Memories of slavery and ritual performance: reflections on Palo Monte Mayombe in contemporary Cuba
Adelheid Pichler (Academy of Sciences)
Paper short abstract:
The paper focuses on cultural memory of the traumatic experience of enslavement, which has been retained in religious communities in Cuba. The material culture of the Paleros Mayomberos, and the ritual use they make of it, is a kind of memory archive of slavery.
Paper long abstract:
The focus of my research in Havana and in the adjacent plantation zone in Cuba (Matanzas) has been the cultural memory of the traumatic experience of enslavement which has been retained in religious communities with African background. In this paper I refer to my fieldwork with Cuban practitioners of the African-derived religious group known as the Regla de Palo Monte Mayombe, discuss the significance of its Kongo-derived iconography, and show how this symbolic system and its expression in ritual performance is a representation of historical experience. Although hardly anyone speaks about slavery in an explicit way, the experience of slave society has been embedded in the elaborate ritual work of paleros mayomberos. Their material culture, and the ritual use they make of it, is a kind of memory archive of slavery. The organization of the community itself recapitulates aspects of the slave gang, and the densely metaphoric texts of its ritual language, "Congo," make constant reference to the world of the plantation. Biography: Adelheid Pichler has studied Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Vienna. Since 1996 she has done long-term fieldwork in Cuba. Since 2002 she has worked as an Associate Researcher at the Commission for Social Anthropology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Her ongoing research project on "Perceptions of Space and Time in Afro-Cuban Ritual Performance" has been financed by the Austrian Research Fund for Scientific Research (FWF-Austrian Research Fund).