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Critical reaction to Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé (2005) has recapitulated and, in some cases, generated several central debates in the comparative study of diasporic cultures and their ostensible homelands. Together, this historical ethnography and these critical responses offer an important case study in how scholars’ personal experiences and social positionality can shape what interpretations of society and history they are willing to believe and what communities they are able to imagine in a multi-sited field. Much the same diversity of experience, positionality, and imagination of community has shaped the long and international history of scholarship about Candomblé [End Page 50] and other Afro-Atlantic religions, scholarship that has, over time, affected the practice of these religions themselves.


Afro-Atlantic religions, positionality, ethnography and history, agency, Afro-Atlantic dialogue

Books are touchstones of controversy and of community—both for the same reason.

Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé is an unprecedently rich ethnographic comparison among historically connected religious practices in three distinct locales—Nigeria, Brazil, and Cuba.1 It has had high impact at the convergence of multiple disciplines (anthropology, history, and religious studies) and area studies (African, Latin American, African American, and Buddhist studies, as well as multi-sited diaspora studies generally). For example, although it focuses on a Brazilian religion, it won the Melville J. Herskovits Prize of the African Studies Association for the best book of 2005 about Africa. And, writing in the inaugural issue of this journal, Tracey Hucks and Dianne Stewart describe Black Atlantic Religion (henceforth BAR) as the cornerstone of the emergent “transdisciplinary” field of Africana religious studies (ARS), to which this journal has been devoted for the past five years.2 Through its “multi-sited ethnographic research and the integration of ethnography and history,” the authors conclude, BAR “should be recognized as the quintessence of ARS scholarship.”

According to Google Scholar, in the eleven years following its publication, the book was cited in 406 scholarly publications. According to Web of Science, BAR is, among the more than eight thousand books and articles published in anthropology between 2005 and 2016, the tenth-most-cited document, placing it in the ninety-ninth percentile of such documents.3 Most of the citations of BAR appear in anthropology, history, and religious studies publications. Among the over seventy-one thousand articles and books listed on Web of Science and published in sociocultural anthropology, history, and religious studies collectively since 2005, BAR ranks twentieth in the number of other books and articles that have cited it, placing BAR in the ninety-ninth percentile of works cited in this broader, multidisciplinary field as well. It is also the principal named inspiration behind two edited volumes—one published in the United States and another in Germany.4 A Spanish translation has been published, and the book is in the course of being translated into Portuguese.5

One of the arguments of the original book is, I think, borne out by the critical responses themselves. I argue that a defining modality of social [End Page 51] life—not only now but also in the distant past—is that multiple cross-cutting communities define themselves through their contrary definitions of the same hypercathected social object.6 Like the diverse scholarly interpretations of the Candomblé religion itself, the critical responses to this book reveal a great deal about the communities imagined and imaginable by the critics. Hence, this retrospective on the impact of BAR is, in effect, a case study in how scholars of diverse social positionalities—with respect to nationality, gender, race, and class—get similarly excited about but still differentially interpret the same social phenomenon. We emerge from overlapping but different imagined communities and, for the same reason, different traditions of historical conceivability.7 However, in order to avoid the appearance of any ad hominem response to the book’s critics or admirers, my analysis here treads lightly on the matter of other scholars’ biographies and positionality, highlighting instead—and by way of example—what is distinctive about my own life experiences and about the apperceptions that my own difference has engendered. BAR is a useful test case for how books, like other highly cathected objects, embody the forms of semiotic conflict that define communities in an intercultural world.8

BAR builds on “The English Professors of Brazil: On the Diasporic Roots of the Yorùbá Nation,” a 1999 article in Comparative Studies in Society and History, and is a sequel to Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo-Yoruba Religion, published in 1994.9 On two historically connected sides of the Atlantic, whose local scholars seldom read each other’s work, the shared project of these two books is to attend to strategic agency in the historical reproduction and transformation of orisha religion, as well as the role of transnationalism, or what I call “live dialogue,” in the genesis of practices and collective identities that are typically attributed to the local isolation and cultural inertia of the “folk.” BAR argues for the usefulness of the “live dialogue” model in explaining, for example, the surprisingly late genesis of the “Yorùbá” and “Jeje” ethnic identities in West Africa, the surprising dominance of the taste for “African purity” in Brazilian Candomblé in a country that privileges racial “hybridity” (mestiçagem) in its national self-image, and debates over the proper gender and sexual orientation of Candomblé’s priestly leadership.

This analysis of the effects of scholars’ social positionality also offers useful evidence for a central argument of my latest book, Stigma and Culture: Last-Place Anxiety in Black America. There I argue that universities are themselves major sites of ethnogenesis through which the elites of stigmatized populations, and other scholars who speak for these populations as proxies of their own stigmatized identities, are often the source of the highly selective canons of group identity and arguments asserting the target group’s superiority to other stigmatized groups.10 [End Page 52]

History, Agency, and the Imagination of Community in Afro-Atlantic Cultural History

Sex and the Empire That Is No More argues that, in what is now called “Yorùbá” society and elsewhere, conceptions of gender are heterogeneous at any given time and that they change over time, often in the service of political and economic projects that employ gender as a prescriptive metaphor about proper conduct in other areas of social life.

In Yorùbá, the closest translation for the word “husband” is ọkọ. A woman uses this term to address or refer to the man whom she has married, as well as all of his blood relatives who were born before she married him, whether those relatives are male or female. In turn, all of those parties call her “wife,” or ìyàwó. She owes her “husbands” a degree of service and deference, while they owe her a degree of generosity. One of the implications of this system is that a “wife” is also a “husband,” or ọkọ, to the women who married her male blood relatives before her birth.

This ethnography centers on the spirit possession priesthoods of the thunder god Ṣàngó and the river goddess Yemọja, as well as the uses to which these priesthoods have, in the past and the present, put this partially nonanatomical conception of gender. For example, as it expanded, the Ọ̀yọ́ royal empire employed horses imported from the northern savannah in order to conquer the grasslands to the south. Moreover, in order to forestall the usurpation of the throne by relatives of the reigning monarch, much royal power was delegated not to blood relatives of the monarch but (1) to the monarch’s literal wives and (2) to nonrelatives, male or female, whose ritual treatment also constructed them symbolically as “wives” of the monarch, literally possessed by the will of the monarch, and (3) to possession priests, or “wives,” of the monarch’s divine ancestor Ṣàngó. These male and female “wives” of the royal house were the ideal delegates because they drew authority exclusively from their role as delegates of the monarch; as a result, they could not use their power to replace the monarch on the throne.

Yet gender and marriage were—and remain—the focal point of mixed prescriptive metaphors. For example, initiates are also ritually reconstructed as “children” (ọmọ) of the god and, later, as “horses” (ẹṣin) or “mounts” (ẹlẹ́gùn) of the god. The root of the term ẹlẹ́gùn is gùn, meaning “to mount,” which suggests the metaphorical similarity among (1) what a god does to his possession priest, (2) what a rider does to a horse, and (3) what a male does to a female in a brutal sexual act. And, indeed, the power of Ṣàngó is compared in its overwhelming and potentially destructive force to that of lightning. It is the [End Page 53] male possession priests who embody this ritual logic to the most explicit and dramatic degree. Transformed by ritual, even a human male becomes a “wife” and “mount” (elẹ́gùn), or “horse” (ẹṣin), of the god.

Yet the Ọ̀yọ́ palace and the royal priesthood of Ṣàngó are not the only influential actors articulating models of gender that favor their interests. In propagating the Ọ̀yọ́ royalist gender logic of spirit possession and political delegation, the Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá priesthoods of both Ṣango and Yemọja differ greatly from that of Ògún, which is entirely male. The Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá cult of Ògún embodies the solidarity and collective power of nonroyal male soldiers, blacksmiths, and hunters, in contrast to the conjoint and mutually complementary power of royal husbands and their wives. Also in contrast to the veneration of Ṣàngó and Yemọja, Ògún-worship in this region involves no “mounting,” or spirit possession.

Nor are these gendered metaphors of sovereignty and delegation strategically mobilized by dominant parties alone. Today, in the Ọ̀yọ́-North chiefdom of the Onígbòho, which has sought to evade the authority of the Ọ̀yọ́ king, widows and divorcees who return to their birth home, defying the efforts of their male agnates to monopolize patrilineal resources, justify their presence in terms of their status as “wives” and as “warriors” (jagun) on behalf of the tutelary goddess of the chief-taincy, Yemọja. In sum, the multiple idioms of gender in Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá society—and in the diaspora religions indebted to Ọ̀yọ́—are the products of an identifiable political history and of the gender-centered but mixed-metaphorical strategies of emperors, priests, and widows to bend social life toward their needs and goals.

Sex and the Empire That Is No More also proposed a new politics of ethnography, demonstrating this politics by periodizing Yorùbá history and conceptualizing Yorùbá historical actors in emic terms. For example, rather than classifying the delegates of the Ọ̀yọ́ palace as “slaves,” something that Robin Law had done in apparent recognition of the reigning concerns of British abolitionism, I conceived of those actors as “wives.”11 Likewise, I read the reign of Ọ̀yọ́ as the Age of Ṣàngó and its resurrection amid British Indirect Rule as the Ọ̀yọ́ Renaissance. In this “mythic” history, I described the intervening period, when nonroyal generals ruled, as the Age of Ògún and the postcolonial era of Nigeria’s military dictators and kleptocratic entrepreneurs as the Age of Abiola, which was in effect a renaissance of the Age of Ògún. This periodization helped me to grasp the changes in the dominant structure of political authority and in the symbolic idioms available to women and men wishing to create credible and reliable alliances with others.

BAR highlights the circum-Atlantic context of the African and African-diaspora actors’ selective invocation of such cultural precedents, conceptions of plausible personal and collective subjectivity, and the forms of alliance that these [End Page 54] precedents and subjectivities substantiate. In my forthcoming book—The “Fetish” Revisited, Vol. I: Marx, Freud, and the Gods Black People Make (Duke University Press)—I argue that Marx’s Capital (1867) demonstrates the equality of white wageworkers with their bourgeois and aristocratic countrymen by redefining the value of commodities and asserting that the products of white wageworkers are more valuable than those of black slaves. For its part, Freud’s Totem and Taboo (1913) demonstrates the equality of assimilated Jewish men with their gentile countrymen by insinuating their shared superiority to black and brown “savages.” Marx and Freud thus joined in the fray during the long nineteenth century over which white people deserved enfranchisement, a debate regularly carried out through the proxy debate over Black people’s agency and worth. Borrowing from Dick Hebdige, I call this debate a “struggle for the possession of the sign.”12

In the following analysis, I take Black Atlantic Religion itself as a touch-stone of the “struggle for the possession of the sign” in which its scholarly fans, its critics, and I, as its author, ground the legitimacy of contrary social alliances in divergent visions of Candomblé.

BAR argues, through the example of Afro-Brazilian Candomblé, that even the cultural phenomena called “folk” religions are influenced by a “live dialogue” with other classes, other religions, and other populations far away. And, while it had become fashionable in the 1990s to speak of the recentness of transnationalism and the imminent death of the nation-state, I argued that nation-states continue to matter in this dialogue, that transnationalism has been a powerful force ever since the emergence of nation-states, and that translocalism long preceded and was, indeed, a founding condition of the nation-state. I argued further that the Anglo-Yorùbá form of literacy invented by Ọ̀yọ́ missionary Samuel Ajayi Crowther in mid-nineteenth-century West Africa was among the foremost factors causing the circum-Atlantic prestige of the Yorùbá ethnic group and the proliferation of òrìṣà (Yorùbá) / orixá (Portuguese) / oricha (Spanish) devotion around the Atlantic perimeter to surpass the prestige of the more populous Bantu-speaking populations, such as the BaKongo, and the proliferation of their gods.

Through accounts of the lives of real, historically and ethnographically documented people, I argued that historical changes in the ideas and practices of Brazilian Candomblé reflect an ongoing dialogue among coeval parties in West Africa, Bahia, England, France, and the United States, such that the relationship between African and African American cultures can no longer be treated like the relationship between the past and the present. I concluded BAR with an analysis of both “dialogue” and the more conventional array of tropes in the analysis of diaspora history—such as “survivals,” “retentions,” [End Page 55] “preservation,” “roots,” “rhizomes,” “creolization,” and “collective memory” —urging greater attention to the dimensions of African and African-diaspora cultural history that each of these tropes might incautiously highlight or hide.

Herskovits held the premise that African practices and ways of feeling could “survive” in the Americas. The work of Bastide and that of Mintz and Price shared the premise that, in the Americas, African ways of doing things could survive only in the local and insterstitial spaces left alone by the whites dominating that locale. Both premises were important contributions in their day.13 Herskovits’s model of “survival” and “reinterpretation” is hard to beat as an explanation of the vocabulary and performance of spirit possession in the African-inspired religions of the Americas and in the explanation of the ìdòbálẹ̀ salute in Brazilian Candomblé and Cuban Santería/Ocha.14 Indeed, for Herskovits and his followers, Candomblé is a locus classicus of African “survivals” in the Americas. Bastide’s influential sociology of African-diaspora religion also focused on Candomblé. Mintz and Price, Dantas, and others followed Bastide in correctly observing that local power structures—which are typically, in the Americas, white-dominated—profoundly restrict and shape the selective reproduction of African-inspired conduct.15

However, I first met Mãe Stella, chief priestess of Bahia’s famous Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá temple, in 1986—not within the interstices of Bahia’s local white power structure but in New York City, at the Third International Congress of Oriṣa Tradition and Culture, where, from the podium, this commanding, mahogany-colored woman launched the latest volley in her campaign to expunge the Roman Catholic saints from her religion, a movement started a decade and a half earlier in the United States by Detroit-born and Cuban-initiated Orisha-Voodoo priest Ọfuntọla Oseijeman Adelabu Adefunmi I (aka Walter Serge King).16 Inspired by the Black Power movement to reclaim his African roots, King had gone to Cuba for initiation in the Afro-Cuban Santería, or Regla de Ocha, religion. Unlike his Cuban mentors, he had not grown up Roman Catholic, and the plethora of Roman Catholic saint imagery that had become organic to Santería failed to serve his purposes. So he developed his own temples and ritual protocols in a manner that expurgated the saints. In 1987, I sought out Mãe Stella in her own sprawling urban temple compound in Bahia, Brazil, a compound purchased seventy-seven years earlier by the temple’s founder—priestess and merchant Mãe Aninha. Mãe Aninha’s entry into this religion had resulted not from an African “survival” but from a conversion, as her African ancestors—the Grunci, or Gurunsi, of what is now northern Ghana—were in no way related to those of the Yorùbá. [End Page 56]

The temple that Mãe Stella ultimately inherited from Mãe Aninha sits in a nation-state famous for its ideology of “hybridity” (mestiçagem) and a de facto preference for “whitening” (branqueamento). Moreover, some in this temple community—especially the white devotees—are sick of being studied and speak aggressively toward researchers. In this context, Mãe Stella’s reply to my request for permission to conduct research in her temple is revealing: “Since you are my Black brother, of course!”—Sendo que você e o meu irmão negro, claro! As the reader will see, some critics of BAR dismiss my reports about such Bahians’ mobilization of North American–sounding racial discourses as my own imaginative imposition of a foreign model on Brazilian society. I am as aware as these critics are that most Bahians do not employ this discourse of race most of the time. My point is that, for centuries, Afro-Bahian priests have attended to a circum-Atlantic array of political developments and selectively borrowed from a global array of discourses in deciding who they are and how to conduct their religion. That some scholars can conceive of this possibility and others cannot reveals a great deal about our analytical models, about our respective life experiences, and about the communities we are able to imagine in the world.

Critical Responses to Black Atlantic Religion

BAR was reviewed in the leading scholarly journals of anthropology, history, religious studies, Hispano-American studies, and Luso-Brazilian studies by senior and junior scholars who are themselves some of the most important pathbreakers in these fields. And they uniformly describe Black Atlantic Religion, for better or worse, as smashing conventional scholarly wisdom in every direction—above all in its argument that the back-and-forth movement of Afro-Brazilian merchants and pilgrims between Lagos and Bahia in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries introduced an Anglophone-origin discourse of race and purity into Bahian Candomblé. In the 1970s, this long-standing and prestigious Anglophone influence was fortified by the importation of the North American Black Power discourses that inspired the Unified Black Movement (Movimento Negro Unificado) and the bloco Afro carnival groups and thus simultaneously influenced Candomblé. The argument that communication among African and African-diaspora populations—even after the end of the slave trade and amid the dynamics of late nineteenth-century African cultural nationalism and the long civil rights movement in the United States—could have profoundly influenced Candomblé fundamentally challenged the notion that this religion has merely “survived” since the arrival of the enslaved or, [End Page 57] at best, has been allowed to endure only in the forms and spaces allowed by Bahian whites or “intellectuals.” Indeed, BAR also defied the conventional wisdom that African culture in the Americas typically resulted from rural isolation, instinct, the absence of alternatives, and inertia.17

However, in a way, I regret opening the book with the following passage: “This is a story of Africa in the Americas. But it is as much a story about the Americas in Africa, in defiance of the outmoded supposition that internal integration and the isomorphism of cultures with local populations are the normal conditions of social life.18 The passage correctly captures my point of view on the relationship between African and African-diaspora cultural history, as well as my argument that neither transnationalism nor the translocalism that preceded it by millennia is new. For example, I argue that the nineteenth-century “Yorùbá” and “Jeje” identities in West Africa are deeply indebted to prior political, social, and religious developments far away from the supposed “homelands” of the populations so called. However, the passage above allowed some readers who skipped chapters 4 through 6 to overlook the considerable influence that I also attribute to Brazilian nationalists and regionalists in the continual transformation of this religion. Perhaps, with a more extensive introduction, I could have made it less likely for some readers, such as Diana Brown, to regard it as a contradiction that I highlight not only the agency of Black merchants but also that of white American anthropologist Ruth Landes in the twentieth-century history of institutional change in Candomblé.19 My focus on transnationalism and agency in the history of Candomblé is intended to emphasize a historical factor missing from the existing literatures on Candomblé—not that Afro-Brazilians alone determined how Candomblé endured and changed over time but that a transnational array of forces including and far beyond “survival,” “syncretism,” and white “domination” did so.

My ultimate point was that multiple imagined communities often define themselves with reference to the same object, such as the Candomblé religion, taking it as a key metaphor, metonym, or antitype of these communities’ ideal selves. Moreover, this struggle for the possession of the sign affects how the object—that is, the source of the metaphor or other trope—can and does reproduce itself over time. That thoughtful, cosmopolitan priests with their own strategic stakes in the selective reproduction and transformation of this tradition were central agents in this struggle is just the biggest news I present, but it is intended to highlight the overall interclass, inter-American, and transatlantic gestalt of this historical process. Indeed, the number of times the book has been cited, the scholars who have cited it, and its translation into several languages demonstrate that it, too, is a prominent element of this translocal dialogue of cultural reproduction. [End Page 58]

My choice of where to begin this portrait of the “live dialogue” that is Black Atlantic cultural reproduction undoubtedly bespeaks my own peculiar experiences and preoccupations. The following autobiographical details might reveal the sort of collective subjectivity, conception of human possibilities, and sense of community implicit in my ethnographic vision. The forms of dissent inspired by the book—regarding the role of agency in the reproduction of religious traditions, regarding my argument’s implications for feminism and queer rights, and regarding the role of literacy in the reproduction of ostensibly oral and danced traditions—all correspond to real fault lines in the social life of broader populations, legitimizing the claims of some imagined communities at the expense of others.

Ethnography, Positionality, and the Circum-Atlantic “Dialogue”

Ethnography is the product of a dialogue between culture-bearing populations and between socially situated interlocutors. On the face of it, it is also an effort by the writer to understand a collective experience previously unfamiliar to her or his anticipated audience. No more than any other form of knowledge production is ethnography a comprehensive or unmediated account of the entire truth about the population described. For example, in Brazil or Nigeria, what is remarkable to a middle-class heterosexual African American anthropologist is likely to be different from what a Gujarati Kshatriya lesbian who grew up in wealth would highlight and is perhaps equally different from what a white American gay man who grew up working class would select as an observation or lesson worthy of documentation. Moreover, sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly, ethnography is read as an argument by example for changes that the ethnographer wishes to recommend in the comportment of the target audience. And such readings are, quite reasonably, attentive to the social positionality of the ethnographer.

I grew up during the 1960s and 1970s in Washington, D.C. Because of its predominantly Black population, the city was then called “Chocolate City.” Our neighborhood on upper Sixteenth Street was specifically known as the “Gold Coast,” an allusion to its concentration of physicians, dentists, attorneys, restaurateurs, teachers, pastors, congresspeople, and the president of historically Black Howard University, where my parents—a surgeon and a clinical child psychologist—had received their degrees. My father taught surgery and conducted his practice there as well. In my predominantly Black neighborhood, we came in all complexions and many nationalities, since our neighbors included some professionals from the Caribbean or Africa and the ambassadors of several newly independent African nations, as well as their children.20 [End Page 59]

Among the U.S. American–born, the dark women were disproportionately professionals, while the light women were disproportionately housewives. Complexion, Cadillacs and Mercedes, sable and Saarinen, gold vermeil and marquise diamonds, membership in the Links and the Carousels, subject-verb concordance, vacations in Egypt, the Caribbean, or China, descent from Charles Drew or Francis Scott Key, admission to and academic performance at Sidwell or St. Albans, and admission to Harvard, Yale, and Brown were chits in an intense struggle to break the encumbrances of segregation and the equally intense competition for status among the racially stigmatized. Our neighborhood was mostly Black because 70 percent of the whites fled when we moved in, leaving only their synagogues, stately colonials, and midcentury modern split-levels.

By contrast, I spent many weeks during the summer and holidays in the Herald of His Coming Church of God in Christ in Norfolk, Virginia—the church where my maternal grandfather’s flock of dignified housekeepers and handymen seemed to find piety, white cotton gloves, and church offices more attainable and, perhaps, more desirable indices of accomplishment. However, as in the rest of Black America, the residents of these two worlds experienced a sense of common suffering and the call of a common fight against racial exclusion, oppression, and unpredictable white brutality. We were all Black, and some of the lightest-skinned people among us were also among the most ardently Black.21 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made a difference, as did Home Rule for the District of Columbia, which began in 1973. However, the city still lacks voting representatives in the national Congress, and the overwhelmingly white U.S. Congress still controls the city’s purse strings. Moreover, the level of intergenerational wealth and access in Spring Valley and on Foxhall Road, white neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, dwarfed that of the Gold Coast.

It should be noted that the antiracist congressional legislation of the 1960s resulted not only from U.S. government concern about foreign perceptions of its conduct but also, and above all, from a coordinated protest movement by African Americans who had been partly inspired by the leader of India’s independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi. In turn, Gandhi had been inspired by the struggle of Black South Africans against their oppression and, simultaneously, by Gandhi’s own deep sense of grievance that, when arrested, Indians in South Africa suffered the ostensible humiliation of being jailed together with Africans. The Black Bahians who founded the Filhos de Gandhy carnival club in Salvador in the 1940s had also drawn inspiration from Gandhi’s movement. The awareness of such historical facts may be among the reasons that African American anthropologists were much quicker than our white colleagues to recognize that the intellectual and political horizons of the oppressed are seldom limited to the colonies, empires, [End Page 60] nation-states, or plantations that endeavor to contain us, exploit us, and use us as stock characters in their self-serving identitarian mythologies. If further proof of Black cosmopolitanism were needed, in 1961, at the height of division between the capitalist West and the Soviet bloc, my bourgeois African American parents—one from Illinois, the other from Virginia—gave me a Hungarian middle name.

I was bullied at a predominantly Black and working-class junior high school, which resulted in my attending predominantly white secondary schools, where I skipped a grade and still received the highest SAT scores in my graduating class. I had had white classmates at predominantly Black Shepherd Elementary School, where they could be found among the best-performing and worst-performing students. I found the same at the Maret School, west of the Park, where I met white teenagers who regularly consumed illegal drugs, shop-lifted, and cursed at their parents. One white friend was raped by her brother. Our principal was a white alcoholic fond of telling racist jokes within earshot of some of my white classmates, and he regularly called my favorite teacher a “Hebe” to his face. Many of my Maret schoolmates were the children of Asian, Middle Eastern, or European diplomats. However, partly because of their transience and the guarantee of wealth and position in their home countries, few of them invested greatly in academic achievement. The same was true of more than a few of my white American schoolmates.

Yet, where the will to achieve was lacking, or lost due to circumstances, words from my mother regularly put my white friends back on track. When a trust-funded Jewish American friend of mine from Sidwell took a year off from an elite northeastern college and expressed uncertainty about when and whether he would go back, my mother told him, “I don’t want Randy hanging out with people who can’t finish college,” a statement that he credits for his decision to enroll in another elite college, where he graduated summa cum laude and earned membership in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. In his condolence card when my mother died, a working-class Italian American friend and classmate of mine from Harvard credited my mother with giving him the courage to finish his Ph.D. He is now a tenured professor.

In order to prevent his daughters from having to work in a white woman’s kitchen and suffer sexual exploitation by her white husband, my maternal grandfather made sure that all of his daughters received graduate degrees. Against her own subsequent judgment, my mother stopped after receiving her master’s degree. Part of my mother’s push for others’ education related to her disappointment that she had capitulated to my father’s reported declaration that “one doctor in the family is enough.” For the same reason, she later insisted that my aunt—my mother’s youngest sister—divorce an army [End Page 61] officer who discouraged her from getting her M.D., and she instructed another neighbor to stipulate in her divorce decree that her ex-husband, a dentist, pay the entirety of the cost for her to complete a college degree. That neighbor did so and credits my mother with one of the best decisions of her life. Among my mother’s sisters, the nephrologist and the biology professor became religious later in life, as did the psychiatrist. But, through most of their adult lives, the psychiatrist and my psychologist mother broke just about every religious rule laid down by their Pentecostal father: they smoked, they drank, they danced to secular music, and they attended movies. Their religious proclivities were channeled into psychiatry and psychology—which, historically, is not a radical departure at all.22

In sum, my foundational experience exposed me to a great inequality of means, goodwill, character, and achievement orientation among people of each “race.” And, while whites west of the Park seemed, on average, to possess greater means than did the Blacks and the remaining whites on the Gold Coast, my experience never taught me the default assumption that either women or the people I consider “Black” are powerless to do anything but “resist” their oppression by “remembering” and “preserving” the unchanged traditions that they inherited from their ancestors.

I was enamored with Herskovits’s and Thompson’s accounts of preserved traditions, and I learned a great deal from those scholars.23 But, by the time I wrote Black Atlantic Religion, I had known enough people of African ancestry from Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States to doubt depersonalized portraits of cultural reproduction that suggested, as does Bastide, that Afro-Brazilian religion is a world detached from the class dynamics of Brazilian society or, as Sansi suggests, functions entirely in a realm of otherworldly African-inspired values exempt from the priests’ desire for wealth and status for themselves and the collectives they lead.24 By that time, I had also witnessed enough rituals—and participated in the preparations for them—to know how much money they cost, the degree of improvisation that shapes them, and the frequency with which priests criticize the ritual conduct of priests belonging to similar genealogical branches of the same tradition, as well as the evidence that these critiques are often motivated by rivalries over money, friends, initiates, and clients. Of course, the desiderata pursued by priests are not reducible to some economistically defined “practical” goals; no one’s are. But the goals that they pursue within their highly cosmopolitan conception of the world are deeply dependent and intent on monetary wealth, prestigious social connections, and this-worldly power.

Like Sex and the Empire That Is No More, Black Atlantic Religion is an effort to historicize African and African-diaspora cultural reproduction based on my understanding of how real people selectively invoke precedents and improvise [End Page 62] in order to secure health, income, and honor in a world where access to these desiderata is unevenly distributed across complexions, classes, genders, sexual preference groups, nationalities, and language groups. I assume that “culture is conflict,” defined not by consensus over which precedents are legitimate and must be followed but by an interested struggle over which precedents and interpretations are legitimate, which ones are obligatory, and which ones are not.

For this reason, I now bristle when I read the term “African survivals,” inspired by Herskovits, which implies that the African-inspired elements of African-diaspora cultures endured inertly and in the absence of any purpose, intention, critical thinking, or strategy on the part of the human actors who propagate these alleged “survivals.” And, contrary to Mintz and Price’s “creolization” model, the parties to this culture-as-conflict are much more diverse than the binary of the absolute oppressor versus the absolute oppressed, and seldom are all of the powerful parties in an apparently local or regional conflict local. Yes, local political and economic conditions limit which precedents can be reproduced, but cross-class and translocal alliances are also among the forces that empower actors and limit what they can do—even on the slave plantation, which Price explicitly considers the cradle of African-diaspora life-ways in the Americas. By contrast, it seems to me that the port cities of Lagos, Ouidah, Salvador da Bahia, Port-au-Prince, Havana, Matanzas, New Orleans, Miami, New York, and Paramaribo have exercised a vastly disproportionate influence on African-diaspora religion, music, and culture generally.25 Such cities have been the foci of the interclass, inter-American, and circum-Atlantic exchanges of people, ideas, and merchandise that today constitute these religions. Such cities are also the principal sites of highly conflictual debates over the proper nature of social order—that is, over the proper boundaries and membership of the community and over who has which rights or obligations within it. Such debates are usually conducted with reference to the legitimacy of any given precedent and the proper interpretation of its meaning. Among such precedents are entire institutions, especially institutions—such as Candomblé—that have been constructed in much of the previous ethnography as inherently changeless.

In BAR, I argue that the Candomblé religion itself is a major touchstone of these debates and that the urban academy is the chief venue of these debates: Is Candomblé a paragon legitimizing the identity and community of Bahia, of Afro-Brazilians, of Brazil as a whole, of feminists the world over, of gay people the world over, of Yorùbá people as a whole, of the Yorùbá-Atlantic religions as a collective, or of people of African descent as a whole? Or might it be the ultimate proof of the pervasiveness and hypocrisy of white power? And these [End Page 63] are just a few of the questions implicit in a century of debate about the proper interpretation of this religion. Over time, this debate has influenced practices and the institutional shape of Candomblé itself. BAR is perhaps a volley in this debate, but it is also, in itself, a transformative act.

Social Aspects of Scholarly Dissent

Three themes in BAR have inspired both the greatest enthusiasm and the most vigorous dissent, revealing perhaps some equally vigorous divergence among the imaginations of the community to which scholars in the field of African and African-diaspora anthropology, history, and religious studies are committed. I cannot fully describe the biographical conditions that may have inspired these commitments, beyond the gender and nationality of these scholars. But some of the social implications of their praise and critique are clear.


Citing BAR, two major edited volumes include the term “dialogue” in their titles: Afro-Atlantic Dialogues: Anthropology in the Diaspora (2006) and Transatlantic Caribbean: Dialogues of People, Practices, Ideas (2014).26 These volumes, all of the reviews in the journals, and dozens of articles and books about West Africa, Latin America, and, strikingly, Europe and the Buddhist world (of which I name only a few in the notes) cite with approval the novel argument of Black Atlantic Religion that, over time, ongoing travel and commerce between Brazil and West Africa and around the Atlantic perimeter transformed conventions of religious practice that had previously been regarded as static or subject only to local influences.27 These insights from BAR have also been applied extensively to the study of music and capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art.28 Many authors have found particularly intriguing my argument that the emergence of the Yorùbá ethnic identity in West Africa and its supremacy among African-inspired nations in the Americas were indebted to these transnational flows.

Iberian scholars of Candomblé, such as Luis Nicolau Parés and Roger Sansi, have given BAR some of the greatest attention in their works. For example, while Parés borrows, with insufficient attribution, my argument that late nineteenth-century cultural nationalism in Lagos—after the end of the slave trade—helped to propel the Yorùbá-affiliated Quêto/Nagô nation to dominance over the Jejes in Bahia, he emphasizes what is ostensibly wrong about my model.29 Yes, he admits, this live transatlantic dialogue influenced “the discourses, values, ideas and collective identities that turn around [religious practice].”30 [End Page 64] However, he postulates that the effects of this ongoing, circum- Atlantic flow of people and ideas on “religious practices” must have been “tangential.”31 Ignoring the implications of changes in “religious practices” that he himself documents, he stresses the exclusive role of “memory” and “preservation” in the reproduction of the ritual conventions brought from Africa by the original temple founders, giving a surprising degree of credence to official priestly claims that rituals never change over time.32 Unfortunately, Parés offers no comment on my extensive argument, in chapter 3 of BAR, about the early twentieth-century ritual changes bent on ritual “purification.” Although Opô Afonjá’s Mãe Aninha described these changes as “revived” practices, I am unable to locate similar practices in Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá religion, which, based on the fact that Mãe Aninha’s priestly line began with “Iya Nassô” (that is, a woman who bore Ọ̀yọ́’s highest priestly title, Ìyá Nàsó), is the closest thing there is to an African “origin” of Mãe Aninha’s temple.33 Whether the cause of this divergence was a change in West African rituals or a change in their Brazilian counterparts, the divergence demonstrates that rituals do change over time. Moreover, even though Parés, too, is aware that the “Jeje” ethnonym is documented in Brazil 153 years before it is documented in West Africa and that the term appears nowhere else in the Americas, he dismisses my argument that, as an ethnonym for all the speakers of the Ewe-Gen-Aja-Fon dialect cluster, it began in Brazil and only subsequently enjoyed a brief life in West Africa because of the influence of Afro-Brazilian returnees.34 His proof is simply that such a sequence of events would be unusual in the history of the African diaspora. That Candomblé has become a matriarchy also makes it unique among the Afro-Atlantic religions, but its uniqueness does not make it untrue. Moreover, surprising discoveries, almost by definition, lead to the greatest advances in knowledge. Sometimes they alert us to a widespread phenomenon that no one had noticed before. Other times, they alert us to a blind spot in our accustomed cognitive models. Either way, they demand our attention, rather than our dismissal—that is, unless we have some stake in maintaining the blind spot.

For example, the pursuit of anchors of permanency in an unstable and anomic world is a long-running theme in the social sciences and in European and American nationalisms. A trope common to these political projects is the construction of the nation’s “folk” as changeless and apolitical, a trope that rests on the premise of their contentment with economic and political marginalization. For many white Atlantic romantics, nationalists, and romantic nationalists, the dark “folk” are a form of museum property, taken out of circulation; legacies to be protected from decay, corruption, and exportation; and anchors against the forms of involuntary change imposed on these white Atlantic actors by whiter and more metropolitan powers. By contrast, I imagine the dark “folk” as fellow survivors of [End Page 65] whites’ material and symbolic exploitation—as people searching for a livelihood and, sometimes, for a romantic self-definition in the service of their own psychic and material needs. So I attribute the exceptional institutional success of Quêto/Nagô Candomblé—compared to similarly rich Afro-Atlantic traditions, such as Congo/Angola Candomblé—to forms of ingenuity, opportunity, and choice that I have seen other people who look like me take advantage of in other contexts as well. Yet, I am aware that people like us are nowhere free from the gravity of other parties’ rival priorities regarding who we are and what we stand for.

For their part, Haiti specialist Don Cosentino and Surinam Maroon specialist Richard Price acknowledge the importance of the live dialogue linking Bahia and West Africa but deny that cultural reproduction in Haiti and among the Surinamese Maroons has been affected by similar forces.35 However, there may be more evidence of an influential live dialogue in these settings than they imagine—between these populations and not only Africans but also other populations on the Atlantic perimeter, populations that are equally important to my model of the “live dialogue.”36 For example, after the Haitian Revolution, that island nation’s King Christophe recruited into his police force four thousand free Dahomeans, a population that may have brought cultural influences to Haiti. One is tempted to seek in this unusual immigration part of the reason for the towering prestige of the Rada, or Dahomean, nation in Haitian Vodou despite the fact that enslaved Dahomeans had been vastly outnumbered by other Africans in the prerevolutionary, eighteenth-century slave population.37 Smaller numbers of indentured Africans seem to have created the Trinidadian Shango religion from scratch in the nineteenth century. As in Bahia, so in Haiti, psychiatrists and other Western-style physicians struggling with international trends in criminology and eugenics played an outsized role in the nationalist project of canonizing and selectively protecting or sponsoring the local African-inspired religious traditions. Moreover, that canonization process in Haiti took place during the 1930s, amid and under the influence of similar forms of cultural nationalism in Cuba, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic, and following the direct historical influence of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.38

In the course of his research among the Saramaka Maroons of Dutch Guiana (now Surinam), circum-Atlantic anthropologist Melville J. Herskovits amply shared the products of his own and other ethnographers’ research to teach the Maroons about “the people of the West Coast of Africa—Ashanti and the Gold Coast, Dahomey, Nigeria, Benin, and Cameroons, Loango, and the Congo,” as well as Haiti. To the Saramaka, he recounted Anansi tales that he had heard in West Africa, played sacred music he had recorded in Haiti, and showed photographs of shrines and ceremonies shot by other researchers. Herskovits [End Page 66] commented that Saramaka leaders greatly appreciated his knowledge of what the Saramakas regarded as their ancestral homeland, that this knowledge facilitated his access to information about the Saramakas, and that he avoided revealing information that he thought might offend his hosts. Just as my friends in Candomblé regard me as a source of useful information about the ostensible African prototypes they wish to “recover,” Herskovits’s Saramaka friends regarded him not only as a source of information about Africa but as a potential means of their own access to their beloved ancestral homeland.39

I do not know if Herskovits’s Saramaka interlocutors ever retold the Anansi stories Herskovits selectively told them, imitated any of the Haitian music he selectively played for them, or borrowed ideas from the photos that he selectively showed them. But it is difficult for me to imagine the kind of ethnographic subject for whom curiosity, self-transformation in response to important new information, or the emulation of or defensive self-distancing from newly identified others is impossible. Mikelle Smith Omari furnishes a concrete example of this normal phenomenon, describing how a Candomblé priestess modified her altar after hearing from Omari that it differed from the African altars that Omari had seen.40 Indeed, I would assume that such dialogical processes happen as a default, and that the contrary assumption rests less on empirical observations about any real people that we ethnographers have known for long periods and more on the explorer’s wish to have discovered a pristine, primitive world that no one else has ever witnessed or touched. I have never met such an ethnographic subject. To me, it is a truism that the information I bring and the relationship in the field between any long-term interlocutor and me will change the way both of us think and act.

Moreover, Surinamese Maroon priests make art for tourists and stage “traditional” ceremonies for non-Maroon audiences, sometimes conducting their performances before, after, or alongside performances by people of other Surinamese religions and of other Afro-Atlantic religions. I witnessed a poignant series of such performances at the Festival del Caribe in Santiago de Cuba in July 2014. One medley-style performance interwove dances and rituals from each of Surinam’s half-dozen major ethnic groups—East Indians, Javanese, Chinese, Amerindians, Creoles, and Maroons. The transitions were remarkably smooth, orchestrated by the continuous backbeat of Saramaka drums. This nationalist ritual performance swept over a decade of murderous interethnic warfare in the 1980s. Yet, I would not assume that it is any less significant or transformative than the distinctly Maroon performances that I witnessed in other venues, which amalgamated diverse Maroon ethnic groups into interethnic performances of a different order. Maroon and Creole Winti priests brought with them to Cuba [End Page 67] various types of religiously inspired clothing, art, and furniture to sell, and, if they are like manufacturers and merchants elsewhere, they have undoubtedly adapted their wares according to what has sold best in the past and will adapt their future manufactures according to what sold best on this occasion. Like the premise that the “Jeje” ethnonym could not have originated in Brazil, the premise that Haitian and Surinamese Maroon religions have not been influenced by ongoing intercourse with the rest of the circum-Atlantic world seems to me a product of old-fashioned scholarly convention rather than of serious attention to the process of creating and performing “tradition.”

British historian Robin Law and U.S. American anthropologist Andrew Apter agree with my argument that Brazilian returnees influenced the “Yorùbá” language and ethnic identity that first emerged, contrary to the usual assumption, only in the mid- to late nineteenth century.41 For his part, Yorùbá historian Ọlatunji Ojo fully endorses the idea that these translocal, dialogical processes provided a critical boost to the emergence of Yorùbá ethnic identity, but he argues that this emergent identity was “also” rooted in the mid-nineteenth-century intra–West African refugee migrations, following Fulani jihads to the north and the fall of the Ọ̀yọ́ Empire around 1830, which caused the Ọ̀yọ́, the Èkìtì, the Ẹ̀gbá, the Ẹ̀gbádò, and the Òkìtìpupa—all ethnic, linguistic, or political identities salient before the rise of a shared “Yorùbá” identity—to interact and exchange cultural practices on an unprecedented scale.42

The idea that physical interaction and close proximity will promote mutual understanding and the emergence of a shared identity is a common premise of liberal social policy in the West, but it contradicts the observation of most anthropologists since the late 1960s.43 Interaction and proximity, especially under massive, rapid, and externally imposed conditions, regularly result in a greater differentiation and even polarization of identities. For example, the Kírìjì Wars (1877–1893) between Ìbàdàn and the Èkìtìparapọ̀ Alliance, the endless cycle of violence between the Ifẹ̀ people and their Ọ̀yọ́-origin refugee neighbors in the Mọdákẹ́kẹ́ Quarter, and the prodigious efforts of Yorùbá-speaking Muslim Hausa in Ibadan to keep ethnically separate from their Muslim Yorùbá neighbors provide copious counterevidence to Ojo’s seemingly commonsense argument. It seems to me that opposition to a third and rival party—such as the Fulani, the Dahomeans, the Jejes, the British, and the Igbo—explains vastly more about the emergence and ongoing development of Yorùbá collective identity than does the mere proximity of Ọ̀yọ́, Èkìtì, Ìjẹ̀ú, Òkìtìpupa, and others in the mid-nineteenth century. As I will argue below, the “Yorùbá” identity received its foremost boost in popularity from its role in contesting British racism during the 1890s. [End Page 68]

Similarly, my attention to the ongoing transnational forces shaping Brazilian Candomblé seemed to upset the apple cart of common sense among anthropologists who have specialized in pointing out—often quite perceptively—the special Brazilian social conditions that have made Candomblé possible. While Dutch anthropologist Mattijs van de Port acknowledges the importance and empirical validity of the “live dialogue” model, he wonders why I ostensibly prioritize transnationalism over the influence of the local. On the contrary, my point is actually that local, national, and translocal forces have all been important. Criticizing the theories of transnationalism and globalization fashionable at that time, I denied that transnationalism had eroded the power of all nation-states and that it foretold their imminent demise.44 In fact, I argued, translocalism had long preceded the existence of the nation-state, was a precondition of the nation-state’s foundation, and continues to interact with the nation-state in both rivalry and mutual subsidy. The entirety of chapter 4, “Candomblé’s Newest Nation: Brazil,” is devoted to the mutually transformative interaction between the transnations of Candomblé and the territorial nation of Brazil.

However, the news in this story—which should not be confused with the entirety of the story—is that Afro-Brazilian Nagô and Jeje priests and merchants commanded a small but empowering niche market in the Atlantic economy and that their travels gave them access to forms of knowledge and prestige inaccessible to other Afro-Brazilian nations and almost as inaccessible to the white or light-skinned Brazilian “intellectuals” whom an influential generation of Brazilian anthropologists, led by Beatriz Góis Dantas, had accused of dominating the priests and compelling the priests to follow those intellectuals’ definition of “African purity.”45 I asked why, in a nation-state in transition from rank Eurocentrism and anti-African racism to an ideology of mestiçagem (that is, the valorization of cultural and racial hybridity) formulated by Gilberto Freyre, a broad swath of “intellectuals” who studied Candomblé, including Freyre, would endorse any notion of “African purity” or sponsor the temples that conformed to this standard. I observed, furthermore, that religious purism is also quite foreign to the West African religions that I have studied, including the Gulf of Guinea and West-Central African religions that are normally considered the “origins” of Candomblé. It seemed and seems to me that the explanation of this double irony lies in the Lagosian Cultural Renaissance of the 1890s, in which Western-educated and British-loyalist “returnees” from Sierra Leone, Brazil, and Cuba reacted to rising British racism in the British-colonized port of Lagos. That reaction was a literary, journalistic, and sartorial movement that, under the influence of both the British and the Black North American press, asserted the dignity of Black and African racial and cultural purity, of which [End Page 69] the emergent “Yorùbá” identity became the paradigm. Therefore, I argued, contrary to the reigning assumption in the critical literature on Candomblé, it was not the white or light Brazilian intellectuals who defined “African purity” and taught Candomblé priests to value it but the Afro-Brazilian back-and-forth travelers who introduced the discourse of “African purity” and effective assertions of the Yorùbá people’s exceptional dignity into the power/knowledge of Candomblé, into Afro–Latin American studies, and into the biased policy decisions of Brazilian and Cuban state officials.

Roger Sansi poses his contribution as a correction of what he represents as Dantas’s and my opposite but equally wrong positions. Pace Dantas, he agrees with me that the “intellectuals” did not dominate or manipulate the priests, and, ostensibly correcting me, he declares that Candomblé is not autonomous from Brazil. Sansi would have us believe that, as the one reasonable party in this debate, he has discerned that “Afro-Brazilian culture” as a whole is the product of an alliance and an epistemological project in which Afro-Brazilian priests and Brazilian “intellectuals” were coequal partners. In fact, I never said that Candomblé is autonomous from Brazil. What I said is that Brazilian nationalist and regionalist intellectuals, North American feminists, British colonialists, French colonialists, African American Black nationalists, Yorùbá cultural nationalists, transatlantic Afro-Brazilian merchants and pilgrims, and Afro-Brazilian priests and retailers of religious goods have all been influential interlocutors in the circum-Atlantic dialogue of which Candomblé is both a producer and a product. That is a far cry from denying that Candomblé is deeply imbricated in Brazil and vice versa. I am simply identifying a far wider network of interlocutors and rival political projects than he is.

Candomblé is not autonomous from Brazil. But neither is Brazil autonomous from the Black Atlantic. More unsettling to the usual models of African-diaspora history, the power balance between particular whites and particular Blacks does not always favor the whites. Palmié enthusiastically endorses my “live dialogue” model but thinks that I wrongly dismiss arguments of Dantas and other Brazilian scholars that in no way contradict my own argument.46 I should clarify that I have no doubt that the dialogue between Candomblé priests and Euro-Brazilian intellectuals has influenced Candomblé. That fact is explicit in my account of Ruth Landes’s and Édison Carneiro’s joint impact on the gender patterns of Candomblé’s leadership. What I did argue is that the discourse of “African purity” in this religion was not, as Dantas and others have argued, a product of Euro-Brazilian intellectuals’ influence on the priests. Rather, it resulted from the influence of the “English Professors of Brazil”—that is, the transatlantic Black merchants and pilgrims—on both the priests and the [End Page 70] Euro-Brazilian “intellectuals.” This is not to deny the power of Euro-Brazilian intellectuals but to illustrate the weight of Anglophone power/knowledge in Bahia, including the forms of North American– and British-influenced cultural nationalist ideas and publications coming out of colonial Lagos.

Similar concerns expressed by Fry, Brown, and Hayes arise from what they acknowledge is our shared awareness that the most common Brazilian ideas about what Anglo–North Americans call “race” are very different from the most common Anglo-American ideas about a similar array of physical phenomena.47 Nonetheless, Fry believes that my argument and my use of the term “Euro-Brazilian” (to describe people whose phenotypes, sense of collective identity, and source of elevated status are primarily associated with European origins and phenotypes) impose U.S. American racial categories on Brazilian social phenomena. He and Hayes add that they have never heard the term “Euro-Brazilian” in Brazil, further suggesting to them that whatever I mean by it must be an imposition of U.S. American racial ideology. Hayes faults me equally for using the term “Afro-Brazilian,” which she says is not really Brazilian because, according to her, it is used only in Brazilian Black activist circles. On the contrary, my observation (relatively consistent with Sansi’s) is that “Afro-Brazilian” is the coinage and preferred usage of light-colored Brazilian intellectuals. I do not recall ever having heard the term “Afro-Brazilian” spoken by Candomblé priests or by Brazilian Black activists.

However, in the conduct of social science research, the use of nonemic terms is not always the false imposition of a foreign cultural framework. Sometimes, it names a phenomenon that is locally taken for granted but unnamed. For example, I have never heard an Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá person speak the term “viri-patrilocal postmarital residence.” But that does not mean that I have misrepresented a local convention or projected a North American convention onto Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá people by employing that term. Similarly, in the United States, the refusal of many white people to call themselves “white” and their denial that they see the color of people’s skin do not mean that “whiteness” is an empirically useless etic descriptor of an emically recognized set of phenotypes or of a set of the moral values conventionally associated with light-skinned and European-featured U.S. Americans, in contrast to the moral reputation and typical phenotypes of dark-skinned and African-featured U.S. Americans of the same class, gender, sexual preference, and so forth. Like “whiteness” in the United States, I submit that “Euro-Brazilian” names an unmarked, taken-for-granted but very real emic class of phenotypes, social experiences, norms of conduct, and qualities of apperception. In my usage, the term “Euro-Brazilian” does not mean the same thing as the term “white” (as employed by social scientists in the United States). For example, I know a self-described “white” (branco) Bahian with caramel [End Page 71] skin, a sharp nose, and wavy hair, whom no Anglo-American—academic or nonacademic—of my acquaintance would call “white.” The fact that the most common Bahian vocabulary about phenotypically coded social status and the most common U.S. Anglo-American vocabulary about race differ does not undermine the fact that both societies host largely unmarked populations in which a salient proportion of European ancestry and an identification with European culture correlate with relative political dominance and a moral reputation according them greater economic opportunities than those accorded to a locally complementary and marked category of darker-skinned people. The culture-specific entailments and uses of these vocabularies are matters for another publication, but I do not believe that my use of the term “Euro-Brazilian” relies on the assumption that it precisely correlates with any U.S. American cultural category. And that is precisely why I chose to use the term “Euro-Brazilian,” rather than “Euro-American” or merely “white,” a gloss that fails to disclose the local specificity of its meaning.

So I do wonder why Fry and Hayes profess not to recognize the prima facie implication of the term “Euro-Brazilian,” which is that there is something distinctively Brazilian about this set of referents and that, in some set of characteristics associated with Europe, this population contrasts with the people defined principally by their African physical characteristics, alleged cultural affinities, and usual social rank. As in the U.S. setting, the refusal to acknowledge the reality of such unmarked categories—or to propose better ones—seems evasive, suggesting some unspoken political agenda on the part of the denier. Fry, Hayes, and I all know that Brazilians are no more color-blind than U.S. Americans are. Similarly, contrary to the argument of Yorùbá-American sociologist Oyeronkẹ Oyewumi, the lack of a Yorùbá term for viri-patrilocal postmarital residence and the absence of gender-specific pronouns fail to prove that West African Yorùbá culture is, in its essence, gender-blind and not male-dominant.48 I chose the neologism “Euro-Brazilian” precisely in order to avoid any automatic conflation of this category with the term “white” as it is applied to white Americans. For similar reasons, I prefer the term “husbandarchy” to “patriarchy” in the West African context. The term is ugly and foreign, but it calls attention to a real local phenomenon that I have described above.

Hayes, Brown, and Fry correctly avow that most Brazilian priests do not actively classify their religion or themselves in racially divisive terms. On the other hand, in my experience, Brazilians talk just as much as U.S. Americans do about phenotypes, the moral characteristics associated with them, and the respect they deserve, but Brazilians do so more publicly and with less embarrassment [End Page 72] or fear of being condemned as racist. Even the gods and the caboclo Indian spirits are described—and some describe themselves—in phenotypical terms that I would describe as racial. An open-minded scholar who grew up in, say, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe (like Fry), the United States (like Brown and Hayes), or, with its materially and psychologically deep relationship to Africa, France (like Loïc Wacquant) might legitimately experience race in Brazil differently from how I experience it. But it must also be admitted that, relative to the most usual idioms of social classification—in, say, China, Sweden, or Germany—Brazil and the United States have a great deal in common.

African-featured priests might not talk much about their race with their white anthropologist friends, but some of them talk about the issue with me a lot, with a sense of pride in me as a dark and accomplished Black man, as well as regret that Afro-descendant Brazilians have not yet, in their view, accomplished the same degree of empowerment as have African Americans. Whether as anthropologists, funk and hip-hop artists, sports geniuses, movie stars, heritage tourists, or a president, African Americans are part of Afro-Bahians’ cultural and mental world. There is no physical or mental wall between how Brazilians talk about race and how U.S. Americans talk about race.49

Just as there are multiple idioms of gender in Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá society and religious history, there are multiple idioms of race in Brazilian society and history. In my experience, people from the city of São Paulo and Bahians speak differently about race, and some of the idioms available for identity-making and alliance-negotiation have been borrowed from the Lagosian Cultural Renaissance of the 1890s and from the U.S. American civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s. Mind you, the Lagosian Cultural Renaissance, the U.S. American civil rights movement, and the U.S. American Black Power movement also diverge in their normative vocabularies of race. For example, even as they quoted and emulated the long U.S. American civil rights movement, the writers of the Lagosian Cultural Renaissance injected a validation of or aspiration to racial purity that was quite extraneous to the long U.S. civil rights movement of Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Martin Luther King. I was quite specific about the origins and idiosyncratic features of the fin-de-siècle racial ideas imported into Bahia from the Lagosian Cultural Renaissance. They were in dialogue with North American ideas, but they were not precisely North American ideas.

Brown and Hayes chiefly study Umbanda, a religion that has historically, in its pantheon, emphasized hybridity (mestiçagem) and the idea of a rainbow nation but, in its ritual reforms and self-reported history, emphasized its non-Africanness. In fact, the actual practice of mestiçagem/mestizaje ideology in [End Page 73] Latin America almost invariably privileges light complexion over dark complexion and seldom challenges white political and economic dominance. However, even Umbanda has, since the 1980s, undergone a re-Africanization and a massive conversion of its members to Candomblé, which Umbandistas understand to be more African and, in the opinion of the converts, more authentic.50 In placing a century-and-a-half-old African-centered religious and political movement at the center of my story of circum-Atlantic dialogue, I did, at one point, adopt the vocabulary of this movement. I regret having called Umbanda a “watered-down version of Candomble,” an infelicitous phrase that offended Brown and Hayes. I take it back. But that does not mean that I was misrepresenting what I heard in the highly influential religious and political movement that I was studying. Brown and Hayes fault me for not giving equal time to the rainbow pantheon of Umbanda. In fact, as Hayes acknowledges, I mentioned the marujo sailor spirit when he came up in the storytelling of my foremost priestly inter-locutor about his past. Hayes and Brown give me no credit for my extensive discussion of the caboclo Indian spirit of Pai Francisco (my best Bahian friend and main Candomblé mentor), my friend’s movement of this spirit’s shrine from the front to the backyard of the temple, and this light-skinned priest’s ambivalence about the privileging of Blackness in the U.S.-influenced Ilê Aiyê carnival performance group in his neighborhood. Brown faults me for focusing on “the few ‘purist’ Candomble centers over the many more eclectic ones.”51

But the truth about all of these ostensible faults is more subtle. The denouement and the emotion behind the story I tell concerns the light-skinned son of a former marujo-worshipping Umbandista who himself once worshipped caboclos much more actively than he does now. In the thirty-two years of our friendship, his caboclo has appeared to me only twice, and Pai Francisco has seldom mentioned his caboclo, except when I asked, and has never again mentioned the marujo. Contrary to Hayes’s suspicion, I am not hiding Pai Francisco’s closetful of mestiço, or “mixed-race,” spirits. The story that Pai Francisco told me and the one that I tell my audience is complicated and interesting in its own right, without having to conform to the spiritual demographics of Hayes’s Umbanda-centered field site or Brown’s greater interest in “more eclectic” temples. Pai Francisco vacillates between calling himself “white” and calling himself “Black,” between calling himself “Roman, Apostolic, and Catholic” and calling his religion “purely African.” He is trying to break into the world of unmatched prestige and resources belonging to the “great” African-centered temples of Bahia, but, on the grounds of color and, above all, gender, his admission is far from guaranteed. So he is not even sure that he wants to call these temples “great” at all. If I am to be faulted for studying the dominant object of desire in the Afro-Brazilian religious world, that is one thing. But we should [End Page 74] not pretend that my observation of its pantheon, of its changing, varied, and conflicting idioms of race, its rootedness in a dialogue not confined to Brazil, or its extraordinary prestige in Brazil is a mere figment of my Black American imagination.

The prestige and influence of this most influential minority of temples produce and, I also fully acknowledge, are the products of disproportionate attention by ethnographers, Brazilian journalists, international journalists, tourists, musicians, artists, and fellow priests. To date, no scholar’s love of Umbanda and its mestiço vision of Brazil has changed that fact or is likely to do so. If someone wrote a book about the Ivy League and its influence, no one would fault her for not giving equal attention to Liberty University. But cognitive dissonance sets in when one points out even a small discursive and ritual world where Black is best.52 When the founder of the prestigious Ilê Axé Opô Afonjá temple, Mãe Aninha, called Bahia “the Black Rome,” she compared the transnational breadth of these temples’ influence to that of the Roman Catholic Church, and she named its constituency in racial terms that a hermetically Brazilian view of Candomblé history and of Afro-Brazilian racial self-understandings simply cannot comprehend.53 She called her transnational religious imperium “Black,” in a manner as intuitively comprehensible to a turn-of-the-century Lagosian or a twenty-first-century African American as it was defiant of the anti-Black and anti-African “whitening” ideology of the contemporaneous First Republic (1888–1930) and of the mestiço nationalist ideology that has prevailed since the 1930s. The citizens of this capital of Afro-Atlantic identity and religion have never been entirely captive to Brazilian definitions of who they are, no matter how fervently white Brazilians and Brazilianists—including Gilberto Freyre and Loïc Wacquant—insist to the contrary.54 Nor can they wish away the power/knowledge that translocal Afro-descendant populations have created among themselves to describe and address the overlaps among our experiences.


Reviewer Michael Iyanaga takes me at my word that what I have written is a “historical ethnography,” not static generalizations about a religion and the human types that mindlessly reenact the same ideas and movements, generation after generation.55 Wherever the historical record allowed, I attempted to name specific actors, actions, dates, and consequences. For example, illustrating the ongoing, bidirectional flow of influential people, products, and ideas between Bahia and the Gulf of Guinea, I offer an account of the activities, the strategic interests, and the accomplishments of Otampê Ojarô, Marcos Pimentel, Iyá Nassô, Marcelina, Martiniano do Bonfim, Manoel Rodolfo Bamboxê/Bámgbóṣé, [End Page 75] Felisberto Sowzer, Mãe Aninha, Joaquim d’Almeida, Joaquim Devodê Branco, Ludovina Pessoa, Adeyẹmọ Alakija, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, A. B. Ellis, Mary Kingsley, and Noel Baudin, as well as significant statistical evidence from the lamentably incomplete Bahian archives and from secondary sources. I report that, between 1820 and 1899 alone, about 8,000 Afro-Brazilians returned to West Africa. Others returned from Cuba, some passing through Brazil en route to Africa. By 1889, even as the general African population of Lagos continued to swell, one in seven Lagosians had lived in Cuba or Brazil—that is, about 5,000 out of 37,458.56 I also discuss the roles of Martiniano do Bonfim and Mãe Aninha in the founding of Candomblé’s most influential temple, as well as Aninha’s priestly activities in Rio and Martiniano’s widespread itinerant leadership in both Bahia and Pernambuco, both of which are well-documented. I added a discussion of the towering role of Brazilian returnees in the economies, judiciaries, and even the postcolonial presidencies of Nigeria, Dahomey/Benin, and Togo, as well as the omnipresence of Brazilian-style architecture in Lagos, in Yorubaland generally, and elsewhere in the Gulf of Guinea hinterland.

In response to this detailed statistical and historical account, reviewer Mattijs van de Port replied, “The scale and intensity of a nineteenth-century ‘translocal dialogue’ between Bahia and the coast of West Africa is never substantiated beyond a number of individual travelers.”57 This level of skepticism is truly impressive. By contrast, other reviewers with a professional understanding of the African diaspora, such as Palmié,58 credit me with furnishing exhaustive evidence, while one lay reader faulted me online for piling on too much evidence, a flaw that I blame on my racial insecurity that, as a Black person, I can never take others’ credulity for granted. In my writing, I never regard one or two vivid and choice examples as sufficient. I have yet to read an account of the light-colored Brazilian “intellectuals” credited with reshaping Candomblé that is as thoroughly documented as my own account of Afro-Brazilian agency in the historical transformation of Candomblé. And many a European intellectual, religious, or political movement has swept a whole continent with fewer founding figures than this one. Nineteenth-century Lagos and Salvador da Bahia were small in population compared to London, Paris, Rio, or New York during the same period. It would not have taken much effort to influence a large proportion of the population of nineteenth-century Lagos or Bahia. Moreover, I argue that the literacy, mobility, and profit motives of this “number of individual travelers” gave them disproportionate leverage to propagate their ideas and sell their merchandise. There is clear evidence that, from these relatively small beginnings, the cities these men and women united on the eastern and the western shores of the Atlantic became major generators of ideas and movements that would influence each other, their hinterlands, and the Western academy more broadly. [End Page 76]

Sansi doubts not the demographic likelihood that these dozen named interlocutors could conduct a dialogue with any appreciable influence but, echoing Bastide, the cultural likelihood that the priests could have been motivated by any goals beyond the cultivation of their axé, or ostensibly otherworldly “sacred power.” Invoking Sahlins’s contrast between “culture” (or the specificity of what any given population values) and “practical reason” (the scholarly reduction of this specificity to the functionalist explanatory principles), Sansi accuses me of practical reason. In his view, Candomblé priests and pilgrims, and the merchants who sell the material supplies needed in the practice of Candomblé, do not seek prosperity or profit. Nor do they compete for honor. Nor do they strategize to enhance the dignity and solidarity of their respective nations, or transatlantic denominations. What they are really doing, he says, is trying to preserve unchanged an ancestral African spiritual substance called axé.59 Hence, in Sansi’s view, I must be falsely projecting functionalist values onto the priests, pilgrims, and merchants of Candomblé.

All I can say is that Sansi has taken our common teacher’s model too far, reconstructing Candomblé in the image of an otherworldly, primitive antipode of Western capitalism. And Sansi is not the first anthropologist to do so. The Candomblé that I have personally known since 1987 is simply not the Candomblé that he has seen. What I have seen is a world of intense competition for prestige, good reputation, privileged access to sacred knowledge, sponsors, followers, and clients. In the Candomblé that I know, priests do charge in cash for virtually every service, and they do keep track of debts. The preeminent goal is indeed strong solidarity with the gods and with a healthy, stable, and populous temple community—which are corollaries of axé. So is attendance at one’s festivals by high-ranking priests of the “great” temples. But the monetary cost of these desiderata is high, and the competition for them among priests is regularly regarded as zero-sum and fraught with both trickery and mystical aggression. Luxurious rituals, liturgical clothing, beautiful commemorative gifts for attendees, temple furnishings, and hospitality are rewards of enterprising conduct, means of attracting and keeping generous sponsors and clients, and manifestations of axé. There is no single guaranteed means of accomplishing these ends. They require creative thought, savings, and strategic planning. Healing rituals follow recipes, but these recipes are elaborated in diverse and novel ways in order to communicate and effect the desired end. It should be added that the West African societies where the African counterparts of the orixás and the voduns were and are worshipped have been highly marketized for centuries, and the West African counterpart of axé—that is, àṣẹ—is not merely an otherworldly and spiritual substance to be preserved through repetition and isolation from politics and commerce. It [End Page 77] is also political authority, imbrication in lucrative and long-distance networks of commercial exchange, and the power to transform the social and natural world in physical ways. Axé has a broad range of related meanings in Brazil as well. In Brazil, axé defines the solidarity of temple communities, families of temples, and nations.60

Bastide’s and Sansi’s portraits of Candomblé as a religion free from the influence of class society and their descriptions of its priests as immune to materially and politically interested conduct are both otherworldly and false. So is Parés’s portrait of a religion whose priests’ conduct simply reproduces by rote the “religious practices” of the founders, generation after generation. Nor is it true, as suggested by Mintz and Price and by Dantas, that Candomblé temples reproduce their religion exclusively in the interstitial spaces or in the limited or manipulated ways that the typically light-colored “intellectuals” and sponsors deign to allow.61 Black Atlantic Religion attempts to depict the multi-sided local, regional, national, transnational, and, above all, human-conducted negotiations that have dynamically produced the Candomblé that I see today. In those negotiations, Candomblé priests have not been omnipotent, but they are not typically dupes or clones, either. Bastide was not the first and will not be the last “modern” intellectual to construct brown or Black people as embodiments of an idyllic alternative to what ails “modern” European life. Dantas was not the first liberal or Marxist Westerner to issue a mea culpa about sanctimonious condescension in the bourgeois domination of the poor. For my part, the contrast between the realities of my own Black life and these shockingly simple stereotypes about Afro-Bahian religion caused me to expect and to look for, among my priestly interlocutors, complex human behavior and ambivalence about the limited rewards on offer for hereditarily stigmatized and marginalized populations.

Gender and Sexual Orientation

My analysis of the role of gender and sexual orientation has also ruffled feathers on both sides of the Atlantic. Having extensively and comparatively studied Nigerian Yorùbá, Brazilian Candomblé, and Cuban Santería/Ocha gender constructions and practices, I arrived at a perspective that rubs up uncomfortably against the conventional wisdom and the politics of scholarship in both Nigeria and Brazil.

It is worth noting that the application of Herskovits’s methods has been the most fruitful for me in this area. I am no theoretical purist, just an advocate of illuminating more and more of the forces shaping cultural history [End Page 78] with whatever models and methods work. Yet I cannot but regret how many potentially rich analyses have been stalled by an excessive or even exclusive reliance on the “survival” metaphor. Clearly, Candomblé and Santería/Ocha have adapted West African gender logics to Ibero-American social structures, and priests make decisions about how to legitimize their own statuses and claims within this performative context. Both Penner and Segato observe the differences between my interpretation of the gender of Candomblé leadership and others’ interpretation of the same, and these two authors see in these differences a further “struggle for the possession of the sign,” with implications for our competitive claims to scholarly authority and for the legitimacy of the communities and the experiences for which we speak.62

My fundamental observation, documented in Sex and the Empire That Is No More, is that the Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá religions of spirit possession understand and manipulate personal identity based on the assumption that each person is a vessel of multiple spirits. Proper social and political order depends on placing the proper spirits into the vessel, keeping them in balance, and keeping the dangerous ones out, under control, or, better yet, in balance.

The spirit possession priesthood that has most influenced Candomblé and Santería/Ocha is the cult of the thunder god Ṣàngó, which originated in the Ọ̀yọ́ kingdom and expanded throughout the Ọ̀yọ́ Empire and its client states. Ọ̀yọ́ amplified the verbal and ritual logic that the relationship between a person and a divine spirit is like the relationship between a wife and her husband. It is a hierarchical relationship of mutual dependency, and its result is the paragon and paradigm of all wealth-production: childbearing. Consequently, in Ìgbòho, the former Ọ̀yọ́ imperial capital where I conducted the plurality of my research on the Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá, even male possession priests typically earn their living in distaff professions and wear the hairstyles, cosmetics, jewelry, and clothing of childbearing wives. A god is said to “mount” a possession priest just as a male animal mounts a female animal and just as a rider mounts a horse. This same mixed metaphor is also found in Brazilian Candomblé and Umbanda, Cuban Santería/Ocha, and Haitian Vodou. I added that, in Brazil, this conception of the possession priest as the “mounted” wife of the god has been “reinterpreted”—to borrow a term from Herskovits—such that male possession priests are regularly assumed to conform to a Brazilian social category known as the bicha or adé, whom Ruth Landes called the “passive homosexual”63—that is, a man who, in sexual relations with other men, is penetrated.

Before having read Sex and the Empire That Is No More or my 1991 doctoral dissertation by the same title, Yorùbá-American sociologist Oyeronkẹ Oyewumi [End Page 79] wrote a dissertation in which she argued that gender in Ọ̀yọ́-Yorùbá society and perhaps throughout Africa is different from Western gender, a difference illustrated by her claim that all Yorùbá names and pronouns are gender-neutral, that Yorùbá women are not subordinate to Yorùbá men, and that motherhood is the most respected status in that society. Asked by the University of Minnesota Press to review the manuscript, I praised the argument but offered for further reflection the fact that some Yorùbá names are gender-specific and that viri-patrilocal post-marital residence does structure a degree of female subordination into Yorùbá life. Given the fact that our scholarly interests and writing overlap so closely, I also revealed my identity and suggested that she read my book.

Instead, she chose to read and cite my less-accessible dissertation and asserted, regarding the argument outlined above, that I had described Ṣàngó possession priests as “drag queens” and as practicing “symbolic if not actual homosexuality.” She then declared that “homosexuality” is foreign to “the Yoruba conception.” In her 1997 book, Oyewumi not only misrepresented my argument in the most insulting terms—which she also did to a dozen other, mostly senior Yorùbá scholars—but she decided to one-up me and declare that there was no gender whatsoever in Yorùbá culture. Her argument was so exciting to non-Africanists and yet, in the eyes of experienced Africanists, so boldly untruthful that an entire roundtable was convened at the 2002 African Studies Association meetings to refute it. Though invited, Oyewumi herself refused to attend or participate in the roundtable. Nonetheless, the outcome of Oyewumi’s hit-and-run scholarship was the most lively debate in the history of Yorùbá studies, for which reason Olupọna and Rey’s major 2008 volume Òrìṣà Devotion as World Religion culminates with two articles about the subject. This focal debate between Oyewumi and me was conducted not only in writing but also at multiple scholarly conferences on Yorùbá culture and religion.64

Brazilian anthropologist Rita Laura Segato studies the Xangô religion of Pernambuco and has never conducted research in West Africa, but she observes of this debate that Oyewumi and I agree that “the” Yorùbá conception of gender is independent of anatomy. She then concludes from this exchange of ideas that the Xangô religion “preserves” the Yorùbá conception of gender in an “Afro-Brazilian codex” that includes a nonanatomical and nonessentialist conception of gender, as well as the logic of mounting that I describe, resulting in a system with “homosexual and androgynous features.”65 In her opinion, this Afro-Brazilian “codex” confesses Afro-Brazilians’ social marginality by employing the hierarchical gender terms of Brazilian Portuguese, but it also mocks these terms by defying the patriarchal behavioral expectations embedded in them. Segato believes that she and Oyewumi have described and endorsed systems of [End Page 80] liberation from gendered constraints, although Oyewumi would certainly not endorse Segato’s declaration of independence from obligatory heterosexuality.

Whereas Pernambucan Xangô is to Segato a system of Yorùbá gender transformation that undermines patriarchal authority and validates her own political preferences, she describes me as a sort of liberal reformer, endorsing fundamentally unchanged and hierarchical husband/wife relations while liberating people from the usual patterns of anatomical assignment to these categories. Indeed, I believe that this ritual system rests on the premise that wives serve husbands and that husbands take care of wives. However, the way that real people employ this idiom of self-fashioning varies tremendously. For example, it is widely understood that, over time, the boundary between the personality of the medium and that of the god comes to be blurred, and the authority of the wifely delegates of powerful flesh-and-blood or otherworldly husbands is often great. Moreover, unlike Oyewumi and Segato, I have never thought that there is but one “Yoruba conception” of anything, including gender. For that reason, students of sexual diversity in Africa have found in my work a breath of fresh air.66 There are multiple idioms of gender in Yorubaland and precedents for contrary projects, just as there are multiple idioms of race in the Black Atlantic world. And effective actors might invoke any of those idioms and precedents selectively and enact them strategically.

In Black Atlantic Religion, I argued that both Oyewumi (who has no firsthand knowledge and reveals no awareness of the scholarly literature about Brazil) and Candomblé scholar Ruth Landes (who possessed no firsthand or scholarly knowledge of West African Yorùbá gender conceptions) themselves played strategically fast and loose with the information at their disposal. A student of Franz Boas and a contemporary of both Melville J. Herskovits and Margaret Mead, Landes went to Brazil in pursuit of evidence that a world free of racism and women’s oppression was possible and that Brazil could model an alternative to the racist and sexist United States.67 African American intellectuals and activists have similarly invoked Brazil as an antiracist idyll. Equally often, though, we have invoked it as proof that racism is universal, demanding that Blacks the world over unite to resist it. Such is the nature of faraway models and antitypes. They are protean in the arguments they can be used to make.68 Landes correctly observed what we might today call a conception of race more independent of ancestry and heredity than its U.S. American counterpart; in Landes’s observation, an educated mulatto could occupy a lofty social status, and “Blackness” or “Africanness” was defined not only by skin color alone but also by occupation and religious devotion. Moreover, Landes discovered that, within their religious world, Black women could be extremely self-confident and occupy a highly respected status. [End Page 81]

Indeed, taking her argument to the extreme in much the same way that Oyewumi has more recently done, Landes declared Candomblé a “matriarchate,” in which women are the only legitimate rulers and the male chief priests were the “abnormal” products of a recent corruption of the primordially matriarchal African system. The evidence of these men’s “abnormality” as priests lay not in any local judgment but in the exogenous, Western medical judgment that, as “passive homosexuals,” they were objectively pathological despite the admiration and approval that Landes knew they enjoyed within the Candomblé community. At the time of Landes’s research, her chief guide and a profound connoisseur of the Candomblé, Édison Carneiro, expressed his own aesthetic admiration of the “passive homosexual” priests, and he explained what was normal about them according to the ritual and verbal logic of this religion. Indeed, he said that the proportion of chief priests who were male used to be higher and had only recently declined, a report confirmed by the later statistical studies of Kim Butler and Rachel Harding.69

Landes was probably equally wrong about the West African precedents of the “matriarchate” that she had invented as a rhetorical antidote to U.S. American sexism. The archival, oral historical, ethnographic evidence from Nigeria suggests that the chief priest and “wife” of the gods in Ọ̀yọ́ was the monarch, who has almost always been male. Second in rank was the chief of the Ṣàngó priesthood—that is, the Ìyá Nàsó, who was, in principle, a woman. The ranking provincial Ṣàngó priests, who were also the ranking priestly representatives of the monarch beyond the capital, are and probably always were typically men. Moreover, in Rio de Janeiro, Haiti, and Cuba, the most famous and powerful chief priests and possession priests are also—and have long been—male. Yet there is evidence that, in late nineteenth-century Cuba, there were more female professional diviners—oriatés, or obás—than there are today. In sum, neither Bahian Candomblé during the 1930s, when Landes conducted her research, nor its apparent West African antecedents are accurately describable as a “matriarchate.” In all of these times and places, despite the demographic preeminence of women among the rank and file of possession priests, leadership has been a predominantly male affair.

Nonetheless, Carneiro changed his mind about this issue under Landes’s influence, or, at least, he thought agreeing with Landes would be better for his career and for his friends in the Candomblé priesthood. It was only after his collaboration with Landes that Carneiro wrote the book—with the imprimatur of the State Museum of Bahia—about which temples and priests were legitimate and which were not. What he said there repeated Landes’s judgment about the abnormalcy of adé priests, as well as her revisionist position that men had [End Page 82] only recently entered and proliferated in the priesthood. And what he said in that book directly contradicted much that he had published in the years before his acquaintance with and scholarly mentorship by Landes. Today, there is no doubt that Candomblé is a matriarchy. Almost all of the most prestigious temples are now governed by women (that is to say, it is difficult for male-headed temples to keep or gain prestige), and few male-directed temples benefit from state funding for renovations or from the recommendations of the Bahiatursa tourism bureau.70 But, contrary to Landes’s argument and Carneiro’s late capitulation to it, this “matriarchate” was not an “African survival,” and it did not date from the arrival of the enslaved in Bahia. It began in the wake of Landes’s and Carneiro’s collaboration and very likely owes a great deal to that collaboration.

BAR reviewer Cosentino expressed doubt that Landes could have had such a powerful effect on the history of Candomblé. Diana DeGroot Brown said that my critique of Landes “verges on stridency” and that my inference that Landes brought about the “matriarchate” that she falsely claims to have observed is “implausible.” But who could have imagined that one Brazilian who went and studied in Texas and New York, Gilberto Freyre, could have had such a similarly profound effect on Brazilians’ national self-understanding and collective conduct? His book, The Masters and the Slaves, became the Bible of the nationalist mestiçagem ideology, and he the greatest bulwark against the application of North American–style critiques of Brazilian racism and against Afro-Brazilians’ efforts to apply those critiques to their own liberation.71 Who could have imagined that Margaret Mitchell—a mediocre Smith College student from Atlanta and the daughter of a suffragist—would one day, through her novel Gone with the Wind, do so much to convince generations of postbellum white Americans—Northern and Southern—that enslaved African Americans were laughable simpletons in need of the controlling but normally indulgent hand of whites?72 Mitchell showed that even the lowliest people from the British Isles, the Irish, were fit for the job. Mitchell might not have been alone in the project of reconciliation between the North and the South, but her popular influence—through well-timed ideological work and vivid imagery—was towering and unmistakable.

The feeling of being perceived as ridiculous by a foreigner can be transformative. In Brazil, the Anglophone gaze has been powerful for centuries, making Ruth Landes’s influence on Candomblé even more plausible than these more familiar cases. Even the desire to be viewed positively during the Cold War competition for third-world hearts and minds helped persuade long-resistant U.S. officials to act more swiftly on the matter of civil rights for African Americans. Indeed, the book of one economist from then poor Sweden—Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy—would, [End Page 83] through its citation in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, deal a death blow to legal segregation in the United States.73 (This fact takes nothing away from the fundamental case built by the self-esteem studies of Black psychologist Kenneth Clark and by African American litigator Thurgood Marshall.) The concrete conditions of historical change must be met, but one person—and especially a competent writer—can make an enormous difference, even under difficult or highly unfavorable circumstances.

I empathize with the collective aspiration behind the late twentieth-century recuperation of Ruth Landes among those who remembered, as Gail Collins did, “what it was like when the newspapers had separate ‘help wanted’ columns for men and women, who needed a male co-signer when they got their first car loans . . . had credit cards in their husbands’ names because that was just the way things worked” in the United States.74 But, much the same as I had responded to Oyewumi, oversimplifying the moral and political calculus of liberation can be counterproductive.75 Sometimes it comes at the expense of innocents.76 As working-class white America has repeatedly demonstrated since the seventeenth century, it is easy for the oppressed to mistake putting someone else in last place for triumph over an unfair system.77

The skepticism that Afro-Brazilian life could similarly have been remade through the literacy, cosmopolitanism, agency, daring, and competing self-interest of Blacks, whites, and mulattoes—native and foreign—may be rooted in the experience of the doubters or simply in an outmoded scholarly convention in the study of populations that Eric Wolf ironically called “the people without history.”78 The “cult matriarchate” was not an “African survival” from nineteenth-century West African religions or a disinterested and merely local, empirical report of what Landes saw in Bahia during the 1930s. The cognate religions of Rio de Janeiro, Cuba, and Haiti were not then and are not now matriarchal. The Bahian exception cries out for an explanation that attends carefully to real documentary history—which Butler, Harding, and I have provided, even if only partially. Moreover, Landes, Sansi, and Brown herself have all agreed that Brazilian intellectuals have profoundly reshaped the religions that they study and help to propagate. Why does Landes’s influence strike Brown as so unlikely or offensive to point out? My contradiction of Landes’s empirical claim is not intended to deny the validity of Landes and her followers’ aspiration to gender equality. My concern is mainly empirical, but, if it has any ethical implication, it is that the liberation of the oppressed and stigmatized should not be turned into a zero-sum game resting on a distortion of the facts.

Causation is difficult to prove in any social and religious history, and the role I have attributed to Landes in Bahian religious history would necessarily [End Page 84] surprise anyone accustomed to the usual antiquarian assumptions about how the religions of the povo, or “folk,” take shape. But I believe that I have adequately put a whole range of those assumptions to rest and presented clearly sequential and documentary evidence of Landes’s influence on the leading broker of local elite approval and state largesse to Bahian Candomblé temples during the period when Candomblé leadership changed from a gender-balanced to a female-dominant institution—that is, Édison Carneiro. Perhaps, again, plausibility is a function of one’s personal experience and of one’s a priori models, which in turn are the product of whose imaginations of community have been enshrined the longest in the existing literature. It may also be a function of one’s hopes for the future.


Curiously, students of Cuban- and Cuban-inspired Ocha simply tend to agree with me regarding the roles of transnationalism, agency, interclass alliance, and gender in the historically dynamic reproduction of Santería/Ocha and the other Afro-Atlantic religions.79 Cuba, too, has an important but underexamined history of nineteenth-century multidirectional and transformative communication with the Gulf of Guinea, the United States, Spain, and France. Today, that island anchors a multidirectional traffic in Santería/Ocha priests, publications, films, ideas, and goods linking Cuba to all of Western Europe, Nigeria, Benin Republic, Angola, the United States, and virtually every country in Latin America.80 Moreover, the shared Cuban world of Santería/Ocha, Ifá, Palo, and Abakuá is full of ritually and mythically important distinctions between male and female, gay and straight, according to which rights, responsibilities, and encumbrances are assigned in highly structured ways. Spirit possession is associated with wifeliness, femaleness, femininity, and “passive” male homosexuality, as well as subordination. Although these qualities are somewhat independent of gonadal anatomy, the Cuban case provides no evidence of Oyewumi’s “Yoruba conception,” in which sexual anatomy determines nothing about social roles except at the moment of procreation, or of anything akin to Segato’s “Afro-Brazilian codex,” according to which priests acknowledge but freely subvert the gender roles and hierarchies of the surrounding society. That a Cuban research institute funded the publication of a Spanish-language edition of BAR provides some further evidence of the harmony between my Nigerian-Brazilian observations and those of Afro-Cubanists, and this despite Penner’s inference that I have something fundamental against Marxism.81 The idea that [End Page 85] humans make gods, and social theories, is at the heart of my latest work.82 In truth, I am more a Weberian than a Marxist, my sense of class dynamics always being rooted in local conceptions of social status. Moreover, I am deeply offended by Marx’s denial of historical agency to the “negro slave.”83 But my model of the role of ethnoclass interests in shaping religious belief and practice is hardly anti-Marxist.

Penner seems to acknowledge my Weberian inspiration but attributes my failure to cite Marx directly to my wish to avoid acknowledging my relationship with Pai Francisco as a form of class exploitation. It is true that my relationship with Pai Francisco is the one most central to the success of BAR and that his six visits-cum–lecture tours to the United States as my guest have been a paltry effort to pay him back for his years of kindness to me. On the other hand, the letters of invitation from Williams, Harvard, and Duke that adorn the walls of his temple surely amplify his axé, as did my writing to the State of Bahia in support of the recognition of his temple as a patrimony of the state (tombamento), a status that places him in the company of the “great” temples and helps to guarantee that his temple will endure after his death. He reminded me recently that he and his temple officers sought this status at my suggestion and that my letter of support—documenting the historically unjustified bias against male-led temples in the conferral of this status—was critical to the success of his case.

I tell this story not so much to disprove that Marx and Penner have something worthwhile to teach us about the relationship between anthropologists and the people they research but because it illustrates two of the book’s critical points about the “struggle for the possession of the sign” that has shaped both the study and the conduct of the Candomblé and other religions attributed to the “folk”: first, literacy has made the difference between fantastically successful traditions and merely successful ones, and, second, Anglophone power/knowledge carries disproportionate weight in Brazil. Holsey’s glowing review of BAR best illustrates the most common critical reception of this argument, but Routon pointedly disagrees, denying that literacy conveys ideas more effectively than does bodily practice.84 While I do not disagree that dancing, marching, and gesturing in prayer create powerful forms of social solidarity and fission, I also argue in BAR that people are freer to interpret gestures idiosyncratically than to interpret words, especially written words, with such freedom. Printed texts can reach more people faster, with less ambiguity, and with greater commemorative endurance than bodily gestures can, especially in sectors of life governed by the state. Literacy and access to publication venues confer a disproportionate power to speak to and for other people, rather than merely to be spoken for. [End Page 86]

Segato argues that scholars use social analysis to ventriloquize hidden political agendas, a view that she shares with Penner.85 Of course, ventriloquism was never my conscious intention, but, because I have tested this hypothesis on the champions of the Lagosian Cultural Renaissance, Martiniano do Bonfim, Ruth Landes, Édison Carneiro, Melville J. Herskovits, Arthur Ramos, and Mãe Aninha, I must also be willing to test it on myself. Even when we try to tell an objective truth, what we scholars see and report is inevitably shaped by our histories, our bodies, and our circumstantial perspectives. My tandem interest in Africa and Candomblé emerged from my curiosity about what made me different from white Americans if it was not, as those invested in the idea of their whiteness have historically tried to convince themselves, my deficit of rationality, competence, self-control, or beauty. However, my deep friendship with Pai Francisco raised another set of questions related to his aspirations and disappointments, which I sought not so much to endorse as to document, historicize, and socially contextualize. This documentation necessarily confers legitimacy on our shared experiences and on the transnational community that potentiated and is continually enriched by our friendship. Yet the written touchstone of our shared community necessarily invites reinterpretation by those with other social commitments. In these ways, scholarly books richly illustrate the defining quality of the fetish.86

My main objective in writing BAR was to document the shape, the age, the interclass character, and the transnational nature of the debate over who belongs in one’s community and what his or her rights and duties are. For multiple rival and crosscutting communities, Candomblé has been a touchstone of this debate, and it has been transformed by this debate. In writing this book, I was determined to bring a historically and ethnographically rich understanding of Brazil and Nigeria, two countries that have, by all knowledgeable accounts, deeply influenced each other’s fates, despite a long stretch of forgetfulness, naturalization, and mythologization. Some accounts of the relationship between Candomblé and West African Yorùbá are wrong at an empirical level, and I cannot hesitate to say so. Many others are plausible but lack the evidence to make them definitive. The fate of these plausible but tentative accounts is perhaps the greatest evidence for the central argument of BAR. Communities are constituted not by consensus but by a “struggle for the possession of the sign,” in which the shape of our social coordination is determined by which among the multiple plausible narratives becomes strategically useful to the most powerful alliance. My social experiences and loyalties have certainly shaped BAR, as well as the wide-ranging and fruitful dialogue that it has inspired. But that dialogue began before I entered it and has surely shaped my apperceptions and social priorities as well. [End Page 87]

Finally, I confess that Black Atlantic Religion is a rude book, but not intentionally. That is just the way it came out. I am a son of Ogum. As van de Port, Iyanaga, and others have pointed out, the book is not a subtle adjustment of existing scholarship on Candomblé. It is an honest statement of what I saw when I looked at Candomblé from my own cosmopolitan, Black middle-class point of view, a perspective attentive to facts that no one else had considered important and, just as surely, to questions that deserve further investigation. The skepticism it inspired is surely as valuable as the praise, because the extreme difference of this account from other existing accounts has highlighted the role of positional attention and blindness even in the sincerest conduct of the social sciences. I hope that this polyvocal, dialogical project has opened the way for an analysis of the social conditions of scholars’ credulity and skepticism about the explanations we read.

J. Lorand Matory, Roger Sansi, Elizabeth Pérez, Michael Iyanaga, and J. Lorand Matory
Duke University


1. J. Lorand Matory, Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005); henceforth, BAR.

2. Tracey E. Hucks and Dianne Stewart Diakité, “Africana Religious Studies: Toward a Transdisciplinary Agenda in an Emerging Field,” Journal of Africana Religions 9, no. 1 (2013): 59.

3. This sample excludes titles in biological and evolutionary biology.

4. Kevin A. Yelvington, ed., Afro-Atlantic Dialogues: Anthropology in the Diaspora (Santa Fe: School of American Research; and Oxford: James Currey, 2006); and Ingrid Kummels, Claudia Rauhut, Stefan Rinke, and Birte Timm, eds., Transatlantic Caribbean: Dialogues of People, Practices, Ideas (Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript Verlag, 2014).

5. J. Lorand Matory, Religión del Atlántico Negro: Tradición, Transnacionalismo, y Matriarcado en el Candomblé Afro-Brasileño (Santiago de Cuba: Editorial del Caribe and Editorial Oriente, 2015). The Portuguese translation is underway in collaboration with Editôra Kalango, Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.

6. BAR; J. Lorand Matory, The “Fetish” Revisited: Marx, Freud, and the Gods Black People Make (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, forthcoming).

7. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, rev. ed. (London: Verso, 1991 [1983]). See also Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon, 1995).

8. Matory, The “Fetish” Revisited.

9. J. Lorand Matory, “The English Professors of Brazil: On the Diasporic Roots of the Yorùbá Nation,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, no. 1 (1999): 72–103; Matory, Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in [End Page 88] Ọyọ-Yoruba Religion (New York: Berghahn, 2005), originally published in 1994 by University of Minnesota Press.

10. J. Lorand Matory, Stigma and Culture: Last-Place Anxiety in Black America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

11. See Matory, Sex and the Empire.

12. Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London: Methuen, 1979).

13. Roger Bastide, The African Religions of Brazil, trans. Helen Sebba (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978 [1960]); and Sidney Mintz and Richard Price, The Birth of African-American Culture: An Anthropological Perspective (Boston: Beacon, 1992 [1976]).

14. See BAR, 216, 333n46.

15. Mintz and Price, African-American Culture; Beatriz Góis Dantas, “Repensando a Pureza Nagô,” Religião e Sociedade 8 (1982): 15–20; and Bastide, African Religions.

16. Maria Stella de Azevedo Santos, “Sincretismo e Branqueamento,” lecture presented at the Third International Congress of Oriṣa Tradition and Culture, New York City, October 6–10, 1986.

17. See also J. Lorand Matory, “The Illusion of Isolation: The Gullah/Geechees and the Political Economy of African Culture in the Americas,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 50, no. 4 (2008): 949–80.

18. BAR, 1.

19. Diana Brown, review of Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé, by J. Lorand Matory, American Ethnologist 33, no. 2 (2006): 2035–36.

20. Matory, Stigma and Culture.

21. Ibid.

22. Matory, The “Fetish” Revisited.

23. For example, Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy (New York: Random House, 1983).

24. Bastide, African Religions; Roger Sansi, Fetishes and Monuments: Afro-Brazilian Art and Culture in the 20th Century (New York: Berghahn Books, 2007).

25. J. Lorand Matory, “Surpassing ‘Survivals’: On the Urbanity of ‘Traditional Religion’ in the Afro-Atlantic World,” Black Scholar 30, nos. 3–4 (Fall 2000–Winter 2001): 36–43.

26. Yelvington, Afro-Atlantic Dialogues; and Kummels et al., Transatlantic Caribbean.

27. Journal reviews include the following: Donald Cosentino’s review in Hispanic American Historical Review 87, no. 3 (2007): 571–72; Michael Iyanaga’s review in Pacific Review of Ethnomusicology 14 (October 2009); Peter Fry’s review in Luso-Brazilian Review 45, no. 2 (2008): 211–14; Kelly E. Hayes’s review in History of Religions 48, no. 2 (2008): 170–73; Kenneth Routon, “Trance-Nationalism: Religious Imaginaries in the Black Atlantic,” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 13 (2006): 1–20; Brown, review of Black Atlantic Religion; Brian Brazeal, “O Candomblé e o Atlântico Negro,” Afro-Àsia 34 (2006): 331–34; Mary Ann Clark’s review in Religious Studies Review 35, no. 3 (2009): 197; Bayo Holsey’s review in [End Page 89] American Anthropologist 110, no. 1 (2008): 128–29; and Stephan Palmié’s review in New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids 81, nos. 3–4 (2007): 274–78. Among the articles and books are the following: Ivor Miller, Voice of the Leopard: African Secret Societies and Cuba (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2009); Augustine H. Agwuele, “‘Yorubaisms’ in African American ‘Speech’ Patterns,” in The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World, ed. Toyin Falọla and Matt D. Childs (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 325–45; Luis Nicolau Parés, The Formation of Candomblé: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil, trans. Richard Vernon with author (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013 [2006]); Parés, “The Birth of Yoruba Hegemony in Post-abolition Candomblé,” Journal de la Société des Américanistes 91, no. 1 (2005): 139–59; Robin Law, “Liberated Slaves Who Returned to West Africa,” in The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World, ed. Toyin Falọla and Matt D. Childs (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004), 349–65; Andrew Apter, “Yoruba Ethnogenesis from Within,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 55, no. 2 (2013): 356–87; Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, Electric Santería: Racial and Sexual Assemblages of Transnational Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015); Robert Penner, “The American Professors of Candomblé: Identity, Translocalism and the Struggle for Authority,” minor essay, Department of History, Duke University, 2009,; Olatunji Ojo, “The Root Is Also Here: The Nondiaspora Foundations of Yoruba Ethnicity,” in Movements, Borders, and Identities in Africa, ed. Toyin Falola and Aribidesi Usman (Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2009), 53–80; Richard Price, Travels with Tooy: History, Memory, and the African American Imagination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010); Roger Sanjek, Ethnography in Today’s World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013); Tracey E. Hucks, Yoruba Traditions and African American Religious Nationalism (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012); Jacob S. Dorman, Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013); A. Zimmerman, “Africa in Imperial and Transnational History: Multi-sited Historiography and the Necessity of Theory,” Journal of African History 54, no. 3 (2013): 331–40; Irving Chan Johnson, The Buddha on Mecca’s Verandah: Encounters, Mobilities, and Histories along the Malaysian-Thai Border (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012); José Mapril and Ruy Llera Blanes, “Introduction: Sites and Politics of Religious Diversity in Southern Europe,” in Sites and Politics of Religious Diversity in Southern Europe: The Best of All Gods, ed. José Mapril and Ruy Llera Blanes (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 1–15; Stephen C. Berkwitz, Juliane Schober, and Claudia Brown, eds., Buddhist Manuscript Cultures: Knowledge, Ritual and Art (New York: Routledge, 2009); Janet Alison Hoskins, “What Is a Refugee Religion? Exile, Exodus, and Emigration in the Vietnamese Diaspora,” in Building Noah’s Ark for Migrants, Refugees, and Religious Communities, ed. Alexander Horstmann and Jin-Heon Jung (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 23–44; and Justin Thomas McDaniel, Gathering Leaves and Lifting Words: Histories of Buddhist Monastic Education in Laos and Thailand (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2012). [End Page 90]

Also, for a terse and accurate summary of my argument, indifferent to whether I am right or wrong, see the entry on Black Atlantic Religion in the bibliography of International Review of Social History 52, no. 1 (2007): 170.

28. For example, Amanda Villepastour, “Two Heads of the Same Drum? Musical Narratives within a Transatlantic Religion,” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 7, no. 3 (2009): 343–62; Stephen Selka, “Religion and the Transnational Imagination,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 16, no. 4 (2013): 5–10; Damon Sajnani, “Troubling the Trope of ‘Rapper as Modern Griot,’” Journal of Pan-African Studies 6, no. 3 (2013): 156–80; T. R. Mangin, “Mbalax: Cosmopolitanism in Senegalese Urban Popular Music” (Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 2013); Janelle Joseph, “‘Going to Brazil’: Transnational and Corporeal Movements of a Canadian-Brazilian Martial Arts Community,” Global Networks 8, no. 2 (2008): 194–213; Katya Wesolowski, “Professionalizing Capoeira: The Politics of Play in Twenty-first-Century Brazil,” Latin American Perspectives 39, no. 2 (2012): 82–92; Mattias Röhrig Assunção, “Ringue ou academia? A emergência dos estilos modernos da capoeira e seu contexto global,” Hist. cienc. saude-Manguinhos (Rio de Janeiro) 21, no. 1 (2014),–59702014005000002.

29. Parés, Formation of Candomblé.

30. Parés, “Birth of Yoruba Hegemony”; Parés, Formation of Candomblé, 26–27, 47, 119–23, 200, 239–40.

31. Parés, Formation of Candomblé, 240, 122.

32. See, for example, J. Lorand Matory, in-depth review of The Formation of Candomblé: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil, by Luis Nicolau Parés, Americas: A Quarterly Review of Latin American History 72, no. 4 (2015): 625–26.

33. BAR, 115.

34. Parés, Formation of Candomblé; see also Matory, in-depth review of Formation of Candomblé.

35. Cosentino, review of Black Atlantic Religion; Price, Travels with Tooy.

36. J. Lorand Matory, “Afro-Atlantic Culture: On the Live Dialogue between Africa and the Americas,” in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, ed. Henry Louis Gates and K. Anthony Appiah (New York: Basic Books, 1999), 36–44.

37. BAR, 303n2.

38. See ibid., 167.

39. Ibid., 335n55, also 244; Melville J. Herskovits and Frances S. Herskovits, Rebel Destiny (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1934).

40. BAR, 335n55.

41. Law, “Liberated Slaves”; Apter, “Yoruba Ethnogenesis.”

42. Ojo, “Root Is also Here.”

43. Matory, Stigma and Culture, 36–39.

44. For example, Arjun Appadurai, “Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy,” Public Culture 2, no. 2 (1990): 1–24; Saskia Sassen, Globalization and Its Discontents: Essays on the New Mobility of People and Money (New York: New Press, 1998). [End Page 91]

45. Dantas, “Repensando a Pureza Nagô.”

46. Palmié, review of Black Atlantic Religion; Stephan Palmié, The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013); Dantas, “Repensando a Pureza Nagô.”

47. Fry, review of Black Atlantic Religion; Brown, review of Black Atlantic Religion; and Hayes, review of Black Atlantic Religion.

48. Oyeronke Oyewumi, The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).

49. See, for example, Patrícia de Santana Pinho, Mama Africa: Re-inventing Blackness in Bahia (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010).

50. Reginald Prandi, Os Candombleés de São Paulo: A Velha Magia na Metrópolis Nova (São Paulo: Editora Hucitec / Editora da Universidade de São Paulo, 1991).

51. Brown, review of Black Atlantic Religion.

52. For example, Pinho, Mama Africa.

53. BAR, 149.

54. While Freyre did not coin the term “racial democracy,” his vivid narrative in The Masters and the Slaves has done a great deal to convince generations of Brazilians and non-Brazilians that Brazil is the opposite of the United States with regard to racism in every important way. Freyre, The Masters and the Slaves, trans. Samuel Putnam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986 [1933]). Loïc Wacquant’s and Peter Fry’s resistance to Michael Hanchard’s Afro–North American critique of Brazilian racism arises partly from different a priori models of how “race” works in Brazil. See, for an overview, John D. French, “The Missteps of Anti-Imperialist Reason: Bourdieu, Wacquant and Hanchard’s Orpheus and Power,” Theory, Culture & Society 17, no. 1 (2000): 107–28. At this level, I can understand their critiques of Hanchard. On the other hand, I doubt that Fry and Wacquant, wearing middle-class attire little different from Hanchard’s, were ever followed suspiciously around a Brazilian grocery store. Similarly, as we arrived by taxi at the door of our São Paulo hotel in 1992, something about the way that my Nigerian wife, my caramel-colored infant daughter in her Snugli, and I looked caused a police officer to reach for his pistol as though contemplating whether to use it on us. I doubt that would have happened to my friend Peter or to Wacquant under similar circumstances. So they might be excused for not noticing the many similarities between Brazilian and U.S. American racism. But I am still often surprised by the quickness of white students of Brazil to dismiss the experience-based observations of their Black peers as incorrect or unreasonable.

55. Iyanaga, review of Black Atlantic Religion.

56. BAR, 53.

57. Mattijs van de Port, review of Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé, by J. Lorand Matory, Social Anthropology 14, no. 3 (2006): 415.

58. Palmié, review of Black Atlantic Religion. [End Page 92]

59. For example, Sansi writes, “Candomblé houses like Casa Branca and Opô Afonjá have traditionally defined themselves as keepers of an original value, a ‘heritage,’ a certain form of vital force, axé, that is ancestral and essential. . . . They trace the origins of this axé back to Africa, and their ritual function is to preserve it in its original form” (Fetishes and Monuments, 76).

60. BAR, 27, 122–27.

61. Mintz and Price, Birth of African-American Culture; Dantas, “Repensando a Pureza Nagô.”

62. Penner, “American Professors”; Rita Laura Segato, “Gender, Politics, and Hybridism in the Transnationalization of Yorùbá Culture,” trans. Ernesto Ignácio de Carvalho, in Òrìṣà Devotion as World Religion, ed. Jacob K. Olupọna and Terry Rey (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), 485–512.

63. Ruth Landes, The City of Women, 2nd ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994 [1947]).

64. For a summary of the debate, see J. Lorand Matory, “Gendered Agendas: The Secrets Scholars Keep about Yoruba-Atlantic Religion,” Gender and History 15, no. 3 (2003): 408–38; BAR; and Matory, “Is There Gender in Yoruba Culture?,” in Olupona and Rey, Orisa Devotion, 513–58.

65. Segato, “Gender, Politics, and Hybridism,” 499, 500.

66. For example, Marc Epprecht, “The Making of African Sexuality: Early Sources, Current Debates,” in Sexual Diversity in Africa: Politics, Theory, Citizenship, ed. S. N. Nyeck and Marc Epprecht (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013), 54–66, 232–34; and Stephan O. Murray and Will Roscoe, eds., Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies in African Homosexualities (New York: St. Martin’s, 1998).

67. Landes, City of Women.

68. J. Lorand Matory, “Stureplan People: Region, Race and Class in Today’s Sweden,” Transition 118 (2015): 47–60.

69. Kim D. Butler, Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition São Paulo and Salvador (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998); Rachel E. Harding, A Refuge in Thunder: Candomblé and Alternative Spaces of Blackness (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000).

70. BAR, 188–223.

71. Freyre, Masters and the Slaves.

72. Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (New York: Scribner, 2011 [1936]).

73. Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1996 [1944]).

74. Gail Collins, “Behind Hillary’s Mask,” New York Times, “Sunday Review” section, July 24, 2016, 1, 6–7.

75. Oyewumi, Invention of Women.

76. Matory, “Is There Gender in Yoruba Culture?”; and Matory, “Gendered Agendas.”

77. Matory, Stigma and Culture. [End Page 93]

78. Eric R. Wolf, Europe and the People without History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982).

79. Solimar Otero, review of Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Oyo Yoruba Religion, 2nd ed., by J. Lorand Matory, International Journal of African Historical Studies 39, no. 2 (2006): 306–7; Beliso-De Jesús, Electric Santería; Raquel Romberg, “Magic in the Postcolonial Americas,” in The Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft in the West, ed. David J. Collins (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 576–634; Amanda D. Concha-Holmes, “Cuban Cabildos, Cultural Politics, and Cultivating a Transnational Yoruba Citizenry,” Cultural Anthropology 28, no. 3 (2013): 490–503; Claudia Rauhut, “A Transatlantic Restoration of Religion: On the Re-construction of Yoruba and Lukumí in Cuban Santería,” in Kummels et al., Transatlantic Caribbean, 181–200; Michael Marcuzzi, “Ring-around-the-Rosie Atlantic: Transatlantic Uses of Rings among Batá Drummers, Caravan Guards, and Muslim Insurgents,” Journal of Religion in Africa 43, no. 1 (2013): 29–52; Lisa Maya Knauer, “Racialized Culture and Translocal Counter-Publics: Rumba and Social Disorder in New York and Havana,” in Caribbean Migration to Western Europe and the United States: Essays on Incorporation, Identity, and Citizenship, ed. Margarita Cervantes-Rodríguez, Ramón Grosfoguel, and Eric Mielants (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2009), 131–68; Stephan Palmié, ed., Africas of the Americas: Beyond the Search for Origins in the Study of Afro-American Religions (Leiden: Brill, 2008); Palmié, review of Black Atlantic Religion; and anonymous, quoted in Matory, “Is There Gender,” 529.

80. For example, Rodolfo Sarracino [Magriñat], Los que volvieron a Àfrica (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales [Sociología], 1988); BAR, 63, 65–67. See Matory, The “Fetish” Revisited; and Beliso-De Jesús, Electric Santería.

81. Matory, Religión del Atlántico Negro; Penner, “American Professors.”

82. Matory, The “Fetish” Revisited.

83. Ibid.

84. Holsey, review of Black Atlantic Religion; Routon, “Trance-Nationalism.”

85. Rita Laura Segato, “Gender, Politics, and Hybridism.”

86. Matory, The “Fetish” Revisited. [End Page 94]

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