Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Aisha Beliso-De Jesús – Contentious Diasporas: Imperialist Feminisms and Heteronationalisms in the Cuban Iyanifa Debate

Monday, March 7, 2016


Birkelund Board Room

A transnational debate over female initiations to ifá (Yoruba diaspora divination system) in Cuba arose between 2004 and 2007. It pitted different practitioners within nationalist terms. Cuban, Nigerian, and American “styles” of ifá disputed gender regulations, religious sexualities, and global authority in what became known as the “iyanifa Debate.” The various sides of the debate made calls to global oricha communities to either defend or condemn the initiation of women. Cuban ifá priests argued that feminist imperialisms were attempting to colonize Afro-Cuban traditions in the name of profit. In this talk, I examine how competing ifá religious diasporas are held in tension through the iyanifa debate in Cuba. Rather than consisting of a conflict between “American imperialist feminisms” and “Cuban colonial misogyny,” as the iyanifa debate has seemingly played out in its public spectacle, I argue that this debate circumscribes nationalized gendered normativities between competing Cuban and African diasporic assemblages.

Presented by Aisha Belisio-De Jesús, Associate Professor of African American Religions, Harvard Divinity School.

Part of the Cuban Transitions Lecture Series.

More Information