteration, in a process that recognizes as authentic what is an imitation or repetition of an original or primordial act remembered in the religion s mythology.2 A method that accounts for signifying structures and processes in AfroCuban literary narratives must "read" them as texts that reiterate or interpret signs from other texts written in the varied languages of religion, culture, and literature. Literary semiotics would thus produce an interpretation of what are already interpretations: a reading of previous readings. In assuming that reading "reads" what others have read and "written" in various sociocultural codes, the semiotic notion of the language system and reiterable discourse practices guides us in regarding theology as a field of knowledge "of god" or the divine, a field consisting in a study of the repeatable figures organizing and reproducing the text of worship. And although the mystery of religious experience may never be illuminated in full by such a reading of the conventions on which that experience depends, the informing rhetoric of mystery can certainly be read and analyzed in its verbalizations or figura tions of the divine. The figurations of Afro-Cuban religion refer us back, let us recall, to its beginnings in the slave experience in colonial Cuba. A partial overview of the history of that experience will help to contextualize subse quent readings of Afro-Cuban religious phenomena. Oriins: Geographical, Ethnic, aid Social Sylvia Wynter situates Caribbean religions in a continuum whose two ex tremes represent the predominance of either European or African elements and whose middle represents an amalgamation of elements from the two continents (cited in Lewis 189). Castellanos and Castellanos' model of Cu ban culture in particular also projects a continuum stretched between the two extremes of European and African cultures. Between these extremes lie the intermediate "poles" of Euro-Cuban culture and Afro-Cuban culture (CA 1:12-13). This gradient of cultural difference is useful for identifying the origins and degrees of cultural influence in phenomena that include religion. Martinez Fure writes that the African slaves, by their "fidelity to the ancestral" (the expression is Roger Bastide's) successfully resisted assimila tion into the white Creole culture of, first, the colonial slaveholders and, later, the national bourgeoisie. In keeping alive an ancestral culture through the semi-covert practice of their religions, the slaves and their descendants preserved a source of resistance against the humiliations of forced labor, preju dice, discrimination, and other forms of oppression. It was in the process of


It o (lipter IK cultural mixing that this resistance occurred, precisely by taking objects, terms, practices, and narratives identified with European and African ethnic groups and making them over into ingredients of a "national culture" (DI 208-9). The area between Senegal and Angola yielded the most piezas de Indias or slaves to the prosperous slave trade, and among them the Yoruba exerted perhaps the most pervasive influence on the slave groups and their descen dants in the Americas (YSN 1). Other vigorous traditions beside the Yoruba took root in the Americas, however, sometimes grafting their beliefs and practices onto the trunk of the Yoruba tradition. The following brief over view of the ethnic composition, historical background, and social organiza tions of the African peoples brought over to Cuba in the nearly three hun dred years of the Atlantic slave trade will provide a useful background for mapping the multiple origins of Afro-Cuban religion. The African slaves brought to Cuba represented more than twenty tribal groups, and the peoples of at least four African regions were substantially represented in the Cuban slave population. The six principal groups came to be known by the names Lucumi, Mandinga, Arara, Ganga, Carabali, and Congo. The classifications and profiles in the following list are drawn from Castellanos and Castellanos (CA, vol. 1), Bolivar Arostegui (OC), Cros Sandoval (RA), and others. There seems to be some disagreement over the categorization of certain groups, and keep in mind also that many slaves were named for their port of departure rather than according to the name of their geographic origin. The six principal slaves groups, then, include: 1. The Lucumi. They proceed from the Yoruba of southwest Nigeria and the so-called Slave Coast and from Dahomey, Togo, and Benin. In Nigeria, the Yoruba states include Oyo, Ondo, Ogun, and Lagos as well as part of Kwara state (Eades 1). Culturally similar but not politically united, the Yoruba in cluded peoples known as the Agicon, Cuevano, Egba, Eguado, Ekiti, Fon, Oyo, Sabalu, andYesa (OC 20). 2. The Carabali. These were the peoples of the Calibar in what is today southeast Nigeria and southwest Cameroon, among whom the Efik and the Ibibio stand out. The Carabalis also included the EjaghamHispanicized as Abaja or Abakuathe Bras, Brikamo, Efor, Ekoy, Ibo, and Oba (OC 20). 3. Those who trace their origin to Dahomey and the western part of Nige ria, including the Ashanti and the Fanti. They are grouped together as the Arara, whose name originated in the kingdom of Arder or Ardra, today known as Benin, home of the Ewe and Fon peoples (CA 1:31). From the west and northwestern parts of the Ivory Coast came the Bambara, Berberi, Fulani,


Hfri-(BNiReli0iNiilirritif( o If Hausa, Kissi, Kono, Mani, and Yola. Diaz Fabelo's list of the Arara includes groups that Bolivar Arostegui calls Lucumi, namely the Agicon, the Cuevano, and the Sabahi (Diaz Fabelo 24). A people associated with the Dahomeyan-Fon were called Mina because they were passed through the station of San Jorge de Mina, in Fanti territory on the Gold Coast. They were also related to the Ewe peoples called Popo (CA 1:31). 4. The Congos. Originally, they were slaves drawn from the Congo Basin, which extends through present-day Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, Cabinda, BasZaire, and Gabon (RA 19-20). From the Guinea Coast down through to the former Belgian Congo, those who would come to be called Congos or Bantus in Cuba included the Ashanti, Fanti, and Mina Popo. From the Congo Basin came the Agunga, Banguela, Bisongo, Cabinda, Mayombe, Mondongo, Motembo, and Mucaya (OC 20). 5. The Mandinga, grouped in Cuba with the Bambara, Diola, and Yola peoples, inhabited the upper Niger and the Senegal and Gambia valleys. The Islamic Mandinga showed an Arabic influence in their syncretic religious be liefs and in the ability of some to write (CA 1:30-31). Carpentier attributes Mandinga ancestry to Mackandal, leader of the slave revolt in El reino de este mundo (The kingdom of this world, 1949). 6. The Gangas. From the coastal and interior regions of Sierra Leone and northern Liberia, the Gangas were further designated by the name of their "nation," such that the subgroups of those called Ganga were called Gangacramo, Ganga-quisi, Ganga-fay, Ganga-gora, Ganga-bandore, Ganga-yoni, Ganga-iiongoba, and the Ganga-tomu. Their origins since clarified, these peoples have been divided into the Gangas associated with the aforemen tioned Mandingas and the Gangas called "Bantoid," from the Nigerian pla teau (CA 1:32-34). Cabrera identifies theYoruba and the Bantu, as do Bastide and other au thorities, as the two most influential African groups imported in the slave trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. These peoples were known in Cuba respectively as the Lucumi and the Congo (M 8). Martinez Fure has noted and cataloged the African languages that have survived and been disseminated into the Creole speech of Cuba up to the present. The languages in question fall primarily into two families: the Sudanese, spoken primarily in the western part of the island, and the Bantu. Belonging to the first of these families, Yoruba or Lucumi (also called Anago) is spoken by the practitioners of Regla de Ocha or Santeria. Efik is spoken by those of the Abakua or Nanigo society; Fon or Arara by the groups known


21 o (kipttrfM as Araras. The second language family, Bantu, is that of the Congo or Palo Monte cults. Many Cubans are capable not only of reciting but of holding conversations in one of these African languages. Martinez Fure adds that al though it is in these languages that one speaks to the orishas in Cuba, many words and expressions have filtered down into the common idiom (DI 203-4). As Castellanos and Castellanos point out, no one is sure whether Africans first came aboard the caravels on which Columbus and his crew crossed the Atlantic, but black servants probably accompanied the hidalgos who arrived in 1493 with Columbus's second expedition and most likely came with Di ego Velazquez in his conquest of Cuba in 1510-11. It is more certain that Portuguese slavers first landed in Guinea or at the Gold Coast of western Africa in 1510.They soon began exporting slaves, mainly through the port of Lagos, with Cuba and Brazil as principal destinations (CA 1:19). Carpentier's researches find that blacks were transported to Cuba since at least 1513. Two Genoese sailors brought 145 Africans from Cape Verde, and by 1534, there were already about a thousand on the Caribbean island (MC 37). In 1531, the Spanish crown increased the demand for African labor by decreeing, first, the end of Indian slavery; then, in 1532, the release of Indi ans who had earned their freedom; and finally, in 1552, the release of all the Indians commended to the haciendas. The freedom of the Indians in Cuba, many of whom were to die of mistreatment or European diseases anyway, created the need for a labor force coming from elsewhere (Fagg 16). The slaves were purchased in Africa with money, or with goods, generos, such as sugar, tobacco, rum, guns, gunpowder, beads, cloth, machetes, or iron bars. Once they arrived in the Caribbean, they were traded for sugar and rum, which were transported to Europe so that the entire cycle of a "triangular trade" route could begin again (CA 1:22). The European slave trade with West Africa increased dramatically with the growth of the American sugar plantations. Once this industry took off, de mand for African labor skyrocketed in Brazil after 1550, in the Caribbean and South America in the seventeenth century, and in North America in the eighteenth century (Eades 28). Cuba along with other colonies underwent a process that has been called amulatamiento, or "mulattoization," with the ar rival of hundreds of thousands of slaves between 1517 and 187 3.The Cuban census of 1774 reported a population of 96,430 whites and 75,180 pardos or blacks. Out of that last number, 44,300 (or 59 percent) were slaves. From 1819 to 1850, blacks in Cuba would outnumber the whites by about 100,000 (MC 89; DI 207-8; Curtin 34). Fagg asserts that in 1817, out of some


Itri-dNiMifiMiihrritiie ]| 552,000 inhabitants in Cuba, 313,000 or 57 percent of them were nonwhite (Fagg 27). Philip D. Cur tin estimates that out of his calculated total of 9,566,000 slaves transported during the Atlantic trade, some 4,040,000, or 42.2percent, were destined for the Caribbean islands, and that some 702,000 of those, or 7.3 percent of the worldwide total, were taken to Cuba (Curtin 88-89). Castellanos and Castellanos estimate a higher minimum of 850,000 slaves brought to Cuba in the three and a half centuries of its existence.^ Some five hundred ingenios or sugar mills were in operation on the island in 1790. Then, with the outbreak of the Saint Domingue Revolution in Hispaniola in the 1790s, the price of sugar shot up. The market was ready for a new producer, and Cuba was there to supply the demand. Entrepreneurs invested in the construction of new mills and in the importation of new slaves from Africa. To fill the demand in the booming industry, Knight reports, Spanish traders brought some 75 percent of the slaves to the colony in the nineteenth century, when most other nations had ceased to participate in the trade. Cuba's monocultivational sugar economy began to boom only in this period, for it had previously been more a "colony of settlement" than of "exploitation," although that fact certainly changed with the accelerated im portation of slaves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Ferdinand VII, under pressure from the British, decreed the end of the slave trade by 1820, but a clandestine trade continued until 1886 (Fagg 25, 27, 30, 41; Knight 66). Although the British outlawed the transport or landing of slaves in their colonies in 1808, and although the trade was in fact officially terminated in the Spanish colonies in 1821, at least 436,844 bozales or new slaves entered the island between 1790 and 1875, during the height of the islands agricul tural development. This traffic went on despite the protests of the British and the emancipations in French territories (SRL 36). Whereas the American South could rely on a self-reproducing slave popu lation, the Caribbean region generally depended on the continual importa tion of new Africans for labor power up past the mid-nineteenth century The constant influx guaranteed that new infusions of West African language, folklore, customs, liturgies, and art forms would arrive to enrich and strengthen the life of slave religion in the islands (Lewis 189). Slaves in Cuba, and espe cially in the urban concentrations, could find a degree of comfort and relief from the rigors of forced labor in certain refuges within slave society, sites where they could practice their neo-African religions under a facade of Catho lic orthodoxy. In this infrasocial space of circumscribed freedom, the slaves could associate with their fellows, communing and communicating in the unique Afro-Cuban cultural dialect of a "nation" refounded.


11 o (inter OM MlNMl Several aspects of colonial society promoted the transplantation and growth of Yoruba, Congo, and Nanigo cults in Cuba. A first contributing factor was the founding of numerous setdements known as palenques by the run away slaves, known as cimarrones. In the palenques, located in the hills of the Escambray or the Sierra Maestra, the cimarrones built up their own syncretic, neo-African microsocieties. In these precarious and embattled redoubts, the runaways, banded together, conserved and reconstructed an African cultural legacy that sustained an oppositional sense of identity. Second, the large num ber of slaves concentrated in the cities could be hired out or employed in trades or industries such as shipbuilding, carpentry, or smithing. Such work gave some slaves the opportunity to earn and save the means to buy their freedom through the practice called coartacion, or manumission, which con sisted in the paying of a preagreed upon and published price. By the middle of the nineteenth century, a sizable urban population made up of slaves and former, or manumitted slaves, known as gente de color (people of color), could freely gather in the cabildos and develop their vital culture, complete with rites, indoctrinations, and celebrations reconstituted from the surviving rem nants of a shattered African legacy (CA 3:110-15). In Hispanic culture, the word cabildo usually denotes the municipal coun cil or its meetings; it also refers to a cathedral "brotherhood" chapter. Cros Sandoval traces the institution back to the time of Alfonso el Sabio (1042-1109), who required all members of the Sevillian population, including Af rican slaves, to group together in guilds and fraternities (RA 44). An agrupacion (group, chapter) or cofradia (confraternity) of free blacks of Nuestra Senora de los Remedios was founded in 1598 in Havana (MC 290). Ortiz writes that such cabildos were organizations of mainly freed blacks of the same nacioncs or ethnic groups, and that the oldest member was often the leader, the capitdn dc cabildo (or cabildo captain), although in Cuba some of the more organized societies met in houses outside town under the rule of "kings" and "queens" ("fiesta" 6). In Cuban societies as well, assemblies made collections to pay for funeral expenses of members and at times for the manumission of aged slaves. It was often in the comparsas, or costumed parad ing groups, that cabildos carried out street celebrations devoted to the patron saints (SAS 30). Amidst the festivities of carnival, dances and processions dedicated to particular orishas further contributed to the survival and dis semination of a neo-African culture in the bosom of a colonial Catholic society. The names of these societies attested to their founders' African origins.


Afrt-CibflH RelifiM IB Itrrative o I] Carpentier lists the following cabildo names: "Arard, Apapd, Apapd Chiquito, Mandinga, Oro, Lucumi, Carabali Ungri, Nacion Mina Popo de la Costa dc Oro, Arard tres ojos, etc/' (MC 290). While bringing the benefits of security, association, and entertainment into its marginalized space within Cuban society, the cabildo, it should be noted, served the purpose of the colonizers' "divide-and-rule" policy, pro viding a means of diversion and thus averting revolt by grouping members in these self-regulating organizations (Bastide 9). Yet as the cabildos de negros gained in familiarity and numbers, they also gained some clout in local gov ernment. In 1573 in Havana, cabildos had a voice in the municipality (L. Foner 148^-9). Measures taken by the Cuban church further promoted the religio-cultural evolution of the cabildo blacks. The Constitution Sinodal, promulgated by the Havana diocese in June 1680, required the instruction of all slaves in Catholic doctrine, their baptism within one year of their arrival in America, and that baptism as the prerequisite to marriage by a priest. It also required that marriages outside the church of people baptized afterward be ratified in facie ecclesiae (DALC 99, 141-2; Klein 94). These requirements further en couraged the founding, growth, and limited empowerment of cabildos and cofradias in the major Cuban cities. The members of each cabildo were normally negros de nacion, blacks of the same ethnogeographic origin who in their mutual propinquity could keep alive not only some of their African traditions but their own language as well. What the church unintentionally made possible by organizing the slaves into cabildos was therefore a combining and transformation of cultural be liefs and practices: a synthesis and hybridization proper to Creole social groups that, after the pioneering work of Fernando Ortiz, has come to be widely called "transculturation." Trusciltortti*!: Syncretism ad Syntheses Fernando Ortiz is referred to as "the third discoverer of America" (after Co lumbus and von Humboldt). He followed the lead of nineteenth-century writers such as Jose Antonio Saco and Domingo del Monte in investigating the blacks in Cuba: their history, art, religion, livelihood, and language. The result of Ortiz's labors was to make what was once scorned and dismissed as a bastard culture of a downtrodden people into an object deemed worthy of intellectual scrutiny (VU 7). For Ortiz, the process of transculturation was typical of all Cuban culture and essential to an understanding of cultural


24 o (ttpterfit change. In his Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azucar (Cuban counterpoint of tobacco and sugar, 1940), Ortiz defines that process to which the lives of millions of African slaves were subjected on American lands: We understand that the word transculturation best expresses the different phases of the transitional process from one culture to another, because this consists not only of acquiring a different culture, which is what the Anglo-American word [acculturation] strictly indicates, but rather that the pro cess also necessarily implies the loss or uprooting of a preceding culture, which could be called a partial decuituration, and in addition, signifies the consequent creation of new cultural phenomena that could be denomi nated as neoculturation. Finally, as the school of Malinowski well sustains, what happens in every embrace of cultures is what happens in the genetic coupling of individuals: the offspring always has something of both pro genitors, but is also always different from each one of the two. (Contrapunteo 134-35) Transculturation names the process by which a culture constitutes itself as a crossing, combination, fusion, and mutual transformation of two or more preexisting cultures. In the process, cultures are uprooted and new cultures are formed. The concept repudiates the tracing of cultural descent to any one nation or ethnia, questioning previous notions of cultural superiority based on racial "purity." For Ortiz, the African contribution to Cuba was present in the island's art, religion, and collective temperament ("factores" 32). The New World in general was a place where traditions would combine and transform one another. To give one example of a religious tradition that underwent transculturation: in Nigeria, the association and the family lin eage are traditionally identified with the particular orisha regarded as the "ancestor" of the group, revered by generation after generation. When sla very shattered the African family structure, however, only the basis of wor ship in associations survived. The structure of this worship changed as well, for no longer could a fraternity devote its cult to a single orisa, as in Nigeria, for the association or "nation" felt obliged to worship all the orishas, and all in a hierarchized sequence of rituals. Cabrera confirms that in Cuba, unlike in Nigeria, one worships "all the Orishas," starting out with the Santos de Fundamento or Santos de Entrada (Saints [Orishas] of Fundament or Saints of Entry). Worship is therefore not strictly limited to the orishas of one's lineage, although there will be one or more saints to whom devotion is concentrated for different purposes on different occasions. The distribution of worship to all the orishas within each of the associations makes each association a mi-


UMBkiiReliiiefliilirntive o 15 2.M(kii|i/Siitilirkirr(ilii cut is, 1991. Ctltectiii ff Atrfi ABtoaii (irrilU, Old IITIII, (iki. crocosm of a nation. Furthermore, that worship is not restricted to the temple, the ilc ocha, but extends into the home, with its domestic shrines (consisting of asientos or ritual settings devoted to particular orishas) and altars (YO 130-31). The African nations, now gathered into the Cuban cabildo associations, indeed kept alive theYoruba, Mandinga, Carabali, and Bantu gods, but these underwent further modifications in Cuba (Bastide 94, 116). In theYorubaLucumi tradition, to give one example, the orishas became reduced in num ber, took on the characteristics and identities of minor Yoruba gods, trans muted themselves in symbiotic connection with their Catholic doubles, and developed new family ties among themselves (CA 3:22-23). Since the syn cretism of Yoruba-based representations meant not only the joining of orishas with saints but also the gathering of the orisha-saints into a single practice of worship, Cuba became a space of narrative transformations and iconic evo lutions, as the ilc ocha, "home of the orisha," took the place of theYoruba holy grove, the igbodu (SAS 52, 113).


U o (kiptcrtit We should recall at this point the political origins of the word syncretism in synkretismos: the Greek word designates the federation or union of Cretan cities against a common enemy. There is a defensive and even militant strengthening implicit in the word that continued on into the dynamics of slave ideology and Creole culture, since it formed a defensive and consensual basis for communication across cultural boundaries. Cabrera quotes one of her informants, called "the mother of OmiTomi," as saying, "Lucumi, Arara, Dahomey and Mina, all are akin. All understood one another although their languages were different. But their Saints are similar. They would go from one land to another" (M 26n. 1). We should keep in mind that there was already a syncretizing transculturation taking place in African mythology even before its Cubanization.TheYoruba Ogun had already become the powerful Zarabanda among the mpungus, or Kongo deities. This Zarabanda gives his name to the most powerful of magic charms, the aforementioned nganga or prenda made of bones, cemetery dust, blood, sticks, and other powerful objects kept together in a metal cauldron (S 132). The specific courses of this transculturation invite closer examination. In the matching of a Yoruba with a Catholic, Bantu, or Ewe-Fon equivalent, a transfer of qualities may also take place, as in the way Babalu-Aye takes on the humility and gentleness of the Saint Lazarus with whom he was con joined. On the other hand, the two sides of the equation may maintain their separate identities for the most part, as in the case of Chango and Santa Barbara. The coupling of these figures from distinct traditions does not re quire that they interact very much: not so much a blending as a juxtaposition or imposition of appearances takes place. Such adjacencies or layerings allow "the African elements to impose themselves with an extraordinary purity in the initiation, divination or funerary rites" (FV 138). Diana K. Metz explains these alternative processes as the branching out of cultural mestizajc, or mixing, into two contrasting forms designatable by the terms "symbiosis" and "syncretism." Whereas both terms name modes of cultural convergence, symbiosis consists in a heterogeneous combining that respects the separate identities of the participating elementsa "striping." Syncretism would amount to a blending and refounding that transforms the elements so that often in the process they become less recognizablea "gray ing." Following Metz s definitions, one could impose on symbiosis the law of juntos pcro no revueltos: together but not "mixed up." The syncretized orishasaint on the other hand is neither one nor the other but an alchemical com bination, "una deidad novisima" ("a brand-new deity"; MS 13). Metz also suggests that the very syncretic character of Santeria and of a Cuban Creole


Ulre-dbMReliiiiiiilirriliie o 1/ culture demands a strategy affined to that of Derrida's differance in order to track its shiftings and readjustments. This syncretizing process may also engage other cultural systems besides the African and the European. Benitez Rojo traces the multiple vectors of the myths that became the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Cuba's "patron saint." As Benitez Rojo's analysis explains, the Virgin s wooden statue, discovered in the Bahia de Nipe by the "Three Juans" and giving rise to the legend, was not only the Cuban icon representing the Spanish Virgen de Illescas but also the Yoruba Ochun Yeye Moro and the Taina goddess Atabex or Atabey, who derived previously from the Arahuacan goddess Orehu, "Mother of the Waters." These three divine personalities did not however merge into one but maintained their separate identities as three-figures-in-one-entity Deducing from this Cuban archetype, Benitez Rojo correctly concludes that "A syncretic artifact is not a synthesis, but a signifier made out of differences." Precisely because the Virgin was discovered in the Bahia de Nipe by the "three Juans"Juan Cri-ollo, Juan Indio, and Juan Esclavoshe "belonged" to the three ethnic trunks of the Caribbean genealogy and thus "represented a magic or transcendental space" of their meeting. In essence, la Caridad "mythologically communi cates the desire to attain a sphere of effective equality where the racial, social and cultural differences created by the conquest could coexist without vio lence" (IR xvixvii, xxviii, 27).The Afro-hispanoamerican myth offers a sym bolic resolution of social contradictions. The same Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre occupies the transcendental and maternal space of the Creole image in Lezama Lima's Paradiso (1966), in which protagonist Jose Cemi s mother is remembered as one who "jumped from dreams to the quotidian without establishing differences, as if she would to go off by herself, walking on the water." In this Creole space of fluid sym bolic metamorphoses, the Catholic quotidian is permeated by the magical, and the magical is saturated with Afro-Cuban motifs. Before a small altar set up in their living room, senor Michelena and his wife Juana, of the same novel, pray to the Virgin to give them a child, for, after all, "to whom but to the Order of la Caridad, foundation of all our religion, can one beseech su perabundance?" The supplication itself takes the doggerel form of a thirteensyllable couplet (a trecisilabo) asking for fecundity: "Virgen de la Caridad, de la Caridad / dadnos \a fecundidad, oh fecundidad" ("give us fecundity, oh fecundity"). Later, la vieja Mela tells her son that sefiora Munda will cure her asthma by the agency of the same virgin and a seahorse (Lezama Lima 27, 53, 54, 1 20). Devotion to the saints, spirits, orishas, mpungus, and egunguns (Lucumi for "the dead") constitutes a practice of centering a personal system (or


It o Cliptcrtat "economy") of signs around the image of a transcendental signified, itself susceptible to displacement by other signs. The self consecrates and thus de fines itself on the altar of this devotion. Thanks to the Catholic contribution, the virtue of "saindiness" meant that slaves could find happiness not in "com fort," to quote William James again, but in "a higher kind of inner excite ment" leading to tranquillity, such that "when we are in need of assistance, we can count upon the saint lending his hand with more certainty than we can count upon any other person" (James 361). A Catholicism mixed with African beliefs and practices thus earned the name of "afrocatolicismo." These transcultural aspects of slave religion, we should recall, had their practical function in a sociohistorical context, for it was slavesconsidered by their masters to be no more than chattel, labor, property, and investment who practiced it, finding in their worship the means to compensate or even to negate the negations of their dehumanizing enslavement. SUfe Relioien as Ideelegy In the preface to the 1993 edition of his historically based novel The African (1967), Harold Courlander explains that religious beliefs have given blacks in both Africa and America "a sense of relationship to the world around them and to the unseen but living forces of the universe" (ii [unnumbered]).This sense of relationship, as numerous writers have observed, has profoundly shaped the nature of black participation in the politicosocial processand with mixed results. Anticipating his own critique of rationalism in future narratives, Carpentier in jEcue-Yamba-O! pits the Afro-Cuban worldview against the Cartesian method and attitude. The opposition in Carpentier s text makes historical sense: al though the typical Caribbean planter in the time of the colony was no phi losopher, as Gordon K. Lewis points out in Main Currents in Caribbean Thought, the planter shared with the Cartesian mind a certain "religious indifferentism" or secularizing disposition that produced the peculiar forms of indi vidualism, voluntarism, rationalism, and hubris characteristic of his class. The subject/object relation may have confirmed in his mind the legitimacy of the master/slave relationship. Different foundational assumptions under lie the contrasting worldviews as well. Whereas the Cartesian mind, finding only clear and distinct perceptions to be truthful, values conclusions arrived at empirically and experimentally, the Afro-Caribbean mind finds the truth in oral narratives.4 Lewis elaborates these contrasting notions of knowledge: "The one perceives the universe in terms of scientific laws, the other sees it in terms of laws that can only be apprehended by means of therapeutic or


Afrt-CibiB Religion ia Rflrrative o li redemptive episodes in ritual and ceremony that constitute, as it were, sce narios of the transformation, in essence magical, of personal states." Lewis's dichotomization emphasizes "Cartesian man's" tendency to abstract, divide, and compartmentalize the phenomena and institutions of the world. "Afri can man," however, has never renounced an experiential, ritual, and subjec tive involvement with the life of the world, for which everything fits into a single designpossibly a cosmological ecosystemsuch that "life and ex perience are unified in one domain of knowledge and understanding in which past, present, and future fuse into the awful mystery of things" (Lewis 196). Bolivar Arostegui describes the traditionalist and animist assumptions of this unifying, magical thought: each corner of the universe is infused with personalizing spirit responsive to the appeal of magic; all things are alive and sentient, imbued with ache; and yet every thing is unique, with its own "individuality." Every locality and time has its own particular character within the "subjectivized," non-Newtonian cosmos: "The sensual experience of space and time reveals them to us as heterogeneous and discontinuous: there exists the space of the valley and that of the cave, the time of happiness and that of joy and sorrow, there is no equal time nor identical spaces for the subjective experience." Bolivar Arostegui affirms the distinction between modern scientific thought and "primitive" magical thought in declaring out right that magic "bases itself in purely fictitious relations" and that it "elabo rates its illusory technique and its mythical dominion upon a fictitious knowl edge" (OC 26-27, 29). Others have held that this knowledge has more than a compensatory or illusional importance. For Zapata Olivella, Afro-American religions have func tioned as cultural expressions directed toward emancipation. They express the "creativity of the black under oppression," as the title of one of the chap ters of Zapata Olivella s Las claves mdgicas dc America (The magic keys of America) proposes. The Afro-Cuban comparsa, the carnival street procession presided over by an elected king and queen, manifests the Africans' custom of making of their "body, mind and shadow a living temple erected to their Ancestors and Gods." Afro-Caribbean cults, Zapata Olivella points out, united and emboldened blacks in the Saint Domingue revolts and in other countless anticolonial uprisings. Such examples illustrate that in a hostile American envi ronment, where identity has meant not only to be somebody but to survive, African slaves had these psychospiritual resources, "religious arms," to rely on, and they relied especially on those resources that drew strength from the deified Ancestors. Even the frequent acts of suicide among Carabalis, Fantis,


)0 o CbipterOic Sereres, and Ibos can be accounted for as acts of resistance in obedience to ancestral codes that valued an honorable death over the ignominy of slavery The African saw himself or herself as a "depository of the life of the ancestors" and struggled against every kind of "infrahuman exploitation" because the offense of slavery was an offense not only to the individual but to all the individual's ancestors (Zapata Olivella, claves 117, 145, 60). Confirming Zapata Olivella s vision of Afro-American religion as mani festing creativity under oppression, Lewis finds in slave religion an "ideol ogy" that negates the masters' ideology The culture of the African slave in the New World was "denied expression in either economic technology or political structures," yet it "found its classic, architectonic expression in the proliferating secret Negro religious cults." In their war against such cults, which they considered to be forms of idolatry and paganism, missionaries throughout the Caribbean attempted to instill their doctrine in the name of Catholic proselytization, usually in support of the proslavery ideology. The same missionaries did not by and large realize how slaves could appear to embrace the dogma and lore of the church by adoring Chango in the red robes of Santa Barbara and Obatala in the white robes of the Virgen de las Mercedes. Colonial officials learned, however, that the cults would die hard and that efforts to suppress the practice of their rituals would provoke re sentment and revolutionary backlash. The alternative was to allow a coexist ence of religions, such that the blacks could continue celebrating in their comparsas (processions) or batds (fiestas with drumming).Tolerance for some degree of religious diversity became the unwritten policy (Lewis 188, 195). Lewis, citing J. N. Figgis's From Gerson to Grotius, a study of church/state conflicts in the Middle Ages, asserts that political liberty in the Caribbean "was the inheritor of an unofficial concordat between the Christianity of the slavocracy and the neo-African belief structures of the slave populations." The antagonism between proslavery and antislavery ideologies ceded to this cold war accommodation between African and European worldviews. Lewis perhaps overstates the case for an "Afro-American religious ideology" in the Caribbean, with the exception of Haiti, in claiming that it was engaged in "mortal struggle" with European ideologies, "waged as bitterly as any war of religion," for outside of Haiti religious ideology has tended to serve more as a compensatory philosophy than as a call to arms, more as a restorative adhered to covertly, leaving the fundamental life conditions of the slaves un challenged (Lewis 196, 190). This was especially the case in Cuba, where practices of Santeria, Naiiiguismo, and Palo Monte never led their believers


Ifre-dNiMiifiMiilirritiK o fl into a full-scale anticolonial war. This absence may in part have induced Carpentier, still regretting the youthful errors of jEcue-Yamba-O!, to choose the colony of Saint Domingue as the main setting of El rcino it este mundo. For in Vaudou, slave religion has had a more direct, although varied and problem atic, relationship with historical change, an issue I will address in chapter 6. It would seem that Cuban culture in the first half of the twentieth century could accept and assimilate African-based mythical and religious thought in its collective representations. In Walterio Carbonell's view, it was the inher ent weakness of the dependent Cuban bourgeoisie, due to the imperialism that forced a change from the colonialism of the Spanish to an economic neocolonialism of Wall Street during the early years of the Republic, that made the middle class susceptible to the influences of the African culture that had survived since the slaveholding colonial days. "The savage gods, the eat ers of children, Chango, Obatala.Yemaya, were civilized and took possession in the spirits of the well-to-do, not in order to eat them up nor to cohabit with them, but in order to try to solve their amatory problems, their aspira tions to occupy a high government position, or to pull them out of business difficulties." This sentimental dependence on black mysticism is reflected in Benitez Rojo's satire "El escudo de hojas secas" (The coat-of-arms of dry leaves, 1969) in which a middle-class Cuban couple relies on the advice of a babalao to make their fortune, precisely by winning the national lottery. In Afro-Cuban religion prior to 1959, the "nongoverning" bourgeoisie could find the com pensations and assurances that their economic situation could not afford them. Even before this prerevolutionary period, however, the bourgeoisification of Afro-Cuban myth was an ongoing process that involved the trans lation into Castillian of West African narratives. Parallel transculturations oc curred in music and dance (think of the mambo, rumba, and son) once those art forms were mainstreamed and then internationalized, and the new Cu ban culture ended up becoming more openly "una gran pachanga" (a great party) with the blessings of the Cubanized African gods (Carbonell, Critica 24-25). The sign systems of what originated as slave religion, and certainly much of those systems' imagery and language, carried over into another transform ing context, that of the literary movements known as negrismo and its particu lar Cuban variant, afrocubanismo. I turn to these in the chapter 2, after examin ing some of the semiotic and phenomenological implications of Afro-Cuban sign systems in the following sections.


fl o Chtpter One Afro-Coban Religion in Narrative The signifying systems of Afro-Cuban religions, codifying the cultural world for and of their subjects, have also provided terms for reinscription into liter ary language. As I proposed earlier in this chapter, when literature reinscribes ritual, myth, doctrine, and the personal experience originally "scripted" by those religions, it offers a phenomenologico-semiotic reading of signify ing mechanisms engaged in the shaping of that experience. For the healing arts, a symptom is a metaphor that the curandero (healer), santero, babalao, iyalorisha, houngan, mayombero, or paleraall semioticians after a fash ionmay read. Myth serves as the narrative foundation of ritual and doctrine, as symbolic charter for the ethical and template for the personal. In Frye s illuminating theory, mythos as narrative "involves movement from one structure to another." This movement is a process of formation, matura tion, conversion, or transformation, and it corresponds analogically to the cyclical pattern of development, death, and rebirth or its analog in the yearly progression of the seasons (Frye 158). Afro-Cuban narratives imitate this movement between structures in portraying ritual and in retelling myth, reinscribing both into narrative prose, thus providing a subtext upon which the idioms of novels and short storiesother layers of the palimpsestac quire the depth of stratified and mutually cross-referencing levels. In reconstructing an architectonics of each religion in later chapters, I schematize the systematic arrangement of its knowledge and "technical arts," emphasizing above all the agency of language in constituting religion as a transcendent realm or a world apart. The primacy of language, or the privi lege of that which is accessible and intelligible by transposition into lan guage, becomes evident in the multilingual order of Afro-Cuban narrative texts: texts that typically take pains, as it were, to teach the readerthrough appositional definitions, footnotes, glossaries, and translationsthe sacred language of the religious tradition in question. Previous discussion of Afro-Cuban religions, even in anthropological treat ments of the subject, has often devolved into a vocabulary of essentialist as sumptions, hypostatizations of abstract or immaterial entities, and uncritical descriptions of mystical phenomena. It is natural for the analyst's writing to identify, even if ironically, with the believer's language of faith, but previous summaries of and commentaries on magical narratives nonetheless have of ten produced the effect of affirming their referentialist illusion. What is needed is a metanarrative of that illusion, one that examines the springs and levers of its referentialist machinery. This approach calls for a supporting theory of narrative structuresa narratology