Caribbean Religions: History of Study
CARIBBEAN RELIGIONS: HISTORY OF STUDY
This essay attempts to address the study of Caribbean religion from the time of initial European contact to the beginning of the twenty-first century. As such, it encompasses both aboriginal Caribbean religions and African-derived religions. While the study of Caribbean religions could be seen as a gradual progression from a focus on the exotic to more objective, tolerant, or sympathetic portrayals, such is not always the case. At every stage in the study of Caribbean religions, highly sensationalized accounts—whether of alleged cannibalism among the island-Caribs or the bizarre acts attributed to vodou practitioners in Haiti—continue to exist alongside more objective and sympathetic accounts. Even today, sensationalism abounds in media portrayals of Haitian vodou. For example, Wes Craven's 1988 movie version of Wade Davis's Serpent and the Rainbow (1985) still commands greater attention than Davis's scholarly work. Joseph M. Murphy states: "One of the highest hurdles to be overcome in interpreting diasporan traditions to outsiders is the deep-seated popular image of them as 'voodoo' malign 'black magic.' Hundreds of books and scores of films have portrayed the spirituality of millions of people of African descent as crazed, depraved, or demonic manipulations of gullible and irrational people" (1994, p. x).
Early Missionary and Travelers' Reports
As Dale Bisnauth correctly points out in his History of Religions in the Caribbean (1989), the study of Caribbean religions begins with Catholic missionary activities among aboriginal peoples. Initial reports concerning Caribbean religions were largely written by Europeans who had two agendas: (1) the conversion of native populations to Catholicism, and (2) the subjugation of aboriginal populations. In the later part of the twentieth century, new translations of the early chroniclers became available (e.g., Dunn and Kelley, 1988). These new translations provide greater insight into European perceptions of aboriginal Caribbean religions.
Christopher Columbus's initial statements concerning aboriginal religions indicate that he did not think the natives to be religious at all. In his diary of the first voyage, he mentioned native religions three times. In the first instance, he suggested that the natives of San Salvador would become Christians easily because "it would seem to me that they had no religion at all." On the island of Hispaniola, he again asserts that it should be easy to convert them to Christianity since they "have no religion of their own and are not idolaters."
Columbus's statements concerning the lack of religion among Amerindians are echoed in writings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. But most contemporary scholars contend to the contrary that the aboriginal people of the Caribbean were among the most religious people on earth. A measure of their religious intensity is the relatively low rate of conversion to Christianity noted by the early chroniclers. Spanish and later French missionaries experienced little immediate success with Caribbean natives and complained that the natives rapidly reverted to pagan ways whenever the opportunity presented itself. Conversion to Christianity was rarely complete, even into the seventeenth century.
From a religious standpoint, the most intense and protracted contact between Europeans and Amerindians took place on the island of Hispaniola. On his third voyage in 1495, Columbus commissioned a poorly educated Hieronymite priest, Raymond Pane, to live among the Taino for two years and compile a description of their religious beliefs and practices. Very little is known concerning Pane and the fate of his report to Columbus, which he completed around 1496 or 1497. Pane's original report has been lost, but was reconstructed in 1968 by José Arrom from a 1571 Italian translation. Father Pane holds two important distinctions. He was the first Caribbean ethnographer, and he baptized Guaticabantu, the first Caribbean native to become a Christian.
With the notable exception of Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés (1535), early Spanish accounts are of limited value to historians. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries French missionaries wrote more detailed descriptions of aboriginal religion, including the astute and careful observations of Mathias du Puis, Jean Baptiste du Tertre, and Jean Baptiste Labat, as well as the comprehensive Carib-French/French-Carib dictionary composed by Raymond Breton.
Twentieth-century interpreters of island-Carib religion emphasize that the religious life was greatly influenced by the harsh physical environment. As Bisnauth concluded, "hostile environments bred hostile spirits" (1989, p. 10).
With respect to aboriginal religions, few new sources have emerged, but there have been major advances in archaeological research (Rouse, 1992; Wilson, 1990). The most noteworthy advances have occurred as a result of the introduction of new techniques in underwater archaeology. The exploration of flooded caves (see Becker et al., 2002) has yielded numerous religious objects fashioned from wood and cloth. Raymond Pane's account emphasized the importance of wooden objects for Taino religion, but few examples had been found. Now, thanks to advances in underwater archaeology researchers have access to examples of wooden stools, zemis, and other decorated objects that are of finer workmanship and much more detailed than their stone counterparts.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the aboriginal population declined and attention increasingly focused on the religions of African slaves. Perhaps the best-known account is Mérédec Louis-Elie Moreau de Saint-Méry's Description topographique, physique, civile, politique, et historique de la partie française de l'isle Saint-Dominque (1797). Moreau (vol. 1, p. 55) has the distinction of providing one of the first descriptions of an early vodou ceremony. Another excellent eighteenth-century source is Bryan Edwards's The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies (1794). Edwards's history contains important data on religious practices of the Black Caribs.
Accounts of travelers and socialites like Mrs. A. C. Carmichael's Domestic Manners and Social Conditions of the White, Colored, and Negro Population of the West Indies (1833) provide insights into the religions of both planters and slaves. Plantation owners—especially the French Creoles of Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Trinidad—made a surprising number of astute observations concerning slave religion. Yvonne Chireau (2003) makes excellent use of these materials. Although Chireau's book focuses on the United States, it also includes considerable information on Caribbean religious beliefs and practices.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, Protestant missionaries replaced Catholic missionaries as the primary observers of Afro-Caribbean religions. Missionary writings, of course, always reflect a great deal about the missionaries themselves as well as their prospective converts. Arthur Charles Dayfoot (1999) points out that nineteenth-century Protestant missionaries took ample note of native religious practices.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries mark the beginning of anthropological interest in Caribbean religions—both aboriginal and African American, and a great deal of Caribbean research (notably the works of Daniel Brinton and Jesse Walter Fewkes) was conducted under the auspices of the Bureau of American Ethnology and the Smithsonian Institution. Martha Beckwith undertook important studies of Caribbean folklore. In 1929, Beckwith published Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaican Folk Life, which includes an insightful analysis of Jamaican religions, as well as a sampling of Jamaican proverbs, children's games, and Christmas mumming. Harold Courlander is by far the most influential Caribbean folklorist. Courlander conducted fieldwork both in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. His best-known work is The Drum and the Hoe: Life and Lore of the Haitian People (1960).
Twentieth-century ethnographic accounts examined local practices and isolated communities (e.g., the Herskovitses' fieldwork in the remote village of Toco, Trinidad). A number of highly sensationalized accounts of Haitian vodou and "black magic" were published (notably Seabrook, 1929), as well as numerous accounts of witchcraft and Obeah in the West Indies (Williams, 1932). Scholarly expositions on Haitian religions include the works of Alfred Métraux, Melville J. Herskovits, Maya Deren, and James Leyburn.
The juxtaposition of sensationalized and scholarly accounts continued in the work of Wade Davis, whose best-selling book The Serpent and the Rainbow served as the basis for a sensationalized movie, but who also published a number of first-rate ethnographic analyses of Haitian vodou. Davis's major contribution was in pointing out possible ethnobotanical and neurophysiological bases for widespread Haitian beliefs concerning zombies.
Melville J. Herskovits, E. Franklin Frazier, and the Quest for "Africanisms" in the New World
In the mid-twentieth century, scholars began to seek connections between African and New World religions. A lively debate ensued between Melville J. Herskovits, who believed that African elements had survived the rigors of slavery and could easily be discerned in the New World, and E. Franklin Frazier (1964), who contended that slavery had been so disruptive of African cultural patterns that few African retentions could be identified in the New World. It is significant that Herskovits and his students (notably William Bascom) began their ethnographic fieldwork in Africa and ended up researching the Americas. George Eaton Simpson was one of Herskovits's most loyal disciples. Elsewhere in the United States, advocates of "Pan-Africanism" like W. E. B. Du Bois did not consider Caribbean religion to be an appropriate focus (Zuckerman, 2000). Du Bois seems to have paid little attention to African-derived religions outside of the United States.
European approaches to African-derived religions evidence a slightly different focus than that of Herskovits. Europeans charted the influence of African religions on New World religions as part of an abstract, global process—what Roger Bastide termed "the interpenetration of civilizations."
The twentieth century also saw a number of locally-based ethnographies dealing with specific religions on specific islands: Santería in Cuba (Lydia Cabrera, Fernando Ortiz, George Brandon, Joseph M. Murphy), Rastafarianism in Jamaica (Rex Nettleford, Leonard Barrett, Barry Chevannes), and the Spiritual Baptists in Trinidad and Grenada (George Eaton Simpson, Stephen D. Glazier, Kenneth Lum, and Wallace Zane). These accounts include much information about religious organization, rituals, beliefs, and music. Of special note is the attempt by Sidney Mintz and Richard Price (1992) to come to terms with processes of syncretism with reference to African-American religious history.
While the bulk of these locally-based studies dealt with African-derived religions, a small number of twentieth-century ethnographies addressed the growing presence of Asian religions in the Caribbean. Most notable among these are Steven Vertovec's Hindu Trinidad (1992), Morton Klass's Singing with Sai Baba (1996), and Aisha Khan's Callaloo Nation (2004). There is still need for more studies of local variants of world religions like Islam, Buddhism, Bahāʾī, Mormonism, the Unification Church, and so on, as well as the impact of these religions on particular Caribbean islands.
The complex relationships between religions in Africa and African religions in the New World are replete with examples of what Pierre Verger termed "flux and reflux" (1968, p. 31). Building on a lifetime of fieldwork and archival research, Verger documented extensive and continuous contact between religious specialists in Africa and religious organizations in the New World. He painstakingly demonstrated that the slave trade was not only of Africans (i.e., the trade itself), but by Africans as well. Africans and African Americans were producers and traders as well as laborers in the plantation system, and they played an active role—not just a passive one—in the ongoing drama of slavery. The quest for Africa in the New World continues, but with new and refined sensibilities. The question is no longer whether, but how much?
As Stuart Hall—commenting on the Présence Africaine in his native Jamaica—noted:
Africa was, in fact, present everywhere, in the everyday life and customs of the slave quarters, in the language and patois of the plantations, in names and words; often disconnected from their taxonomies, in the secret syntactical structure through which other languages were spoken, in the stories and tales told to children, in religious practices and belief in the spiritual life, the arts, crafts, music and rhythms of slave and post-emancipation society.… Africa remained and remains the unspoken, unspeakable "presence" in Caribbean culture. It is "hiding" behind every verbal inflection, every narrative twist of Caribbean cultural life. (1990, p. 228)
In the 1950s and 1960s, much research on Caribbean religions addressed the concept of syncretism first introduced to anthropology by Melville Herskovits in 1938. Syncretism is defined as an attempt to merge religious traditions and establish analogies between originally discrete religious and mythological traditions. At various times and places, religions have embraced syncretism, while at other times, these same religions have rejected the practice as lacking in "authenticity" (Glazier, 1996). Syncretism has sometimes been seen as a devaluation of real, salient religious distinctions.
A number of conceptual shortcomings have been identified in Herskovits's original formulation (Greenfield and Droogers, 2002). Nevertheless, most contemporary anthropologists agree that it may be more valid to look at syncretism in terms of power relations. With respect to Caribbean religions, it may be more useful to examine syncretism from the perspectives of those who do the "syncretizing." When seen from the perspectives of "syncretizers," syncretism appears as a series of individual acts rather than as an abstract and impersonal process.
Central to this discussion is the perceived relationship between African-derived religions and Roman Catholicism. Earlier, it was suggested that Catholic elements within African-derived religions like oriṣa and vodun were brought in to mask or hide African forms of worship under the "cloak" of Christianity. This explanation is not altogether satisfactory. As David Trotman (1976) astutely observed, if early followers of the oriṣa wanted to "disguise" their religion by incorporating elements of Roman Catholicism, it would not have been a very good disguise because no one could have confused African and Catholic rituals. Trotman also correctly contended that if devotees identified Catholic saints and Yorùbá deities attempting to "disguise" the latter, any saint would have provided an equally good "disguise." But such was never the case. Only some saints became identified with a limited number of oriṣas, and many Catholic saints were neglected altogether. Ultimately, Trotman concluded that it is most likely that African-derived religions and the veneration of the Catholic saints evolved together.
No one suggests that syncretism does not exist in Caribbean religions. Obviously, cultures that come into contact influence one another. But the term syncretism —as it has been applied to Afro-Caribbean religions—assumes too much passivity on the part of slave populations. As Morton Klass opined, "in a universe where gods can do anything, theological studies are manifestly more important and interesting than the study of history, biology, geology, and astronomy put together. It follows that if a god is alleged to create the entire universe in the blink of an eye and knows all that has happened, is happening, and will happen—any inkling of that god's plans, whims, or preferences are of the utmost concern to humans" (1991, p. 32). Caribbean slaves had more than a passing interest in the religion of their masters. They had an urgent need to incorporate European gods (and the powers of those gods) into their own lives. This urgent need, too, is perhaps at the root of perceived correspondences between African deities and Catholic saints.
Vodou: A History of Study
Few Caribbean religions have captured the scholarly and media attention that has been devoted to Haitian vodou. From the sixteenth century onward, almost every visitor to Haiti has commented on the religion. It became the focus of both popular and scholarly attention and the subject of countless books and articles.
As noted previously, Moreau de Saint-Méry (1797) was among the first to provide a description of vodou ceremonies. He was also the first person to use of the term vaudoux with reference to Haitian religion. Moreau writes of a dance led by a group of slaves from the West African town of Arada. According to Moreau, vaudoux is a kind of "serpent" possessing oracular powers, who communicates through the medium of a priest or priestess. Moreau correctly interpreted the ceremony as both a deity and a dance, and noted that it is only through the movement of the dance that the spirits (lwa) were able to be fully present to the congregation.
Of mid-twentieth-century researchers, Maya Deren (1953) was perhaps the most sensitive to the workings of the spirit. In the eighteenth century, Moreau had recognized vaudoux 's political potential, a theme that has dominated twentieth-century studies of vodou (Laguerre, 1989). The later part of the twentieth century saw greater attention paid to community studies (Herskovits, 1937; Métraux, 1959), to vodou as a belief system (Hurbon, 1995; McAlister, 2002), historical-literary studies (Dayan, 1995), and the complex relationship between vodou and the Roman Catholic Church (Desmangles, 1993). Leslie Desmangles's work identifying patterns of symbiosis and juxtaposition in Haitian vodou contrasts markedly with the earlier scholarship of Roger Bastide, George Eaton Simpson, and Melville Herskovits. What makes Desmangles's research unique is his careful attention to the tremendous variety of religious forms and influences within African and African-American religions. Drawing on firsthand research in Haiti and the Republic of Benin, he underscores vodou's continuities and discontinuities with its African past.
Rastafari: A History of Study
As religions change, research methodologies also change. Since the 1980s Rastafarianism has experienced the most dramatic changes of any Caribbean religion. Many people throughout the world became familiar with Rastafari when reggae performers, most notably Bob Marley, started to bring its message to an international audience in the 1970s. Rastafari is an example of a religious movement that has spread globally through the medium of popular culture (Yawney and Homiak, 2001, p. 266). While remaining true to its central tenants (as outlined over forty years ago by George Eaton Simpson), Rastafari claims adherents from all over the world. Following the approach of Kamari Clarke (2004), it may be useful to begin thinking of Rastafari as a vast "network" stretching from "Trench Town" in Jamaica to Africa to Europe to North America to Japan to the Pacific Islands to New Zealand.
When Roy Augier, M. G. Smith, and Rex Nettleford began researching Rastafarianism in the 1960s the movement was little more than a loosely organized federation of homeless men hanging out in the slums of Kingston. There were few established norms and Rasta theology was—as it still is—in the process of being "worked out." Augier, Smith, and Nettleford conducted their inquiry in response to police concerns about vagrant men who, it was feared, might be involved in criminal activities. Later researchers like Simpson and Barrett also adopted a local (Kingston-based) perspective. Rastafarianism was thus examined first as a local problem, later as a local religion, then as a regional religious movement, but not until the end of the twentieth century was it recognized as a worldwide religious and political movement.
Twenty-first-century researchers have had to adopt what Carole Yawney and John P. Homiak call a "reticulate research model" that allows for both multiple centers and diverse channels of diffusion. Yawney's research, for example, has followed the religion from Jamaica to South Africa to Canada and back again.
Sex Roles and Altered States of Consciousness
In 1963, Vittorio Lanternari published a seminal study relating spirit possession, so-called ecstatic religion, and social structure. While not dealing exclusively with the Caribbean, Lanternari's Religions of the Oppressed inspired further studies, most notably I. M. Lewis's Ecstatic Religion (1971) and a large-scale cross-cultural study of spirit possession and trance states directed by Erika Bourguignon, an anthropologist who did her dissertation fieldwork in Haiti under Melville Herskovits. Bourguignon was able to secure funding to send a number of graduate students to the Caribbean and Mexico to study spirit possession and altered states of consciousness.
A major focus of late twentieth-century research has been the changing roles of women in Afro-Caribbean religions. This is especially true with respect to the Trinidad oriṣa movement. Female leaders (iya ) have always existed within the movement. Earlier researchers—who were predominantly male—did not seek them out. Today, a majority of the Trinidadian leadership is female. Rawle Gibbons (1999, p. 196) estimates that women own over 50 percent of oriṣa shrines.
The status of women in Afro-Caribbean religions is changing rapidly. In exploring gender roles, it is important to keep in mind the contributions of John K. Thornton, J. Lorand Matory, and Ruth Landes. Thornton, in The Kingdom of Kongo: Civil War and Transition, 1641–1718 (1983), underscores the changing nature of African politics and religion at the height of the slave trade. It has been common for scholars to focus on syncretism in the formation of New World societies but to lose sight of the fact that such syncretisms and a great deal of religious change was going on in Africa at the same time. Many of the same forces that led to the formation and expansion of vodou in Haiti were also at work in the Kongo. In Sex and the Empire that Is No More (1994), Matory takes this argument one step further. Matory not only underscores syncretic and innovative aspects of Ọ̀yọ́ religion, he also emphasizes the general malleability of sex roles and religious leadership in African society and religion.
Ruth Landes's The City of Women (1947)—based on fieldwork conducted in northern Brazil during the late 1930s—challenged prevailing notions of Afro-Brazilian religious leadership, as well as shedding light on the roles of women in these organizations. Her work was first published in 1947. Both the work and its author were largely ignored and never entered into the mainstream of Afro-Brazilian studies then dominated by Herskovits, Verger, and Bastide. Some critiques of Landes's book took the form of personal attack. She was accused of going to Bahia primarily to have sex with the natives. The charges against her were unfounded since the focus of her research was on celibate, female religious orders. Treatment of Landes's work has been redressed, at least in part, by the 1994 reissue of The City of Women by the University of New Mexico Press, with a new introduction that gives a history of the anthropological reception to the work. In 1947, Landes established once and for all the malleability of sex roles and leadership in Afro-Brazilian religious organizations, and, by implication, in Caribbean religions as well. But it has taken scholars fifty years to recognize her role.
Malleability of sex roles is apparent in New World religions like Ṣango. In Cuba, and now in Trinidad, Ṣango has become increasingly identified with Santa Barbara. In attempting to account for Ṣango's identification with Santa Barbara, Ṣango leaders (both male and female) emphasize that oriṣas are not limited by human categories and attributes. All oriṣas have the potential to be male and female, black and white, and young and old. In Trinidad, for example, Ṣango is often depicted as a mulatto. Trinidadian followers of Ṣango—like Ṣango devotees in Cuba (Bascom, 1972, p. 14)—argue that Ṣango may wear the clothes of a woman, but he is the epitome of maleness because of his many wives and love affairs. It is emphasized that Ṣango has many names because he used different names as he went from town to town seeking out amorous adventures. Bourguignon suggests that Herskovits did not foreground transvestitism and homosexuality in his depictions of African and African-American rituals because he believed it would be detrimental to the cause of blacks in the United States.
Landes concluded The City of Women by noting that women occupy dominant positions within supposedly patriarchal structures. Her findings for Bahia indicate that surface male authority hid real female authority. But it is not an either/or situation. Males and females have different conceptions of power and authority. A real question is whether or not scholars have grasped the true nature of female religious authority in the Caribbean. Women constitute the overwhelming majority of adherents in all of these faiths. The anthropological literature characterizes these religions—following Lanternari and Lewis—as "peripheral" cults. But what is meant by "peripheral"? Are these religions considered "peripheral" because they are predominantly composed of females (which is Lanternari's assertion), or are females attracted to these religions because women see them as "peripheral" (which is Lewis's argument)? The relationship between gender, power, and authority is always complex. Lewis's original research on spirit possession and gender wars in Somalia concluded that spirit possession provides a mechanism by which the weak can appropriate symbols of power. But as Bourguignon has pointed out, Lewis's theory is predicated on a shared understanding and acceptance of how the world works.
Unlike many issues in the academic study of religion, debates about gender and authority can be resolved empirically, with attention to denominational structures and the place of women within these structures. For over twenty years, Stephen D. Glazier has examined the position of women among Trinidad's Ṣango Baptists. The results are clear. Women constitute the overwhelming majority of participants in all Ṣango Baptist rituals, and women own the vast majority of Ṣango Baptist religious structures (Baptist churches, palais, and chapelles ). How could this not affect the status of Ṣango Baptist women? It should be emphasized that while women may own the buildings outright, they do not always own the land upon which these structures rest. But even if we do not count cases where men actually own the land, women still own over 58 percent of the buildings (twenty-eight out of forty-six in Glazier's 1999 sample of Ṣango structures in Trinidad), and they sponsor over ½ the feasts.
Previous generations of researchers looked for male dominance within Ṣango Baptist organizations, and they found it. The trappings are there. Almost all paramount leaders and bishops are male. Only males are allowed to perform the sacraments; only males are allowed to preach from a raised pulpit in the front of the church; only males are allowed to "line-out" hymns and direct readings from the Bible; and only males can initiate prayer. In a number of Ṣango Baptist churches, participants are segregated according to sex (males sit on the right, females sit on the left). On the other hand, males are usually invited (by females) to officiate at religious ceremonies. The do not own the churches. They are guests. And if the predominantly female congregation is not pleased, they will not be invited back—suggesting that power relations between males and females are not always as they at first appear.
Oral Tradition and the Internet
Throughout the twentieth century, African languages constituted a major barrier for some researchers and some informants. Many of the difficulties that George Eaton Simpson encountered while compiling a list of oriṣa in Trinidad were a result of his lack of familiarity with the Yorùbá language. In reproducing a list of oriṣas, for example, Simpson names Adoweh, Ahmeeoh, Aireeahsan, and Aireelay (1980, p. 17). He cautions the reader that he is unsure if these names represent a single oriṣa or four separate oriṣas. Only recently (Warner-Lewis, 1996) have scholars begun to utilize linguistic analyses to document the religious significance of Yorùbá retentions in the Caribbean.
There are also issues surrounding oral transmission. At the time Herskovits, Bascom, Simpson, and Frances Henry conducted their research, most religious knowledge was transmitted orally. Past generations of oriṣa leaders in Trinidad (e.g., Fitzroy Small and King Ford) knew little Yorùbá aside from the opening songs they had learned by rote. This contrasts with contemporary oriṣa leaders—like Rawle Gibbons and Patricia McLeod (Iya Ṣango Wumi)—who have formally studied Yorùbá.
As Manfred Kremser (2001, pp. 111–114) points out in his discussion of African-derived religions in cyberspace, new technologies have transformed Caribbean worldviews and ritual systems into new forms of world culture. This, too, raises issues of authority and legitimacy as greater numbers of non-black, non-Caribbean people are identifying with African-derived religions like Santería, vodun, or the oriṣa movement. Aboriginal religions have also secured a presence on the web. The Santa Rosa Carib community of Trinidad, for example, maintains an elaborate website with New Zealand anthropologist Maximilian Forte as their webmaster. What happens when religious traditions that have been transmitted orally from person-to-person become instantly accessible via the internet?
Centralization and "Authority" in the Trinidad OriṢa Movement
Some contemporary followers of the oriṣa have expressed a desire to "liberate" the oriṣa from Catholicism and to reassert what they see as its fundamental Yorùbá elements. They seek to emphasize Yorùbá elements at shrines and expunge Catholic ones. Such attempts on the part of African-American religious leaders have met with varying degrees of success elsewhere in the New World.
Funso Aiyejina and Rawle Gibbons underscore a major difference between oriṣa ceremonies held in Africa and oriṣa ceremonies held in the New World: "Among the Yoruba of Nigeria, each individual/family/community is associated with a particular oriṣa. In Trinidad, all or as many of the oriṣa as possible are represented in the yard" (1999, p. 195). Aiyejina and Gibbons interpret this as the "unification of Orisa under one roof." This may be an oversimplification, but it is nonetheless an important distinction. Oriṣa feasts in the Caribbean tend to be inclusive rather than exclusive. One of the more dramatic expressions of inclusiveness is to be found in the Nation Dance—one of the most studied of Caribbean rituals (see McDaniel, 1998).
Frances Henry, who has conducted research on Ṣango for nearly fifty years, concluded her entry to The Encyclopedia of African and African American Religions (2001, pp. 256–258) by noting that contemporary leaders in the oriṣa movement are attempting to create centralized structures along denominational lines (e.g., to establish an "Oriṣa Council of Elders"). Adherents want the oriṣa movement to be recognized as a "legitimate" religion by the Trinidadian government so that their iya and mongba can officiate at weddings and funerals.
Henry (2003, pp. 108–136) also documented a concerted effort to "Africanize" oriṣa rituals. While scholarly debates surrounding the origins and authenticity of New World African ritual are far from new (Glazier, 1996, pp. 420–421), current debates are more significant because the major participants are themselves members of the religions in question. This establishes a different tone to the debate, and there is greater perceived urgency. A major change is that the forum of debate has shifted. Debate is no longer carried out exclusively within the domain of books, conferences, and paper presentations. It occurs in heated arguments taking place within the context of worship itself.
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Stephen D. Glazier (2005)