p ro lo g u e
Evidence and Presence, Spectral and Other
When I first began doing ethnographic fieldwork in Miami in 1985,
people whom I soon learned to think of as ‘‘my informants’’ repeatedly
asked me why I had chosen Afro-Cuban religion as a topic of research.
What did I want from them? Why had I come all the way from Europe to
study their practices and beliefs? And to what end? I have always felt
somewhat at a loss for an answer. My own rationalization of my in-
creasingly frequent visits to their homes as part of a dissertation project
seemed a rather weak argument even then, and I cannot say that I have
come up with more convincing explanations during the subsequent re-
search that I have conducted in Cuba since 1993. Back in Miami in 1985, at
any rate, I was both puzzled and intrigued by an interpretation first
ventured by a professional diviner and friend named Cecilia Laca and
later—to my surprise—confirmed by another initiated priest of regla ocha
whom I came to know only as Carlos. The question that both of them had
tried to tackle was the following: Given that I steadfastly denied that
either I or my personal forebears had any palpable connection with
Africa, Cuba, or the Caribbean, how was it that I seemed so obviously
compelled to seek information about matters connected with the history
of these places? The answer that Cecilia and Carlos came up with was
that I had been driven to their doorsteps by the spirit of a dead slave—a
solution straightforwardly plausible within the world of Afro-Cuban
religion but just about as utterly fantastic within the universe of meaning
that I inhabit as the suggestion that a tempest magically unleashed by
Shakespeare’s exiled duke of Milan had blown me there.
Cecilia’s and Carlos’s theories explaining my unusual interest in Afro-
Cuban religion had, of course, nothing to do with wistful literary meta-
phorics. They recurred to the spiritist doctrines to which both of them, to
varying degrees, subscribed. According to the popular versions of Kar-
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