Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Grete Viddal joins the Stone Center as a Zemurray Stone Postdoctoral Fellow

October 7th, 2015

Grete Viddal is a Zemurray Stone Postdoctoral Fellow. She received her Masters in Anthropology in 2007 and her Ph.D. from Harvard’s Department of African and African American Studies in 2014. Before coming to Tulane she was a Program Fellow at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard. This fall, she is teaching a seminar entitled “Revolutionary Identities in the Caribbean: Cuba and Haiti.” Taking two different nations as case studies, the course examines forces that shape both daily life and national identities in the Caribbean. Probing Cuba’s path to nationhood and racial, cultural, and religious policies under socialism, students examine its efforts to become a model of development for other countries. Reflecting on Haiti’s history as the first independent black republic in the hemisphere, the class delves into religion and power, post-Duvalier struggles to realize a system of democratic governance, and the challenges of rebuilding the material and social infrastructure destroyed by the earthquake of 2010. Using historical, ethnographic, and literary lenses, students consider how both Cubans and Haitians crafted revolutionary identities and envisioned their nations as models for independence, guiding an appreciation of the Caribbean in a global context.

Viddal’s book project, Vodú Chic: Cuba’s Haitian Heritage, the Folkloric Imaginary, and the State, is currently under agreement for publication with the University of Mississippi Press. Vodú Chic is an ethnographic study of Haitian descendants in Cuba that charts the ways in which state ideologies clash and resonate with local communities. In post-Soviet socialist Cuba, economic frustrations and housing shortages increasingly challenge national unity, and burgeoning spirituality tests communist ideology. Folkloric performances attract tourists and are described by state officials, local scholars, and performers themselves as evidence of Cuba“s multi-racial harmony. Viddal argues that Haitian descendants utilize emerging “economies of folklore”-particularly heritage conservation projects and the budding tourist industry-to assert their voices. Vodú Chic is based on fifteen months of sustained fieldwork in eastern Cuba from 2008-2010 and fifteen years of traveling to the island. Case studies analyze dance, music, and rituals of Vodú as they are re-imagined for the public stage in unexpected ways. Viddal documents how haitiano-cubanos, once Cuba’s most marginal migrants, achieve new visibility through links with international music promoters and anthropologists. She reveals how people of Haitian descent transform once-denigrated traditions into the exotic and desired. Vodú Chic also probes how ritual specialists occupy new terrains of citizenship by simultaneously professing Communist ideals and religious joy.

At Tulane, Viddal will engage in new research focused on practitioners of Afro-Caribbean religion in the United States. Attending Vodou spirit parties in Boston and New York, she became interested in the motivations of converts. While Vodou practice in Haiti is typically associated with the uneducated, the peasantry, and the urban poor, in the U.S., upwardly mobile middle-class Haitian immigrants express national pride by openly associating with the religion. Communities of American Pagans, Wiccans, and Queer Fairies have begun to enter Vodou, as have enthusiastic students of Afro-Caribbean dance and drumming. Many explain that they are searching for authenticity or ethnic expressions of the sacred that resonate as genuine, socially alternative, or gay-friendly, and they debate Vodou practice and legitimacy on a variety of blogs and social media. Other new adherents include Dominicans and Puerto Ricans familiar with island Spiritualist traditions, who find Vodou accessible to them in the US. Many perceive it “more African” and therefore mystically potent. These converts to new religious identities alter perceptions of authenticity and ownership. Viddal built ties to Haitian religious societies on the east coast and plans to continue her work at Tulane by studying with communities of practitioners of Haitian-style Vodou in New Orleans

Grete’s CV

Caribbean + People
Marilyn Miller
Associate Professor and Chair - Spanish & Portuguese