Asho Orisha (clothing of the Orisha): Material culture as religious expression in Santeria

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Title: Asho Orisha (clothing of the Orisha): Material culture as religious expression in Santeria
Author: Clark, Mary Ann
Advisor: Wyschogrod, Edith
Degree: Doctor of Philosophy thesis
Abstract: "Asho Orisha" suggests that the objects surrounding and the items clothing the Orisha of Santeria (also known as Lucumi or Orisha religion) form chains of signifiers tied to the theological and philosophical core of the religion. It focuses on the domestic displays devotees maintain for their deities on a day-to-day basis, the altar displays (thrones) created by devotees for the anniversarie's of their initiation into the priesthood, and the body of the new initiate (the iyawo). This work traces the ways in which theological concepts from Africa are redefined and reinterpreted in the Americas so as to maintain a consistent conceptual system in a new environment. It uses a combination of participant-observation, individual interviews and photographic documentation. It includes 13 photographs of altars and clothing. The focus of this work is divided into three principle sections. Chapter 3 looks at the altars as a whole to see the ways pre-colonial African, colonial Cuban and contemporary American ideas about how one presents and approaches the holy are incorporated into these displays. Chapter 4 looks at the portions of displays devoted to six major Orisha (Obatala, Shango, Yemaya, Oshun, Ogun and Eleggua) and suggests that color forms a primary semiotic system. An analysis of color symbolism aids in the analysis of the other objects found in these displays. Chapter 5 extends this semiotic analysis to include the initiation experience and the extended liminal period of the iyawoage. Like the altar displays, the iyawo embodies the Orisha and thus functions as a mobile sacred site. The construction of the persona of the iyawo and the rules surrounding the iyawoage are fruitfully interrogated to explicate additional theological and philosophical concepts. Issues of cross-gender and cross-status dress highlight the ways that clothing serves as a symbolic system to maintain Yoruba ideas about the sacred relationships embodied in the iyawo. Chapter 6 concludes this work with a discussion of the place of Spanish terminology and Catholic imagery within the semiotic system and briefly discusses the ways in which the religious displays work as mnemonic devices.
Citation: Clark, Mary Ann. (1999) "Asho Orisha (clothing of the Orisha): Material culture as religious expression in Santeria." Doctoral Thesis, Rice University.
Date: 1999

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