chapter  4
34 Pages

Against syncretism

'Africanizing' and 'Cubanizing' discourses in North American òrìsà worship
WithStephan Palmié

This chapter examines some consequences of the instrumentalization, by religious practitioners, of notions about 'syncretism' for the purpose of launching contrasting images of what the religions they profess are 'all about'. No less than anthropologists, Santeros depend on post-hoc rationalizations to account for the emergence of what outsiders have labelled 'syncretistic' forms. The process of syncretism that gave birth to the oricha/santo was the result of the associations and projections that the slave and his descendants found between the saint that his master wanted him to worship and the divinities that he and his ancestors had worshipped all their lives. If preempting academic 'outsider representations' of regla ocha as a syncretistic religion has become a cottage industry of sorts, another stream of discourse targets those who would accuse Santeros of having 'Cubanized', 'Americanized', 'whitened' or adulterated the 'true' African religion. For the American Yoruba, the Cubans hold a key to a past that North American blacks seem to have lost.