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African Santeria enters the New World

Jan 14, 2021
Reading time 2 min.

George Brandon, a cultural anthropologist who also works as the director of the Program in Sociomedical Sciences at the City University of New York, provides a well-documented, historical reconstruction of one of the many areas taken by Yoruba religious traditions, concentrating on the paths from Africa to Cuba (chapters 3 and 4) and from Cuba to New York City (chapters 5 and 6). His emphasis throughout is on the structures and rhythms of Santeria over the past five centuries and on specific issues of “collective memory”, religious syncretism, and ritual change.

This volume, which summarizes the author’s archival studies, will be followed soon by a volume detailing his fieldwork among Santeria adherents in New York City in Nigeria. Brandon thoroughly traces the trnasantlanic route of Yoruba religions, a little bit including on related movements as Puerto Rican Espiritismo, the Garvey movement, and other types of Black Nationalism. He adeptly addresses wider problems such as power relations within Caribbean slavery, multiculturalism, and religious accommodation to changing economic systems.

The author promotes a process framework for the analysis of the production and reproduction of African beliefs and practices in the New World and charts stages or phases in the development of Santeria from Yoruba religion, to early Santeria-Lucumi religion, to Santeria, to Santerismo, to Orisha-Voodoo.

Ultimately, he finishes that the issue of religious syncretism in Santeria is a thing that cannot be resolved but only dissolved into the research of cultural and social processes and the impact of individual decision making, ecology, and creativity in relation to specific social and historical conditions.

Santeria from Africa to the New World will be appropriate for use in advanced classes in anthropology, history, social movements, and ethnic relations and will be of special interest to historians of religions.

The author provides a valuable corrective to popular and press treatments of this widespread religious movement, which he correctly emphasises, now has more devotees in the United States than it had in Cuba at the time of the revolution.

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