How diasporic religious communities remember: Learning to speak the “tongue of the oricha” in Cuban Santería

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Abstract

In this article, I probe the relationship between historical consciousness and cultural transmission. In contrast to scholars' focus on language loss in African-language ritual registers in the Americas, I examine how Cuban Santería's ritual register, called “Lucumí,” is actively regimented through the ways in which Santería's practitioners learn, use, and interpret it. I discuss two specific interpretive strategies that santeros use: The “etymological approach” is a focus on studying and recovering fixed “original” Yoruba meanings, whereas the “divining-meaning” approach is a more charismatic, contextual, and performance-based focus on revealing deep and hidden meanings in Lucumí texts.

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