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In a riveting first-person account, Todd Ramón Ochoa explores Palo, a Kongo-inspired "society of affliction" that is poorly understood at the margins of Cuban popular religion. Narrated as an encounter with two teachers of Palo, the book unfolds on the outskirts of Havana as it recounts Ochoa's attempts to assimilate Palo praise of the dead. As he comes to terms with a world in which everyday events and materials are composed of the dead, Ochoa discovers in Palo unexpected resources for understanding the relationship between matter and spirit, for rethinking anthropology's rendering of sorcery, and for representing the play of power in Cuban society. The first fully detailed treatment of the world of Palo, Society of the Dead draws upon recent critiques of Western metaphysics as it reveals what this little known practice can tell us about sensation, transformation, and redemption in the Black Atlantic.
Part One. The Dead
2. Kalunga, the Ambient Dead
3. Little Corners
4. Responsive Dead
Part Two. Palo Society
5. Emilio O’Farril
7. Palo Society
9. A Feast Awry
Part Three. Prendas-Ngangas-Enquisos
11. Lucero Mundo
12. The Cauldron
13. Reckoning with the Dead
15. Insinuation and Artifice
Part Four. Palo Craft
16. Struggle Is Praise
19. Tormenta Ndoki
20. Storms of Lent
Todd Ramón Ochoa is a cultural anthropologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
“[Ochea’s] work is unlikely to be superseded. . . . Highly recommended.”—S. D. Glazier Choice
"Todd Ochoa's important text immediately transposes us into a Kongo-Cuban sacred world of summoned ancestral forces—Lucero, Sarabanda, Mama Chola, et al. The dead are honored on altars in ways that represent a profound creolization of the 'medicines of God' (minkisi), core elements of the classical religion of the kingdom of Kongo. Ochoa makes clear that Palo is a world faith with all the depth, narrative excitement, and cultural vitality that such a status implies. I enthusiastically recommend this book."—Robert Farris Thompson, author of Tango: The Art History of Love and Aesthetic of the Cool
"The subtle accomplishments of this intensive work are evident in the empirical richness, in its attention to the intertwinings of performance, materiality, and power, and in the deeply engaging voice that resonates throughout the manuscript. This is a singular achievement and will provide the first thoroughgoing account on Palo in English, written with a keen ethnographic sensibility, but much more broadly accessible—poetic and lucid, interpretive and grounded, challenging and engaging."—Don Brenneis, UC Santa Cruz
"Ochoa takes us swimming into the unseen sea populated by the dead in Kongo-Cuban traditions. This nuanced and penetrating study reveals how the dead are divinity's potential, the generative spark that animates the many branches of what Ochoa terms 'African-inspired' practices. Evocative and masterfully written, I could hardly put the book down. It's sure to be a necessary text in any course on Afro-diasporic religions, Caribbean theology, and on ethnographic method and writing."—Elizabeth McAlister, author of Rara!: Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora