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Governing Spirits

Religion, Miracles, and Spectacles in Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898-1956

Reinaldo L. Román

Publication Year: 2007

Freedom of religion did not come easily to Cuba or Puerto Rico. Only after the arrival of American troops during the Spanish-American War were non-Catholics permitted to practice their religions openly and to proselytize. When government efforts to ensure freedom of worship began, reformers on both islands rejoiced, believing that an era of regeneration and modernization was upon them. But as new laws went into effect, critics voiced their dismay at the rise of popular religions. Reinaldo L. Román explores the changing relationship between regulators and practitioners in neocolonial Cuba and Puerto Rico. Spiritism, Santería, and other African-derived traditions were typically characterized in sensational fashion by the popular press as "a plague of superstition." Examining seven episodes between 1898 and the Cuban Revolution when the public demanded official actions against "misbelief," Román finds that when outbreaks of superstition were debated, matters of citizenship were usually at stake. He links the circulation of spectacular charges of witchcraft and miracle-making to anxieties surrounding newly expanded citizenries that included people of color. ###Governing Spirits# also contributes to the understanding of vernacular religions by moving beyond questions of national or traditional origins to illuminate how boundaries among hybrid practices evolved in a process of historical contingencies. Román explores the relationship between the post-colonial Caribbean and popular religion in Cuba and Puerto Rico between 1898 and the Cuban Revolution. The secularizing trends that permitted freedom of religion did not come to Cuba and Puerto Rico until the arrival of American troops during the Spanish-American War. Almost immediately, however, opposition arose to the open practice of non-Catholic, African-derived practices like Spiritism and Santería, which were characterized by the media as “a plague of superstition.” This secularizing trend thus became a lightning rod for anxieties surrounding a newly expanded citizenry, which now included people of color. Examining seven episodes between 1898 and the Cuban Revolution when the public demanded offical actions against “misbelief,” Roman finds that when outbreaks of superstition were debated, matters of citizenship were usually at stake. Freedom of religion did not come easily to Cuba or Puerto Rico. Only after the arrival of American troops during the Spanish-American War were non-Catholics permitted to practice their religions openly and to proselytize. When government efforts to ensure freedom of worship began, reformers on both islands rejoiced, believing that an era of regeneration and modernization was upon them. But as new laws went into effect, critics voiced their dismay at the rise of popular religions. Reinaldo L. Román explores the changing relationship between regulators and practitioners in neocolonial Cuba and Puerto Rico. Freedom of religion did not come easily to Cuba or Puerto Rico. Only after the arrival of American troops during the Spanish-American War were non-Catholics permitted to practice their religions openly and to proselytize. When government efforts to ensure freedom of worship began, reformers on both islands rejoiced, believing that an era of regeneration and modernization was upon them. But as new laws went into effect, critics voiced their dismay at the rise of popular religions. Reinaldo L. Román explores the changing relationship between regulators and practitioners in neocolonial Cuba and Puerto Rico. Spiritism, Santería, and other African-derived traditions were typically characterized in sensational fashion by the popular press as "a plague of superstition." Examining seven episodes between 1898 and the Cuban Revolution when the public demanded official actions against "misbelief," Román finds that when outbreaks of superstition were debated, matters of citizenship were usually at stake. He links the circulation of spectacular charges of witchcraft and miracle-making to anxieties surrounding newly expanded citizenries that included people of color. ###Governing Spirits# also contributes to the understanding of vernacular religions by moving beyond questions of national or traditional origins to illuminate how boundaries among hybrid practices evolved in a process of historical contingencies.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents, Illustrations

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pp. vii-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xii

In writing this book, I incurred debts in several countries. (The total varies depending on how one negotiates the count). Although the account I offer draws principally from archival and periodical sources, I am deeply grateful to the Cubans and Puerto Ricans who spoke to me about intimate matters of faith and healing. ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-22

“Tú sabes cómo es la gente aquí.” In the last months of 1995, my mother, Ana Isabel García, repeated that sentence nearly every time we talked on the telephone. Her bemused “you know how people are here” punctuated the conversation whenever we spoke of the chupacabras or the rumors surrounding the latest animal killings. ...

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1. Governing Man-Gods in Cuba: Hilario Mustelier and Juan Manso

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pp. 23-50

Few locales have been witness to as many theogonies as the Hispanic Caribbean in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.1 The proliferation of new deities, prophets, and saints and their irruption into the public realm so soon after the calendar welcomed the 1900s caused modernization’s boosters throughout the region grave concern. ...

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2. Governing Saints in Puerto Rico: Elenita and the Hermanos Cheos

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pp. 51-81

In 1904 and 1905, several Puerto Rican Spiritists and freethinkers were traveling and residing in Cuba, where they contracted a Manso fever that they helped spread in both islands. During their sojourns, they attended the meetings of local societies, promoted the organization of an islandwide Cuban Spiritist federation (modeled after the one established in Puerto Rico in 1903), ...

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3. Governing Witchcraft: Journalists and Brujos in Republican Cuba

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pp. 82-106

The year 1919 opened a grim new chapter in the annals of what scholar Ernesto Chávez Alvarez has called the “militant Negrophobia” of the Cuban republic. This year witnessed a public fright of witchcraft, or brujería, that seems to have bordered upon genuine panic. White families circled the wagons, many fearing or claiming to fear that their children would be abducted and sacrificed by the negros brujos, ...

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4. Self-Governing Spirits: La Samaritana and Puerto Rico’s Espiriteros

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pp. 107-129

Sometime in the mid-nineteenth century Spiritism arrived in Puerto Rico in suitcases and wrapped parcels. Students returning from European universities, travelers, and purveyors of forbidden tracts brought back to the island books, periodicals, and investigative practices that circulated first via informal circuits. ...

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5. Managing Miracles in Batista’s Cuba: La Estigmatizada and Clavelito

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pp. 130-159

La Dolce Vita told us much of what we need to know about the making and unmaking of miracles in an era of spectacles. After following a diminutive convertible conveying Marcello Rubini, his tormented fiancée, Emma, and the original Paparazzo to the site of the Madonna’s apparition in the Italian countryside, Fellini conducted a trenchant inventory of dour skeptics, ...

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6. Managing Miracles in the Commonwealth: The Virgin Visits Sabana Grande

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pp. 160-193

Journalists and publicists had a hand in some of the most salient religious dramas that unfolded in Cuba and Puerto Rico in the last century. In 1953, thousands of Puerto Ricans tuned in to WKAQ’s live broadcasts and kept up with the newspapers to learn about a new round of Marian apparitions unfolding in the southwestern corner of the island. ...

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Epilogue. The Chupacabras: Discourses and Social Action

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pp. 194-214

A few years ago, the renowned anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff called attention to the rise of a new “planetary species” of monstrous beings given to conflating “the virtual with the veritable, the cinematic with the scientific, gods with godzillas, the prophetic with the profitable.”1 The Comaroffs proposed that the sightings of uncanny fauna reported around the world in the last decade are linked to the conquests of neoliberalism, ...

Notes

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pp. 215-244

Bibliography

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pp. 245-262

Index

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pp. 263-273


E-ISBN-13: 9781469604688
E-ISBN-10: 146960468X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807831410
Print-ISBN-10: 0807831417

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 11 illus.
Publication Year: 2007