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Divining the Past: The Linguistic Reconstruction of 'African' Roots in Diasporic Ritual Registers and Songs

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I examine the assumptions underlying scholars' use of etymological reconstruction to connect ritual registers in African diasporic religions with African 'sources', and to thereby reclaim African diasporic history by recovering 'lost' or hidden meanings. I compare these efforts to the interpretive practices of practitioners of Cuban Santería, who engage in textual and performative 'divinations' of hidden or lost meanings in Lucumí and in ritual modes of 'temporal telescoping' through which an African past becomes transcendent and ritually immanent. I suggest that religiously informed modes of historical subjectivity can illuminate the efforts of linguists and other scholars of the African diaspora who are engaged in seeking 'lost' or hidden memories and meanings and in 'temporal telescoping'. I argue that scholars of African diasporic religion and language must attend more carefully to issues of time, historical consciousness and historicity, especially as they are embedded in our own language ideologies and historiographic interpretive practices.

Affiliations: 1: Anthropology Department, Moore Hall, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, USA


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