Fire, Hope, Prayer: Trinidad Orisa, Creolization, and the Politics of Authenticity
Jessica Michelle Alarcon
Carole Boyce Davies
Thesis DT 3.5 2010 A427
xiv, 165 pages
Trinidad Orisa is one of the many Yoruba-Derived spiritual practices that have thrived for centuries throughout the African Diaspora beyond enslavement. Initially, Trinidad Orisa was practiced in a form born and bred in the Antilles. However, recent interactions with the Yoruba Spiritual community from Nigeria have sparked questions and debates about both the authenticity of diasporan versions of Orisa as well as ways in which Orisa may be returned to its original Yoruban form as practiced in Nigeria. This thesis, Fire, Hope, and Prayer derives its title from the opening lines of Trinidad and Tobago's National anthem where it states, "Forged from the love of liberty, in the fires of hope and prayer". Metaphorically it represents the journey of Orisa in Trinidad that although drawing from a Yoruba name (Orisa), is actually formed with a combination of identities such as Congo, Hausa, Indian, and other local cultures. Under the fires and pressures of colonization and enslavement Orisa represented both a freedom and a rebellion from the suppressing culture, religion, and creole seasoning process imposed upon the Caribbean pop ulus. Hope and prayer went hand and hand as the traditions were handed down from generation to generation thus forming an African spiritual practice that is distinctly Trinidadian. Fire, Hope, and Prayer: Trinidad Orisa, Creolizatoin, and the Politics of Authenticity suggests that it is an impossible and unfair to suggest a "return" to an "original" since all things inevitably change. Trinidad Orisa is no more similar to early 19th century versions of Yoruba spiritual practice than what the Yoruba themselves are practicing today in Nigeria. Furthermore, just as variations will be found from village to village in Nigeria no matter the proximity in Yorubaland - the same goes for the diaspora. Orisa traditions have been formed under a number of historical, spritual, and social circumstance that account for the differences, not only from country to country in the African diaspora - but also from town to town. In Trinidad an Orisa spiritual house in Woodbrook close to Port of Spain would not hold a feast in the same way as one in Claxton Bay in the South. While it is important to learn from each other as we are re-introduced to ourselves in the diaspora, we must also come together with an understanding that the fires of colonialism spread throughout the diaspora. While we all sought different means to be released from or to cope with the throws of oppression, we all created our own alternative realities with glimmers of hope as prayer reconnected us to our ancestral, spiritual, and imagined "home". To exalt one tradition as purer, or more authentic than another turns the same oppressive hand upon ourselves that we have sought for so long to overcome.