VERSIONS OF THE DEAD: Kalunga, Cuban-Kongo Materiality, and Ethnography



The Cuban-Kongo society of affliction known as Palo educates its initiates in the visceral apprehension of Kalunga, the vast sea of the dead. Kalunga is taught as unstable and unverifiable experience at the limits of sensation—chills, goose bumps, or a fluttering in the chest or stomach. Building on an account of this teaching from fieldwork, I draw from anthropology and philosophy to account for Kalunga's role in Palo materialism. In this article, I elaborate a writing strategy explicitly critical of “representation” and suggest the creation of a “foreign language within our own” as a way of handling ethnographic “content.” This “new language” for Kalunga is assembled from Palo terms, and from the turning of terms in the writing of Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, G. W. F. Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Karl Marx. I arrive at a description of Kalunga as a paratactic discourse, and a “plane of immanence,” from which are assembled, and into which are dispersed, “versions of the dead,” including “objects,” and “subjects.”