This semester I am wrapping up a course on Religions of Latin America. The course has covered everything from pre-Columbia Mexica sacrifice to Brazilian Millenarian movements in Canudos and navigating religion, race, power, and sexuality in Nicaragua.
Along with being a required course in my PhD track at University of Florida (Religion in the Americas), it has been a fascinating journey over time and geography, which has revealed to me different ways of studying religion & understanding Latin America as a place of long history, colonial encounter, and contemporary religious diversity in a (post)modern world.
*Read my reflection on Mexica sacrifice HERE
One of the assignments we had for this class was to do a literature review on a particular topic. I was deciding between indigenous, pre-colonial, religion and Islam in Latin America. I decided I would do both, one for the class and one on my own time. When I decided on pre-colonial religion and cosmologies I had to decide where or whom.
This summer I am headed to Puerto Rico for preliminary fieldwork for my study of Puerto Rican Islam in trans(regional), hemispheric, and global context. As a scholar, I am interested in deep cultural history, understanding the ways in which contemporary cultures and expressions are shaped, sometimes unknowingly, by ancient lifeways. Thus, in studying Puerto Rico and engaging in ethnography in the Caribbean I decided to uncover what there is to know about the Taíno people who originally inhabited Borikén (the Taíno name for Puerto Rico).
*Follow Ken for more on religion & culture
The Taíno people were the indigenous community who "greeted" Columbus and were subsequently decimated by colonial encounter, slavery, disease, suicide, and war. They had a rich matrilineal chiefdom political culture led by caciques, a social network based on kinship and complex ritual and ball games, a religious cosmology that parallels that of other Latin American peoples (specifically because of their origins in the Orinoco delta region), and practices that involved the use of entheogens (cohoba), complex statuary (zemis), and ritual vomiting.