The UCLA International Institute reports of a symposium held last month on Folklore and the Politics of Belief in the Caribbean that explored “the transmission of African culture in the region and the way this hybrid culture was viewed by observers and researchers from abroad.” Sponsored by the UCLA Latin American Institute and the Mellon Seminar on Caribbean Cultural History and organized by Robin Derby, associate professor of history, the symposium brought a multidisciplinary lens to bear on a variety of aspects of belief in the region, from Obeah, to Vodou, to revenants, and brujería. The conference represented an up-to-date look at the state of scholarship on issues that remain misunderstood and often vilified in Caribbean cultures. The symposium was organized under the auspices of the Mellon Seminar on Caribbean Cultural History and the UCLA Latin American Institute (LAI), an interdisciplinary association of scholars from various Californian institutions.
Participants included Lara Putnam of the University of Pittsburgh, who spoke about Obeah practices in Jamaica between 1890 and 1940 and how “some white observers seized on obeah, voodoo and brujería as evidence of black peoples’ ‘barbarism’ and inability to govern themselves.” UCLA lecturer Patrick Polk spoke on the phenomenon of revenants in Haiti. Gage Averill of the University of Toronto discussed the fascinating intellectual formation of Alan Lomax, one of the greatest proponents of world folk music and research in Haiti in 1936 and 1937. Kevin Yelvington, an anthropologist from the University of Florida, looked at Melville Herskovits’ reactions to the work of his teacher Franz Boas. “Herskovits was the first to claim that the new cultures of the Caribbean, formed from European immigration and slavery rather than Amerindian groups, were actually worthy of study,” added Derby.
For a more complete report by Kathleen Micham go to http://www.international.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=109254