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How diasporic religious communities remember:
Learning to speak the “tongue of the oricha” in Cuban Santer´a ı
A B S T R A C T
In this article, I probe the relationship between historical consciousness and cultural transmission. In contrast to scholars’ focus on language loss in African-language ritual registers in the Americas, I examine how Cuban Santer´a’s ritual register, called ı “Lucum´,” is actively regimented through the ways in ı which Santer´a’s practitioners learn, use, and ı interpret it. I discuss two speciﬁc interpretive strategies that santeros use: The “etymological approach” is a focus on studying and recovering ﬁxed “original” Yoruba meanings, whereas the “divining-meaning” approach is a more charismatic, contextual, and performance-based focus on revealing deep and hidden meanings in Lucum´ texts. ı [ritual language, historical consciousness, language loss, cultural change, interpretive strategies, situated learning, African diaspora]
n this article, I examine how particular “situated practices” of textual interpretation shape, and are reﬂexively shaped by, particular historical subjectivities. I do so by bringing into productive tension work on historical consciousness with that on learning as situated practice, examining both subjects through the lens of recent approaches in linguistic anthropology to linguistic and cultural change. My goal is to sharpen the ways in which scholars track continuity and change, acknowledging that the recognition (or misrecognition) of either is an ideologically fraught exercise, especially in the charged context of a diaspora. My ethnographic data concern ritual language in Cuban Santer´a, a striking (but not ı unique) case of cultural continuity amid transformation in one corner of the African diaspora. I argue that locally situated language practices generate two types of historical process at the nexus of which “tradition” is produced even as it is transformed. One historical process is the circulation of speciﬁc cultural forms—for example, word tokens of a register of ritual speech—via mechanisms of replication (Urban 1996). The other related historical process is the emergence of particular forms of historical consciousness. Both processes are evident in the interpretive strategies Santer´a practitioners (santeros) apı ply to learn and make sense of Lucum´, a ritual register marked by emblemı atically (if not empirically) “African” words.1 I distinguish between what I call the “etymological approach” and the “divining-meaning” approach taken by santeros. The etymological approach involves the attempted recovery of Lucum´’s “original” Yoruba meanings through linguistic study, whereas ı the divining-meaning approach has a more performance-based and charismatic focus on the revelation of hidden or deep meanings. The events in which individuals engage in these strategies of learning and practice, I argue, are the key sites in which the ritual register’s meanings are negotiated and, thus, are the sites in which cultural replication takes place (Agha 2003; Wenger 1998). These events also actively create a historical consciousness of durable but decaying “tradition” (Tomlinson 2004a, n.d.). Whereas the etymological approach relies more on literacy practices, the divining-meaning
AMERICAN ETHNOLOGIST, Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 108–126, ISSN 0094-0496, online ISSN 1548-1425. C 2007 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Rights and Permissions website, http://www.ucpressjournals.com/reprintInfo.asp. DOI: 10.1525/ae.2007.34.1.108.
although a much greater percentage of the population participate in ceremonies ¨ or seek consultations with initiated santeros (Arguelles Mederos and Hodge Limonta 1991. its contemporary adherents span class. Historical consciousness. Stoller 1995). There are also dynamics to explore between cultural replication processes and consciousness of those processes. as illustrated by the scholarly metadiscourses that represent Santer´a’s ritual ı register (Lucum´) as an obsolescent form of an African lanı guage (Yoruba) and the contradictory evidence of Lucum´’s ı ongoing active regimentation via practitioners’ interpretive practices. I deﬁne historical consciousness as a kind of “metaculture. including Lucum´ speech. are exposed to religious practices. ritual practices that enact repressed collective memories that are not explicitly discussed (Shaw 2002). The self. often under the tutelage of godparents. and by 109 . Background on fieldwork. thus. Historical subjectivities. as they point out. then. uncertain projects” (2001:4). 8. Robbins 2001). The best estimates suggest that perhaps eight percent of Cubans have been initiated as santeros (priests). or what Hans-Georg Gadamer (1987) calls “interpretations” of cultural forms. The dynamic tension between individual and collective historical subjectivities is evident in the blurred categories of “memory” and “history. Whereas metapragmatic frames like those generated by the interpretive strategies I discuss below can operate without rising into conscious awareness. or authoritative. echoes Bakhtinian analyses of the dialogical and emergent character of discourse (see also Mannheim and Tedlock 1995). through metapragmatic framing or through explicit metapragmatic discourse. Lambek 1998.How diasporic communities remember American Ethnologist approach applies ritual interpretation practices. emerge through consistent stances taken toward different “voices. and lay the groundwork for mapping its circulation in situated practices of textual interpretation. which are identiﬁable in real-time interactions as stances (Goffman 1981. A tenet of the situated-practice approach. in any case. which. as Dorothy Holland and Jean Lave note.” following the work of Greg Urban (2001). participants in speech events adopt stances toward entire registers and codes and not only individual or individualized types of voices. Centro de Investigaciones Psicol´ gicas y Sociol´ gicas 1998. Indeed. racial. 1997. Some santeros grow up in religious families and neighborhoods and.” is a widespread ı popular religion in Cuba whose practitioners worship a pantheon of Yoruba deities known as the oricha. Historical subjectivities in practice Historical consciousness consists of temporally inﬂected stances. Sharp 1993. There can. recent work on “situated knowledge” complicates this association because cognition is increasingly viewed as “socially situated” and learning strategies. As Jane Hill (1985. Lave and Wenger 1991. historic. it may be embedded in linguistic and visual metaphors (Comaroff and Comaroff 1987). They do so by studying published sources and libretas (private religious notebooks). embodied historical ﬁgures of spirit possession (Cole 1998. is metacultural. Asif Agha (2005) point out. more recently. Although Santer´a is popularly conceived to be ı Afro-Cuban because of its historical roots among enslaved Africans. in Bakhtinian terms. In the case examined here. following Bourdieu 1977). whereas others turn to the religion as adults and must more purposefully seek out religious knowledge if they wish to “advance in the religion. from a young ı age. following Urban’s (2001) deﬁnition: It consists of cultural forms or practices that reﬂect on or interpret other cultural forms and practices. Although memory has typically been more closely associated with learning as something localized in individuals. Historical consciousness is not necessarily or solely articulated as a narrative. is that “both the continuity and the transformation of social life are ongoing. but the two are easily entangled because the framing of certain cultural forms as continuous or altered can happen implicitly.” as Jan Blommaert (2004) explores in the problematic voicing of a postcolonial subject’s “grassroots” historiography. and language ideologies that shape speech and literacy practices. Inoue 2004. Evidence of replication and. metapragmatic discourses represent explicit and conscious reﬂections on ways of speaking (Silverstein 1993). thus.” a product of faulty collective memory. Millet et al. then. Sutton 2004. Common to all of these cases is an approach using “locally situated practice as insight into historical processes” such as the emergence and transformation of durable subjectivities (Holland and Lave 2001:4–5. often called “La Regla de Ocha. o o Wirtz 2003:38–41). I am interested in how religious practitioners and scholars establish consistent stances toward Santer´a’s ı ritual register that construe it as both a potent divine language and a historical “relic. Wortham 2001). including the production of written histories (Blommaert 2004. be a disjuncture between the two. cultural continuity is distinct from people’s existential sense of continuity (or rupture. are saturated by history (Barton and Hamilton 2000. 1995) and. Urban 2001).” including those inﬂected as more or less traditional.” as santeros say. thus. Those who seek deeper involvement in the religion choose a godparent to guide their spiritual progress. Rather. and Lucum´ ı ı Santer´a. as the literature on “invented tradition” attests (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1992). In the next section. Wertsch 1998). Silverstein 1998). and regional distinctions in Cuba. is continually reconstituted through relations to and boundaries with others. Santer´a. the very tangibility and salience of any particular register or code are themselves products of such alignments (Agha 2005. Gee 2000.
This state of affairs came about through particular modes of language learning and religious socialization incorporating both literacy practices and more embodied learning through participation in ritual performances. I attended ceremonies. Herzfeld 2004. Indeed. I supplemented ﬁeld research with linguistic and textual analyses of published and unpublished texts and ﬁeld recordings of Santer´a’s ritual register. I repeat Niko Besnier’s warning that “transcribing spoken discourse is an analytic act” (1995:xiii. a nine-month stint in 1999– 2000. Below. In addition to the extensive tutoring and mentoring I received from them. thus. elicited information on Lucum´. Holland and Lave 2001.4 The orthographical differences. I conducted ethnographic research among religious practitioners in the eastern Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba during two short visits in 1998. to processes of entextualization. Lave and Wenger 1991). and a month in 2002. Wenger 1998). The Yoruba text. Lucum´ texts. these three consultants also reviewed and sometimes helped me transcribe my audio and video recordings. however. and chatting that constitute so much of participant-observation. often low-key hanging around religious practitioners. received ı formal instruction and less formal tutoring. ı Santeros. I argue that literacy-based learning modalities and performance-based oral modalities not only produce differing kinds of competence in the register but also constitute the register in distinct ways because they provide different metapragmatic frames. by which I mean deriving a possible Yoruba “original” by looking for Yoruba cognates of each Lucum´ word or phrase: ı ` ´ A n wa We (PROG) search We are searching for him/her ` ` Awa o r´ ı We (NEG) see We did not ﬁnd a (3rd-PERSON) 110 . I recorded ceremonies and other interactions on audio. Schieffelin and Rachelle Charlier Doucet explore for written Haitian Creole. In this spirit. in which they control a set of inı dividual Lucum´ words and phrases that have denotational ı (semantic) meaning and a set of phrases and longer texts that have primarily pragmatic and connotative meanings and often cannot even be segmented into individual words and translated. one from Cuba and one from Nigeria: Aumba awa or´ ı Aumba awa or´ ı Awa osun Awa oma Leri oma leyao Bobo ara onu kawe (song from Santer´a ituto ı [funeral] ceremony) ` ´ ` ` ı A n wa a. albeit in potentially distinct ways. then.or videotape. literate and oral textuality practices have considerable overlap. are widely ı known among santeros. Besnier 1995. Urban 1996. and the countless introductions they provided.3 Inscribing African continuities in Lucum´ ı As substantial work in New Literacy Studies attests. even though most santeros control a lexicon ı of a few dozen to hundreds of Lucum´ words and phrases. display a bifurcated and very partial linguistic competence in Lucum´. Wherever possible. is perfectly intelligible to Yoruba speakers and. and both contribute. Silverstein and Urban 1996). Although I made every effort to meet a wide range of religious practitioners and observe as many ceremonies as possible. only a few santeros feel able to offer translations or detailed explanations of even a few Lucum´ texts. see also Schieffelin and Doucet 1994). or the “ﬁxing” of texts (Barton and Hamilton 2000.American Ethnologist Volume 34 Number 1 February 2007 participating in rituals to observe their religious elders and learn by doing. whereas the Yoruba text appears in standard Yoruba orthography. written representations of Lucum´ inscribe particular modes of historiı cal consciousness onto the sounds of Lucum´ and also conı tribute a certain sense of ﬁxity to their form. I discuss santeros’ strategies for remembering and making sense of what is to them largely a xenoglossic (foreign-language) register—strategies closely linked to their understandings of the register’s ritual efﬁcacy and its historicity. The Cuban text appears as written by Spanish-speaking santeros. thus. As Bambi B. even when they profess not to understand a text’s referential content. suggests meanings that could be recovered for the Lucum´ text through back translaı tion. similar to an apprenticeship (Herzfeld 2004. my research positioned me much like an adult neophyte learning the religion by participating and studying under a godparent. who can expertly perform them in rituals. awa o r´ ` ´ ` ` ı A n wa a. a clear case of how “individual” learning links to cultural transmission (Barton et al. obscure some of the parallels. Basso 1974. even in the choice of orthography. such as songs and invocations. I worked especially closely with three santeros who are also scholars and folklorists. ı Lucum´. In many ways. thus. thus. listening. and engaged in the long-term. Indeed. callı ing it “la lengua de los orichas” (the “tongue of the oricha”) to highlight its tremendous importance in maintaining ritual channels of communication with the deities and spirits. Most santeros would not be able to gloss the semantic meaning of the Cuban text in more than a very general way. although I did not undergo initiation. Consider the following juxtaposition of two versions of ostensibly the “same” song. conducted interviews.2 Their relationship to their godparents is. The Cuban text on the left appears to be a New World derivative of the Yoruba source text on the right. awa o r´ ` ` ` Awa o sun ` ` Awa o wo ` ` Awa o mo il´ o ya o e ˙ (Yoruba funeral dirge) To juxtapose the two is to illustrate both the depths and limits of striking linguistic and cultural continuities across the Black Atlantic. ı Santeros describe Lucum´ as a divine language. 2000.
1936) or “transculturative” (Ortiz 1970) processes around the turn of the 20th century (Brandon 1993. Wirtz 2004). its sometimes explicit and sometimes tacit emphasis on the persistence. just ı as they also preserved other religiously important African knowledge. Cuban Lucum´. and one perhaps in need of revitalization by going back to the “source” language. and unintelligible to so many santeros. by undertheorizing the concepts of “cultural change” and “continuity. let me clearly lay out the ways in which it can distract scholars from attending to historical processes of replication that are also evident in how santeros learn. Although African vernaculars disappeared in Cuba under the dominance of Spanish. thus.How diasporic communities remember American Ethnologist ` ` Awa o We (NEG) We did not sleep ` ` Awa o We (NEG) We did not slumber ` sun sleep wo slumber ` ` Awa o mo il´ e o ya o ˙ We (NEG) know house 3rd-P branch (SOFTENER) We did not know what house she/he has branched into To set up such a juxtaposition is. Silverstein and Urban 1996. as santeros themselves have been doing (e. to illustrate a special case of language attrition. ancestor spirits and orichas) ı by highlighting their old-fashioned African bozal voices (cf. ı The standard account featured in most publications on Santer´a of how fragments of Yoruba culture. 285–291). including rituals and myths. Castellanos and Castellanos 1988. namely. see Wirtz 2003:128– 143. ı The research on Lucum´ and similar African-language ritual ı registers in the Americas has tended to focus on comparing them to African source languages to document language loss and preservation.7 The modern religion called “Santer´a” seems to ı have emerged out of these “acculturative” (Herskovits 1937.9 Lucum´. Second.e. santeros regard Lucum´ as perfectly intelligible to ı ı anyone with sufﬁcient knowledge. First. ´ Spiritism. convey a particular historical consciousness of loss and a desire for recovery by focusing on Yoruba’s persistence in Lucum´. I ﬁrst critically examine the historical subjectivities religious practitioners and scholars bring to bear on Lucum´. may ı ı appear vestigial—carefully preserved but a relic. This construcı tion of Lucum´ as a relic of Yoruba belies the ways in which ı Lucum´ continues to be actively regimented as a ritual regı ister through santeros’ interpretive strategies. Herskovits et al. for examples. such as the ı songs. Mason 1992. as continuous with African slaves’ stigmatized ways of speaking. I ask what kinds of historical processes and cultural practices have ensured the replication of Lucum´ across time and space and shaped ı its current form? To address this question. Throughout the colonial era. loss.6 These Yoruba practices spread among the general Cuban population and interacted with other religious traditions. Brown 2003.g.. or cofraternities of Cuba and Brazil. which may minimize the intertextual gap between past and present “original” speakers of Lucum´ (i. they incorporate markers of both Lucum´ and heavily exaggerated bozal Spanish. have survived in the African diaspora is that Yoruba orisha worship was reconstituted and adapted to new circumstances by enslaved and free Africans in particular niches of New World society. such as Catholicism. I then revisit recent theory ı exploring forms of cultural “motion” (Agha 2003. in colonial-era religious cabildos.” the standard account fails to adequately link the conditions in which the ritual register emerged in its current form to the active and agentive processes through which santeros not only preserve Lucum´ but also imbue ı Lucum´ utterances with rich meaning. and recombination of Africanisms explains neither why nor how Lucum´ persisted as it became partial. Pedroso 1995).8 I suggest that this standard account of Santer´a’s emerı gence in Cuba falls short in two important ways. and interpret Lucum´. Lucum´ as “tongue of the oricha” and echo of ı the past In marked contrast to Lucum´’s characterization as a divine ı language. they recognize that their own linguistic knowledge is imperfect 111 . which might be restated to suggest its broad relevance to issues of cultural change and persistence. evokes a poignant combinaı tion of the presumably timeless divine plane and the bitter history of the ancestors who brought Yoruba traditions to Cuba. To merely repeat the ı claim that Lucum´’s religious importance accounts for its ı preservation is to miss the signiﬁcance of the question I pose. use. nonetheless. D´az Fabelo 1960. in which non-Yoruba speakers in Cuba have preserved increasingly fragmented and unintelligible texts passed on by enslaved forebearers because of Yoruba’s continuing importance as the liturgical language of Santer´a. when the orichas speak during spirit possession. At the same time. Even today. at ﬁrst glance. then.. Because this mode of historical consciousness permeates scholars’ etic analyses of Lucum´ and is implicit even in simple renderı ings and juxtapositions of Lucum´ texts like my song examı ple above.5 Both scholars and practitioners. practitioners of Santer´a preserved ı some knowledge of Lucum´ for religious purposes. and by santeros themselves. Briggs and Bauman 1992. it is also seen in wider Cuban society. In part because the oricha embody ideal ﬂuency in Lucum´. the somewhat perjorative label bozal was applied to slaves who were African born and to their imperfectly acquired Spanish (Castellanos 1990). thus. ı fragmented. and Congo–Bantu practices (called “Palo Monte” in Cuba). evidenced ı in “errors” of grammar and pronunciation. Urban 2001) to discuss Lucum´’s historical ı trajectory. generally as part of efforts to trace African inﬂuences on Caribbean languages and cultures.
without considering other levels of linguistic or pragmatic parallels. Brown (2003:5–14). their primary focus is on reconstructing correspondences with an African legacy. These sorts of etymological inquiry. Piedra 1997). Herskovits looked for African survivals in concrete practices and explicit beliefs. Likewise. concluding that the high proportion of recognizably Kikongo words indicates “direct transmission and clear preservation” (1998:140) of Kikongo even though Cuban Palo Monte practitioners. Using dictionaries and other materials on Yoruba. Stephan Palmi´ (2002:25) and David H. 2002) has proposed continuities in “deep” hermeneutics of power and resistance that have persisted in New World practices.American Ethnologist Volume 34 Number 1 February 2007 because much has been lost through the generations. the syncretization of Yoruba orisha with Catholic saints is explained as a clever disguise or. Shaw and Stewart 1994). Megenney. poses “the problem of identifying the African sources for words contained in songs and expressions” (1992:459). studies of diasporic Afro-American languages tend to portray linguistic change in terms of loss. 2002. Twi. 97–99. although still focusing on reconstructing Kikongo etymology. just as one sees in Lucum´ ı song texts. Andrew Apter (1991. In the case of Lucum´. Some seek to recover lost meanings through etymological analysis. A second implicit position etymological studies take in identifying continuities with Africa concerns the question of what has persisted and what has been lost. for example. more fashionably. instead of investigating how Cuban history. Simply put. Santeros and scholars alike explain how Santer´a differs from Yoruba ı orisha cults by emphasizing how Africans responded to the difﬁcult conditions colonial Cuba presented. Colombia. been ı considerable loss of syntactic. In contrast. fraught as they are with ambiguities for linguists and religious practitioners alike. including his overreliance on a syncretic model of psychological correspondences between (overly generalized) African and European practices to explain what persisted (Apter 1991. do not know the semantic content of most texts (Schwegler 1998:139–140). argue that altogether too much emphasis is placed on African origins. In his update of Herskovits’s line of questioning. Lefever 1996. however. Brandon 1993:73–78. at least as the living speak it. unconscious cultural “grammars” would be a more fruitful and accurate ground for comparison. and ultimately does not attempt to combine the isolated words he identiﬁes to suggest translations of the songs. Yelvington 2001). changes in initiation rituals and ritual lineages reﬂect a creative response to slavery’s destruction of African kinship and lineage structures (Brandon 1993:135–136.11 I suggest. practitioners’ agency. and Igbo. Brown 2003). LaGuerre 1987). and African herbal lore was necessarily adapted to Caribbean ecologies (Cabrera 1984. Ewe-Fon. He encounters uncertain segmentations because of the loss of phonological and morphosyntactic information. William e W. but ritually efﬁcacious register. and contemporary context shape Afro-Cuban religion. and semantic information. Mintz and Price 1976) and his insufﬁcient attention to dynamics of power and agency at work in religious syncretism (Droogers 1989. the differences between Lucum´ and Yoruba ı are usually discussed in terms of language loss and the failure of collective memory. semantically impoverished. what might be revealed by reframing it as a special case of successful diasporic cultural persistence or even innovation? Cultural motion in the diaspora I suggested above that scholarly treatments of ritual registers like Lucum´ tend to rather unreﬂectively cast them into a ı 112 . His more comprehensive ´ study of Lumbalu funeral chants in El Palenque de San Basilio. additionally incorporates ethnographic information about how members of the community make sense of and use this ritual genre. Santeros themselves have come to see Lucum´. opening the door to its reconstruction and even revitalization via back translation of the sort I illustrated above. For example. whereas studies of other aspects of diasporic religious practices tend to conceptualize cultural change in terms of creative adaptations. like santeros. which is more in line with the situated-practice approach advocated here (Schwegler 1996). there has.10 In his article on Ewe and Yoruba inﬂuences in songs of Brazilian Candombl´ . which they seek out by tracing what Melville Herskovits (1937. in fact. My analysis coincides with theirs in focusing on historical processes of cultural replication within Cuba. a counterhegemonic “signiﬁcation” on dominant European sources of power (Apter 1991. rendering songs like the funeral dirge above only partially and problematically intelligible. Current etymological approaches to diasporic religious registers likewise tend to focus exclusively on “surface” lexical and denotational similarities. phonological. he analyzes a corpus of Bahian songs that practitioners of Candombl´ suppose to e be in Ewe but that they cannot gloss. 1945) famously called “survivals” (see also Apter 1991. take an implicit position on questions about the nature and degree of New World Africanisms. First. such as the iconography of deities. Armin Schwegler is more successful in his etymological study of the liturgical register of Palo Monte. not unlike the work of linguists at the intersection of historical linguistics and creole studies who study African-language ritual jargons in the Americas. Herskovits has been thoroughly critiqued over the years on other issues. as a decayed ı form of Yoruba. e however. even though Sidney Mintz and Richard Price (1992:5–6) long ago proposed that deeper. that focusing only on loss blinds one to dynamics through which santeros’ interpretive practices maintain and actively shape an esoteric. Instead of framing Lucum´ as the ı end stage of language loss that has merely been delayed by religious usage.
12 Cultural replication becomes evident when person B. The next section traces out the consequences of this transition. rhyme schemes. ask how the register is maintained and why it takes the form it does. for examı ple. at ı some historical turning point (or a series of them). speech events) get linked together so that meanings can pass from A to B. a process Richard Bauman and Charles Briggs (1990. it is the songs that are sung to the oricha. Historical overview of Lucum´’s emergence and spread ı The linguistic situation of plantation societies like Cuba between the 16th and late 19th centuries is a subject of considerable debate. Indeed.”14 With this theoretical model of cultural motion in mind. and other conditions). and to pass on the rich corpus of lore associated with divination. “If there is something important in the religion. ı What resulted was a decoupling of semantic content from linguistic form: Religious knowledge would have been conveyed to a large extent in Spanish. whereas ritually important Lucum´ texts would have retained their efﬁcacious. The question of what. for example—travels between people in tangible. help re-create their ritual context anew with each performance because those characteristics evoke intertextual relations with previous performances (Briggs and Bauman 1992). It would have been important to convey the original forms of prayers. santeros frequently said things to me like. melodic hooks. I. in turn. Kuipers 1990). Lucum´ songs have distinctive melodies and ı considerable repetition of lines. any circulating discourse through which santeros convey the importance of the songs serves a metacultural function.. material form. they would have had to resort to the Spanish vernacular (Chaudenson 2001:132. For example. He argues that something intangible—“an abstract form or mold for the production of something material” (Urban 2001:3)—is transmitted through the vehicle of the tangible form. at some point the recipients of the information would. spatial relations. 98–99). as a language spoken by ı slaves of “Lucum´” origin and as a divine language through ı which santeros establish communications with the oricha. have conveyed their stories and explanations in Spanish and had limited ability to translate the Lucum´ texts they knew. in which addressees of a prior link in the speech chain then became transmitters to the next link. which makes them easy to replicate as entire chunks that may cue particular participant structures. instead. This is how one invokes the saint. or other parallelism—that make them easy to remember and replicate (Urban 2001:15–20. promoting the continued circulation of the songs. however. such as person A singing the song in the presence of person B. I have already described two metacultural characterizations of Lucum´. I now examine the conditions under which Lucum´ has been ı replicated in Cuba. Ortiz L´ pez 1998). In comparison with the ﬂuent Lucum´ spoken by Lucum´ ı ı ancestors and deities. if ı 113 . Presumably.” or cultural forms that reﬂect on or interpret other cultural forms. In the case of Lucum´ songs. 37–38) calls “metaculture. in which modern religious practitioners half remember a relic or shadow of the real African language. In the case of Lucum´ ritı ual songs. To efﬁciently explain how to properly use the songs and prayers in addition to other ritual practices. songs. then from B to C. Whether in one generation or several (and it probably varied with time. locale. Songs. and other ritually efﬁcacious texts. What mechanisms of cultural circulation have acted to perpetuate it? Urban (2001) describes replication as one speciﬁc process of cultural motion in which some bit of learned behavior—a song lyric. which had become the ı vernacular.e. in what he calls “speech chains” that ultimately convey meanings across historical time. describing how subsequent interactions (i. Briggs and Bauman 1992) call “entextualization” and closely tie to the production and recognition of genre. of necessity. as easily replicable bundles of distinctive characteristics. modern-day santeros recognize that their own knowledge of Lucum´ is partial. or other aspects of context (Hanks 1996.How diasporic communities remember American Ethnologist paradigm of language loss. native “Lucum´” speakers had to transmit their reliı gious knowledge to others whose mother tongue was either Spanish or perhaps another unrelated African language.15 What is undeniable is that African languages did not persist as vernaculars among Cuban-born descendants of enslaved Africans. Another accelerator of culture is what Urban (2001:4–5. puts the song into tangible form again.16 For Yoruba practices to become as widespread in Cuba as they did. especially when sung antiphonally. perhaps even at the risk of losing subtleties that did not translate. a linguistic gap widened between Africans and those to whom they might have wished to transmit their knowledge. Agha (2003:16–19) takes this essentially dyadic model of microcultural motion a step further. If one conceptuo alizes the speech chains across which religious information moved. who became Spanish speakers (Lipski 1998). perhaps by singing it or by writing it down.or wordplay. one might then ask what intangibles of form and meaning are being conveyed through what circuits of replication. Ritual forms of culture tend to be highly entextualized and entextualizable. These give praise. is replicated is closely linked to another question Urban and Agha pose: What impels the movement of any particular bit of culture? Urban mentions its intrinsic properties as one “accelerative” factor—what Roman Jakobson (1960) called “poetics” in the case of speech: Some songs are catchy and have features— sound. precisely.13 Urban (2001:2–3) emphasizes that the trail of tangible manifestations left by each new copy of the song is merely the footprint of the intangible idea that is actually moving. their ritual ancestors began communicating religious knowledge less in Lucum´ and more in Spanish. like Ferdinand Saussure’s (1996:66–67) description of the signiﬁer carrying the signiﬁed. Such features allow cultural forms to emerge from the background as recognizable types.
a(wa) o r´ ı ´ We (PROG) look. formulaic songs and prayers that were rich with pragmatic meanings but semantically unintelligible. For example. The last two syllables. however. and many words and short phrases can similarly be recognized and back translated into Yoruba. patak´). Because santeros learn phrases and longer texts rotely. mirrors how santeros I worked with compartmentalized religious knowledge between ritualized Lucum´ forms ı and Spanish exegesis of legends and ritual procedures. In many cases. Cuban Spanish speakers pronounce Lucum´ using their vernacular phonology. a list of Lucum´ proverbs with Spanı ı ish translations. What Angarica did in his manuals. George Brandon (1993:79) gives the ﬁnal line of the same song and its translation as Ara orun The people of heaven ta iye sell memories John Mason (1985:47) presents yet another variation as a back-translated Yoruba version of the song (excerpted here): A nb´ w´ o r´ a a ı ˙ We are meeting to seek to ﬁnd him A w´ on` a` a ˙ We search the road 114 . Many other song and prayer texts. I have given the last line of the Lucum´ funeral song as Bobo ı ara onu kawe. ˙ explain why. n. santeros learn the invocation moyuba as a single chunk. For example.17 To adapt Urban’s ı phrase. the vocabulary lists—even entire glossaries—that santeros compiled generally did not seem to help in deciphering the longer texts. Indeed.” a single lexeme with mid-high tone) but ı the negative particle o (low tone) plus the verb r´ (to see). is not or´ (Yoruba “head. Lucum´ form. published during the 1950s. and numerous Lucum´ prayers and songs ı that he does not gloss but whose proper use he explains (in Spanish). losing information about their internal morphosyntactic structure so that they often cannot readily be segmented and analyzed. although it seems to be quite clearly derived from the Yoruba phrase mo jub` . differentiates practitioners by expertise and makes Lucum´ an indexical icon of occult religious knowledge. although santeros often believed that they would. ı Lucum´ circuits of replication are embedded in a matrix of ı Spanish discourse that contextualizes and provides a metacultural framework for interpreting Lucum´ word forms not ı as “empty” of semantic content but as pregnant with rich pragmatic associations and occult signiﬁcance. Lucum´ songs have largely become ﬁxed texts “valı ued initially for their meanings. Religiously signiﬁcant content and form circulate in separate but parallel circuits that reinforce not only santeros’ incomplete linguistic competence in Lucum´ but also their emı phasis on precise replication of Lucum´ forms. however. My ı ` examples here rely on a clear Yoruba derivation. On the other hand.d. and their ı knowledge of the register varies considerably. Or. ı ı then. “I pay ´ a homage. Competence in Lucum´. or myths of the orichas. at least in any unambiguous way.” The more likely segmentation based on the Yoruba text.d. Most surprisingly. from experts or old-timers who know many songs and prayers and sprinkle their ceremonial discourse with Lucum´ words to others ı who have memorized perhaps a few words and can recite a few key invocations in Lucum´. texts are not even segmentable. most have difﬁculty analyzing it even to recognize the lexeme mo. he recounts many patakines (sing.American Ethnologist Volume 34 Number 1 February 2007 increasingly unintelligible. especially because of the loss of Yoruba’s three tone phonemes. that over time came to assume value as physical things” (2001:115) because of their spiritual signiﬁcance. Linguistic overview of Lucum´ ı Not all santeros are comfortable using Lucum´. On the one hand. Angarica provides a glossary of Lucum´–Spanish terms. rather. such as Nicol´ s Angarica’s (n. Lucum´ no longer contains Yoruba phonologiı cal or morphosyntactic information. moyuba has been lexiﬁed to the extent that santeros regularly conjugate it as a regular Spanish –ar verb meaning “to pay homage”: hay que moyubar al santo (it is necessary to pay homage to the saint) or cuando tu moyubas al santo (when ´ you pay homage to the saint). we (NEG) see We are seeking. always in Spanish. compare the ﬁrst lines from the funeral songs above: Lucum´: Aumba ı awa or´ ı ` ` ` Yoruba: A n wa. we do not ﬁnd ı Santeros might recognize or´ to mean “head. “I. This bifurcation of religious content from ritualized linguistic form is apparent in religious texts produced by and for santeros. done in collaboration with Yoruba linguist Yiwola Awoyale. For example. My own analyses of songs. appear too garbled or variable to be readily segmented into a putative Yoruba original. kawe.” which might be known to them as an individual word.b) religious a manuals. He ı also explains divination methods and signs in Spanish.” Even though santeros know that the phrase both describes and enacts giving homage.a. so that the line ı ı ı´ ı translates as ` Gbogbo ara orun k´ a w´/k´ o w´ ı ı ı´ ı All the denizens of heaven let us say/that they say In contrast. One ası pect of santeros’ competence in Lucum´ that I noticed was its ı compartmentalization into two separate categories: isolated words and phrases for which santeros could readily provide glosses and memorized. ı resulting in many ambiguities. might derive from k´ a w´ (let us say) or k´ o w´ (that they say). these have become lexiﬁed.
One santero sometimes worked from memory and sometimes brought in materials such as a deceased santera’s private notebook. the same pattern persisted. Sometimes they allow a godchild or someone else they are mentoring in the religion to copy information into his or her own libreta. but he did not know the detailed referential content ı for any song. Likewise. or personal notebooks in which they record religious information. in a religion of “muchos poquitos” (many details). which orichas they directly addressed.18 In the next ı section. I found two willing Lucum´ instructors. Most Lucum´ songs and other texts circulate with multiple ı variations of this sort. might jealously guard their own libretas and the extensive occult knowledge they represent. semantic and pragmatic. phrases. As I began to attend to how santeros actually learned and used Lucum´ in their ı religious practice. I examine how santeros gain and display linguistic competence in Lucum´ and how their situated practices of ı learning. what Schwegler (1996:367. record the information in their own notebooks later. and many santeros regard some of the contents as religious secrets. divination signs. longer Lucum´ phrases and texts for their ritually performaı tive value.000 words. meaning variously. not all of which have been equally conserved. ı and perhaps longer. As I interviewed and attended ceremonies with dozens of other santeros and babalawos. they may share their knowledge with their juniors in bits and pieces. some santeros have kept libretas. what rhythms accompanied them. Moreover. although very knowledgeable and senior santeros. One highly regarded young ritual singer I interviewed explained how he began to learn his craft on the sly while still a teenager: He would attend ceremonies and listen closely Interpretive strategies that regiment Lucum´ as ı a living practice Learning to speak the “tongue of the oricha” During my ﬁeldwork in Santiago de Cuba. 1998:154– 157) calls “associative meanings” often persist in surprising ways. Libretas are for private use. that swallows us ´ a Iku l` wa y´ a d´ a e Death divides us and is quick to arrive. objects. of arranged heaps. but they use Spanish for all other discourse in their religious life. Sometimes he could identify a recognizable word or point out a reference to a patak´. she. and interpreting Lucum´ regiment Lucum´ ı ı as a living register. and longer texts ı (Martinez Fur´ 1979:211–212). When we had ﬁnished his entire notebook of some 1. and they memorize mostly unintelligible. The etymological approach My formal study of Lucum´ with santeros illustrated to me ı the degree to which santeros rely on written materials to learn and remember Lucum´. The other shared a notebook he had begun to compile during his college coursework in folklore in Havana. they may share at least parts of them with others.How diasporic communities remember American Ethnologist A w´ os` a` ı We search the left (secret places) A w´ on` l´ m` wa o a` a e ı ˙ We search the road. and sometimes they bequeath libretas to others when they die. such as attributes of the orichas. but as I discovered. libretas serve as mnemonic devices to ensure that ritual procedures can be precisely replicated. using. They may also keep records e of important personal details. who would patiently work with me for hours. For example. events. in turn. and acts. while doing ritual work. and Lucum´ words. on to songs and prayers. He gave me detailed information about when and how the songs were used. and those hearing the new song. legend. For much of the 20th century. in particular. especially their children and godchildren. santeros’ ritual usages of Lucum´ words often ı reinforce their polysemy. “Who are you?” “What do you want?” and “What does he. word forms as persistent bits of culture can carry multiple levels of meanings. In other cases. those I refer to as the “etymological” approach and the “divining-meaning” approach. recipe. or explanation of a ritual procedure might. Indeed. most santeros learn Lucum´ words as functional and ı evocative labels for religiously important people. Only a few Cuban santeros or babalawos (elite priests dedicated to If´ divination) have sufﬁcient knowledge of a Lucum´ or opportunity to study Yoruba so as to be able ı to analyze Lucum´ texts in the way I have presented. as santeros often say. Argeliers Le´ n (1971) has called libretas a “written oral trao dition” and characterizes them as neither liturgical books nor reference works but as records of moments of oral transmission. such as results of divinations. I noticed two distinct but interconnected interpretive strategies. and even how an expert singer might improvise to achieve different effects in ceremonies. giving a Spanish gloss for each word. I heard santeros use the Lucum´ question ¿Kinche? as a sort of all-purpose ritı ual question. ritual procedures. Inı stead. including the matrix of discourse in which ritual songs are sung and Lucum´ words are uttered. allowing me to copy down the texts while he sang or recited them for my microphone. both of them santeros and professional ı folklorists. He again shared his extensive written notes with me. Even when semantic meanings have been lost. but he could not tell me what the songs meant. we moved 115 . in what became a familiar pattern among the santeros with whom I worked. the other santero could do no more than describe contexts of use or deﬁne a few isolated words in the prayers and songs he shared with me. or it say?” That is. Each santero shared his vocabulary list with me. for example. Below I take up some of the connections between this variability in form and meaning and santeros’ interpretive strategies.
the song is as follows: Ibarag´ ag´ moyuba o o Ibarag´ ag´ moyuba o o Omod´ koni kosi ibarag´ e o Ag´ moyuba Elegu´ Eshulona21 o a L´ zaro Pedroso.g. such as ag´ (grant permission) and omod´ (child). many Lucum´ glossaries actually incorporate information ı from modern Yoruba dictionaries (e. which they strongly believe are perfectly intelligible to a sufﬁciently ﬂuent speaker or anyone with a sufﬁciently big dictionary. From on high to this earth. published two Santer´a ı manuals that contained much the same information that a personal libreta might. mentioning alternative Yoruba possibilities in a few footnotes (see. a prominent orisha devotee and scholar based in New York.19 Other Yoruba linguists with whom I shared materials made even less sense of my Lucum´ texts and recordings. the words and melody were hauntingly similar. Cabrera’s and Angarica’s books.g..” Indeed.22 Pedroso does not explain how he derived this translation. A few years earlier. I can tentatively reconstruct his analysis on the basis of words santeros I knew might recognize or have listed in their glossaries (in bold): Ibarag´ o From on high to this earth. then explained that he was expanding his knowledge and attempting to translate the songs he recorded there by using the Lucum´ glossary in the back of a book on Santer´a ı ı that he had acquired. Mason 1992:71–72 nn. grant permission to cry out for Eleggua or for Eshu who is in our path” (1995:21. one extensive.20 Linguists’ and Yoruba speakers’ doubts aside. e. I suspect that he ﬁrst identiﬁed familiar words. Santer´a practitionı ers and folklorists are intensely interested in just this sort of etymological analysis to recover the hidden meanings of the songs. famed folklorist Lydia ı Cabrera. published what is still the most comprehensive Lucum´ glossary: Anag´ : Vocabuı o lario Lucum´. a Havana-based santero and scholar.. Omod´ e the children Ag´ o grant permission koni so that today moyuba to cry out for ag´ o grant permission ag´ o grant permission kosi there be no (problems) Elegu´ a Eleggua or for moyuba to cry out to or invoke moyuba to cry out to or invoke ibarag´ o From on high to this earth Eshulona Eshu who is in our path John Mason. Another young ritual singer showed me his notebook. In his examination of materials I collected. the well-known Havana ı santero. Only rarely does this etymological approach successfully link Lucum´ and Yoruba texts. however: Not only did Awoyale not recognize most of the songs and prayers he examined in my corpus but he also found them very garbled. decları ing them to be completely unintelligible. When they turn their eye toward Lucum´. Abraham 1958). Dr. Ibarag´ o From on high to this earth. Lucum´ glossaries now appear in virtually every scholı arly and popular book on Santer´a. however. Although he claims to present exactly the Lucum´ texts he ı recorded (Mason 1992:72 n. he presents them in Yoruba 116 . perhaps using a Yoruba dictionary and consulting other priests. nor does he line up the original and translation to reveal more about his analysis. To illustrate the ideological workings of the etymological approach.American Ethnologist Volume 34 Number 1 February 2007 to the lead singer then duck outside to surreptitiously write in his notebook what he had heard. and then o e dealt with the pieces that were left. As a santero and folklorist from Havana gave it to me. Such astonishing transatlantic continuities are rare. In 1958. a child of the white elite and participant in the afrocubanismo movement among Cuban arts and letters in the 1920s and 1930s (Moore 1997). 6–11). sometimes with the goal of identifying a “pure” and “authentic” Yoruba origin for any given practice. Indeed. known as the one who opens and closes the way. multivolume libreta a friend of mine had inherited from a deceased senior santera turned out to be a handwritten copy of one of Angarica’s books. Nevertheless. He ı is only slightly more transparent about his process than Pedroso. grant permission to cry out to or invoke the children so that today there be no (problems). Awoyale recognized the funerary song from Santer´a’s ı ituto ceremony as one that had been sung at a family member’s funeral in Nigeria. I compare two translations of the same wellknown song to the trickster oricha Eleggua. Indeed. in particular. as if distorted by a lengthy game of “telephone” by non-Yoruba speakers. my translation). including the above song. 7). In this case. Angarica. Scholars and ı practitioners have become especially interested in African connections. as increasing numbers ı of people have become interested in Santer´a. they seek to interpret ı unintelligible songs and prayers by back translating them and even identifying putative Yoruba “source texts. a published a Spanish translation of this verse as part of a collection of Lucum´ song translations: “From on high to this ı earth. as was illustrated in my ı example above. have become canonical among santeros and are often copied. santeros’ practice of keeping libretas parallels the activity of folklorists who have also published Lucum´ glossaries. worked with Yoruba priests to present transliterations into Yoruba and translations into English of hundreds of Lucum´ texts. mentioned above. I have also encountered plagiarized typed copies of Angarica’s and Cabrera’s books for sale on the streets of Havana and in bot´ nicas (religious supply shops) in the a United States. because I witnessed other santeros engaging more tentatively in the same exercise.
ag` ˙ ˙ Homage to the club. and “intentional ambiguity” may lie at its heart (Trawick 1988. as well as its pragmatic value in gaining Eleggua’s cooperation. thus. generally speaking. and Pedroso’s (1995:3) similar aim is clear in his book’s dedication to santeros such as Angarica who also published books to ensure Santer´a’s survival. Apter 1992. is a salvage operation—an attempt at language revitalization—that seeks to reconnect the decoupled ritual 117 . The etymological approach they ı use. The “divining-meaning” approach Although I have presented Mason’s and Pedroso’s works as quintessential examples of santeros’ and scholars’ etymological approach toward Lucum´. Both authors position themselves as religious authorities by virtue of presenting their readers with authoritative and ﬂuent texts that conceal the uncertainties and difﬁcult choices they surely faced in producing their translations. they also more subtly draw ı on the logic of the same interpretive strategy of “divining meaning” that santeros engage in during rituals to interpret often cryptic communications from the orichas. the efforts of ı santeros and scholars to make sense of Lucum´ increasingly ı overlap and reinforce one another. A distinct but equally important aspect of occult knowledge is that polysemy. language forms and religious content by supplying referential meanings to those forms. Because the logic of etymology is so transparent and comfortable to scholars.How diasporic communities remember American Ethnologist orthography. whose cooperation is necessary for any ceremony to succeed. religious language gets much of its potency because it indexes occult meanings. present their translations without sharing the “how-to” knowledge that would allow a reader to engage in the same interpretive process (or challenge their interpretations). homage to ´ a Elegb´ ˙ ˙ the owner of vital force. Indeed. I ` ` esu `˙ ` Esu ˙ ´ a jub` pay homage to ´ a mo jub` I pay homage ` (s’) `b` ı a (o’)go.23 Santeros. This tendency toward secrecy is in tension with santeros’ efforts to demonstrate their religious authority by displaying their knowledge or passing it along (as discussed by Herzfeld 2004. They would. Mason. indeterminacy. but I have again lined up words to reveal more of his analysis (Mason 1992:61): ` a ` ` o Ib` (o’)go. for example. and the more senior and knowledgeable a santero is. ı ˙ to give s’`b` (the act of paying homage). Controlling the interpretation of. Instead of “invok[ing] the children so that there be no (problems)”—this last a missing or implied word in Pedroso’s analysis—Mason ﬁnishes the ﬁrst line with “I pay homage” then begins a new phrase in the second line: “child who teaches the doctrine of paying homage to the club. always be recovered (Crapanzano 2000:11. who had for so long sung songs whose meaning they had lost. Lohman 2001. ˙ ˙ ˙ (paying) the club. Mason and Pedroso. the one who controls the road and. Buckley 1976. give way ´ omod´ e k´ ni’ko o ˙ ˙ ˙ child who teaches (the doctrine of ) ` o ag` mo make way. as Danilyn Rutherford (2000) argues. santeros may engage in attempts to infuse semantic meanings back into Lucum´ ı texts without expecting that any such exercise completely reveals all possible meanings hidden within the text. a step that surely required a great deal of analysis. Semantic transparency versus occult knowledge The etymological approach santeros use feels familiar because scholars engage in the same approach to seek semantic transparency in Lucum´ texts. including the Yoruba. Mason (1992:iii) describes his motivation for his work as the desire to restore the songs’ meanings for santeros. and Matory 1994:178–179 describe for various ethnographic cases. ﬁxed meaning that transcends time and context and that can. Barber 1990. nonetheless. too. thus. Indeed. it might obscure another interpenetrating logic santeros bring to bear on Lucum´ texts that centers on the ocı cult nature of true religious knowledge. Lucum´ provides the possiı bility of having it both ways by using a mostly unintelligible register to display secrets without fully revealing them.” Mason gives the invocation “homage to the club.” He also breaks up the lines differently than Pedroso. That is. thus. thus. religiously potent texts is key to building cultural capital through them. The associations of the song. 16–17). see also Apter 2002.” To make the grammar work. which also assumes that a text has a single. Santeros are close-lipped about their religious knowledge. Tomlinson 2004b). both convey a similar idea: that the song is in praise of Eleggua Eshulona. Mason 1985:3–4). if not the access to. apply a second interpretive strategy to making sense of Lucum´ that I call “divining meanings” because of ı its close association with ritual practices such as divination. however. suggests an omission in the Lucum´ song: s(e). They do so through an interpretive strategy similar to literalism. One aspect of occult knowledge relates to the importance of secrecy to protect the sources of one’s power. are well-known to santeros who cannot translate the song and who do not have access to Pedroso’s or Mason’s books. He simply provides an English line below each Yoruba line. much as Murphy 1998. Like other ritual knowledge. the less he or she will discuss anything related to religious secrets. Despite these and ı a ˙ other signiﬁcant differences in the song’s meaning between the two translations. santeros protect “deep” religious understandings ` a l’on` ˙ is the one who owns the road Instead of ibarago meaning “from on high to this earth. ﬁnd the two analyses fascinating and would appreciate the deeper insights into the song’s meanings.
I suspect from other conversations we had that he also feared that sharing such private information would make his godchild vulnerable to witchcraft. 5–6 ´ con Ir´ ariku yale e The second series of numbers determined the Lucum´ ı summary in the ﬁnal line. Ochun. especially initiation ceremonies.24 To interpret a divination result. and moyare Ojuani Odd´. which undoubtedly affected how he ı interpreted “born to be the head. n. rather than by engaging in exegesis. When one santero tried to show me the notebook in which his initiation it´ divination results were recorded.b:34–35). For their part. proverbs. Although not recorded in the notebook.b:27) gives the proverb “orejas no pasa cabezarespeta a sus mayores” [ears do not surpass head-respect your elders] for this sign. How does a santero apply this vast knowledge to the client’s situation? During my divination. younger santeros. I had to hide different pairs of objects (pebbles. who was participating.d. and other information associated with each divination sign.” Angarica (n. body parts.” I argue that santeros apply this same interpretive strategy to other sorts of Lucum´ texts.” The resulting sign of 6–8 is called “Obara Unle. I brieﬂy discuss a particular diloggun divination I received and compare it with how santeros provide interpretations of songs. would spiritually endanger both of us. and lists the offerings required (Angarica n. I have heard santeros discuss the proverb’s meaning as referring more to leadership or ambition than to intellect. came with Ir´ (good fortune) from ariku yale (glossed e ´ to me as “the dead”). in my divination. or desires for knowledge. Unlike secretive elders. bones. much like the singer quoted earlier. Although we had only met once before. and personalities generally associated with the sign. “traditional” knowledge. and warnings that culminated in the suggestion that the knowledge I was gaining 118 . most of which circulates in Spanish orally and through libretas. shells. the oricha want their messages to be understood.d. The ability to take a few lexical clues and use one’s knowledge of the connotations and associations of those clues to build up an interpretation is essential during ritual communication with the oricha. hidden patterns. After ı ı completing the sign. Divination with the diloggun (cowry shells) is one method of ´ communication that requires the diviner to translate denotationally sparse signs produced by throwing the shells into an interpretation relevant to a particular client. with the noninitiated. He then reluctantly explained that giving me too much religious knowledge could anger the orichas and force my initiation. including divinations for other people. not just those produced as ı messages from the oricha. which means that my sign. esoteric. Ojuani-Odd´. a noninitiate. Obara Unle. These relationships between senior and junior santeros are reminiscent of the secrecy of Cretan master artisans and the cunning of their apprentices described by Michael Herzfeld (2004) and suggest a similar dynamic is at work to produce (and protect) authoritative. but the messages’ unintelligibility or ambiguity makes interpretation difﬁcult. santeros draw on their knowledge of a vast corpus of legends.” whose meaning he then elaborated on. Santeros I worked with also listed associated ailments.) in my hands. the santero looked up at me and began a lengthy interpretation. conﬂicts. ´ To illustrate. Eleggua ı ı says that you were born to be the head. He speciﬁed which oricha was speaking to me (Eleggua) and paraphrased a proverb associated with my sign: “born to be the head. an intelligent person. That you were born to be an intellectual. a process I call “divining meaning. 7–6. of which I provide only the ﬁrst portion here (see complete analysis in Wirtz 2003:165–177): “Eleggua says that (he) brings ir´ with Iroso. the santero’s wife. Oche-Obara.a. a person capable of deepening whatever knowledge. advice. the ﬁrst two throws of the cowries landed with six then eight shells “mouth up. so that the numbers 4.d.” In other contexts. and medicinal plants for each sign. This inclination toward secrecy is manifest in santeros’ tendency to avoid discussing certain topics. 5–6 can also be ı read as Iroso. isn’t it true?” The santero ﬁrst gave the Lucum´ names of the divinaı tion numbers that produced my result. and Eleggua). and they told me that a good diviner would also know the patakines associated with the sign. Santeros must elaborate on semantically impoverished clues to generate rich contextual meanings and reveal deep. Michael Mason (1994) invokes the same inclination to secrecy to explain why ritual elders prefer to teach by shaping their godchildren’s bodily praxis and kinesthetic experience. 11–7. 11–7. 7–6. He continued elaborating his interpretation for several more minutes. He names the oricha who speak ´ through the sign (Chang´ . etc. and ariku he e ´ brings with Odd´ Obara. or problem. Odd´-Obara. wrote down the result in a notebook: Kristina Wirtz 6—8 Obara Unle 4. For example.American Ethnologist Volume 34 Number 1 February 2007 as secrets that could be dangerous if used improperly or maliciously. his godfather became a quite angry and insisted that sharing that knowledge with me. he knew that I was in Cuba doing research on Santer´a. even when more senior santeros were unwilling to provide explanations. emphasized that the only way to “advance within the religion” was to dedicate oneself to participating in ceremonies to carefully observe and memorize how things were done. each of the second string of numbers also has a Lucum´ name. At each step. the santero threw the cowries several times to further elaborate my sign. giving me more and more speciﬁc information. situation. Santeros believed that Lucum´ ı words might convey occult knowledge to someone carefully attending to their proper use. As we proceeded. one of which would be revealed when I opened the hand (left or right) indicated by the cowry throw. describes o the kinds of situations.
” which suggests the Yoruba`b` ara awo. however. The rich symbolism connecting Eleggua with motherhood that Luis invoked hints at ever-deeper layers of meaning hidden in the text. A santero and folklorist named ı Luis explained to me and another. Luis explained his interpretation by describing the iba. in “broad strokes. the perpetuator of the species we are begging you for this reason that we are going to begin. the creator.” a radically different translation than either of those provided by Pedroso or Mason above. translate omod´ not as “woman” e but as “child. He then identiﬁed and glossed three words in the text. He explained that the song meant. The text’s combination of opacity and evocativeness. indexes occult religious knowledge and permits an authoritative display of esoteric knowledge. who is the one that opens and closes [the way]. the santero applied his knowledge of the signs by building his interpretation around a few lexical and contextual cues. rich. ago moyuba Omod´ koni e Kosi ibara ago Ago moyuba Eleggua Echulona Luis’s glosses of individual words Iba = calabash scoop Ago = prayer. more junior santero the importance of using Lucum´ songs correctly. o Most santeros. would prepare me well to be a santera and to realize ﬁnancial success by bringing other foreigners from my country to Cuba to learn about Santer´a. As in every other divination ı I witnessed.” Pedroso’s and e ˙ ˙ Mason’s translations above. For example. Santiago de Cuba.” or the entire word might ı a be distorted and resegmented from its original (perhaps `b` ı a nago. my colleague e found the interpretation exciting and intriguing. the perpetuator of the species we are begging you for this reason that we are going to begin. by means of the prayer of the woman. In contrast to the embedded historical consciousness of diminution from a once-complete original that is evident in the etymological approach. then sang the song to Eleggua I presented above.” that “Eleggua. as a symbol of woman-as-mother. Indeed. performed as a tour de force translation for my beneﬁt and that of the other santero who sat with us. which appears again in Table 1. The initial iba might even more plausibly derive from Yoruba `b` . What makes a particular interpretation good. meaning “homage. be they divination rituals or nonritual events of textual exegesis. Luis identiﬁes a few recognizable words and combines their meanings with his pragmatic knowledge about the song and the oricha it addresses to build a framework for a “deep” interpretation of the song’s meaning. Eleggua Echulona (name of one “path” of Eleggua) Source: Author interview recorded October 1999. More signiﬁcantly. Each song has its place and its moment in which it is used. the “divining-meaning” approach assumes an intact. ago moyuba Ibarago. in santeros’ eyes. are reminders that other segmentations and back translations are possible. Luis engages in the same basic strategy as Pedroso and Mason and as I heard several other highly regarded santeros and babalawos do. our ﬁrst prayer always is a song to Eleggua. then. the creator. One gains access to meanings not by study and reconstruction of old texts but by participating in meaning-making performances that call on divine authority.” and a ag´ .”25 He recited. as well.How diasporic communities remember American Ethnologist Table 1 A Santero’s Interpretation of Santer´a’s “Our Father” ı Song to Eleggua Ibarago. or calabash scoop. which are listed in the second column of the table. by means of the prayer of the woman. and deep body of esoteric religious knowledge that has survived the ruptures of diaspora and slavery because it lies in the province of the divine. Santeros apply the same interpretive practices of using associative meanings.” The ﬁrst two of Luis’s glosses are supported by other sources of Lucum´ translation and by back translation into ı Yoruba: igb´ (mid-high tone) does mean “calabash. is not necessarily its etymological soundness (which most would have no tools to investigate) but its ability to reveal previously hidden knowledge and make it relevant to the situation. contextual knowledge. although this was the only time I ever heard anyone connect the male trickster oricha Eleggua with these female symbols. hinging as it did on at least one misrecognized word (omod´). meaning “young child. omod´. however. the mother. He said. the calabash is identiﬁed in Santer´a with the womb ı and with female fertility. beyond the vagaries of history. is a ritual request for permission. usually for audiences of their godchildren or other juniors during interstices of waiting during ceremonies. supplication Omode = woman Luis’s interpretation Eleggua. it must ı always be sung before any ceremony so that Eleggua will “open the way. As improvised as the translation seemed to me. as already noted. or equally plausibly. 119 . “One ı doesn’t sing for singing’s sake. Luis labeled this song to Eleggua the Our Father of Santer´a. as he explained. Cabrera’s [1958:146] transcription. “homage o ı a ` to the land or community of mysteries”). and a few clues from recognizable Lucum´ words to ﬁnd meaning in other ı types of Lucum´ texts. “ibaragu´ . the mother.” a translation supported by a similar word in Yoruba. just as santeros do when interpreting divination messages. The point is that multiple permutations are possible and little basis exists to promote one interpretation over the others. because.
santeros enact and give meaning to the pracı tice of a diasporic African religion in Cuba today. Luis used etymological clues to build his novel interpretation of the song to Eleggua and. society” (2004:51). Likewise. I have suggested. however. one inﬂuenced by both of the above approaches. the kinds of historical subjectivity inculcated in. santeros’ (and scholars’) situated practices of textual interpretation. incomprehension may not be a failure of memory but an original.” or temporally inﬂected interpretations of cultural forms. Note. to ı paraphrase Schwegler (1996:63). I look for these. Apter makes a compelling argument for commonalities between modern West African societies and Haiti at the level of deep hermeneutics of power. such as charging those texts with historical and sacred value.American Ethnologist Volume 34 Number 1 February 2007 Interpenetration of the two interpretive strategies Although I have cast the etymological approach and “divining meaning” as two distinct interpretive strategies based on two different modes of historical consciousness. rather. as illustrated in the divination example. that expressly focuses on the interactions between cultural-replication processes and modes of historical consciousness. Conversely. following the situated learning paradigm. I have sought to distinguish between two types of historical process—cultural-replication mechanisms and practices of historical consciousness—to bring together two levels of analysis that usually remain separate and to show how their interactions contribute to cultural transmission. exempliﬁed by Apter (2002). I have argued that the logic of divining occult meanings is apparent in Mason’s and Pedroso’s seemingly very etymological analyses of other Lucum´ songs. . is to ate tend to the ways in which subjective relationships to the past get constructed through textual practices—including the implicit or explicit historiography underlying scholarly work. I have described the historical consciousness enı acted through santeros’ etymological approach as focused 120 . intrinsically mystic or secretive orientation (see also Apter 2002). Conclusion This article’s title invokes Paul Connerton’s book How Societies Remember (1989). as Herzfeld puts it. it should be apparent that they converge and interpenetrate in practice. Through their strategies for learning and using Lucum´. Historical subjectivities. On the one hand. In working between what is remembered and how it is remembered. Examining interpretive strategies as a form of “situated learning” also reinforces Lave and Etienne Wenger’s (1991) insight about apprenticeship and learning. ambiguous. His account. Urban very usefully demonstrates the role of metacultural processes such as explicit metadiscourses or more implicit metapragmatic frames in “accelerating” certain cultural forms at the expense of others. the intractable unintelligibility of many Lucum´ texts may pose not a barrier to meaning. and expressed through. but it should be clear that investigating learning and commemoration practices as agentful and highly contextualized processes of cultural replication also provides insight into what societies remember. however. stances that convey implicit metapragmatic framing. focuses holistically on “deep structures” of usually unrecognized cultural continuity. I have suggested that the very form of Santer´a’s ritual register emerges ı out of the kinds of interpretive strategies santeros bring to bear on learning and using it. as scholars ı who rely too much on a framework of language loss and etymological recovery might assume. That is. a tension exists ı between those parts of the Lucum´ lexicon that are clearly ı intelligible and those parts of the Lucum´ corpus in which. “learning the craft—with all the obstacles that this entails—becomes [the] model for learning how to be members of . in the unfolding interactions among and interpretive practices of practitioners and scholars. It is through santeros’ activities of excavating what seem to be indeterminate. . Apter’s search for common ı modes of historical subjectivity between West Africa and Haitian Vodou conﬁnes him to the macroscale of symbolic meanings as surely as Urban’s approach keeps his analyses on a microscale. decouples agency and subjectivity from the processes of cultural transmission. the two strategies of situated practices through which santeros acquire and perform degrees of competence in Lucum´ work together to constiı tute Lucum´ as a “traditional” form with deep African contiı nuities within Santer´a at the same time that they transform ı Lucum´. On the other hand. and ever-shifting meanings that Lucum´ is not simply preserved ı but actively shaped from generation to generation. thus. In my ethnographic case study. to position himself as one possessing deep religious understandings. as Palmi´ (2002:3–14) suggests. a very different approach. “to locate a general interpretive framework that informed the invention of Vodou in Haiti and its political advances and retreats” (Apter 2002:251–252). His notion of “interpretive framework” is not so different from what I have called “historical consciousness. that he describes the hermeneutics of power as operating on Haitians’ historical subjectivity without itself being recognized and historicized (in the way that Lucum´ is). but an opportunity to apply and display one’s deep religious knowledge. Urban’s (2001) semiotically sophisticated approach exempliﬁes a highly atomized method of tracing the replication of bits of culture on the microscale of realtime chains of interactions. from santeros’ perspective. The broader lesson for scholars. namely. can be traced as stances people inhabit toward cultural forms like Lucum´ ı texts. I have focused on relating one aspect of religious learning to one aspect of social personhood. more generally: that. I have advocated a third alternative. He states that his goal in tracing “African origins” is not to trace direct historical connections or the movement of speciﬁc elements but. among others.
and Abelardo Larduet ı in Santiago de Cuba. Law 1997. Indeed.d. supernatural entities. a Hall-Alleyne 1990. Yiwola Awoyale.” planted the initial germ of inspiration. Trevor Stack’s 2003 American Anthropological Association panel. 1990. 8. Notable examples include Gonz´ lez Huguet and Baudry 1967. 162–167. The ethnonym Yoruba. Catherine Newling. not least in a somewhat anachronistic use of Yoruba—see N. “Genealogies of History. Yoonhee Kang. Linguistic Data ˙ Consortium and University of Pennsylvania. e and two anonymous reviewers for encouragement and helpful critiques. fuel the next round of cultural replication. see Arguelles Mederos and Hodge Limonta 1991. In a discussion of narratives of decline as a ı distinctive form of historical consciousness. Schwegler 1996. because memory and mnemonic practices so evidently bridge individual and collective levels of analysis. its focus is primarily retrospective. Matt Tomlinson (n. Stephan Palmi´ . Special thanks to ˜a Ernesto Armin´ n Linares. which has been nourished with feedback from panel discussant Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney and. 2001–02. even if only by experts. I use “interpretive strategies” in much the same sense as Vincent Crapanzano’s “interpretive styles” (2000:15–17). Samarin 1972:92–93. and Warner-Lewis e 1984. April 17. and the Penn Working Group in Language symposium. For a few inﬂuential examples. 1998. which originally applied only to residents of Oyo. contribute to cultural reproduction. Philadelphia. and a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship. This raw material of cultural transmission has been taken up into different situated knowledge practices that allow santeros to learn Lucum´ forms. 7. This account is very simpliﬁed. 8. Palmi´ 1995. Murphy 1988. Although santeros do not engage in explicit narratives of decline from an earlier golden age to the degree that modern Fijians do. Fieldwork in Santiago de Cuba was funded by a Brody-Foley Grant. in turn. Barnet 1995. 2. 5. As James Wertsch (1998) argues. Granda 1988:17–18 summarizes two methodologies in the ﬁeld of Afro-Hispanic linguistics. I thank Yoonhee Kang for suggesting this analysis. A different type of historical consciousness is enacted in santeros’ more performative strategies to divine meaning in Lucum´ texts. The label Lucum´ began as an ethnonym Europeans applied to ı people and languages from the region centered on modern southwest Nigeria and Benin. it seems high time to recognize the ways in which learning practices. an International Pre-Dissertation Training Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies. and Simpson 1978. Although the latter approach ostensibly looks at present practices. Matt Tomlinson.:157–158) differentiates between narratives of moral decline and narratives of decreasing power. ¨ 6. Ortiz 1995. Bilinda Straight. whereas the etymological approach reads decay of surface semantic meanings. in which modern Yoruba serves as a timeless foil for modern Lucum´. Lucum´’s form corresponds to many of the characterı istics of dying languages reported in the literature: great variability 121 .How diasporic communities remember American Ethnologist on a sense of diminishment from a pure and perfect Yoruba original. and imbue them with historical significance in varying ways that. even at the most local and mundane levels. History—as a sedimentation of particular modes of historical consciousness—is both a form of collective commemoration itself and a by-product of processes of learning. Stromberg 1993). ritual participants hold the expectation that meaning can be extracted from seemingly “meaningless” utterances. even on the grand scale of collective diasporic memory. they enact a pragmatist unı derstanding in which the meaning of Lucum´ words inheres ı in their power to evoke. As work on unintelligible ritual speech has shown. Brandon 1993. one focused on collecting examples of bozal (or creole) speech in bygone eras from literary sources and the other focused on collecting contemporary “lyric texts” preserved in oral tradition. 1. 11. Notes Acknowledgments. see also Wirtz 2004). and even forgetting other things. Castellanos 1996. These forms of historical consciousness that emerge through santeros’ situated interpretation practices overlay mechanisms of cultural replication that have separately and differentially transmitted linguistic form and meaning. emerged later in the 19th century (Kopytoff 1965. later. Wirtz 2005). and because learning and memory are so evidently intertwined. Matory 1999 and Otero 2002 have shown the importance of Africans’ movement back and forth between African and New World ports in establishing Yoruba traditions such as If´ divination in the New World and in helping a to develop a pan-Yoruba identity in what became southwestern Nigeria. such that Lucum´ word and text tokens circulate somewhat inı dependently from the pragmatic religious knowledge they once encapsulated. Matory 1999:82–88. Yoruba texts and their analysis and translations here and in the following discussion are courtesy of Dr. 10. Rodr´guez Reyes ı 2001. Cati Coe. and not only represent. interı pret their meanings. one with a mythic chronotope that transcends history (Bakhtin 1981) and that implicitly emphasizes deep cultural continuities. with funds provided by the Ford Foundation. 4. I am especially grateful to AE editor Virginia Dominguez. e 3. 9. The style of analysis proposed here tacks between the preferred methods and materials of historical anthropology and the very different sites of situated learning preferred by learning theorists. Lucum´ can accomplish what ordinary lanı guage cannot because it is a divine language. In this vein. they do link their concerns about moral decline to efforts to preserve powerful knowledge encoded in Lucum´ utterances. One consequence of book study is that santeros’ understandings of their religion have both contributed to and been inﬂuenced by scholarly production on it for some time (Brown 2003. Brown 2003. Olmstead 1953. Many of the people in this region would today identify themselves as Yoruba (Castellanos 1996:39–41). Peel 1989). or those receiving inspiration (Briggs 1995:209–211. Castellanos and Castellanos 1988. Megenney 1992. remembering. Bascom 1971. Mar´a Isabel Berlos. Vald´ s Bernal 1987. 2004. Tambiah 1968:182. esoteric religious secrets. The Cuban funeral song is taken from Valdes Garriz 1991:11 and the sound recording Vida y Muerte del Santero (Larduet 1996). Their ı efforts to learn the register and recover its meanings enact a referentialist language ideology involving the recovery of lost semantic transparency via back-translation strategies (Silverstein 1979. like the meaning of ancestors’ words in a foreign tongue.
Tambiah 1968). Not coincidentally. In Explorations in the 122 . to have disappeared or ı otherwise not to have undergone precise replication because exact replication of forms would have become unimportant. and R. not a substance” (1996:111). I recorded this divination in March 2000 in Santiago de Cuba. loss of embedding or subordination devices. Bakhtin. 40– 61. I studied with Drs. Havana: Artex y Ediciones Union. Awoyale matched only one other Lucum´ and ı ´ Yoruba text fragment: a Lucum´ song to Ochun and a few lines from ı a Yoruba oriki. Ivaniˇ . Footing. Africa 60(3):313–337. . Por ejemplo nuestro primer rezo siempre. Pp. . 522–527. References cited Abraham. In fact. Angarica. Matthias Perl and Armin Schwegler. such that the language spoken by creoles—some approximation of Spanish. such as ritual songs. Dr. Austin: University of Texas Press. Desde lo alto a esta tierra. phonological leveling. Miguel 1995 Cultos afrocubanos: La Regla de Ocha. Much attention has focused on the characteristics of bozal Spanish—where it fell on the continuum between pidgin and creole or whether it was a product of second-language acquisition (Alvarez and Obediente 1998. Vald´ s Bernal e 1987). Du Bois 1986. Horowitz. Roy Clive 1958 Dictionary of Modern Yoruba. London: Routledge. David.a Lucumi al alcance de todos. In Am´ rica negra: Panor´ mica actual de e a ¨ı los estudios lingu´sticos sobre variedades hispanas. and. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 15(2):38–59. Barber. 17. 1999 (Stgo 99 Cassette 17A. Enregisterment.d.” in which the cultural object can travel across space and time to many people without any of those people actually replicating it themselves. Anibal. and Mary Hamilton 2000 Literacy Practices. A different santero wrote the ﬁrst words slightly differently. as Ibaragu´ ago moyuba. Robert Chaudenson’s (2001:129–134) thesis is especially provocative on this point because it positions Afro-Cuban creoles as linguistic and cultural intermediaries between bozal slaves and Europeans. or praise-poem. Apter. 15. c eds. Another example of cultural dissemination would be for person A to make a recording of the song and circulate the recording. Chaudenson’s diagram on p. Barton. usually “news” (or newness) under modernity. Madrid: Iberoamericana. M. Granda 1988. Diaspora 1(3):235–260. instead of relying on hearers of the song to resing it (which would be necessary for cultural replication. 22. 18. have long exo amined the contributions of African languages to Cuban Spanish ˜ (Ortiz 1922. Cuba: Unknown. takes precedence over the other (tradition). portuguesas. ı my analysis complements Charles E. In Peoples and Cultures ı of the Caribbean. 2005 Voice. human or deity. Andrew 1991 Herskovits’s Heritage: Rethinking Syncretism in the African Diaspora. 13. If this were applicable to Lucum´. Karin 1990 Oriki. Lucum´’s ı story does not ﬁt so neat a telos. my translation). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2002 On African Origins: Creolization and Connaissance in Haitian Vodou. New York: Natural History Press. which is also what appears in Cabrera o 1958:146. such that one pole. Note that this approach is the opposite of literalism. Ni. Cuban scholars. Keith 1974 The Ethnography of Writing. Barton. Bascom. Note that in writing the song down. conc´ dale permiso e para clamar por Elegu´ o por Eshu que est´ en nuestro camino. David. Havana: Editorial Academia. Palmi´ (2002) powere fully argues for the coevalness of Afro-Cuban religions with modernity. David Barton. his principal example is (Yoruba) If´ a divination. American Ethnologist 29(2):233–260. Cuba: Unknown. y criollas. In Situated Literacies: Reading and Writing in Context. N. Urban 2001:42–48). in which the divination result gains its authority by virtue of not being attributed to anyone. Language and Communication 23(3–4):231–273. and Ileana Hodge Limonta 1991 Los llamados cultos sincreticos y el espiritismo. Urban (2001:108–144) points out that such decouplings of message (“news”) from form (“myth”) can correspond to shifts in the metacultural regimentation of culture. London: Routledge. Powers 1986. one would ı expect Lucum´ texts. and if so whether it was a localized or pan-Caribbean phenomenon. to a man named Waru. 16. ni. in turn. 14. 21. The original Spanish reads: No se canta por cantar. y cada canto tiene su lugar y su momento en que se emplea. 12. London: University of London Press. 20. in the Cuban case—became the linguistic target for more recent arrivals (see esp. indeed. conc´ dale permiso para clamar o invocar a los hijos para que hoy e no haya (problemas). person B makes possible a different type of cultural motion that Urban calls “dissemination. Michael M. Holloway’s suggestion that the processes of language death (I would use a less teleological term like shift or contraction. Alvarez. 7–15. 48). 1971 The Focus of Cuban Santer´a. 1992 Black Critics and Kings: The Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society. cf. Compare to Saussure: “The contact between [sound and thought] gives rise to a form. Pp. eds. and Enrique Obediente ¨ ˜ 1998 Sociolinguistica del espanol del Caribe: “Virtualidad” de las lenguas semicriollas. la Regla de Palo Monte. a a 23. Barnet. ed.American Ethnologist Volume 34 Number 1 February 2007 in forms and also “reduction of lexicon. McWhorter 2000. Bakhtin. Ortiz L´ pez 1998). Medubi and Orimoogunje at the University of Lagos in July–August 2000. The major issue is whether a Spanish creole developed among slaves.b Manual de Orihate: Religion Lucumi. The indeterminacy at the heart of certain texts or bodies of knowledge often relates to what John Du Bois (1992) describes as meaning without intention. Pp. . Pichardo y Tapia 1875. It is not unusual to encounter ritual languages with similar complexities attributable to differential intelligibility (see Briggs 1995. Agha. Basso.d. Penalver 1795. and Roz Ivaniˇ c 2000 Situated Literacies: Reading and Writing in Context. 19. 125). Hill 2002) might be better understood by shifting focus from the “behavior of dying languages to the behavior of speakers of those languages” (Holloway 1997:176). Mary Hamilton. 25. Mary Hamilton. Women and the Proliferation and Merging of Orisa. William R. Although I have laid out my objections to categorizing Lucum´ merely as vestigial Yoruba. 24. Alexandra. Asif 2003 The Social Life of Cultural Value. ¨ Arguelles Mederos. The original Spanish reads: Desde lo alto a esta tierra. Nicolas Valentin N. This quote is from an audio recording I made on November 8. es un canto a Eleggua que ´ ´ es el que abre y el que cierra. Mikhail 1981 The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. and loss of former stylelevel distinctions” (Holloway 1997:11.
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