About the Book
Afro-Cuban religiosity is likely to bring to mind beliefs and practices with a visibly 'African' flavour - music, dance, spirit possession, sacrifices and ritual language that have undergone a transformation, on Cuban soil, under a strong Spanish and Catholic influence. Much anthropological work has analysed Afro-Cuban religion's 'syncretic' character in the light of these European influences, taking as a given that each tradition is relatively independent, and focusing on well-documented origins in specific socio-historical environments. In this context, understandings of religious innovation based on charismatic leaders have resulted in a top down approach. However, this volume argues that there are alternatives to cult-centred accounts, by looking at the relationships between Afro-Cuban traditions, and indeed going beyond 'traditions' to place the focus on creativity as an embedded logic in everyday religious practice. From this forward-looking perspective, ritual engagement is no longer a means of recreating pre-existing universes but rather of generating, as well as participating in, an ever-emerging cosmos. Traditions are not perceived as given doctrines or mental constructs but as perceptual habits and potencies beyond questions of spirit or matter, mind or body. Offering a fresh, improvisatory ethnographic vision, this book recasts the Afro-Cuban religious complex in the terms of the experts and adepts who creatively sustain it and responds to the significant fact, often overlooked or ignored, that many Cubans engage with more than one tradition without any sense of conflict. Amidst the cacophony of calls to 'creativity' and 'innovation' as cultural commodities, here's a remarkable collection about the power of creation as a condition of human existence, rather than just its outcome. If you want to see what the world might be like without the very distinction between creator and creation - or, for that matter, between human beings and the worlds they inhabit - then look at Afro-Cuban religious traditions, the editors tell us. The sheer vivacity of the material is astounding, and suggests altogether new ways to think about not just the classic concerns of Caribbean anthropology with syncretism and cultural borrowings, but also basic categories of anthropological thinking such as ritual, technology, myth and cosmology. Martin Holbraad, Professor of Social Anthropology, University College London Beyond Tradition, Beyond Invention shows how far scholarship has transcended the verificationist searches for origins, reification of traditions as bounded entities, and sterile quests for typological coherence that, for too long, dominated the anthropology of Afro-Caribbean ritual praxis. The contributions not only vividly exemplify how mechanistic conceptions of tradition and cultural change, or pseudo-problems such as syncretism, can be overcome by ethnographic means. They also point towards novel theories of the ever emergent, hence thoroughly historical, nature of worlds shared by humans, deities, and spirits. This book ought to inspire all anthropologists working on complex and 'inventive' ritual traditions. Stephan Palmie, Professor of Anthropology, The University of Chicago"