Truth in Motion: The Recursive Anthropology of Cuban Divination

Truth in Motion: The Recursive Anthropology of Cuban Divination

Martin Holbraad

Language: English

Pages: 344

ISBN: 0226349217

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Embarking on an ethnographic journey to the inner barrios of Havana among practitioners of Ifá, a prestigious Afro-Cuban tradition of divination, Truth in Motion reevaluates Western ideas about truth in light of the practices and ideas of a wildly different, and highly respected, model. Acutely focusing on Ifá, Martin Holbraad takes the reader inside consultations, initiations, and lively public debates to show how Ifá practitioners see truth as something to be not so much represented, as transformed. Bringing his findings to bear on the discipline of anthropology itself, he recasts the very idea of truth as a matter not only of epistemological divergence but also of ontological difference—the question of truth, he argues, is not simply about how things may appear differently to people, but also about the different ways of imagining what those things are. By delving so deeply into Ifá practices, Truth in Motion offers cogent new ways of thinking about otherness and how anthropology can navigate it.  

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( padrino de guerreros and mano de Orula) in 1999 and, until his death in 2004, was as wise, perceptive, and tender a mentor as one could hope for, in life as in Ifá. This book is dedicated to his memory. Of the many teachers and friends in Cambridge whose help I recorded in the acknowledgments of my doctoral thesis, here I would like to single out Caroline Humphrey, my PhD supervisor. Her unflagging support and intellectual stimulation during my studies, and in the years since, have been of

anthropologists, with all their insistence on “cultural relativism,” saw no reason to give up the idea that the study of human culture was a scientific enterprise through and through (e.g., Boas 1940; Kroeber 1952). Understood as the idea that since particular cultural formations have to be interpreted in their own terms they do not lend themselves to universal generalizations, cultural relativism was proposed by Boas and his students as a point of scientific methodology—a proposal about the

subsequently the neophyte receives as a prerequisite for his own birth as a babalawo (see fig. 3.5). 98 chapter three The same priority holds for ritual “family” ties (as opposed to lineages). For example, you might be my sibling (abbure) because we both received our warrior deities, say, from the same babalawo, who in turn was only in position to give the warriors to us because he had his own. And note that the logical implication here is not mutual. With respect to this (and each)

immanence coincide. This is because in his case the macrocosmic idiom of “ownership” refers not to some generic natural or social feature to be found in the urban or rural environment at large, but only to the consecrated oracle of Ifá itself, whose paraphernalia are kept within babalawos’ homes—that is, within a microcosmic field of divine immanence. Orula himself inhabits the home in the form of a consecrated stone (otán) which, as with other orichas, is placed inside a luxurious pot, decorated

returning to these ideas to examine a sophisticated version of the argument from interpretative openness, advanced by Dan Sperber. The reason for doing so is partly that Sperber’s analysis seems to meet my quick dismissal of cruder appeals to interpretation, though I shall argue that ultimately it does not. More important, however, a critique of Sperber’s approach serves as a way of engaging with (rather than just bypassing) the question of interpretation, which is so central to the practice of

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