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Throughout the twentieth century, various Cuban regimes have tried to eliminate the practice of religions of African origin by combining repressive legislation and coercive social practices that stigmatized practitioners as culturally backward, socially deviant, and mentally deficient. Religious practitioners, however, used the state apparatus to continue worshipping their African deities, sometimes challenging government officials excessive application of the law or devising ways to evade their scrutiny. Through an analysis of archival documents, newspapers, works produced by practitioners, oral history interviews and published ethnographies, this dissertation examines the strategies practitioners of Ocha-Ifa — also known as Santeria — employed as they continued practicing the religion of their ancestors and participating in the national projects of the twentieth century. Focusing on the period after the 1959 revolution, this dissertation argues that revolutionary policies that were designed to discourage the practice of religions of African origin actually facilitated its continued practice and development in unintended ways. By analysing practices in one particular religion of African origin in Havana and Matanzas, the regions of greatest concentration of Ocha-If<á>, this study suggests that citizenship, identity and belonging were negotiated terrain over which neither the revolutionary government nor practitioners of Ocha-If<á> had absolute control. This dissertation builds on the recent research on race and the participation of Cubans of African descent in politics and society during the twentieth century by focusing on the activities of one particular sector of Cuban society. It is unique in historicizing a sector of Cuban society that has thus far only appeared as part of larger scholarly interpretations concerning race or religion in Cuba.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Hall, Linda

Second Committee Member

Bieber, Judy

Third Committee Member

Gauderman, Kimberly

Fourth Committee Member

Cormie, Lee



Project Sponsors

Tinker Foundation Latin American and Iberian Studies

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