Using storytelling and performance to explore shared religious expression across continents
“As is fitting for its subject, this work is a blend of forms, inputs, voices, and visions. Collectively they reveal the complexity of the study and practice of ‘Afro-Cuban’ religion. They constitute an authoritative, potentially discipline-altering, stance on the question of African origins embodied in the presumed distinction between the Lucumí and Arará traditions. The respect this work affords the voices of the practitioners clearly emerges from its origins in the study of a collectivist, non-textual mode of communication: dance.”—Beauty Bragg, author of Reading Contemporary African American Literature: Black Women’s Popular Fiction, Post-Civil Rights Experience, and the African American Canon
Through a revolutionary ethnographic approach that foregrounds storytelling and performance as alternative means of knowledge, Situated Narratives and Sacred Dance explores shared ritual traditions between the Anlo-Ewe people of West Africa and their descendants, the Arará of Cuba, who were brought to the island in the transatlantic slave trade.
The volume draws on two decades of research in four communities: Dzodze, Ghana; Adjodogou, Togo; and Perico and Agramonte, Cuba. In the ceremonies, oral narratives, and daily lives of individuals at each fieldsite, the authors not only identify shared attributes in religious expression across continents, but also reveal lasting emotional, spiritual, and personal impacts in the communities whose ancestors were ripped from their homeland and enslaved. The authors layer historiographic data, interviews, and fieldnotes with artistic modes such as true fiction, memoir, and choreographed narrative, challenging the conventional nature of scholarship with insights gained from sensorial experience.
Including reflections on the making of an art installation based on this research project, the volume challenges readers to imagine the potential of approaching fieldwork as artists. The authors argue that creative methods can convey truths deeper than facts, pointing to new possibilities for collaboration between scientists and artists with relevance to any discipline.
Jill Flanders Crosby is professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Alaska Anchorage. JT Torres is assistant teaching professor of English at Quinnipiac University.
Publication of the paperback edition made possible by a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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