Monthly Archives: March 2015

Document in Translation: Two Historical Afro-Atlantic Remedies

Among the photographs and personal papers belonging to twentieth-century Afro-Atlantic religious leaders that I consulted, there were a lot of notes. Ochún Guerre, or Hortensia Ferrer (1907-1992), documented her work thoroughly. Below is one of the notes from her collection.

Feb25~15 copy

Here is a translation of the document that Ochún Guerre likely wrote in the 1980s:

Remedies for Asthma*

Take one small piece of turtle shell and boil it in a liter and a half of water. Reduce to one liter. Take this three times a day for 21 days. Repeat the cycle two more times. That means to say, 21 days and 21 days more to complete a cycle of 63 days. Then stop taking this for one month and repeat the same formula.


Take one bottle of honey and one of dry wine. Boil them together and reduce into one bottle. Afterwards, place the bottle in the sun and leave undisturbed for three days. Take two times a day, morning and night.

Although very brief, these treatments involve significant references to mythologies and arts of the oricha, or the divinities of the Afro-Atlantic. Admittedly as a writer and art historian, I am tempted to break down these mythologies and meanings in Ochún Guerre’s note above for you and place these in the context of the Special Period in Cuba in the 1980s . However, as an educator, I suspect that this note might be a compelling way to engage students learning about African Diasporic history and religious arts.

*Please note: This is a translation of historical Afro-Atlantic treatments for asthma as written in the 1980s. The author of this website takes no position on efficacy. As in the past, contemporary Afro-Atlantic religious leaders insist that anyone suffering from such a condition must consult a licensed medical doctor.

More on Textiles… and Dance…

I continue to put things on this blog that did not make it into my book, and, I suspect, won’t make it into my other projects. These are images and art objects, however, that I’ve thought a lot about.  In particular, there is a lot more to say on the significance of textiles in the Black Atlantic.

Textiles for a batá celebration, collection of Joselito Quintero.

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Detail: Gold-starred shirt for Ochún. Photograph by KJ, Dec 2004.

The first few images here are textiles hanging up in a room for a batá celebration. There’s one shirt, for a male priest, or santero, of Ochún. The gold stars on white are lovely in complement with a gold trim. Nearby are paños of different colors representative of an array of oricha that might appear at a drum celebration. As a santero is possessed by a divinity, either a paño will be placed around their shoulders or even tied, somehow, around their torso. That way the audience knows through visual cues what oricha is present, and even, possibly, offering advice.

I did not take photographs during the actual drum celebration. However, there are plenty of public events with textiles for the oricha shown in action, and a small selection of my images are included here.

Upcoming Talk: For Sensory Cultures of Religion Research Group, Yale University, April 14

Another talk I have coming up will discuss the significance of photography as a means to promote Regla de Ocha (or Santería) and a number of Afro-Atlantic religious practices. Below are some of the images, that are not in my first book, with which I am working.

Amparo Valencia at the Teatro Lírico, Havana. Flamenco-style costume. Circa 1959.

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Collection of A.V.

Seen above, more recent research has involved looking at cabaret photography and its role in documenting popular performance of religious mythologies.

For my first book, throughout the interviews I conducted with santeras in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and New York City, I found that a surprising number of religious leaders also worked as cabaret entertainers. The performance of African diasporic identities—particularly in the heightened instance as posed, portrait and documentary photography, is especially compelling to consider. Featured in the gallery above are a few snippets from the photo albums that I had the opportunity to sort through in Havana.

There’s more to this—and I’m writing it up!