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.

Project Update: Structuring Communities
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3 thoughts on “Project Update: Structuring Communities

  • April 5, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    I am constantly engaged by the progress that you make in your project. Your point about looking into the Christian tradition of godparents and godchildren is interesting, but why do you think that only one historian/anthropologist has really studied this phenomenon? Has it been overlooked as a field of study, or just not interested people? If your work could contribute or expand a bit on this field as an addition to your wider project, that might be a welcome addition to scholarship. However, from your blogpost I was not quite sure if you meant the godparent/child tradition in general, or if the study looks into how it merges with RdO. Could you clarify a little?
    Moreover, if you are having problems tracing links back to Africa even if you know (that it is likely) that they exist, don’t worry too much – it is a common problem in research that I am experiencing myself. I would express this concern in your work – stating that it is hard to trace influences, and maybe look into the history of intellectual transmission of cultural ideas? Acknowledging the limitations of your sources and your own position does not have to come across as a weakness if you present it in a matter-of-fact way. What you do with the evidence and sources that you have, is what is important. Although it is, of course, important to handle these sources carefully when making an argument. I hope that helps a little, I really look forward to seeing how you progress. *insert smiley face*

    • April 5, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      Thanks, Johanna! Clark is focused specifically on godparenthood in RdO. I think other scholars have been more interested in the sociological implications of RdO, rather than the specifics of their religious practices; I believe that stems from a desire to maintain unbiased distance from the beliefs themselves, as each researcher wants to avoid casting judgement. Thank you for the advice about handling my source problems; I will definitely stop worrying about it! I can’t wait to see your final work as well 😀

  • April 19, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    On a bit of a seperate note: While researching items in the British Museum for my own project, I came across the ‘Akan Drum (, which I hope will be useful (or at least interesting) to use a piece of material evidence in your project’s investigation into the historical origins of religious communities within the Caribbean. This drum is originally from Ghana, and was brought aboard a slave ship to Virginia, where it was likely used to ‘dance the slaves’ for exercise to keep them healthy during the voyage. Once in the Thirteen Colonies it may have been used in other contexts on a plantation, but it was soon after bought by a British collector in the 1750s and brought to the UK (where it’s still on display). It’s a remarkably tangible (if grim) link to the wider story of the transatlantic slave trade, and I’m not sure how you’d employ it in your argument, but hopefully you can!

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