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  • Symbioses d’une mémoire. Manifestations religieuses et littératures de la Caraïbe
  • Mildred Mortimer
Symbioses d’une mémoire. Manifestations religieuses et littératures de la Caraïbe BY Anny Dominique Curtius Paris: L’Harmattan, 2006. 312pp. ISBN 2-296-01056-3 paper.

An important contribution to Caribbean studies, Anny Dominique Curtius’s text enriches the concept of the Black Atlantic developed by Paul Gilroy as it delves into the relationship between ethnography, Caribbean literature, and Caribbean religions: Rastafarian, Obeah, Quimbois, Santería, Vodun. Clearly not the first study to focus on the importance of religious practice in the Caribbean—see, for example, Stephan Palmié’s Wizards and Scientists. Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition (2002)—the text is unique in its comparative approach to anglophone and francophone Caribbean social and cultural spaces as well as religious practices. In this regard, the critic uses diverse material—missionary letters, travel narratives, ethnographic and philosophical studies, fiction, and social and political essays—to elucidate a process that began with the forced conversion of African slaves to Christianity and resulted in religious “creolization.”

Central to the critic’s study of religious hybridity are the concepts of désontologisme and réontologisme. She defines the first as the annihilation of the Caribbean slave’s identity (37) and the latter as the reaffirmation of Caribbean identity, nourished by African roots and resistance to reification (37). She explains that désontologisme originated in the hold of the slave ship where the African captive became an object to be sold upon arrival. At this point, the process of leaving African ontology behind was initiated. In her view, réontologisme, the process of resistance to reification, to the transformation of a human being into an object as defined by article 44 of the Code Noir, began in the hold of the slave ship as well. Adopting the notion of corps-mémoire (body-memory) as a contre-monde, a space of resistance (46), she explains that once the slaves reached the plantation their resistance strategies continued to be linked to memory, with slaves clinging to traces of an African past while nourishing new roots in the precarious “new” world. Hence, the Caribbean plantation became a contre-monde in which Afro-Caribbean religious expression was to play a key role (51). As Curtius traces the dual process of désontologisme/réontologisme that involves the imposition of the Christian religion upon the African slave, she follows the subversive movement of the new “creolized” religions such as Quimbois in Guadeloupe and Vodun in Haiti. Reflecting Glissant’s concept of detour/retour, the notion of désontologisme/réontologisme initiates a liberating path as the discourses of evangelization and civilization are deconstructed and new texts, new language, new religious structures emerge.

Curtius’s text is informative in several ways. First, it examines missionary texts dating from the colonial period as key elements in the process of religious creolization. Second, it argues that religious creolization is an important form of marronage, or cultural resistance in the Caribbean. Third, it is innovative in its comparative approach: it studies religious creolization in both contemporary francophone and anglophone Caribbean literature. In this vein, the analyses of Chauvet’s Amour, in which the protagonist resists Vodun,(263), and Schwarz-Bart’s [End Page 207] Pluie et vent sur Télumée-Miracle, in which the protagonist embraces the role of the Quimboiseuse (traditional healer) (65), reveal Curtius’s willingness to explore social and cultural complexities posed by contemporary Caribbean fiction.

Finally, as it explores the tension between the early texts that depicted colonial domination and postcolonial narratives that reject it, Curtius’s critical text clearly reveals the critic’s mastery of the historical and cultural elements that continue to shape Caribbean society today. We are left to wonder whether the religious movements that began as a response to slavery will continue with the same power and intensity as the twenty-first century further unfolds.

Mildred Mortimer
University of Colorado, Boulder


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pp. 207-208
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