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Vodou is among the most misunderstood and maligned of the world's religions. Mama Lola shatters the stereotypes by offering an intimate portrait of Vodou in everyday life. Drawing on a decade-long friship with Mama Lola, a Vodou priestess, Karen McCarthy Brown tells tales spanning five generations of Vodou healers in Mama Lola's family, beginning with an African ancestor and ing with Mama Lola's daughter Maggie, a recent initiate and the designated heir to her Brooklyn-based healing practice. Out of these stories, in which dream and vision flavor everyday experience and the Vodou spirits guide decision making, Vodou emerges as a religion focused on healing brought about by ming broken relationships between the living, the dead, and the Vodou spirits. Mama Lola is also an important experiment in feminist ethnographic writing designed to address current questions in the field. Brown begins with the assumption that ethnography is not so much a science as a social art form rooted in human relationships, and as such it is open to moral and aesthetic questions as well as to those more routinely addressed to it. Weaving several of her own voices—analytic, descriptive, and personal—with the voices of her subjects in alternate chapters of straightforward ethnography and ethnographic fiction, Brown presents herself as a character in Mama Lola's world and allows the reader to evaluate her interactions there. Mama Lola's story thus rises from a chorus of equally authoritative voices. Deeply exploring the role of women in religious practices and the related themes of family and of religion and social change, Brown provides a rich context in which to understand the authority that urbanHaitian womenexercise in the home and in the Vodou temple. A broad range of general readers and scholars will find insights and new understandings in this startlingly original work.
Author Biography: Karen McCarthy Brown is Professor of the Sociology and Anthropology of Religion at the Graduate and Theological Schools of Drake University.
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.
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.
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 themÉ. She has written a life story that is full of feeling.
Eugene V. Gallagher
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.
- Publisher's Weekly
Brown befriends a Haitian vodou priestess who practices in her Brooklyn, N.Y., home. Photos. (Feb.)