Unit 4 Assignment and Writing Response

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A. Unit 4 – African Diaspora Concept: W.E.B. Du Bois’ idea that the preacher is “the most unique personality
developed by the Negro on American soil,” a man who “found his function as the healer of the sick, the
interpreter of the Unknown, the comforter of the sorrowing, the supernatural avenger of wrong, and the
one who rudely but picturesquely expressed the longing, disappointment, and resentment of a stolen and
oppressed people.”
B. This concept is referenced from PBS, The Black Church article, by Marilyn
Mellowes: http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/black-church/.
C. Du Bois’ recognized the powerful voice of the preacher to inspire people to serve one another and to fight
against the extremes of social inequality. Whether manifest from the perspective of Frederick Douglas
(Methodist) who came before Du Bois’ writing or Martin Luther King Jr. (Baptist) and Malcolm X (Muslim)
who came after, the power of their speaking out was self-evident. People could identify with religious ideas
and stories, such as the Exodus or even Yakub’s history, as fuel to change their circumstances.
D. Malcolm Little was inspired by the Nation of Islam’s preacher, John Bembry, and his teaching that white
people had been poisoning him with their drugs, women, pork, and biased teaching. John’s teaching, being
influenced by another preacher, Elijah Muhammad, also taught that God was in fact “black,” the black man’s
nature was righteousness, and all white men are devils. In believing how each “poison” has adversely affected
his life and inspired by a kind of black superiority, Malcolm committed to change himself, to convert to the
Nation of Islam and to advance the preacher’s cause. With fuel like it throughout the remainder of his life,
Malcolm X powerfully goes on changing himself and then preaching what he believed. Even many that
despised his black supremacy teaching, such as Martin Luther King Jr., still recognized his voice as one that,
ultimately, served the cause of civil rights for all.
Writing Assignment Rubric – REL 321
Points per assignment: 50
Post in: Discussion Board
Please only submit your Writing Assignment in your designated group organized by the
first letter of your last name. You will see this in Blackboard. Submissions outside of
your designated group will not be accepted.
Please choose one concept from the required readings for this unit to write about.
Then, complete the following, designating each section with its corresponding letter.
(Failure to follow this structure, including letter designation, will
automatically result in a loss of 25 points)
A. Name the concept you have chosen. (If the concept does not have a set name,
do your best. This is a reference point for my grading).
B. State where you found the concept, including the author’s last name and page
number. (If the author is a website, list the website. If the reading has no
page number, leave that part blank).
C. In 1 to 3 sentences, explain the concept in your own words.
D. In 100-150 words, detail how that concept applies to this week’s film. Make
sure you use evidence from the film.
Remember, failure to follow the required structure, including letter
designation, will automatically result in a loss of 25 points.
Refrain from making theological or personal-belief-based arguments. For
these assignments, I am not interested in whether you agree/disagree with the
religions we are discussing, but rather in your ability to apply the course concepts.
Use proper grammar and spelling in your writing. Failure to do so will result in a
loss of points. Take the time to edit your work before submitting.
Please stay within the required sentence and word ranges. Do not go under or
over. You will lose points.
I will be grading mostly on critical and creative thinking skills. A “B” grade answers
the question in an expansive, clear manner with only relevant information. An “A”
grade will display a further step in critical thinking and go beyond the obvious. Be
creative (in your thoughts, not your writing)! Be daring!
My grading will get stricter for each subsequent assignment (after you have
received feedback). You must incorporate my feedback. Failure to do so will
result in a severe loss of points.
Please let me know if you have any questions!
Writing Response Rubric – REL 321
Points per assignment: 10
Number of assignments: Choose three units out of the six to complete your responses. You
must post each response in a different unit.
Post in: Discussion Board as a reply to another student.
Please only reply to students in your designated group organized by the first letter of your last
name. You will see this in Blackboard. Replies outside of your designated group will not be
Please choose one student in your designated group who, in their Writing Assignment
submission, showed you something you hadn’t thought of before (do not choose a submission
that focuses on the same concept you did in your Writing Assignment). Then, complete the
following, designating each section with its corresponding letter. (Failure to follow this
structure, including letter designation, will automatically result in a “0”)
A. In 3-5 sentences, explain why you agree with the other student.
B. In 3-5 sentences, explain what other part of the film you think that concept can be applied
to. Again, this must be different from any reference made in the original submission.
Remember, failure to follow the required structure, including letter designation, will
automatically result in a “0.”
There will be no redoing a Written Response.
Your Writing Responses require a less formal form of writing than your Writing Assignments.
Simply follow the structure and adequately cover the required material to receive full points.
I still expect proper grammar and spelling.
I recommend reading several students’ submissions before picking one you feel most confident
replying to.
Please stay within the required sentence ranges. Do not go under or over. You will lose points.
When the Saints Go Riding in:
Santería in Cuba and the United States
This paper is a study of Santería, a religion that developed in Cuba from the sixteenth to the
nineteenth centuries as a syncretism of African religions, Roman Catholicism, and French spiritism. Still
an important religious influence in Cuba today, its beliefs and practices have diffused to many other countries including the United States.
The argument presented in the paper is that Santería can be understood as a “textual” rewriting
and rereading of the biographies, the histories, and the social contexts of its adherents. Using the oppositional, revisionary, and subversive hermeneutical principles inherited as part of their West African cultural heritage, the creators and followers of Santería developed their religion as a counterhegemonic challenge to the social, economic, and political order that controlled their lives.
In the “Black Americas” — from the Pacific lowlands of Colombia and Ecuador, to Brazil, to Haiti, Cuba
and Puerto Rico — illuminating ethnic power often arises in mythical and religious contexts, taking theform of two forces derived from African deities: Ogun is iron, Shango is fire.
Norman E. Whitten, Jr. and Arlene Torres (1992: 22)
Rewriting “paganism” is a particular mode of “signifyin(g)” in Africanist discourse. Like toasting, Santería,
and “mumbo jumbo” in the New World, it represents black discourse in relation to something else, as
marked oppositional, subversive, and powerful in its ability to restructure official, “white” discourse.
Andrew Apter (1992: 210)
Signifyin(g) revision is a rhetorical transfer t h a t . . . functions to redress an imbalance of power.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (1988:124)
L he question of the role of religion in the development and maintenance of culture and
social structure and its relationship to social change has had a long and controversial history in the social sciences. Proponents on the one side, following Karl Marx, have argued
that religion contributes to the development of false consciousness and to a spiritual and
otherworldly emphasis that results in a passive attitude toward existing social, economic,
and political realities and/or provides for an escape from them altogether. In the words of
Karl Marx, religion is the “opium of the people” (Marx and Engels 1964: 42). Proponents on
the other side have argued that religion makes positive contributions to cultural and socialstructural development and maintenance and that on many occasions religion provides a
counterhegemonic challenge and resistance to the existing social, economic, and political
order and functions as an important source of social change.
f Harry G. Lefever is a professor of sociology and anthropology at Spelman College, Atlanta, GA 30314;
fax (404) 215-7863.
© Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 1996, 35 (3): 318330
This paper addresses the question of the relationship of religion to cultural and socialstructural development, maintenance, and change by focusing on one particular religion:
Santería. Originating in Cuba, Santería developed out of the encounter of the religious
beliefs and practices of African slaves, the Roman Catholic Church, and French spiritism as
interpreted by Allan Kardec. What emerged from the encounter of these three traditions
was a new syncretized1 religion that was neither African, Roman Catholic nor spiritist but
which borrowed elements from all three.
Santería is still practiced by a large number of Cubans on the island today, as well as
by many who emigrated from Cuba. In the United States, Santería has taken root primarily
in Miami, Tampa, and New York City, but also in Newark, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Gary
(Indiana), Savannah (Georgia), several cities of California, and in other undocumented
urban locations.
The argument I develop in this paper is that Santería, both in Cuba and the United
States, can be understood as a “textual” revision, or re-vision, of the biographies, the histories, and the social contexts of the people who adhered to its beliefs and practices. The “text”
resulting from this reinterpretation, as is true of other parts of the black tradition, is
“double-voiced” (Gates 1988: xxv). It is important to understand this hermeneutical principle
of double-voiceness because it has been used by the adherents of Santería, along with others
in the black tradition, in their efforts to mount a counterhegemonic challenge to the existing
social, economic, and political order. However, before I present that argument, I will review
the history of Santeria’s development as well as discuss its major beliefs and practices.
In 1492, when Columbus “discovered* Cuba, the island was inhabited by between
100,000 and 200,000 Ciboney and Arawak “Indians.” However, within decades of the
Spaniards’ settlement of the island, the original inhabitants were nearly all decimated as
the result of disease, physical attacks, and cultural genocide. As a consequence, in order to
meet their labor needs, the Spaniards forcefully brought Africans as Indian replacements.
In 1511, less than two decades after the arrival of Columbus, the first Africans were
brought to Cuba as slaves from the island of Hispaniola (present-day Haiti and the
Dominican Republic). Ten years later, 1521, the first slaves were brought directly from
Africa, and, for the next 350 years, until the late 1870s, the slave trade continued. Slavery
was finally officially abolished in Cuba in 1886.
According to Curtin (1969: 88), out of the total of an estimated 10 million Africans
shipped to the New World as slaves, approximately 702,000 were sent to Cuba, a figure that
represents 7.3% of the total Atlantic slave trade. In comparison, only 427,000 slaves, or 4.5%
of the total, were brought to the United States (Curtin 1969: 88; Knight 1970).
As was true in all countries where the slaves were taken, the slave masters in Cuba
discouraged, and often prohibited, the practice of African religions. But traditional aspects
of culture, especially religion, are not easily destroyed. This was certainly true for Cuba,
where the slaves devised a means by which to keep their traditional religions alive.
Early on, the slaves became aware of the parallels that existed between their African
religions and the new religion of Catholicism they confronted. Both religions had high gods
who were perceived as creators and sustainers of the world. And both religions had a host of
intermediaries that stood between the high gods and the humans who worshiped them. The
Catholics had saints and the Africans had orishas. So, under the constraints of their oppression, the slaves began to fuse the intermediaries of the two religions and to identify a
specific orisha with a corresponding specific saint. Out of this syncretism there developed a
highly complex form of religion known as Santería, or the way of the saints.
Although the first slaves arrived in Cuba as early as the sixteenth century, it was the
slaves brought to Cuba in the nineteenth century, especially the Yoruba from southwestern
Nigeria and, to a lesser extent, the Bantu from the Congo, who were the major carriers of
the African religious beliefs and practices that contributed to the development of Santería.
In addition to the Yoruban and Roman Catholic roots of Santería, there was a third
root, French spiritism, which developed in France in the 1850s under the leadership of Allan
Kardec (1804-1869) (born as Hypolite Leon Denizard Rivail). According to Kardec, spirits
exist in a hierarchy and are constantly seeking light (enlightenment) from the moment they
cease being material. Through the action of a medium, a spirit can be given light, and once
invoked and enlightened the spirit can ascend to the next spiritual level (Perez y Mena
1991: 40).
Kardec’s books were translated from French to other languages, including Spanish
and Portuguese, and by the 1890s, in spite of strong prohibitions from the Roman Catholic
church, his ideas began to have an impact on Latin American religious thought and practice,
especially in Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, and Puerto Rico (where it is known as Espiritismo). In
Cuba, spiritism became melded with the existing beliefs and practices of Santería and in the
process Santería became a new syncretized religion.
Orishas and Saints
The Yoruba in Africa from which the slaves were taken were a very religious people.
They believed in a high god, Olodumare, who ruled in supreme fashion, but they believed
that he was far removed from everyday human affairs. Contact with the supernatural world
was important, but since the high god was so transcendent, such contact could be made only
with the aid of divine intermediaries. These intermediaries, known as orishas, became
central in Yoruba religion.
In traditional Yoruba religion the estimates of the number of orishas range from 400
to 1700 (Bascom 1969: 77; Murphy 1988: 12). However, in Cuba today, only sixteen major
orishas are recognized and, even then, some more than others. Table 1 (adapted from
Murphy 1988: 42-^43) lists the major orishas recognized in Cuba along with the corresponding Catholic saint and principle.
Ibeji (twins)
Nino de Atocha,
Anthony of Padua
Cosmus and Damien
way-opener, messenger,
wisdom, destiny
hunt, protection
eros, rivers
force, thunder
maternity, seas
As in other religions, the ritualistic practices within Santería exhibit variability.
Different historical and geographical experiences have given rise to different emphases and
rules of ritual organization. However, a common set of rituals and a core of shared meanings
concerning their importance can be identified.
Divination. A basic Santería ritual is divination. At the ontological level divination is
an expression of the power of ashe (the life force of God), and at the practical level divination
is utilized to deal with everyday problems. The adherents of Santería, some of whom are
poor and lack money to pay physicians or counselors, others who are middle class, go to the
santeros (priests) or the babalawo (high priest) to get advice and to seek solutions for their
problems of health, money, work, friendship, or love.
Various methods of divination are used. In Africa, among the Yoruba, the most common forms involve the manipulation of palm nuts, cowrie shells or kola nut valves. In Cuba,
coconuts and seashells are utilized. Another form, available only to babalawos (all men), is a
necklace about 50 inches long and broken at regular intervals with a mixture of concave and
convex tortoise shell disks, or a chain of concave and convex oval-shaped tin pieces. When
the necklace or chain is thrown, the pieces fall either up or down, and are read as one would
read “heads” or “tails” from the toss of a coin. The number of possible permutations
resulting from the casting of a 16-unit, 2-part divination necklace is 256 (Murphy 1988: 64).
Each permutation is associated with a set of verses. This means that each babalawo
must memorize thousands of verses, and hundreds of prayers, songs, and praise names of
the orishas (Murphy 1988: 62). In addition, the babalawos must know the appropriate myth
or folktale associated with each verse as well as a suitable prescription for the client’s
problem (Bascom 1952: 174; 1980).
Sacrifices and Offering. In divination, the orishas reveal themselves to human beings,
diagnosing their needs and providing solutions to their problems. In sacrifices and offerings,
humans respond, expressing gratitude and praise and imploring that the orishas continue
their efficacious work.
Specific food offerings are recognized as appropriate for each orisha. For example, for
Eleggua one would offer a white chicken, a rooster, an opossum, or rum; for Obatala, a
female goat or pigeons; for Ogun, male roosters or dogs; for Oshun, a female white hen, goat,
or sheep; for Shango, a male rooster, sheep, goat, pig, or bull; and for Yemaya, a duck,
turtle, or goat.
The food offerings are eaten by the participants but only after the orishas have consumed the invisible ashe of the sacrifices. The blood of the animals, in turn, is sprinkled or
poured on the sacred stones, which are recognized as the “heads” of the orishas, or, when
used in the initiation rites of new adherents, directly upon the heads of the initiates.
Whether vegetable or animal offering, what is important is the reciprocal nature of
the offering — the orishas are fed and, in return, the devotees share in the orishas’ ashe.
Drum and Dance Festivals. The drum and dance festivals in Santería are known as
bembe. These festivals are held in the basements, open patios, or living quarters of the
santero or Santera’s house. The purpose of the bembe is to honor the orishas by playing specific drum rhythms, performing specific dance postures, and acting out in pantomime the
behavior of the orishas. Not all the orishas are honored at each bembe; only those important
in the lives of the participants.
A specific drum rhythm and dance posture is associated with each orisha. For example, the dances for Ogun, the orisha of iron, pantomime the use of shovels, machetes, picks,
hammers, chains, keys, etc. The dances for Ochosi, the orisha of the hunt, include the …
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