Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Systemically shut out from channels of wealth accrual in Cuba’s expanding private sector, this paper highlights how a sector of the black working poor struggle to produce dividends for their physical labor “to save” their families. Afro-religious rumba practitioners (rumberos religiosos) reinterpret the new government push toward personal responsibility by entrepreneurs. Although market-oriented economic reforms have put poor black Cubans without family abroad at a systemic disadvantage, rumberos religiosos attempt to use the folkloric platforms to maximize economic agency in informal, community-based religious markets. Based on 18 months of participant observation and semi-structured interviews with members of the rumba group Yoruba Andabo, this paper analyzes how rumba dancers, percussionists and singers employ sacred notions of development tied to spiritual obligation to gain a competitive edge with coveted consumers in ways unintended by the state.
Rumba performance provides a critical lens to view different mappings of Cuba’s shifting economy through the inner-workings of “the other” private market of afro-religious ritual. With it comes a fresh understanding of black folkloric artists beyond their representational value, but as savvy economic actors negotiating complexly structured terrain. Rather than reify the sturdiness of the sacred-secular binary, close ethnographic analysis reveals how artists, in their capacity as ritual kin, collectively work across and along normative conceptions of sacred and secular, public and private. Furthermore, they highlight the importance of gender for delineating “sacred” pathways to economic participation and the social reproduction of family, broadly defined.