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Chronicle of Lisbon’s Workshop on Afro-Cuban religion (4/20/2011)

By Grete Viddal, Conferences & CFPs, Religion 2 Comments »

Grete Viddal presenting at the top of the table

I just returned from the 2nd Workshop on Afro-Cuban Religion held at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS) in Lisbon, Portugal. The theme for this meeting was “Creativity, improvisation and innovation in Afro-Cuban religion.” The event was organized by Ana Stela Cunha and Diana Espirito Santo, currently post-docs at the ICS and CRIA (Centre for Research in Social Anthropology), respectively.

A dozen scholars of Cuban religion gathered for two days to share work in progress, debate ideas, talk theory, practice, and participation, and network. Many participants were at the dissertation-writing stage or post-docs, and established scholars also attended. Discussants from ICS, Universidade de Lisboa, and Universidade Nova de Lisboa provided thoughtful feedback.

Participants included scholars from the US, Portugal, Spain, Cuba, Greece, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Brazil, and Colombia. We spoke in English and Spanish, sometimes switching between languages mid-sentence during Q & A.

The delights of Lisbon pulled us in during evenings, as we ate wonderful food and quaffed mojitos and caipirinas in a friendly, lively, bohemian city with picturesque neighborhoods and charming architecture.

Lia Pozzi, Andrea Antonelli, Anastasios Panagiotopoulos, Katerina Kerestetzi, Géraldine Morel, Diana Espirito Santo, and Jalane Schmidt in an Alafama neighborhood cafe

Panels included: (see below)

Read the rest of this entry »

Honoring San Lázaro in Santiago

By Grete Viddal, Religion, traditions and folklore 2 Comments »

Every year on December 17th, Saint Lazarus’ feast day, drums, or sometimes violins, can be heard throughout the evening in many neighborhoods in Santiago de Cuba as ceremonies (referred to as “bembés”) are held to honor this saint. San Lázaro’s statue is dressed with decorative cloth and offerings of foods, flowers, candles, and cigars are placed at his feet. Violin music is considered “sweet” and pleasing to him. San Lázaro protects devotees against disease and misfortune. This photo was taken in 2008 at the home of an espiritista (Spiritist) of Haitian descent. She held a combined feast for San Lázaro and Santa Bárbara. The violinists are a father and daughter.

In Santiago, the connection between San Lázaro and his Regla de Ocha/Santería counterpart Babalu Ayé is not emphasized. For example there was no mention of Babalu Ayé during the Vodu-inflected Spiritist ritual where I took this picture.

In 2008-2009, I lived for ten months in the home of a Santiagueran santera, a scholarly person who was very familiar with varied manifestations of Cuban religion. She prepared a large ceremony to add San Lázaro to her spiritual pantheon. Those officiating remarked that this ritual was “new” in eastern Cuba and more typically associated with Havana. In fact, some of the objects necessary for the event were brought from Havana, as they were difficult to obtain in Santiago, specifically the cazuelas or clay pots needed to house San Lázaro’s spiritually charged items, called fundamentos. Babalu Ayé was not emphasized during this ceremony either; participants referred to the ritual as “receiving San Lázaro.”  In Santiago, eastern Cuba, Santa Bárbara and her Santería counterpart Shangó are clearly connected, but San Lazaro’s link with Babalu Ayé appears to be less established.

Preparing for San Lázaro in San Luis, the Spiritist way

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Gisela Roeder, By Grete Viddal, Religion No Comments »

Gisela Roeder sends us pictures of the Casa Templo La Caridad, in the city of San Luis, in Santiago province, during the festivities leading up to San Lázaro. Founded by Antonio Nieves, this is a temple apparently devoted, among other religious practices, to the Spiritist faith (there is another temple in San Luis exclusively devoted to Spiritism; not so this one, which seems to be more eclectic).

Below see the schedule of events, as well as the “norms” posted at the temple’s entrance, and as all  norms, they say more about what people do than about what people do not do.  Also interesting is the fact that these norms are said to derive their legitimacy from the fact that the temple falls under the oversight of Cuba’s national Constitution, ergo visitors should not carry knifes, drink or show up nude.

Espiritismo (Spiritism in English) became popular in Cuba and much of Latin America during the mid 19th century as books on communicating with the deceased through mediumship by Hippolyte Rivail, a Frenchman who published under the pen name Allan Kardec, became popular. In Cuba, Spiritism mixed with other religious practices and today there are a number of variants including “cientifico,” “de cordon,” and “cruzado.” Some branches closely follow Kardecian teachings, others incorporate practices from Afro-Cuban belief systems. Although common throughout Cuba, Espiritismo is particularly associated with rural areas and the eastern provinces.

This is another picture taken by Gisela Roeder at La Caridad. It shows the December 16th mass for San Lazaro, according to the “espiritismo cruzado” practice. If you are interested, do not miss her 8 min video of this event, on youtube.

HERE you can watch a video of San Lázaro’s crowning (“coronación”) at this San Luis temple. The video is also authored by Gisela, who has been visiting this community for many years.

For more on espiritismo en Cuba, check out the chapter on spiritism included in the book Creole Religions of the Caribbean: an Introduction from Vodou to Santeria. Diana Espirito-Santo, a graduate of University College London and a professor at University of Lisbon has conducted fieldwork in Cuba on espiritismo. One of her articles, entitled “The Enactment of Self and the Nature of Knowledge Among Mediums in Cuban Espiritismo” can be downloaded HERE. Just this year she published “Spiritist Boundary-Work and the Morality of Materiality in Afro-Cuban Religion” in the Journal of Material Culture (March 2010).

Santa Barbara Day

By Grete Viddal, Religion, traditions and folklore 8 Comments »

In Santiago de Cuba, Santa Bárbara (December 4th) is honored with a procession that begins at the casa templo of the spiritual family of Reyneiro Pérez, prominent local practitioners of Regla de Ocha/Santeria, in the Los Olmos neighborhood, and proceeds through the city’s narrow streets to the central plaza, called Parque Céspedes.. Dressed in her signature colors, crowned, and grasping a sword, Santa Bárbara is carried on a palanquin. As the procession passes, people gather on their stoops and balconies to watch and throw perfumed water on the statue. If they can afford it, they drink white wine and toast each other. Everyone dresses up, preferably in red and white, because these colors are sacred to Shangó, the Santería deity associated with Saint Barbara.

Santiago de Cuba, Santa Barbara Procession, Dec. 3, 2008 (all pics by Grete Viddal)

Hair Salons and Barber Shops Going Coop (Updated)

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Grete Viddal, News and Views, Tales from the field 2 Comments »

Vedado (Havana) state-owned hair salon. ©AHR

According to recent news, selected hair salons and barber shops in Havana are undergoing an experiment in management and administration. Unlike in the 1990s, these are not self-employed professionals who are allowed to run small businesses out of their home. These are tiny state shops (sitting three max) that are being turned to their employees who then run them autonomously. They must pay a rent (in hard currency) to the state as well as taxes, and obtain their supplies on their own, presumably at free market prices. They can then set prices according to supply and demand. Apparently, participation in this pilot program has been voluntary, and workers who did not want to be autonomous have been able to switch jobs with those who did at other salons. You can read a detailed account in this report of the Spanish news agency EFE.

Up until now (and still in most of the island) the choices were a state-run hair salon or a self-employed hair dresser. The state salon had fixed prices in Cuban pesos, while the independent professional was free to set prices and has to pay income taxes. In practical terms, however, the state shops lacked supplies, which the employees then obtained on their own and charged customers for under the table. While state hair salons and barber shops were technically inexpensive, the were really not, as one had to purchase products and services directly from the employees at bargained prices. My hunch is that this new system is designed to address (and tax) a de facto situation.

In Havana, this pilot project only affects a handful of Salons in two neighborhoods, none of which can handle more than three clients at a time. On the other extreme of the island, in Santiago de Cuba, it is doubtful that many peluqueros will sign up for this experiment, should it be an option there some time soon. According to Grete Viddal’s own hair stylist and salon owner Raúl, the cost of “cooperativizing” is prohibitive anywhere but in Havana. In response to Grete’s inquiry, Raul said that if the potential independent contractors of a salon will have to pay about 1000 MN per chair, this is a lot of money in Santiago – even if this covers the costs of doing business, the chair, electricity, etc. Raul says hairdressers wouldn’t be able to charge enough for their haircuts to cover expenses. Grete’s assessment is that “many services (they do manicures, pedicures, waxing, all manner of hair coloring and straightening, and more) at Quisqueya, the big salon in Calle Enramadas, the main shopping street of Santiago, cost a peso, two, three. Many haircuts (cost of haircuts depends on length of your hair) less than 5 pesos MN. If you have to pay 1000 MN a month, that’s a LOT of haircuts before you begin to make a profit!”

Below, see a picture of the entrepreneurial Raúl – a self-employed hair dresser- working on his most simpática client a few weeks ago.

© Grete Viddal

Thanks to A. Armengol for the news’ heads up.

A Vodú Party for the Gods

By Grete Viddal, Cuba Haiti, Religion, Tales from the field 6 Comments »

I went up a mountain, near Santiago, to houngan Pablo’s party for the gods. He lives in a place called Pilon del Cauto, near the river Cauto, about two or three (depending on road conditions) hours from Santiago, accessible by jeep, truck, or legs.

Guests arrived, some carrying a borrowed mattress to spend the night…

Pablo has a tonnel or space for ceremonies and parties. He has rented a sound system, and folks dance. Also there is much buying of goats: goat prices are based on weight. At the designated space, there is a  “mangemort” or altar table for the dead and another table for the “mangebla” or “mesa blanca” (called a manje blan in Haiti), with cakes and treats for the “sweet” spirits.

The white goat for the “mesa blanca” ceremony is consecrated with perfume and herbs. Tato and Pablo supervise the consecration of the fowl. Tato sprinkles the birds with a mix or holy water, perfume, herbs…

Houngan Pablo Milanes, mounted by the spirit Gran Bwa, sacrifices the goat. His son, behind, helps hold the animal steady. Gran Bwa then blesses congregants, while he is sitting on the body of the goat. He then dances the merenge with one of his assistants… Finally the goat is butchered and the meat readied for a night time feast…

NOTE on the usage of the term VODÚ: In the Cuban context the correct spelling for this religious practice is “vodú.”  (The Dominican spelling is often Vudu, in scholarly books in English it is Vodou. In French is Vaudoux. When writing about folk religion in the U.S. South, scholars sometimes term it “hoodoo.” Voodoo is an outdated and pejorative way to refer to Haitian spirituality.

Haitian Heritage Festival in Primero de Enero (Ciego de Avila)

By Grete Viddal, Cuba Haiti, Tales from the field 2 Comments »

This festival took place last weekend (March 27-28, 2010). The following images document a “vodu” ceremony that was performed within the festival context. (Text and photographs by Grete Viddal)

Cuban houngan Tomas Pol was soon mounted by “Towo” the spirit of the bull. However, Towo receives the sacrifice of a pig. In Cuba it is illegal, and too costly, to kill a bull, as would be traditional in Haiti…

The drummers Leonardo “Lionel” Martinez and his son accompany the ceremony. They are from Caidije in Camaguey province. Lionel has been to Haiti three times!

Everyone present lights a candle which is left at the altar, along with rum, plantains, an egg, water, sweet bread, root vegetables…

Subsequently Towo rides the verraco or uncut male pig, which will be later killed and prepared under the supervision of Hatian-born Benecio (with the hat, bottom picture)


Cuba Haiti: Musical Dialogues (III). Bonito Patuá

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Grete Viddal, Cuba Haiti, Tales from the field 1 Comment »

Bonito Patuá is a folkloric ensemble devoted to the performance of Hatian traditional dances. The group was founded in 1960, it is currently based in Camagüey, and has twenty-five members. You can see a video recording of a street performance of theirs during last year’s Festival del Caribe, in Santiago, HERE. Grete Viddal photographed them last weekend (March 27-28, 2010) during the Haitian Heritage Festival held in the town of Primero de Enero, in Ciego de Avila province.


all pics © by Grete Viddal

España and Coppelia: Santiago’s Hot Spots

By Grete Viddal, Tales from the field 19 Comments »

(Coppelia Line, Photo by GV, 2010)

Valentine¹s Day in Santiago de Cuba

Its a breezy Sunday, less hot than usual, so I decide to go for a walk. Heading down Avenida Garzon I see lines snaking down sidewalks. All are clustered in front all the new moneda nacional restaurants. There is a new head of the communist party in the province of Santiago: Lazaro Ésposito, and changes are afoot. Ésposito was brought in from a successful stint in nearby Bayamo province to modernize Santiago, a city known for its juicy music, traditional neighborhood carnival associations, old-style Caribbean red-tiled-roof architecture, and antiquated water mains, lousy municipal services, food shortages, annoying power outages, and provincial backwater status. Starting in September, he presided over the opening of a series of new restaurants, cafeterias, and food vending carts. All sell in moneda nacional, the Cuban peso. Valentine¹s Day gave folks an reason to try the new restaurants, and long lines ensued. I squeezed thru crowds and peeked into several of the gleaming new establishments. White tablecloths, real china, nice plastic flower centerpieces. All this and a fish dinner for only 25 pesos (a little more than one US dollar)? Wow, Santiago is on the up and up! Families and couples line the sidewalks as moms, wives, and girlfriends are feted on this special day of San Valentin. Ambulatory sellers of fabric roses encased in plastic bubbles and little heart pins and teddy bear key chains are doing brisk business. Everybody is dressed up. Ironed and pressed. The women navigate broken pavement in high heels, waving fingers with mini-rhinestone manicures. Cologne and hair oil wafts from the men. Many are wearing yellow and white, not the pink or red we might think of as “valentine colors” in the US. Two couples in line have even pattern-coordinated their outfits. One woman has a white top and bright yellow jeans, her friend white capri pants and a yellow blouse. Their men also sport the yellow & white theme. In the Afro-Cuban religion Santería (also called Regla de Ocha), the divinity of love, river waters, honey, romance and flirtation is named Oshun and her color is yellow or gold. Maybe in Cuba, Valentine¹s Day is more yellow than pink due to the influence of the African gods.

One of the new restaurants, named España, has an especially long line and a few women in very high heels are actually sitting on the curb in front. Cubans almost never do this. The curb, the gutter, sidewalks, streets, and floors in general are considered “dirty.” Parks and plazas have benches. If they are full, people stand. Children are admonished not to run barefoot. Rarely do folks flop on lawns or plant their behinds on a curb. The beach is about the only place where you¹ll see anything other than the soles of Cuban¹s shoes in contact with the ground. Cubans are used to waiting in lines. For the bus. For bread. At the bank. To see the municipal coordinator of such-and-such. On this Sunday coinciding with the day of San Valentin, I calculate the waitlist to get a table at España must be more than an hour to force the ladies to desperate measures – sitting on the curb in their stepping-out attire. One fellow has actually made his lady a little temporary stool out of three empty rum bottles and a stout piece of cardboard. Valentine’s was made for Cuban caballerosidad, no?

(España Restaurant, photo by GV, 2010)

Tales from “the field.” Going to the Gym in Santiago de Cuba

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, By Grete Viddal, Tales from the field No Comments »

With this post we inaugurate a new section in EthnoCuba, devoted to notes, pics and reports from that place we pompously call “the field”. I wanted to translate it into Spanish, but it sounds a  bit insulting if we are not talking about “el campo – campo” or “el puro campo”. Anything less than that should not be called “el campo”.  For now, we’ll leave it in English.

This post also -and hopefully- inaugurates the periodical contribution to this young blog of our colleague Grete Viddal, PhD candidate at Harvard University’s Department of African and African-American Studies (MA in anthropology), currently in Santiago.

Grete just joined a private gym, popular with the well-to-do local population. She reports that the gym is reasonably priced, (by Cuban standards), although “not cheap-cheap:” While a drop-in class there costs 5 pesos, it costs only 1 at the two state-run gyms located downtown. However the latter are not so well furnished.  This private gym also offers a monthly membership, which gives daily access to the weight machines (all hand made) as well as to aerobic classes.

I nagged Grete to get some pictures to share with us. See images below  (all pictures by Grete Viddal).

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By contrast, check out the image of laziness that a 1968 pamphlet printed in Santiago de Cuba, called El Anti-Lumpen, offered of its inhabitants. Today, in El Archivo de Connie.

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