Yoruba Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism
Exploring the Yoruba tradition in the United States, Hucks begins with the story of Nana Oseijeman Adefunmi’s personal search for identity and meaning as a young man in Detroit in the 1930s and 1940s. She traces his development as an artist, religious leader, and founder of several African-influenced religio-cultural projects in Harlem and later in the South. Adefunmi was part of a generation of young migrants attracted to the bohemian lifestyle of New York City and the black nationalist fervor of Harlem. Cofounding Shango Temple in 1959, Yoruba Temple in 1960, and Oyotunji African Village in 1970, Adefunmi and other African Americans in that period renamed themselves “Yorubas” and engaged in the task of transforming Cuban Santería into a new religious expression that satisfied their racial and nationalist leanings and eventually helped to place African Americans on a global religious schema alongside other Yoruba practitioners in Africa and the diaspora.
Alongside the story of Adefunmi, Hucks weaves historical and sociological analyses of the relationship between black cultural nationalism and reinterpretations of the meaning of Africa from within the African American community.
Published by: University of New Mexico Press
Series: Religions of the Americas Series
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THIS TEXT CONTAINS two interrelated and overlapping travel narratives. One of the narratives is in the form of a travel in time—the history of ideas, meanings, symbols, and images of Africa in African American culture; this narrative contextualizes the second one. The second narrative tells the story of a young African American male from Detroit, Walter Eugene King, and his journey from Detroit through a variety...
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IN OYOTUNJI AFRICAN VILLAGE, nestled off the coast of South Carolina’s Lowcountry, Her Royal Grace Iyashanla beckoned me to wait as she performed a ritual divination in search of a “new name.” Revealed for me was the Yoruba name Ifasanu—“Ifa Has Mercy.”1 After more than a decade of archival and ethnographic research (1994–2009); thousands of miles of travel throughout the United States, Nigeria, and Cuba; steadfast ...
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I BEGIN BY ACKNOWLEDGING my paternal great-grandparents, Jacob Octavius Dozier and Lelia Dozier, and my maternal grandparents, Bertha Bond and John Henry Leary. Jacob Octavius Dozier was born in 1852 in Virginia among the community of the enslaved. Following emancipation, he learned to read and write and dedicated his life to the education of Virginia’s African American population. After the Ku Klux Klan twice tried unsuccessfully to end his life in ...
The Harlem Window: An Introduction
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ON A COLD WINTER evening in the early 1970s, my uncle Johnny “Spip” Speller accompanied my cousin Debbie, my sister Terri, and me to the place where the sacred had allegedly manifested itself to the people of Harlem through a cross of light.1 We arrived at an old Harlem brownstone and proceeded on our journey up several flights of stairs. As we reached the final landing, we entered a crowded apartment filled with numerous African Americans forming a single queue leading to a room at ...
PART ONE: The Harlem Years
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1: “We Have as Much Right . . . to Believe that God Is a Negro”: Religious Nationalism and the Rehumanization of Blackness
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DESCRIBED AS THE “vociferous and controversial bishop” of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Henry McNeal Turner asked on February 1, 1898, “Why should not the Negro believe that he resembles God as much as other people?”1 In the late nineteenth century, Turner believed that African Americans had “as much right . . . to believe that God is a Negro” as “buckra or white people have to believe that God is ...
2: “Here I Is Where I Has Longed to Be”: Racial Agency, Urban Religion, and the Early Years of Walter Eugene King
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“Who is the African god? That’s what I want to know,” inquired Walter King of his mother at the young age of fifteen in Detroit, Michigan, in 1943. 1 With Africa at the center of his query, King’s mother was unaware that decades later this question would be the raison d’être for her son’s renaming himself Efuntola Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I, situating himself at a pivotal intersection between religion and black nationalism in ...
3: Harlem Yoruba, Orisha-Vodu, and the Making of “New Oyo”
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“It was oliana that first introduced me distinctly and definitely to Yoruba religion,” reflected Adefunmi. Before meeting Christopher Oliana in 1959, Adefunmi’s ritual and ceremonial practices represented an eclectic sampling of African cultural and religious customs derived through texts, travels, and the Order of Damballah Hwedo. After encountering Oliana and Cuban Santería, Adefunmi refashioned his cultural and religious practices based on his new understandings of Africa. The resulting ...
4: “Indigenous Literacies” and the African Library Series: A Textual Approach to History, Nation, and Tradition
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Religious nationalism in many ways “represents the return to text” and a “renarrativization of the nation.”1 Texts within this milieu become authoritative sources of “timeless truths” that provide “a basis for the narration of contemporary history.”2 In this chapter, I engage what David D. Hall calls “the politics of texts” and how text making became an important way of renarrativizing African American primordialism and its global citizenry.3 Within the context of 1960s African American Yoruba, ...
5: “This Religion Comes from Cuba!”: Race, Religion, and Contested Geographies
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As late as the mid-1990s, words still echoed in Oseijeman Adefunmi’s head that were spoken to him some thirty years ago at a bembe drum ceremony. He and another African American devotee found themselves in conversation with a Cuban santera regarding the origins of the tradition Adefunmi called Yoruba. Adorned in a dashiki (an African-patterned multicolored shirt commonly worn in the 1960s), Adefunmi was approached by the Cuban santera, who inquired, “Why are you dressed like that?” ...
PART TWO: African American Yoruba Since 1970
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6: Oyotunji African Village: A Diaspora Experiment in African Nationhood
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Oyotunji african village is a twenty-seven-acre diaspora interpretation of Africa in North America. The physical road to Oyotunji leads travelers down 95 South from Charleston to local Highway 17, running through South Carolina’s scenic low country. From the town of Sheldon, South Carolina, a narrow dirt road twists and turns to the entrance of Oyotunji. Wooden signs nailed to trees along the road indicate to first-time visitors that they are drawing nearer to America’s African Village. At ...
7: “That’s Alright . . . I’m a Yoruba Baptist”: Negotiating Religious Plurality and “Theological Openness” in African American Yoruba Practice
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In the sacred oracular literature of Ifa, the thirteenth Odu, Otura Meji, recounts the story of Orunmila, the Yoruba god of knowledge, wisdom, divination, and destiny, who consented to his children’s practice of an auxiliary religious faith.1 Within the narration of the Odu, as trained philosopher and babalawo Kola Abimbola translated it, Orunmila teaches his children “how to divine with the sacred palmnuts,” “how to print the signatures of each Odu onto sand,” and “how to prescribe ...
8: “Afrikan Americans in the U.S.A. Bring Something Different to Ifa”: Indigenizing Yoruba Religious Cultures
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Beginning in the late 1950s and onto the twenty-first century, African Americans have carved out their own distinct interpretations of the Yoruba world. The North American social context has yielded a surplus of new meanings for African Americans who “keep a-addin’ to” the global Yoruba tradition. As historian Kim D. Butler observes, “Each diaspora has unique historical circumstances,” and its “choices of identity.”1 Although specific ethnic communities might try to confer strictures of orthodoxy and orthopraxy upon the orisa, it is their sinuous ...
Conclusion: “What We’re Looking for in Africa Is Already Here”: A Conclusion for the Twenty-first Century
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African American Yoruba did not physically return to the Old World of Africa but instead engaged in a “reinterrogation of the meaning of that Old World from the point of view of the New World.”1 Wrestling with questions of meaning, identity, and geosocial location, they, along with their diaspora counterparts, struggled to bring form and substance to the modern human complex Charles H. Long identifies as the “trans-Atlantic African.”2 With this novel identity evolved a new “defining ...
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Page Count: 456
Illustrations: 31 halftones
Series Title: Religions of the Americas Series