Spirits, Spies and Lies in Havana: Unwitting and Paranoid Entanglements Between Ethnographer and Field
In this article I argue that caution, suspicion and even paranoia are natural outcomes, as well as processes generative, of the behaviour of knowledge and of knowing in the Cuban religious cosmos, and beyond it. â€œKnowersâ€, here, may be variably absent, invisible, or immanent in the social plane, which implies necessary, if temporary, vacuums of knowledge and of certainty. I start with an anecdote from my fieldwork in Havana, Cuba, among spirit mediums, of being accused by one of my interlocutors of being a spy for the Cuban government. I then reason that this paranoid â€œintrusionâ€ into my self-definition was less a case of what went wrong but of what went right. Spirits of the dead are master instigators of both relations and fracturing suspicion between people, and the economy of Afro-Cuban religious knowledge is one with many absences and invisibilities, generating pervasive doubt and spiritual insecurity. In order to come to grips with this distressing accusation I had to reflexively reconstitute my own forms of extreme proximity with practitioners and their muertos (spirits), the ontological uncertainties that were implied by this proximity, and the role of non-living entities in the equations of everyday life, including mine.
Argyriadis, K. 2008. Â´Speculators and Santuristas: The Development of Afro-Cuban Cultural Tourism and the Accusation of Religious CommercialismÂ´. Tourist Studies 8 (2): 249-265.
Barth, F. 1987. Cosmologies in the making, a generative approach to cultural variation in inner New Guinea. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Barth, F. 1990. Â´The Guru and the Conjurer: Transactions in Knowledge and the Shaping of
Culture in Southeast Asia and MelanesiaÂ´. Man 25 (4): 640-653.
Bell, C. M. 2002. Â´Â´The Chinese believe in spiritsÂ´: belief and believing in the study of religionÂ´. In N. Frankenberry ed. Radical Interpretation in Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 100-116.
Blanes, R. and D. Espirito Santo, eds. 2014. The Social Life of Spirits. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Boeck, F. de. 2009. Â´At risk, as risk: abandonment and care in a world of spiritual insecurityÂ´. In J. La Fontein, ed. The Devil's Children. From Spirit Possession to Witchcraft: New Allegations that Affect Children. London: Ashgate, pp. 129-150.
BolÃvar, N. 1990. Los Orichas en Cuba. Havana: Ediciones Union.
Bonhomme, J. 2012. Â´The dangers of anonymity: witchcraft, rumor, and modernity in AfricaÂ´. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2 (2): 205-233.
Brown, D. H., 2003. Santeria Enthroned, Art, Ritual, and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Bubandt, N. 2009. Â´Interview with an ancestor: Spirits as informants and the politics of possession in North MalukuÂ´. Ethnography 10: 291-316.
Comaroff, J. and J. L. Comaroff, eds. 1993. Modernity and its malcontents: Ritual and power in postcolonial Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Dilley, R. 2010. Â´Reflections on knowledge practices and the problem of ignoranceÂ´. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16 (1): 176-192.
Eckstein, S. 2003 (1994). Back from the Future: Cuba Under Castro. New York: Routledge
Espirito Santo, D. 2015a. Developing the Dead: Mediumship and Selfhood in Cuban Espiritismo. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Espirito Santo, D. 2015b. Â´Liquid sight, thing-like words, and the precipitation of knowledge substances in Cuban espiritismoÂ´. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (3): 579-596.
Espirito Santo, D. 2011. Â´Parcialidade e materialidade: a destribuiÃ§Ã£o do ser e do saber no espiritismo cubanoÂ´. In O. Gomes da Cunha, ed. Outras Ilhas: EspÃ¡Ã§os, Temporalidades e TransformaÃ§Ãµes em Cuba. Rio de Janeiro: Brazil, Pp. 493-554.
Fabian, J. 2001. Anthropology with an Attitude: Critical Essays. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Favret-Saada, J. 2012. Â´Death at your heels: when ethnographic writing propagates the force of witchcraftÂ´. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (1): 45-53.
Favret-Saada, J. 1980. Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Geschiere, P. 1997. The modernity of witchcraft: Politics and the occult in post-colonial Africa. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
Goldman, M. 2007. Â´How to Learn in an Afro-Brazilian Spirit Possession Religion, Ontology and Multiplicity in CandombleÂ´. In D. Berliner and R. SarrÃ³, eds. Learning Religion: Anthropological Approaches. London, NY: Berghahn, pp. 103-119.
Hagedorn, K. J., 2001. Divine Utterances: the Performance of Afro-Cuban Santeria. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Hastrup, K. 1995. A Passage to Anthropology: Between Experience and Theory. London: Routledge.
Holbraad, M. 2013. Â´RevoluciÃ³n o muerte: Self-sacrifice and the ontology of Cuban RevolutionÂ´. Ethnos 79 (3): 365-387.
Kalir, B. 2006. Â´The field of work and the work of the field: conceptualising an anthropological research engagementÂ´. Social Anthropology 14 (2): 235-246.
Kapcia, A. 2000. Cuba, Island of Dreams. London: Berg.
Keesing, R. M. 1987. Â´Anthropology as Interpretive QuestÂ´. Current Anthropology, 28 (2): 161-176.
Kohn, E. 2007. Â´How dogs dream: Amazonian natures and the politics of transspecies engagementÂ´. American Ethnologist 34 (1): 3-24.
LachataÃ±arÃ©, R. 2001. El Sistema Religioso de los Afrocubanos. Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Latour, B. 2005. Resassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Maitland Dean, D. 1993. Dreaming the Dead: The Social Impact of Dreams in an Afro-Cuban Community. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Minnesota.
PalmiÃ©, S. 2006. Â´Thinking with Ngangas: Reflections on Embodiment and the Limits of â€œObjectively Necessary Appearances.â€ Comparative Studies in History and Society 48: 852-86.
PalmiÃ©, S. 2002. Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition. Durham: Duke University Press.
Rosendahl, M. 1997. Inside the Revolution, Everyday Life in Socialist Cuba. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Routon, K. 2010. Hidden Powers of the State in the Cuban Imagination. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Silva, S. 2015. Â´Political Evil: Witchcraft from the Perspective of the BewitchedÂ´. In W. C. Olsen and W. E. A. van Beek, eds. Evil in Africa: Encounters with the Everyday. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 29-42.
Simpson, B. 1999. Â´Possession, Dispossession and the Social Distribution of Knowledge Among Sri Lankan Ritual SpecialistsÂ´. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 3(1): 43-59.
Stewart, P. J., and A. Strathern. 2004. Witchcraft, Sorcery, Rumors and Gossip. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Turner, Edith. 2016. â€œPostscript: Anthropologists and healers â€“ radical empiricistsâ€, Social Analysis 60 (1): 129-139.
Viveiros de Castro, E. 2003. Â´And. Manchester Papers in Social Anthropology.
Wedel, J. 2004. SanterÃa Healing, A Journey into the Afro-Cuban World of Divinities, Spirits, and Sorcery. Gainesville: University of Florida Press.
The Journal for the Study of Religious Experience is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal. All journal content, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under theÂ Creative CommonsÂ Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 InternationalÂ License.
The copyright for articles published in this journal is retained by the authors and the Journal for the Study of Religious Experience. Â Authors would need to request the reuse of the article in case they want to publish it elsewhere and they should acknowledge the initial publication in JSRE.
Authors are permitted and encouraged to post online (e.g., in institutional repositories or on their website) a link to the Journalâ€™s website where the article may be downloaded for free.
Authors are responsible for ensuring copyright clearance for any images, tables, etc. which are supplied from an outside source.