978-0-520-07780-5 / 9780520077805

Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society)


Publisher:University of California Press



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About the book:

Vodou is among the most misunderstood and maligned of the world's religions. Mama Lola shatters the stereotypes by offering an intimate portrait of Vodou in everyday life. Drawing on a decade-long friendship with Mama Lola, a Vodou priestess, Karen McCarthy Brown tells tales spanning five generations of Vodou healers in Mama Lola's family, beginning with an African ancestor and ending with Mama Lola's daughter Maggie, a recent initiate and the designated heir to her Brooklyn-based healing practice. Out of these stories, in which dream and vision flavor everyday experience and the Vodou spirits guide decision making, Vodou emerges as a religion focused on healing brought about by mending broken relationships between the living, the dead, and the Vodou spirits.

Mama Lola is also an important experiment in feminist ethnographic writing designed to address current questions in the field. Brown begins with the assumption that ethnography is not so much a science as a social art form rooted in human relationships, and as such it is open to moral and aesthetic questions as well as to those more routinely addressed to it. Weaving several of her own voicesanalytic, descriptive, and personalwith the voices of her subjects in alternate chapters of straightforward ethnography and ethnographic fiction, Brown presents herself as a character in Mama Lola's world and allows the reader to evaluate her interactions there. Mama Lola's story thus rises from a chorus of equally authoritative voices.

Deeply exploring the role of women in religious practices and the related themes of family and of religion and social change, Brown provides a rich context in which to understand the authority that urban Haitian women exercise in the home and in the Vodou temple. A broad range of general readers and scholars will find insights and new understandings in this startlingly original work.

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