“Keep alive the powers of Africa”: Katherine Dunham, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Deren, and the circum-Caribbean culture of Vodoun
AbstractAs the site of the first black republic and the center of the African diasporic culture of Vodoun, the island of Haiti undoubtedly plays a central role in the African American imaginary in multifaceted ways. Katherine Dunham, Zora Neale Hurston, and Maya Deren, each in turn, attempted to decipher the meaning of Vodoun and Hoodoo for the community of practitioners, for non-practitioners, as well as for themselves in the context of their lives as scholars and artists. Dunham's The Dance's of Haiti (1947) and Deren's Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (1953) can be counted among founding texts on the anthropology and aesthetics of Vodoun. Zora Neale Hurston's work on the anthropology of the Caribbean led her to look closer to home and to explore Vodoun in Haiti and Hoodoo in Louisiana. Her Mules and Men (1935) and Tell My Horse (1938), as well as her publications in the Journal of American Anthropology , are among the first explorations in African American diasporic culture of Hoodoo, locating Louisiana's culture in the larger context of the Caribbean. Hurston declared New Orleans “the hoodoo capital of America” and determined that in Louisiana there are “great names in rites that vie with those of Haiti in deeds that keep alive the powers of Africa.” This essay explores why African diasporic culture in the larger Caribbean was so powerfully attractive to Dunham and Hurston, both African Americans, and Deren, a Russian immigrant to the United States, as scholars and artists.