This is just a sort of project update post, so please bear with me as I get all kinds of specific. While I have been able to find ample sources for the nature of Regla de Ochá (RdO) itself, I am being forced to rely on secondary sources (primarily anthropological studies) to trace the history of community development. While this does not invalidate my conclusions, it has made the ultimate unification of my information a little bit tricky. With oral accounts and anthropological assessments to guide the greatest part of my inquiry, keeping my conclusions and arguments strictly historical has been difficult. I don’t know if anyone else has been experiencing anything similar, but I hope the conference in week 11 will ultimately help to ensure my research has taken a properly historical shape.
On the happier side of things, one of the most interesting relationships I have been focusing on is that of godparent and godchild. This unique incarnation of a familiar Christian tradition has been studied primarily by a single researcher, Mary Ann Clark (University of Florida), but even her briefest treatments of this social structure reveal it to be a key example of the ways in which transnational and multicultural influences have shaped RdO. The kinship traditions of the Yoruba combined with the Catholic institution of godparenthood combined together to form a pattern of recreating a ‘religious family’ for RdO practitioners. These bonds of a community of faith have lost some of their centrality to the lives of believers and some of their formality as an institution, but they remain significant even into the 21st century. As I am focusing on the history of RdO communities, bonds such as these (and those between the initiate and the RdO priests who facilitate their inititation) are crucial to understanding the ways in which these communities have evolved over time; these relationships as institutions have existed for hundreds of years, and it is the community built around them that has fluctuated and reformed over time.
Finally, I would like to raise an issue of research methodology with you all in the hopes that someone might have some advice. Tracing the transnational influence of Yoruban tradition (those practices and beliefs from trafficked Central and West Africans) is proving extremely difficult. Though there is some evidence for what these traditions were in their original incarnations, much of that has been lost through colonialism and conflict. I am attempting to reduce potential bias in my sources by reading compilations by both Yoruba and non-African scholars, but I know my knowledge will never be what it ought to be (thanks, imperialism). I hope that the images I am able to present of Yoruban influences are substantial enough to honestly represent the powerful force of African tradition in RdO’s growth and development. However, if anyone has any suggestions about how I might do this better, I am more than happy to entertain them.