Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn (Comparative Studies in Religion & Society) Paperback – 22 Nov 2001
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"I know of no other work about Vodou that can teach the uninitiated so fully what it means to know: how unassuming, contingent and matter-of-fact real konesans (understanding) must be." - Joan Dayan, Women's Review of Books "This volume is superb: a poignant account of a Haitian migrant to New York and how she appropriates and reworks her family knowledge of healing and ritual.... Gently informed by her own life and by women's anthropology, Brown offers a sympathetic and vivid portrait of the lives of a group of women." - Roland Littlewood, Political and Social Science "Novelistic chapters, beautifully written, are alternated with a narrative of the present, including descriptions of the members of the Vodou pantheon and how Alourdes serves them.... She has written a life story that is full of feeling." - Constance Casey, Los Angeles Times "Brown's ethnographic short stories vividly capture the complicated personal history that is summed up in Mama Lola's full name and they also dramatize the larger social processes at work in Haiti's recent history.... Mama Lola provides an engaging, detailed, and sympathetic account of the world of Haitian Vodou. Brown has used a variety of interesting, and even daring, techniques to make that world come alive." - Eugene V. Gallagher, Journal of the American Academy of Religion
About the Author
Karen McCarthy Brown is Professor of Anthropology of Religion at The Caspersen School of Graduate Studies and The Theological School of Drew University.
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Karen McCarthy Brown has penned a masterpiece! Mama Lola, known to family and friends as Alourdes, is a Mambo, an initiated priestess of Voudou who earns a modest living by serving her immigrant countrymen in America as a traditional healer and by conducting Haitian Voudou rites in her Brooklyn home. In 1978, Brown, then a professor of religion at New Jersey's Drew University first encountered Mama Lola while doing an ethnographic survey of the local Haitian population. Intrigued by the priestess and her misunderstood and maligned tradition, Brown became at first a friend, then a member of Mama Lola's extended family and finally an enthusiastic participant in many of the rites that comprise the corpus of Voudoun devotional life.
Mama Lola, her daughter Maggie, their children and their ancestors, and the 'Lwa' (spirits) who frequently 'possess' them are an engaging, wonderfully diverse crowd: deeply spiritual, profoundly thoughtful and often humorous characters marvelously skilled in surviving conditions of extreme deprivation and oppression and in adapting to the conditions of life (or, afterlife) in the strange world of urban America.
By the time I had completed this delightful book, I felt myself deeply involved in Mama Lola's life and that of her extended family. Brown's writing is textured and a pleasure to read. The author goes far out on a limb, leaving her observer role and social scientist expertise and becomes an initiate into the religion, wedding the 'etic' of academia to the 'emic' of an ecstatic, profoundly sensual, Earth-centered religiosity.
The arrangement of the text adds to its readability, with odd chapters offering stories about Mama Lola's family and heritage and even chapters devoted to the pantheon of lwa (spirits) of the Voudou tradition. A glossary of Voudou terms has been added, which is indispensible to readers new to the subject.
Students and scholars of Haiti, the African Diaspora and African religious traditions will enjoy and benefit from this work immensely. I recommend it as well to the general public for a most worthwhile reading adventure.
Dr. Brown makes this amazing woman and her family come alive on the page.
Alourdes is all at once a devout woman, devoted mother, petulent and powerful woman. Her family is at once inspiring and beverage out your nose funny.
By the end of this edition, I found myself not only falling in love with Alourdes family, but with the spirits they so loyally serve.
A terrfic book if you want to understand what Vodou means to it's followers, what life is like for immigrant women and the pride and strength that comes from growing up in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
Overall, I found the book interesting, not difficult to read (as is the case with many "academic" books), enjoyable and informative. It seems like it would be a suitable book for those interested in religion, vodou in particular, anthropology, ethnographic study, or those interested in Haiti.
Mama Lola, as she serves her spirits and makes good luck for her spiritual godchildren, embodies the history of Haitian women and their creative mastery of many worlds within the New World. All the stories that Mama Lola relates "follow a line from mother to daughter" and emphasize the role of the matrilineal connections between Alourdes and her descendants (p. 16). The matriarch serves a special role in preserving the extended "family" of vodou practitioners.
In Karen McCarthy Brown's ethnography, Mama Lola is the center of a complex web of relationships connecting West Africa to Haiti to Brooklyn to other points extending even farther. The reader discovers the rural world of Haiti and the urban world of New York City through an alternation of personal narratives, interviews, and imaginative fictional interludes about the ancestors and the spirits.
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