Marcela Perdomo

Repairing the Past through Spirit Possession Among the Garifuna of Honduras


The increasing global circulation of people and ways of living, ideas and objects has highlighted the prolific facets of the phenomenon of spirit possession. The ability of spirits to travel through time and space and to maintain transnational links between cultures and social contexts suggests the need to grasp the unpredictable relations of spirits and process of post-colonialism and globalization, particularly among migrant populations. The present ethnographic study shows the impressive link between spirit possession, subjective experience, collective trauma, exile, and ethnic pride. Repairing the Past through Spirit Possession among the Garifuna of Honduras is an ethnographic account of spirit possession among local mediums who incarnate the spirit of the ancestors. By focusing on recurring patterns of possession, my paper explores how intriguing fragments of a collective past trauma is heavily embodied by individuals. In comparison with other people of African descent in the Americas, the Garifuna’s broad trajectory has taken unexpected shifts since their emergence as a distinct group within the enslaved Caribbean. Their mass deportation to the coast of Central America by the British Crown at the end of the 18th century became a major turning point for this Afro-Amerindian group. Indeed, this traumatic event emerges among individuals’ psychosomatic experiences and ritual performance. During possession scenes, the spirits of the dead broadcast stories that intermingle allusions to the group’s historical racial trauma of dispossession and exile with recriminations to ungrateful kin that have neglected their remembrance. My work shows how the loss of equilibrium caused by the tormented revenants may be reestablished through religious devotion, prioritizing deep down inside the symbolical reparation of a dark colonial past along with the improvement of an individual and collective condition.


I am currently a visiting lecturer for the department of religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. From 2019 until 2021, I was a Dietrich School Diversity Postdoctoral Fellow for the same department. In 2019, I received my Ph.D. degree in ethnology and social anthropology at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences) in Paris. During my doctoral training I received two grants for fieldwork conduction from the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale (LAS) and from the CNRS (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique) in Paris. My current research interests include the anthropology of African diaspora societies, anthropology of Afro-Atlantic religions, medical and cultural Anthropology, theory of race, historical consciousness, power and inequality, and ethnographic reflexivity.


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