Marja-Leena Rathje
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New Orleans


Like everyone, I've been following the terrible tragedy of New Orleans in news and blogs, feeling deeply but not writing much myself. So many of us who have visited New Orleans have been recalling it, thankful for having had that opportunity, and sad at the loss of all that unique beauty and culture, and horrified at the loss of life and the continuing struggles of the homeless. Others have written far better than I could. I'd like to point to two very meaningful ones by an artist and a writer who both speak of the great culture of that city, that is deeply based on its people.

Artist James W. Bailey blogs about art at Black Cat Bone and lately of course it's been all about New Orleans where he lived for 20 years. I was particularly moved by the one about the hoodoo culture in New Orleans. (I thought it originally came from Haiti though.)

Author Anne Rice, who was born in New Orleans and has lived there many years, wrote a wonderful article Do you know what it means to lose New Orleans? (via Conscientious). Rice extols the vibrant black culture, but also the Irish, Italian and German immigrants who came in, who all made New Orleans a special home.

"Something else was going on in New Orleans. The living was good there. The clock ticked more slowly; people laughed more easily; people kissed; people loved; there was joy.

Which is why so many New Orleanians, black and white, never went north. They didn't want to leave a place where they felt at home in neighborhoods that dated back centuries; they didn't want to leave families whose rounds of weddings, births and funerals had become the fabric of their lives. They didn't want to leave a city where tolerance had always been able to outweigh prejudice, where patience had always been able to outweigh rage. They didn't want to leave a place that was theirs."

Do read both articles!

Marja-Leena | 04/09/2005 | 5 comments
themes: Culture, Current Events


5 comments

Thanks for these links.

(I thought it originally came from Haiti though.) No. While Haitian Voudun, North American Hoodoo, Jamaican Obeah, Brailian candomble, etc. have done a lot of cross-fertilization, the main reason they resemble each other is that they derive from the same, relatively recent source: Yoruba religion.

Thanks, Dave, for enlightening me! I obviously don't know much on the subject.

The reason I mentioned it was that I was recalling reading about Wade Davis, Canadian anthropologist, ethnobotanist, writer, photographer and now with National Geographic, who studied and wrote about Haitian voodoo in 'The Serpent and the Rainbow' and 'Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie'. I haven't read them, but we have his 'Light at the Edge of the World'. Do you know his books?

Do you happen to have a good link on Yoruba religion?

Yeah, Wade Davis is one of the best ethnobotanist writers - up there with Gary Paul Nabhan. One River is his masterpiece.

I'm told by my friend who is a Haitian voudun initiate that, while The Serpent and the Rainbow is good, the best book on the subject is called Tell My Horse. I haven't read it yet. Zora Neale Hurston has written authoritatively on both Voudun and Hoodoo; she was one of the few people to take zombies seriously, way back in the 30s.

I don't know about web sources on Yoruba religion offhand. I've read several books in the university library, which tend too be either too scholarly (Wande Abimbola) or too credulous (some new convert, forget his name, who's translated a great deal of the Ifa corpus). Whatever form you get them in, the Ifa divinitory poems are among the glories of world literature, in my opinion.

Oh, and Mama Lola: A Voodoo Priestess in New York, by Karen McCarthy Brown, is a good ethnology in the participant-observer tradition.

Thanks for all this great information, Dave! Now we need to figure out how to find me the time to read so many great books out there - maybe stop blogging, hmm? I'm already not doing enough art work!