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date: 24 April 2017

Espiritismo and Urban Planning in Cuba: Envisioning Regeneration in Havana and Oriente after 1898

Summary and Keywords

Espiritismo refers to the practice of communicating with the spirits of the dead by means of especially disposed and trained persons known as mediums. Linked in origin to the Spiritualist movement that swept through the United States and Europe after 1848, espiritistas in Cuba drew primarily from French and Spanish sources, especially the writings of French systematizer Allan Kardec (1804–1869). Following Kardec, espiritistas asserted that spirits survived death, progressing over numerous incarnations until they attained perfect knowledge and morality. Kardec, who described his pursuits as an experimental science rather than as a faith, was less influential among Anglo-American spiritualists. Among other differences, spiritualists questioned Kardec’s notion of reincarnation, the key to what he called the “law of [spiritual] progress.”

In Cuba, a Spanish colony until 1898, espiritismo grew in popularity in the last third of the 19th century, a period of wrenching anti-colonial and anti-slavery struggles that led separatists to denounce the Catholic Church for its support of Spanish colonialism. Communications with spirits persuaded non-conformists, mostly literate town and city residents of the middling classes, that a new age of technological and moral progress was dawning. In Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Barcelona, and Madrid, espiritistas challenged the Church for its refusal to recognize evidence derived from spirit communications. Practitioners maintained that knowledge acquired from superior spirits could renew Christianity, heal the sick, and open up new vistas of the cosmos. Generally associated with liberalism, espiritistas contested the doctrinal authority of the Church and its public functions. Persuaded of the essential equality of all spirits, espiritistas advocated civil marriage, lay schools, hospitals, cemeteries, the end of capital punishment, the abolition of slavery, and reforms favoring individual freedoms for men and women. Fearful that espiritismo could fuel anti-colonial dissent, Spanish officials in Cuba sought to limit the circulation of espiritista texts. Clerics condemned the practice in vehement terms.

The Ten Year’s War (1868–1878) marked a turning point in the development of espiritismo. Following the decade-long nationalist insurgency, espiritista groups multiplied. Espiritismo gained adherents among campesinos and people of color, including those in eastern Cuba, where the separatist movement had its most ardent supporters. Although espiritistas were not all revolutionaries, practitioners were well represented in the multi-racial army that waged the War of Independence (1895–1898) with the aim of establishing a sovereign and racially egalitarian republic. The 1890s and early 1900s also witnessed the rise of ritually and nominally distinct forms of espiritismo. In eastern Cuba, a communal healing practice known as espiritismo de cordón became popular. Practitioners of Afro-Cuban religions, including Regla de Ocha (Santería) and Palo, incorporated espiritista practices of medium communication. Espiritismo cruzado, a practice inspired by African and espiritista sources, also gained adherents across the island.

In 1898, when the United States intervened in Cuba, bringing thirty years of recurrent warfare to an abrupt end, much of the island was in ruins. The Cuban insurgent army had destroyed plantations to deprive Spain of revenue. Spain, for its part, had pursued a policy of reconcentración (1896–1897). These were measures aimed at denying separatists the support of rural Cubans. Hundreds of thousands of campesinos were forced to relocate to garrisoned camps established in cities and towns under Spanish control. As Spanish officers had anticipated, reconcentrados and refugees overwhelmed the fragile urban infrastructure. The results were widespread hunger, epidemics, and the deaths of a 150,000 to 170,000 people, according to a recent estimate by historian Guadalupe García.

When the United States installed a military government in Cuba in 1898, the reconstruction of war-ravaged cities, restoration of agriculture, and resettlement of the displaced population were among its most pressing priorities. Havana’s urban periphery alone counted 242,055 indigent residents in 1899. Espiritistas responded to the neocolonial government’s urban planning with designs of their own. After witnessing the expansion of El Vedado, a Havana suburb lauded for embodying the virtues of the nascent order, an otherwise unknown espiritista named Antonio Ojeda y Cabral launched a quixotic campaign. In a free pamphlet, Ojeda proposed a blueprint for the construction of a new kind of city, one purpose-built to promote material and spiritual regeneration of society. Painstakingly articulated as the vision was, El que entienda, recoja: A que os libertéis vosotros sois llamados (1908) was remarkable for its silence on matters of race, a fault line that cut across politics and urban planning alike. Ojeda’s rhetoric aligned him with the predominant strain of Cuban nationalism. Advocates, including José Martí, defined Cubanness as transcending racial differences, but decried race-based mobilizations as threats to national unity and sovereignty.

In the eastern province of Oriente, espiritistas de cordón responded to neocolonial plans with the construction of healing compounds. These centros espirituales challenged the schemes for urban renewal and agro-industrial expansion that the government promoted in Santiago de Cuba’s suburb of Vista Alegre and in newly established sugar plantations. The centers afforded a small number of insurgent veterans access to housing and plots of land, and gave victims of the war a chance to build communities in line with their aspirations of eastern insurgents. Their regional understanding of national liberation called for racial equality without demanding silence. Despite such differences, early 20th-century espiritismo offered Cubans in Oriente and Havana futures beyond those that government officials and developers sought to build.

Keywords: espiritismo, spiritism, Afro-Cuban religions, urban planning, utopianism, neocolonialism

By the 1890s, the final decade of Spanish colonialism in Cuba, many observers had come to grim assessments of the island’s capital. The pro-Spanish press celebrated Havana as the crown jewel of the diminished empire. But even those depictions took on somber tones as the 19th century drew to a close. With the Cuban insurgent army approaching, thousands of refugees made their way to the capital. Campesinos, subject to Spain’s reconcentration policy, were crowded into a fetid camp at Los Fosos.1 In 1896, only a year into Cuba’s last war with Spain, El Progreso expressed relief at the insurgents’ failure to take the city. Nevertheless, the editorialist relocated cosmopolitan Havana to Biblical lands, labeling it as a “new Babylon.” Like Sodom, Gomorrah, Rome, and Byzantium, the grandest city in the Caribbean was sinking into a morass that would drown the empire. The streets belonged to “Messalinas” and “effeminate men.” Gamblers and hustlers ambled about Parque Central.2

Rhetorical mappings of this sort were not exclusive to the 1890s, nor were they limited to pro-Spanish loyalists. The practice of linking Havana’s cityscape to the island’s moral and political state predated the War of Independence (1895–1898) and persisted after the inauguration of the republic in 1902. The conflict and its aftermath only lent the depictions added urgency. Spaniards, Americans, and Cubans endeavored to chart the city’s moral terrain in the service of competing campaigns for social, economic, and political regeneration. These efforts had palpable material consequences; they gave rise to disputes about urban planning, led to the persecution of alleged religious deviants, and set off multiple episodes of legal and extralegal violence. Not the least of these polemics had to do with the fact that practitioners of espiritismo and Regla de Ocha (Santería) and members of the all-male Abakuá Society charted Havana according to their own cartographies.3

Spanish authorities had been concerned with the capital’s Afro-Cuban cabildos for much of the 19th century. Officials feared that these religious fraternities had given Africans and their descendants spaces for autonomous organizing. For much of the colonial period, cabildos served charitable, recreational, and economic functions, congregating individuals who shared common ethnic denominations under the leadership of officials who called themselves monarchs. The concentration of cabildos in a district outside of the city walls—the neighborhood surrounding Monserrate Street in the barrio called Jesús María—encouraged the impression that in Havana it was possible to traverse the African continent at a strolling pace. Concerned with the participation of cabildo members in anti-slavery and insurrectionary movements, Spanish officials sought to regulate these institutions throughout the 19th century. In 1888, after passing a new law of associations, the government banned the founding of new cabildos and required existing organizations to comply with new rules, an effort meant to alter their character and limit their influence.4

Stephan Palmié and David H. Brown have argued that religiously informed maps allowed members of African-inspired organizations to make assertions of corporate belonging. Cabildos and Abakuá lodges claimed the city through reckoning practices and assertions of jurisdiction. These strategies made for complex declarations that cannot be equated easily to contemporary ethnic identities. Nevertheless, the mapping of Havana and its environs was a significant factor in the “ethnogenetic processes” that unfolded on the island.5

Espiritista mappings of Havana differed from others. Espiritista paths to community making also diverged from the avenues that Afro-Cuban religions opened to practitioners.6 In cities and towns, espiritismo revolved around home-based circles and larger centers. Moving according to homeowners’ fortunes, these organizations rarely imparted lasting significance to their locations.7 But the Havana-based espiritista Antonio Ojeda y Cabral went further than most in his apparent disregard for the capital’s cityscape. In 1908, Ojeda proposed a project of urban renewal based on principles of “true Christian morality.” His plan called for what amounted to the razing of the city. Like most utopian imaginings, Ojeda’s was notable as a critique of the hegemonic visions of his day.8

To the extent that espiritistas built intentional communities, they established them in the eastern countryside. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, practitioners of what became known as espiritismo de cordón built healing complexes where cure-seekers and pilgrims gathered and mediums and their families made their homes. Although these centros espirituales differed from Ojeda’s moralizing city, they also questioned the order that urban planners and planters envisioned. Shortly after the U.S. occupation of the island (1898–1902), American officials, Protestant missionaries, and Cuban politicians launched initiatives that promised relief to the war’s numerous victims. But their plans made limited provisions for the urban poor and encouraged the creation of vast plantations in areas where peasant plots had predominated. The healing centers offered a refuge, an alternative way of making a home.

Espiritista Blueprints for a Moral City

In 1898, American military officers and Cuban functionaries set out to remake the island after a modern image. The reformation of the city began with the demolition of neglected and war-damaged structures, followed by a battery of sanitation and administrative measures. Soon, however, work crews had begun to transform the cityscape in other ways. As construction began on roadways, aqueducts, and public buildings, pedestrians on the Paseo del Prado saw Queen Isabel’s statue toppled. Centuries-old streets were renamed in a program intended to erase public memory of figures and events linked to the Spanish monarchy and its religion.9

Although the efforts to map religious deviance did not reach their peak until the anti-witchcraft scare of 1904, the police surveyed the city for worrisome signs.10 In December of 1900, for instance, the Havana Detective Bureau conducted an undercover investigation in the eastern court district, an area of urban expansion where practitioners of African witchcraft or brujería were believed to operate clandestinely. The police report offered a street-level survey of fortune-tellers, diviners, and healing mediums. The latter were grouped alongside with brujos espiritistas or spiritist wizards, a label that detectives applied to solo practitioners, but apparently not to espiritistas who met in registered societies.11 For their part, legislators sought to ban activities that put Havana’s objectionable “superstitions” on display. Catholic processions and the city’s famed Carnival troupes were targeted, as were Abakuá lodges and the mutual-aid associations descended from cabildos. Meanwhile, Protestant missionaries divided the island into “mission fields,” taking care to leave the allegedly corrupt but prized city of Havana open to all denominations.

By 1908, when Ojeda published the cryptically titled El que entienda, recoja: A que os libertéis vosotros sois llamados, Havana had been subjected to a decade of makeovers. Although Ojeda seems to have understood that his plans for regeneration would not be implemented, his vision was fully articulated. He even included a line drawing of several city blocks. The drawing itself was merely a geometric sketch, but the accompanying text promised a reordering that would end all “expiation.” In the parlance of Allan Kardec, expiation referred to suffering brought about by ignorance and its attendant moral failings. Espiritistas claimed that suffering of this sort compelled unenlightened spirits to seek the light, which could be found through the systematic study of espiritismo and communication with superior spirits.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Ojeda’s blueprint was that it made no direct references to contemporary Havana. He took it for granted that the existing city would have to make way for a new order. Nevertheless, the author did not justify this in terms of disease, superstition, and quackery, as most critics did.12 Instead, Ojeda denounced the city’s political economy as a violation of divine law. So long as people sought lordship over their brethren, human beings would suffer. To advance spiritually, Ojeda counseled humanity to strive for a social order capable of satisfying the “needs that nature imposed” on all. An arrangement that guaranteed anything less would breed immorality with the wronged parties resorting to violence.13

Instead of fashionable “chalets” of the sort that developers were building in El Vedado, Ojeda imagined grand-scale, mixed-use complexes that would shelter all social classes while providing for their sustenance, employment, and governance. The urban grid would be framed by boulevards running north to south, intersected by avenues, tree-lined, and 40 meters wide, running east to west. This arrangement would ensure that no shadows would darken the city in the morning. Medians would be planted with fruit trees and blooming shrubbery. At regular locations one would find pens for animals, orchards, and plots equipped with irrigation systems. Homes would be erected ten to a block in stretches of five consecutive blocks; each building would be three stories tall and oriented along a north-south axis. The first floor would be for workshops. Families would occupy the upper stories. Though residents would share a single stairwell, each domestic unit would consist of a living room, a dining room, four bedrooms, and “a bathroom with a toilet.”

The nuclear family would be the foundation of public life. Large public buildings would be erected at periodic intervals near the houses. But each housing block would operate under a single “management,” as if it were “a single family living in harmony.” There would be no need for a head of state because all would live by an agreed-upon code. A militia would be organized that would engage both men and women in “all sorts of work.” To ensure prosperity, the city would be “absolutely open” to free trade. Work would be apportioned with “absolute equity” and no one would toil longer than was strictly necessary. Nor would religion tread on individual freedoms; city residents would renounce dogmatism in favor of pure “morality.”

El Vedado and Pogolotti

Although Ojeda fetishized centralization, uniformity, and technology, he shied away from the model that guided Havana’s urban development in the early 1900s. El Vedado, a residential suburb that catered to the bourgeoisie was then seen as embodying progress. Francisco Carrera y Jústiz (1847–1947), a law professor at the University of Havana who served as advisor to the Cuban legislature, and later as minister to Spain, was also a critic of early republican Havana. A tireless advocate of municipal reform, he charged that the country was corrupt, and democratic in name only. Nevertheless, Carrera y Jústiz agreed that “if Havana dream[ed] of being a great city … only through El Vedado [could] it be thus.” In El Vedado, Carrera y Jústiz asserted, the capital reached its “highest plane” of life, exhibited its most “progressive spirit,” its best “collective culture,” embodied in its “Dutch and American chalets.”14

Alert readers of Havana’s newspapers would have found cause to doubt El Vedado’s vaunted moralizing effects. On July 24, 1904, El Mundo Ilustrado reported the gruesome murder of a white girl under the headline “El crimen del Vedado.” Prosecutors charged one Sebastián Fernández, a black man known as Tin-Tan, with killing seven-year-old Celia Ochoa y Lago to cover up his attempt to rape her.15 The alleged crimes took place in a rented accesoria, an addition to a home located in El Vedado’s calle B. no.54, at the corner of calle 19. Although Tin-Tan was ultimately (and unjustly) sentenced to death as a murderer rather than as a religious deviant, the crime that claimed Celia’s life took place a few months before another notorious child murder, that of four-year-old Zoila Díaz in the outskirts of Havana in November of 1904. Zoila’s case launched an anti-witchcraft scare that swept the republic for decades to come. By its temporal proximity, Celia’s killing raised the specter of sexual depredation as a possible motive for child murders involving so-called brujería.16

In the wake of Zoila’s death, in which members of a Congo-identified association were allegedly implicated, Cubans of African descent, as well as a number of Haitian and Jamaican migrants, were persecuted and occasionally charged with the kidnapping and ritual murder of white children.17 According to fallacious journalistic and criminological accounts, practitioners of brujería carried out such violent crimes as sacrificial offerings to bloodthirsty deities and to procure human remains for healing ceremonies. The anti-witchcraft scare that followed Zoila’s death led to the surveillance of home-temples, associations descended from cabildos, and Abakuá lodges. Rumors of kidnappings and murders also led to extra-legal lynchings, and, in 1919, brought about the imposition of martial law in the city of Matanzas after a rioting crowd demanded the lives of several alleged brujos who were awaiting prosecution.18 Despite El Vedado’s prominence in early news reports, brujería came to be associated with Havana’s tenements and predominantly black neighborhoods, where Ocha, Palo, and Abakuá practices were common.

El Vedado, while allegedly free of “miasma,” did little to redress Havana’s most pressing problems. Immediately after the War of Independence, the city faced a crippling shortage of housing for the poor, which was evident in the congestion of tenements (solares and ciudadelas) and the rise of shanties known as llega y pon.19 By 1904, nearly one third of Havana’s 250,000 residents lived in 2,839 solares. Although the problem was acknowledged publicly, the only attempt to provide housing for workers was the construction of Barrio Obrero Redención, better known as Pogolotti, after the landowner and developer Dino Pogolotti. The effort proved more effective as an electoral “publicity stunt” than as public policy.20 Although the 1910 housing law that mandated the barrio’s construction called for 2,000 new homes in Havana and the provinces, only 950 low-quality houses were built. All were erected near Marianao, a municipality ten miles west of the capital. Lacking storm sewers, water, or electricity services, a neighborhood that President José Miguel Gómez inaugurated as reporters watched soon turned into a slum.

Officially, Pogolotti’s residents were selected by their class. The law specified that the homes were to be distributed by lottery to families of Cuban-born and naturalized workers. But, like most of the city’s sub-standard housing, Pogolotti was almost immediately associated with blacks and mulattos. A missionary’s report written in 1914, a year after the last homes were completed, described Pogolotti as “a Negro settlement.”21 The racial demarcation followed a pattern seen elsewhere in Havana. A survey of fifty tenements conducted in the 1940s found that over 95 percent of residents were people of African descent.22

In his report, Rev. J. Milton Greene, the head of the Presbyterian mission in Cuba, lauded the establishment of a “Sabbath school” in Pogolotti. He also noted that the settlement showed “good promise” for evangelization. But the neighborhood did not become known for conversions to Protestantism. Instead, Pogolotti earned a reputation for its devotion to African-inspired practices. On May 20, 1914, Havana police raided an Abakuá temple in the neighborhood, an effort to stamp out an association that the authorities had long denounced as a criminal organization. The raid became notorious for the desecration of sacred objects, though not for its success in uprooting the religious practices that the government, the press, and many well-heeled Cubans found objectionable. In the 1930s and 1940s, Pogolotti was famed as the home of ritual specialists and diviners known as babalawos.23

The Spirits’ Silence

It is impossible to know how many espiritistas saw the fulfillment of their hopes in Ojeda’s plan. He complained in print that a number of Havana practitioners had rejected his design for the construction of instructional displays that explained how spirits evolved.24 Nevertheless, it is clear that Ojeda’s schemes for the city captured aspirations that others shared. Ojeda was not alone in his concern for workers. Although there were some espiritistas who made common cause with the ruling classes, others saw socialism and the labor movement as political channels for their religious convictions.25 Ojeda’s desire to secure untrammeled individual freedoms while ensuring order was also a common theme in espiritista tracts.26 Even Ojeda’s silences aligned him with larger currents within espiritismo. Ojeda did not name the city he envisioned nor did he mention nationalities, ethnicities or races within it. He proposed instead to build a metropolis in which human beings, conceived in the broadest, most universal terms, could come into full possession of their individual and collective selves.27 His approach may have been indebted to Kardec’s equivocal statements on the harmony between stages of racial, civilizational, and spiritual evolution.28 Ojeda’s silence also aligned him with the rhetoric of many Cuban nationalists, especially those in Havana.

As Ada Ferrer has shown, the patriots’ muteness regarding matters of race was intentional and strategic.29 From the 1860s to the 1890s, the aspirations of Cubans of color divided the insurgents and made the nationalist cause vulnerable to Spanish propaganda. Although the insurgents made repeated pronouncements against slavery and in favor of citizenship rights for blacks starting in the Ten Year’s War (1868–1878), they were not all committed to a full-scale social revolution. Planters in western Cuba, who were more prosperous and more dependent on enslaved workers than planters elsewhere, were reticent to embrace an insurgency committed to ending slavery and extending citizenship rights to all men regardless of color. Apologists for Spanish colonialism stoked whites’ fears, warning that an independent Cuba would succumb to a disastrous race war. Blacks would press for primacy over whites, and Cuba would become another Haiti.

It took decades for Cuban nationalists to overcome Spain’s propaganda. In the 1890s, the insurgents’ strategy combined full-throated denunciations of racism, a questioning of race itself as a category, and insistence on the notion that Cubans had transcended race by fighting together for independence. Insurgent leaders, including José Martí and Antonio Maceo, cited the multi-racial insurgent army as evidence of Cubans’ victory over racial divisions. In battle, blacks, whites, and mulattoes bled together to deliver what Martí called “a nation for all.” No wonder that army documents identified individuals only as “Cuban citizens.” The refusal to specify color advanced the insurgency’s claims. But, as Ferrer has observed, the refusal was also “a slogan” and “a fantasy.” In its service, the insurgents’ propaganda portrayed black soldiers as paradoxically raceless and passive, figures selflessly devoted to the nation to the exclusion of other loyalties and aims.30

The silence did not go uncontested. Cubans of color insisted that the defense of their nation and their race compelled them to take up arms. But geography mattered when it came to imagining the nation’s liberation. Civilian leaders in Havana and armed insurgents in Oriente stood far apart. Civilian leaders were committed to national sovereignty as the end and justification of the nascent republican state. As Louis A. Pérez has shown, their legalistic understanding of national liberation was “associated with the western regions of Cuba, a view preeminently cosmopolitan in nature, habanero in origins, and colonial in its sources.” Orientales, who dominated the rural republic in arms, embraced “an authoritarian, populist, and charismatic” version of freedom. As such, they were disinclined to keep silent about the social and racial dimensions of the struggle. Eastern insurgents sought to up-end the foundations of the political and economic order that privileged Havana, placed whites above blacks and mulattoes, and planters over campesinos.31

These competing understandings of freedom were rooted in distinct political economies. The separatist rebellion against Spain began among planters in Oriente who resided in towns with white majorities. In Manzanillo, where Carlos Manuel de Céspedes launched the insurrection in 1868, whites constituted 51.4 percent of the population. Slaves accounted for only 6.5 percent of the inhabitants, and they were concentrated in under-developed sugar estates, where enslaved workers accounted for just over half of all laborers. In Guantánamo and Santiago, areas of Oriente where slavery was the backbone of the economy, whites were approximately one quarter of the population. As landed slaveholders sided with Spain, the rebellion found its most dedicated supporters among Cubans of color from the countryside. In Guantánamo, 89 percent of insurgents came from rural areas. In Santiago, all of the armed rebels under Antonio Maceo in 1869 were of rural origin. Whites accounted for only 8 percent of his force. These patterns held for much of the 19th century despite the general emancipation of slaves in 1886. Men of color accounted for an estimated 60 percent of fighters and 40 percent of officers in the multi-racial army that went to war against Spain in 1895.32

Blueprints for a Clean Santiago and a Prosperous Oriente Province

Even the most laudatory assessments of the American-led campaign to clean up Santiago and return Oriente to cultivation conceded that the regeneration of eastern Cuba could not be accomplished without a measure of violence. In a series that appeared in The Outlook, a Protestant weekly magazine with nation-wide circulation in the United States, George Kennan, a journalist and adventurer famed for his travels in the Russian empire, celebrated “the intelligently planned and vigorously executed work of General Leonard Wood and his assistants.”33 According to Kennan, Santiago’s military governor was responsible for “the complete sanitary regeneration of perhaps the dirtiest and most neglected city in Cuba.” But even Kennan acknowledged that the architect of Santiago’s sanitation program, a Major George Barbour, had a “peppery and irascible temperament.” Faced with a homeowner who flouted an ultimatum to dig a new outhouse, Wood’s subaltern knocked down the Cuban “with the loaded butt of a heavy riding-whip, and flogged him until he took a shovel and began the digging of a new vault.”34

Espiritismo and Urban Planning in Cuba: Envisioning Regeneration in Havana and Oriente after 1898Click to view larger

Figure 1. Teatro Vista Alegre, Santiago de Cuba.

Courtesy of the Merrick Library, University of Miami, Object ID: chc0359000556.

Kennan recommended Wood’s administration of Oriente as a model for the island, an endorsement that proved prescient. In 1900, Wood was named Cuba’s governor general. As Kennan saw it, Wood had put Oriente’s government on a sound fiscal footing, reorganized its municipalities and judiciary, placed worthy Cubans in office and secured the highest measure of individual freedom possible. Historians have been less charitable in their judgments. Barbour cleaned the streets and implemented emergency sanitary measures, but budgetary crises and political chicanery held major works hostage. The city lacked a dependable water supply until the 1940s.

This is not to say that “modernization” bypassed Santiago. In the early 1900s, the most profitable years of Oriente’s post-war boom in agricultural production, the city’s streets were paved, plazas were refurbished, and a tram system was inaugurated. Electric lights replaced gas illumination. Telephone and telegraph services expanded, and the port saw major improvements These changes ameliorated conditions in the embattled urban core, but it was in the suburbs that modernization built its showcase projects. In 1905, a Havana-based developer broke ground in Vista Alegre. Along with middle-class Fomento, Vista Alegre was Santiago’s answer to El Vedado, a garden-city suburb of perfectly square blocks separated by broad avenues. Its single-family homes in the eclectic style had electric lights, water closets, fenced lawns and gardens, and even American-style pantries.35

A recreational complex with a skating rink and a theater stood at the intersection of Vista Alegre’s principal avenues. Teatro Vista Alegre (Figure 1) must have offered a striking contrast to the thatched-roofed ranches that espiritistas were erecting at the time. But electricity seems to have flowed just as freely there as it did in the centers that espiritistas built. The theater was ornamented with twenty thousand light bulbs.36 It is difficult to imagine a more literal materialization of what Jeremy Stolow calls the “electrical imaginary” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.37

Espiritismo and Urban Planning in Cuba: Envisioning Regeneration in Havana and Oriente after 1898Click to view larger

Figure 2. Santiago refugees at El Caney (Cuba), 1898.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-37719.

But Santiago’s post-war regeneration neglected many. During the war and afterward, Santiago received waves of refugees (Figure 2) and migrants from the country. Campesinos fleeing concentration in military camps joined manumitted ex-slaves who had preceded them in cuarterías. These rooming houses were often in grand homes that the struggling colonial elite began renting out in the 1870s. In time, a misery belt grew around the city. When the war with Spain ended and the structures that contained Santiago’s population were dismantled, the city burst forth. Thousands made what homes they could in Llega y Pon, Palau, Puerto Nuevo, and La Manzana de Gómez.38

Kennan did not witness the rise of Vista Alegre and Santiago’s barrios marginales. What the reporter did see were truck gardens cropping up in the urban periphery to supply the city with produce. For Kennan, these were the first fruits of Wood’s visionary design, and they stood in sharp relief against the widespread hunger that he witnessed upon arriving in Santiago in the company of Red Cross founder Clara Burton.39 Under Wood, landless farmers and demobilized insurgent veterans worked in road building, sanitation, and construction. The general hoped that temporary income would enable Cubans to buy tools and provisions needed to return to farming. As Kennan saw it, Wood had done his best to meet the needs of thousands of refugees, but he had pursued an enlightened humanitarianism informed by a Protestant ethos. True regeneration demanded Cubans’ self-reliance.40

The hope of transforming orientales into well-governed farmers fell to the sugar revolution that transformed Oriente from 1900 to the 1920s. As Robert B. Hoernel put it, eastern Cuba’s pre-war “society of largely self-sufficient small farmers” was “transformed into one of highly dependent farm laborers working for predominantly foreign corporations, eating foreign-produced foods, often living in company towns, and buying from company stores.”41 Within a few years of the war, mining operations, logging companies and vast sugar estates were established. By 1929, approximately 64 percent of the province was under the control of a new breed of industrial sugar mills known as centrales.42

Land tenure changed with disorienting speed. A sparsely populated region, only 20 percent of Oriente’s land was under cultivation in 1899. But the availability of cheap and fertile land proved irresistible to investors. By 1905, some thirteen thousand mostly American individuals and corporations acquired 60 percent of all rural properties in Cuba. In Oriente, the number of farms fell by one half (21,550 to 10,854) by 1904. Black and mulatto farmers were particularly hard hit. In majority-black San Luis and Alto Songo, the number of independent farms shrank by 70–90 percent.43

Oriente’s mills were not merely enormous. Chaparra, Jobabo, Palma, and other such enterprises were partly urbanized complexes with their own material and moral economies. The homes and streets in the centrales’ barrio americano embodied the ideals of neocolonial uplift with greater fidelity than Vista Alegre and Vedado. Instead of adopting vernacular architecture, the American quarters had chalets with wrap-around porches, screened windows, and flower gardens. The managers who resided in such homes strove to build idealized facsimiles of life in the United States. Protestantism and U.S. holidays punctuated the calendar. Though residentially segregated, Cuban and other Caribbean workers could not help but see these enclaves as company-sponsored models of modern life. As Louis A. Pérez describes them, centrales embodied a vision of progress modeled after parts of the United States; they owned rail and telegraph lines, power stations, and ports, in addition to movie theaters, ice plants, country clubs, and hotels. Although they brought together people of varied colors and origins, including migrants from the English-speaking Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and Haiti, centrales were rather parochial. The mores of the United States prevailed.44

The establishment of a socio-economic order that differed so sharply from what The Outlook prophesied in 1899 was not accidental. Before Wood left Santiago to become governor general of the island, he enacted measures that encouraged the division of communal holdings. His policies allowed lenders to collect against dispossessed landowners and promoted speculation that caused land prices to soar. After leaving the island, Wood continued to promote U.S. investments in agriculture.45

The Electrified Compounds of Espiritismo de Cordón

Some espiritistas in Oriente shared the belief that transforming cities was the key to the regeneration of society. Others, perhaps the majority, espoused notions that diverged from Ojeda’s moralizing metropolis. Their visions also deviated from the blueprints that guided developments in Vista Alegre and the new centrales. Renowned espiritista healers such as Hilario Mustelier Garzón, Salustiano Olivera, and Francisco Salgado attracted town residents and displaced campesinos to espiritismo de cordón, a practice that allowed them to build new communal bonds.46 Their healing complexes were all the more remarkable for their establishment in localities where livelihoods and communities had become difficult to sustain. Mustelier’s center, built at the turn of the 20th century on a ruined coffee estate near Alto Songo, illustrates the trends. El Quemado, the farm where Mustelier made his home, sat in a true burned-over district. A stronghold of the Cuban insurgency, Alto Songo was ravaged during the war with Spain, and its troubles did not end with the intervention of the United States. In 1898, residents faced grim prospects despite the efforts of the government, mission boards, and humanitarian organizations. Banditry, land speculation, and armed politicking seized hold of the area, baring the violence of the contest between competing visions for the region’s future.47 Espiritismo de cordón took its name from a distinctive ritual. Standing in concentric circles, participants danced, stomped their feet, and sang while holding hands. Accompanied with percussive vocalizations and plaintive chants known as transmisiones, their movements grounded a corporeal wire or cordón through which “spiritual currents” flowed. The cordón allowed mediums to communicate with the spirits of the dead; it also carried electro-magnetic “fluids” that mediums could direct to heal supplicants. The references to electricity were not idiosyncratic. Electricity, an invisible force that acted at a distance and made telegraphic communications possible, had emerged early on as an analogue to the unseen forces that espiritistas uncovered. Kardec described electricity as a manifestation of the “universal fluid” connecting matter and spirit.48

Whereas Ojeda dreamed of a redemptive no-place fit for replication across the globe, espiritistas in Oriente’s healing compounds cultivated attachments to local soil. Successful centers became axes of modest residential nucleation and pilgrimage destinations. Mustelier’s center was typical; it included the healer’s home, a large temple, and shelter for pilgrims, and housing for cure-seekers. For many, these locales were endowed with special qualities. In the 1880s, when the founding figures of espiritista lineages rose to prominence in eastern Cuba, Spanish officers denounced processions, vigils, and mass gatherings around espiritistas’ homes. Today, cordoneros travel in numbers to Monte Oscuro in Bayamo to commemorate the anniversary of Salustiano Olivera’s death. They credit the headquarters of Olivera’s society Buscando Luz y Verdad with “a special energy” that Sunday’s cordón sessions amplify and channel (Figure 3).

Espiritismo and Urban Planning in Cuba: Envisioning Regeneration in Havana and Oriente after 1898Click to view larger

Figure 3. Buscando Luz y Verdad, Monte Oscuro, Bayamo, Cuba, 2012.

Photograph by Reinaldo L. Román.

Place mattered to espiritistas in other ways, too. The diffusion of espiritismo de cordón may have begun in the 1880s, but it was not until the 20th century that the practice and denomination consolidated into an objectified tradition.49 Cordón gained adherents from Holguín to Baracoa and from Manzanillo to Guantánamo. It became especially popular in a zone bisected by the Río Cauto, part of an area that Fernando Ortiz christened “El Solar de la Prieta” owing to its reputation as Cuba’s “black belt.”50 Despite this association, Ortiz declared that espiritismo de cordón was “not a black thing,” deeming it instead a “genuine fruit of our soil.”51 Ortiz reported seeing few blacks at the cordón centers that he visited in 1950, and noted that practitioners of African descent were more commonly seen in El Cobre, Alto Songo, and Yateras. Although the historical record shows that there were black and mulatto Cubans among cordoneros, including Hilario Mustelier, Ortiz classified the practices he witnessed in Oriente’s predominantly black rural areas as espiritismo cruzado. He speculated that cordón itself probably originated in Manzanillo.52 According to the census of 1899, the town of Manzanillo had 14,464 residents. Only 36 percent were counted as “colored.”53

Whatever their origins may have been, cordoneros did not rely on racial identifications or genealogical descent alone to forge communal bonds.54 Membership in these organizations had fluid boundaries. Illness, dispossession, and trauma were the conduits for induction. Groups of espiritistas, including some affiliated with registered societies, gathered around a renowned medium, who served as president or head medium. On designated days, members attended to the afflicted, whose own journeys to health could require them to “develop” as mediums. In this regard, cordón’s centers functioned like Victor Turner’s “drums of affliction.”55

The Fluid and the Fixed in Espiritismo de Cordón

Fluid as community boundaries were, cordoneros did not chart a completely raceless realm. In their healing practices, cordoneros called upon ethnically differentiated “commissions” of spirits. A medium’s color did not restrict his or her communications, but the comisiones themselves could be defined by ethno-racial denominations such as “African” and “Indian.” More pointedly, some cordoneros appear to have regarded their practices as antidotes to African brujería. In 1902, a black man named Jacinto Duverger alleged that Hilario Mustelier had assaulted him during a healing session after denouncing him as a brujo or wizard. There were also reports that espiritistas in Palma Soriano expelled from their centers those they believed to practice witchcraft.56 In the 1950s, Ortiz remarked on the pronounced antipathy (“antiafricanía”) that cordoneros displayed toward Santería and other Afro-Cuban practices. Although the reasons for this antipathy have not been explored in detail, cordoneros may have followed other espiritistas in denouncing African-derived practices because they entailed contact with spirits that espiritistas regarded as unenlightened and because they involved the manipulation of objects that espiritistas disavowed as bound to materiality.57

Despite the exclusion of alleged brujos, cordón centers embodied an ethos of community making that stood in sharp relief against the prevailing order. The infirm, the struggling and the destitute were at the heart of the cordoneros’ projects. Prominent cordón leaders, including Mustelier, Olivera, and Salgado, were veterans of the War of Independence who confronted the post-war challenges of Oriente’s economy and managed to get footholds on their own plots of land. At least some of the healers derived income from small-scale farming and raising animals, but dedicated most of their time to unpaid ministries. Nevertheless, the centers were more than homesteads of veterans who had beaten the odds. These were institutions capable of fostering solidarities. On days when instructional meetings and healing rituals were held, the grounds were opened to all comers. Residents of small towns and rural districts found refuge there.

These healing sites oriented practitioners in an uncertain landscape, allowing them to make provisional homes, and also to move across time and space as they communicated with the dead. Cordón offered strategies for what Thomas Tweed calls “crossing” and “dwelling.”58 But these were not utopian communities of the sort that spiritualists established in New England or millenarian strongholds of the sort seen in Brazil.59 Long-term residents were typically the healer’s extended families. Others who made their homes in the vicinity seem to have lived there temporarily. One might say that the cordoneros built bonds among people in transit. The centros did not supplant other communal forms. Instead, they pointed at a possible future while illuminating the ethical and material shortcomings of the country under construction in eastern Cuba during the first decades of the 20th century. It is difficult to account for the legacy of espiritistas’ visions. To dismiss them as utopian, far-fetched, reactionary or fantastic is to miss the point. It is true that few of today’s espiritistas have heard of Francisco Ojeda y Cabral and his pamphlets. But Ojeda’s was only one vision in espiritismo’s archive of possible futures. As mapping efforts, Ojeda’s and cordoneros’ imaginings reveal otherwise unseen routes to community making. Espiritista circles, cities, and healing complexes—whether actual or unrealized—informed critical visions of the future at a time when the shape of that future defined the core of Cuban politics. Only time will tell whether those visions remain potent. What the available studies show is that espiritismo survived the struggle to build a socialist future in Cuba. In recent decades, scholars affiliated with the government’s cultural management establishment have declared espiritismo de cordón the nation’s patrimony, claiming it as an authentically Cuban expression.60

Discussion of the Literature

Espiritismo is among the least studied practices in Cuba despite a growing recognition that the engagement by mediums with the spirits of the dead is the “grease” that lubricates the “machinery of Afro-Cuban religions.”61 Researchers have favored Ocha (Santería) disproportionately, turning to espiritismo in occasional starts. Valuable works appeared in the 1960s, 1990s, and 2000s. The latter include Jualynne E. Dodson and José Millet Batista’s Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba (2008), José Antonio García Molina, Mercedes Garrido Mazorra, and Daisy Fariñas Gutiérrez’s Huellas vivas del indocubano (2007), Corrientes espirituales en Cuba (2007), a short text by Natalia Bolívar Aróstegui, Carmen González and Natalia del Río, and Reinaldo Román’s Governing Spirits (2007).62 Only two monographs have been published on the subject since 2000: Diana Espírito Santo’s Developing the Dead: Mediumship and Selfhood in Cuban Espiritismo (2015) and Carlos Córdova Martínez and Oscar Barzaga Sablón’s El espiritismo de cordón (2000).

Attention to espiritismo has coincided with moments of political uncertainty. Leaving aside the early forays of Fernando Ortiz, it was in the early 1960s that Cuban ethnographers began to explore espiritismo in earnest.63 In 1967, Armando Andrés Bermúdez published “Notas sobre la expansión del espiritismo en Cuba,” an indispensable starting point to this day. This article and a few others grew out of fieldwork sponsored by the Instituto de Etnología y Folklore, an institution that sought to document Cuba’s cultural heritage, and also to determine whether espiritismo posed obstacles to the consolidation of the Socialist revolution.

Although the ethnologists’ field notes of 1964 were favorable to espiritistas, scholarship and politics did not align perfectly. The government did not outlaw religion as such after declaring the Revolution Socialist in 1961. But the adoption of Marxism-Leninism had chilling effects on religious practice. The Catholic Church faced particular hostility because it was seen as hospitable to counter-revolutionaries.64 Other practitioners faced varying degrees of scrutiny, especially after 1976, when a new constitution declared the state atheistic, and the Communist Party disqualified religiously affiliated persons from becoming members. To scientific atheists, religion constituted an ideological threat to social development.65 Given these pressures, it is not surprising that the Confederación Nacional Espiritista opted to disband in 1963. By 1987, only 112 of the 349 centers and associations that appeared in the 1963 registry remained on the roster.66 But, as subsequent studies showed, this did not imply a decline in the number of espiritistas.

When researchers returned to the study of espiritismo in the 1990s, they did so amid a far-reaching reconsideration of the place of religion in society. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the unprecedented economic crisis it triggered favored greater religious freedom. After decades of exclusion, the Communist Party, in 1991, opened its membership to religious Cubans. One year later, in 1992, article 8 of the constitution recognized freedom of worship and declared the separation of religious institutions from the state.67 Nevertheless, concern with the political risks of espiritismo did not abate immediately. In 1991, scholars affiliated with the Centro de Investigaciones Psicológicas y Sociológicas (CIPS) observed that espiritismo and other “syncretic cults” had gained adherents since the 1960s. Aníbal Argüelles Mederos and Ileana Hodge Limonta estimated at 10,000 the number of espiritistas active in associations, a figure that did not account for a much larger number of unaffiliated practitioners.68 Despite their misgivings about the persistence of these practices, Argüelles Mederos and Hodge Limonta underscored that espiritistas did not harbor “reactionary political ideologies.”69

Since the 1960s, folklorists and ethnologists have sought to preserve narratives, artifacts, and aesthetic practices associated with popular religions. But researchers were also charged with discouraging superstitious and irrational beliefs.70 This dual mandate is partly responsible for the scant attention paid to espiritismo. With recognizable roots in the United States and Europe, where the reform-minded bourgeoisie embraced it, espiritismo could be portrayed as an import of dubious rationality and meager patrimonial value. It is unsurprising then, that scholars have largely ignored 19th-century espiritista societies, where practitioners claimed to follow the self-consciously scientific models that Allan Kardec promoted. Instead, folklorists and ethnologists have concentrated on espiritismo de cordón, a practice regarded as distinctly Cuban.

In the 1960s, Armando Andrés Bermúdez proposed a taxonomy of espiritismo that has remained influential to date. Although subsequent studies amended the nomenclature and number of entries, the notion has persisted that “variants” of espiritismo can be distinguished by degrees of hybridity. José Millet Batista, in El espiritismo: Variantes cubanas (1996), presents a spectrum ranging from European- to African-derived. Espiritismo científico, also known espiritismo kardeciano after Allan Kardec, and espiritismo cruzado, a strain born of the “crossing” of European spiritism with Palo, a practice linked to Kongo sources, sit at opposite ends of the scale. Espiritismo de cordón, known for its sung “transmissions” to the spirits, dances, and emphasis on healing, marks the Cuban spot on the spectrum.

Although the precise origins of espiritismo cordón remain uncertain, García Molina, Garrido Mazorra, and Fariñas Gutiérrez have affirmed its indigenous character by associating the dances of cordón to areítos, ceremonial dances of Cuba’s indigenous population.71 Most interpreters, however, underscore that espiritismo de cordón is the product of Cuba’s distinct creolization processes. As Carlos Lloga and Abelardo Larduet have observed, espiritismo de cordón is also credited with displaying African and Hispanic “ingredients” that “diversify its pedigree and point in the direction of the mestizo ajíaco [stew] Cubanness that Fernando Ortiz so defended.”72

Links between cordoneros and the pro-independence insurgency reinforce cordón’s claim to an emblematic national character. Carlos Córdova Martínez and Oscar Barzaga Sablón echoed this idea in El espiritismo de cordón: Un culto popular cubano, a book whose subtitle underscores the Cuban bonafides of the cult. The authors assert that cordón took hold after the Ten Year’s War (1868–1878) in a geographical zone that was formerly under the control of Bayamo, an area where African slaves were few, the rates of Spanish immigration were low, and white criollos predominated. According to Córdova Martínez and Barzaga Sablón, demographic features coupled with economic and political marginalization to produce a distinct cultural area, where anti-colonial sentiments prospered and found expression in a distinctive religious practice. These authors maintain that “polytheistic and animistic beliefs of African origin” halted the eastward expansion of espiritismo de cordón from Bayamo and Manzanillo towards such areas as Guantánamo. Like Fernando Ortiz, they classify the espiritismo practiced in rural areas of Oriente with larger populations of African descent as espiritismo cruzado.73

Recent studies have pushed the literature toward more deliberate historicizing. Román’s Governing Spirits (2007) offers an account of early 20th century espiritismo that reveals the objectification of so-called variants of espiritismo as a result of contestation between practitioners, government regulators, journalists, and scholars. Ludín B. García Fonseca’s Francisco Salgado: Un bayamés espirtista de cordón, a still unpublished micro-historical account of a 20th-century figure who founded a leading cordón center, is notable for its deliberate linking of the experience of war veterans to local socio-political conditions, including land holding. But perhaps the most revealing turn is Diana Espírito Santo’s analysis of Havana’s “espiritismo de la calle,” the taxonomically messy practices that most residents of the capital encounter in the streets at the intersection between the religious domains of Ocha, Palo, and Catholicism. Espírito Santo focuses on the embodied experiences of mediums, to show that espiritismo multiplies a medium’s self, giving it historical depth and blurring the boundaries between the espiritista and his or her spirits (muertos). History is more than background here. Building their selves through accretion, mediums produce both historical narratives and cosmogonies that they embody to real-world effect. For mediums, Espírito Santo has shown, espiritismo is a logic of becoming that generates blueprints for continued change.

Primary Sources

The local and transnational character of espiritismo helps to explain why sources for its study are scattered. Associations dedicated to “psychological studies” began to register with the government in the 19th century, but domestic groups and larger-scale centers often went unsanctioned. Although Cuban espiritistas joined in regional, national, and international federations, they did not recognize a single organizational or doctrinal authority.74 Attempts to enforce uniformity of practice and limit the influence of other religions were unsuccessful.

The registration records of formally constituted associations are among the most accessible sources for the study of espiritismo in Cuba. The dossiers include applications specifying the character of each group and identifying officials and members, often by name, age, occupation, and place of residence. To secure approval, founding members submitted copies of their bylaws, which could also be printed for distribution. Under the terms of the law of associations of 1888, societies reported election results, account balances, and changes in address. Registration records are held in the collection or fondo titled “Registro de Asociaciones” at the Archivo Nacional de la República de Cuba, and the fondos titled “Gobierno Provincial” in the series designated “Sociedades” and “Espiritismo” in the Archivo Histórico Regional de Santiago de Cuba and the island’s five provincial archives.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, as the struggles for slave emancipation and independence raged, espiritismo grew in Cuba. The Church condemned the trend, as can be seen in pastoral letters denouncing espiritismo in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, which are available through the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España.75 But the end of the Ten Years’ War, followed by the passing of liberal laws aimed at placating anti-colonial sentiments, eased the circulation of imported books and journals. These conditions and a publishing boom in the island allowed espiritistas to disseminate their ideas.76 After 1879, Barcelona’s influential Revista de Estudios Psicológicos could be found in bookstores in Havana. Cuban espiritistas published at least nine periodicals, six pamphlets, and several books before 1899. By the early 20th century, the catalogue included treatises, memoirs, and poetry collections as well as periodicals. The journals printed spirit messages received in the island and abroad, re-printed articles from across the Atlantic, and serialized books by propagandists, including Allan Kardec.77

Espiritista titles published in the island are rare holdings. The Biblioteca Nacional José Martí has approximately forty books under the call number 133.9. Additional materials, including journal articles, press clippings, and notes by Cuban ethnographers may be found in the library’s Sala Cubana and Sala de Etnología y Folklore. Espiritista periodicals are available in Havana’s Instituto de Literatura y Lingüística. Notable holdings include Alba, La Chispa, Psiquis, organ of the Sociedad Espiritista de Cuba, and Unión Social, a journal published in Santiago de Cuba in the 1940s. The Biblioteca Elvira Cape in Santiago de Cuba has a small collection that includes the pioneering periodical, Revista de Estudios Psicológicos de Santiago de Cuba (1882). The Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami has issues of Psiquis and Rosendo, a journal published in Matanzas in the 1920s. Patient researchers may find material germane to Cuba in spiritist and Catholic journals published abroad. The digital holdings of the Biblioteca Nacional de España include Almanaque del Espiritismo (1873–1875) and Barcelona’s Revista de Estudios Psicológicos (1876–1902) and La Luz del Porvernir (1879–1900). The extensive English-language collection of the International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals also deserves attention.

Further Reading

Albanese, Catherine L. A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Argüelles Mederos, Aníbal, and Ileana Hodge Limonta. Los llamados cultos sincréticos y el espiritismo: Estudio monográfico sobre su significación social en la sociedad cubana contemporánea. Havana, Cuba: Editorial Academia, 1991.Find this resource:

Bermúdez, Armando Andrés. “Notas para la historia del espiritismo en Cuba.” Revista de Etnología y Folklore 4 (1967): 5–22.Find this resource:

Bermúdez, Armando Andrés. “La expansión del espiritismo de cordón.” Revista de Etnología y Folklore 5 (1968): 5–32.Find this resource:

Córdova Martínez, Carlos, and Oscar Barzaga Sablón. El espiritismo de cordón: un culto popular cubano. Havana: Fundación Fernando Ortiz, 2000.Find this resource:

Dodson, Jualynne E., and José Millet Batista. Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba. Religions of the Americas Series. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Espírito Santo, Diana. Developing the Dead: Mediumship and Selfhood in Cuban Espiritismo. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2015.Find this resource:

Hodge Limonta, Ileana, and Minerva Rodríguez. El espiritismo en Cuba: Percepción y exteriorización. Havana: Editorial Academia, 1997.Find this resource:

Lago Vieito, Angel. Fernando Ortiz y sus estudios acerca del espiritismo en Cuba. Havana: Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Cultura Cubana Juan Marinello, 2002.Find this resource:

Millet Batista, José. El espiritismo: Variantes cubanas. Santiago de Cuba: Editorial Oriente, 1996.Find this resource:

Ochoa, Todd Ramón. Society of the Dead: Quita Manaquita and Palo Praise in Cuba. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Ortiz, Fernando. “Buscando Luz en Monte Oscuro,” Bohemia 42.17 (1950): 20–23, 113–115, 121.Find this resource:

Ortiz, Fernando. “Orígenes de los cordoneros del orilé,” Bohemia 42.23 (1950): 34–36, 105–107.Find this resource:

Palmié, Stephan. The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Román, Reinaldo L. Governing Spirits: Religion, Miracles, and Spectacles in Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898–1956. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Schmidt, Jalane. Cachita’s Streets: The Virgin of Charity, Race, and Revolution in Cuba. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.Find this resource:


Antropología del espiritismo cubano. Havana, Cuba: Bis Music. CD 862, 2012.Find this resource:


(1.) For a discussion of Spain’s policies and current estimates of their demographic impact, see Guadalupe García, “Urban Guajiros: Colonial Reconcentración, Rural Displacement and Criminalisation in Western Cuba, 1895–1902,” Journal of Latin American Studies 43.2 (2011): 209–235; and Raúl Izquierdo Canosa, La reconcentración, 1896–1897 (Havana: Ediciones Verde Olivo, 1997), 38–41.

(2.) El Progreso (Havana), January 23, 1896, 7.

(3.) David H. Brown, The Light Inside: Abakuá Society Arts and Cuban Cultural History (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books, 2003).

(4.) Philip A. Howard, Changing History: Afro-Cuban Cabildos and Societies of Color in the Nineteenth Century (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998); and Matt D. Childs, The 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against Atlantic Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006)

(5.) Stephan Palmié, “Ethnogenetic Processes and Cultural Transfer in Afro-American Slave Populations,” in Slavery in the Americas, ed. W. Binder (Würtzburg, Germany: Königshausen u. Neumann, 1993), 337–363; David H. Brown, Santería Enthroned (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003); and Brown, The Light Inside. For a discussion of the term African-inspired and the more commonly used African-derived, see Todd Ramón Ochoa, Society of the Dead: Quita Manaquita and Palo Praise in Cuba (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 8–10.

(6.) Note that many Cubans engaged in multiple religious practices concurrently.

(7.) One exception comes to mind; in 1905, Juan Manso, a Spanish espiritista, attracted large crowds to La Loma de San Juan in Cerro, a once wealthy Havana neighborhood where many homes became tenements. An effort was made to build a temple there. See Reinaldo L. Román, Governing Spirits: Religion, Miracles, and Spectacles in Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898–1956 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 44.

(8.) Antonio Ojeda y Cabral remains unknown. Ojeda authored two books: Yo soy la luz del mundo (Havana: n.p., 1907); and El que entienda, recoja. A que os libertéis vosotros sois llamados (Havana: n.p, 1908). No copies of Yo soy la luz del mundo have survived. According to a critical review that appeared in El Diario de la Marina on April 27, 1907, this was a children’s book in three parts. The first part contained excerpts from the Gospel of Luke, Acts of the Apostles, and other biblical selections. Parts two and three included selections from Allan Kardec’s Spiritualist Philosophy: The Spirits’ Book (London: Trübner, 1857) and The Mediums’ Book (Paris: Didier, 1861).

(9.) Mariola Espinosa, Epidemic Invasions: Yellow Fever and the Limits of Cuban Independence, 1878–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); and Marial Iglesias Utset, A Cultural History of Cuba during the U.S. Occupation, 1898–1902, trans. Russ Davidson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011).

(10.) On the republican anti-witchcraft campaigns, see Aline Helg, Our Equal Share: The Afro-Cuban Struggle for Equality, 1886–1912 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995); Stephan Palmié, Wizards and Scientists (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003); and Alejandra Bronfman, Measures of Equality: Social Science, Citizenship, and Race in Cuba, 1902–1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).

(11.) Havana Detectives Bureau to the Bureau Chief, December 21, 1900. U.S. National Archives, Bureau of Insular Affairs, RG 140, Military Government of Cuba, Letters Received 1900, Entry 3, Box 105, File 4163 (1900).

(12.) Fernando Ortiz’s Hampa afrocubana: Los negros brujos (Havana: Editorial America) and Rafael Roche Monteagudo’s La policía y sus misterios en Cuba (Havana: Imprementa ‘La Prueba”), two celebrated accounts of Havana’s demimonde, were published in Havana in 1905 and 1908, respectively.

(13.) Antonio Ojeda y Cabral, El que entienda, recoja. A que os libertéis vosotros sois llamados (Havana: n.p, 1908), 33.

(14.) Francisco Carrera y Jústiz, Importancia política y sociológica de los barrios (Havana: Imprenta y Papelería “La Universal” de Ruiz y Hno., 1904), 20.

(15.) Archivo Nacional de la República de Cuba, Audiencia de la Habana, legajo 714, exp. 1, causa 445/904.

(16.) Bronfman, Measures of Equality, 37–65; and Palmié, Wizards and Scientists, 201–259.

(17.) On the persecution of migrants, see Marc C. McLeod, “Undesirable Aliens: Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism in the Comparison of Haitian and British West Indian Immigrant Workers in Cuba, 1912–1939,” Journal of Social History 31.3 (1998): 599–623.

(18.) Ernesto Chávez Álvarez, El crimen de la Niña Cecilia: La brujería en Cuba como fenómeno social, 1902–1925 (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1991).

(19.) Julio Le Riverend Brusone, La Habana, espacio y vida (Madrid: Editorial MAPFRE, 1992); and Lillian Llanes, 1898–1921: La transformación de la Habana a través de la arquitectura (Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1993).

(20.) Joseph L Scarpaci, Havana: Two Faces of the Antillean Metropolis, rev. ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002), 58.

(21.) One Hundred and Twelfth Annual Report of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (New York: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1914), 65.

(22.) Cited in Alejandro de la Fuente, A Nation for All: Race, Inequality, and Politics in Twentieth-Century Cuba (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 115.

(23.) Brown, Santería Enthroned, 57, 80.

(24.) According to Ojeda, espiritistas criticized his illuminated board on the grounds that the use of “objects” could be confusing and counter-productive when dealing with spiritual matters. The implicit charge was that the display could promote the sort of “materialism” that espiritistas criticized in other religions. Ojeda, El que entienda, 7.

(25.) La Chispa (Havana), April 2, 1899, 2. Catalan espiritistas may have influenced their Cuban co-religionists. Barcelona’s journals and propagandists were read widely in the island. See Gerard Horta, Cos i revolució: L’espiritisme català o les paradoxes de la modernitat (Barcelona: Edicions de 1984, 2004).

(26.) The political thought of Cuban espiritismo is under-studied. For a brief discussion of the political impact of Kardec’s doctrines, see Diana Espírito Santo, Developing the Dead: Mediumship and Selfhood in Cuban Espiritismo (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2015), 42–49. For discussions of republicanism among Spanish espiritistas and American Spiritualists, see Catherine L. Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008); Lisa Abend, “Specters of the Secular: Spiritism in Nineteenth-Century Spain,” European History Quarterly 34.4 (2004): 527–531; and Bret E. Carroll, Spiritualism in Antebellum America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).

(27.) This approach contrasted with narratives mapping the transit of a single spirit from one incarnation to another. See, for example, Pablo Reyes, Escuela de Almas: Páginas de varias existencias (Havana: NP, ND). The Biblioteca Nacional José Martí in Havana holds a copy under the call number Folleto 133.9 Rey E.

(28.) According to Kardec, reincarnation undermined the basis for all prejudices because the same spirit could be born male or female, free or enslaved. “Physically,” he wrote, “some men are born inferior and subordinate; but, spiritually, all are free and equal.” Elsewhere, however, Kardec noted that “progress has not been uniform among all the human species.” He proposed that spirits and bodies match in their degrees of moral, spiritual, and physical evolution. Kardec also expressed doubts at the thought of advanced spirits incarnating in the bodies of “savages.” Allan Kardec, Genesis: The Miracles and the Predictions according to Spiritism (Boston: Colby & Rich, 1883), 39 and 248. For an examination of these ideas in 19th-century France, see Lynn L. Sharp, Secular Spirituality: Reincarnation and Spiritism in Nineteenth-Century France (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2006). For a discussion in the context of Puerto Rican espiritismo, see Román, Governing Spirits, 124.

(29.) Ada Ferrer, “The Silence of Patriots: Race and Nationalism in Martí’s Cuba,” in José Martí’s “Our America:” From National to Hemispheric Cultural Studies, eds. Jeffrey Belnap and Raúl Fernández (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998), 231.

(30.) Ferrer, The Silence of Patriots; and Ada Ferrer, Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868–1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 112–138.

(31.) Louis A. Pérez, Jr. Cuba between Empires, 1878–1902 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983), 103–106.

(32.) Ferrer, Insurgent Cuba, 3, 21, 55.

(33.) George Kennan (1845–1924) traveled to Cuba in June 1898 as correspondent for The Outlook, one of the “flagships of the New England Protestant establishment,” according to Coffman. Besides covering the Spanish American War for the weekly, Kennan published Campaigning in Cuba (New York: The Century Co., 1899). Remembered as George Kennan the Elder, Kennan was known for his travel narratives and political commentary on Russia and Central Asia. Kennan’s public lectures attracted large audiences and earned him a reputation as a Siberian explorer and expert on Russia. Today, Kennan’s great-nephew, the U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan (1904–2005), is better known than his uncle for shaping perceptions of Russian affairs in the United States. See Elesha J. Coffman, The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 74; and George Kennan, Vagabond Life: The Caucasus Journals of George Kennan, eds. Maier Frith and Daniel Clarke Waugh (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003).

(34.) George Kennan, “The Sanitary Regeneration of Santiago,” Part IV. The Outlook, April 15, 1899, 875.

(35.) María Fleitas Monnar, La modernización urbana: Santiago de Cuba (1899–1930) (Santiago de Cuba: Ediciones Santiago, 2011), 20–25.

(36.) Fleitas Monnar, La modernización urbana, 36.

(37.) Jeremy Stolow, ed. Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things in Between (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013).

(38.) María Fleitas Monnar, Sociedad e imagen urbana: Santiago de Cuba a fines del siglo XIX (Santiago de Cuba: Ediciones Santiago, 2010), 66.

(39.) Kennan sailed from Key West to Santiago de Cuba on June 20, 1898 on board a Red Cross steamer that carried 1,400 tons of food and medical supplies for Cuban refugees and prisoners of war. Kennan, Campaigning in Cuba, 51.

(40.) George Kennan, “Friction in Cuba: A Special Letter from George Kennan on General Wood’s Work,” The Outlook, March 25, 1899, 676.

(41.) Robert B. Hoernel, “Sugar and Social Change in Oriente, Cuba, 1898–1946,” Journal of Latin American Studies 8.2 (1976): 234.

(42.) Hoernel, “Sugar and Social Change in Oriente,” 239; and Gillian McGillivray, Blazing Cane: Sugar Communities, Class, and State Formation in Cuba, 1868–1959 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2009), 77.

(43.) De la Fuente, A Nation for All, 101–102. In 1899 Alto Songo had 12,770 inhabitants; the census classified 71.9 percent as “colored.” San Luis had 11,681 inhabitants, with 70.6 percent counted as people of African descent. The city of Santiago de Cuba had a population of 43,090, with people of color accounting for 56.6 percent. See the Report on the Census of Cuba, 1899 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1900), 202.

(44.) Louis A. Pérez, Jr. On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 220–237.

(45.) Leonard Wood, William Howard Taft, Charles Herbert Allen, Perfecto Lacoste, and Marion E. Beall, Opportunities in the Colonies and Cuba (New York: Lewis, Scribner, 1902), 125–127.

(46.) Carlos Córdova Martínez and Oscar Barzaga Sablón, El espiritismo de cordón. Un culto popular cubano (Havana: Fundación Fernando Ortiz, 2000); Ludín García Fonseca, Francisco Salgado: Un bayamés espiritista de cordón (Unpublished manuscript, 2012); and Román, Governing Spirits, 23–50.

(47.) Louis A. Pérez, Lords of the Mountain: Social Banditry and Peasant Protest in Cuba, 1878–1918 (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989).

(48.) Allan Kardec, Spiritualist Philosophy: The Spirits’ Book, trans. Anna Blackwell (Boston: Colby & Rich, 1875), 10.

(49.) Armando Bermúdez, “La expansión del ‘espiritismo de cordón’,” Etnología y Folklore 5 (1968): 5–32.

(50.) Fernando Ortiz, “En el Solar de la Prieta,” Bohemia (Havana) 41.20 (1949): 20–22, 88–89.

(51.) Fernando Ortiz, “Una moderna secta espiritista de Cuba,” Bohemia (Havana) 42.5 (1950): 138.

(52.) Fernando Ortiz, “Los espirituales cordoneros del orilé,” Bohemia (Havana) 42.5 (1950): 21.

(53.) Report on the Census of Cuba, 1899, 202.

(54.) Román, Governing Spirits, 50.

(55.) Victor W. Turner, Drums of Affliction: A Study of Religious Processes among the Ndembu of Zambia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981).

(56.) Román, Governing Spirits, 39–40.

(57.) Fernando Ortiz, “Orígenes de los cordoneros del orilé,” Bohemia (Havana) 42.23 (1950): 106. See also Román, Governing Spirits, chapter 1; and Espírito Santo, Developing the Dead, chapter 3.

(58.) Thomas A. Tweed, Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

(59.) Dolores Hayden, Seven American Utopias: The Architecture of Communitarian Socialism, 1790–1975 (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1979); and Patricia R. Pessar, From Fanatics to Folk: Brazilian Millenarianism and Popular Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press Books, 2004).

(60.) Carlos Lloga and Abelardo Larduet, “Valores patrimoniales del Cordón de Monte Oscuro,” Caminos: Revista Cubana de Pensamiento Socioteológico 54 (2009): 45–52.

(61.) Initiates in Ocha and Palo are among those who rely on mediums to access the dead. See Espírito Santo, Developing the Dead, 3; and Ochoa, Society of the Dead, 47.

(62.) José Antonio García Molina, Mercedes Garrido Mazorra, and Daisy Fariñas Gutiérrez, Huellas vivas del indocubano (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 2007); Natalia Bolívar Aróstegui, Carmen González, and Natalia del Río, Corrientes espirituales en Cuba (Havana: Editorial José Martí, 2007); and Román, Governing Spirits.

(63.) Angel Lago Vieito, Fernando Ortiz y sus estudios acerca del espiritismo en Cuba (Havana: Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo de la Cultura Cubana Juan Marinello, 2002).

(64.) Margaret E. Crahan, “Cuba: Religion and Revolutionary Institutionalization,” Journal of Latin American Studies 17.2 (1985): 319–340; and Gerald E. Poyo, Cuban Catholics in the United States, 1960–1980: Exile and Integration (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007).

(65.) Christine Ayorinde, Afro-Cuban Religiosity, Revolution, and National Identity (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004), 96–107.

(66.) Aníbal Argüelles Mederos and Ileana Hodge Limonta, Los llamados cultos sincréticos y el espiritismo. Estudio monográfico sobre su significación social en la sociedad cubana contemporánea (Havana: Editorial Academia, 1991), 189.

(67.) Christine Ayorinde, Afro-Cuban Religiosity, 148, 207.

(68.) Argüelles Mederos and Hodge Limonta, Los llamados cultos sincréticos y el espiritismo, 192–193. In 2000, Córdova Martínez and Barzaga Sablón put the number of espiritistas cordoneros in Holguín Province at more than 26,000. See Córdova Martínez and Barzaga Sablón, El espiritismo de cordón, 52.

(69.) Argüelles Mederos and Hodge Limonta, Los llamados cultos sincréticos y el espiritismo, 215.

(70.) Espírito Santo, Developing the Dead, 30–32.

(71.) García Molina, Garrido Mazorra, and Fariñas Gutiérrez, Huellas vivas del indocubano.

(72.) Lloga and Larduet, “Valores patrimoniales del Cordón de Monte Oscuro,” 48. For a discussion of Ortiz’ use of ajíaco as a metaphor and model, as well as related terms such as “syncretism” and “transculturation,” see Stephan Palmié, The Cooking of History: How Not to Study Afro-Cuban Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013).

(73.) Córdova Martínez and Barzaga Sablón, El espiritismo de cordón, 47–51. Bermúdez made a similar argument regarding the reach of espiritismo de cordón by geographical zones; see Armando Andrés Bermúdez, “La expansión del espiritismo de cordón,” Revista de Etnología y Folklore 5 (1968): 21–29.

(74.) In 1888, three Cuban delegates attended the first International Congress for Spiritists in Barcelona. Primer Congreso Internacional Espiritista: representaciones, adhesiones, sesiones públicas, sesiones privadas, conclusiones, documentos, etc.: reseña completa. (Barcelona: Imprenta de Daniel Cortezo, 1888); a facsimile edition is online. See also Espírito Santo, Developing the Dead, 46–47.

(75.) Benigno Merino y Mendi, Instrucción pastoral que sobre el espiritismo moderno dirige al clero y fieles de la Diócesis de La Habana el M. Y. Sr. Dr. Don Benigno Merino y Mendi (Havana: Imp. Militar de la Viuda de Soler, 1875); and José María Martín de Herrera, Carta pastoral del Excmo. e Illmo. Sr. Arzobispo de Santiago de Cuba, al clero y pueblo de esta archidiocesis sobre el espiritismo (Santiago de Cuba: Imp. de la Bandera de España, 1881).

(76.) Armando Andrés Bermúdez, “Notas para la historia del espiritismo en Cuba,” Revista Etnología Y Folklore, 4 (1967): 7–13.

(77.) An advertisement for the Revista de Estudios Psicológicos included in an 1879 edition of Allan Kardec’s collected works indicates that the monthly was sold in Havana; see the appendixes of Allan Kardec, Filosofía espiritualista (Barcelona: Imprenta de Leopoldo Domenech, 1879). El espiritismo en su más simple expresión, Kardec’s compendium of ideas, was published in Cuba in 1889. See Bermúdez, “Notas para la historia del espiritismo en Cuba”; Pamela María Smorkaloff, Readers and Writers in Cuba: A Social History of Print Culture, 1830s–1990s (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1997); José G. Ricardo, La imprenta en Cuba (Havana: Editorial de Letras Cubanas, 1989); and Ambrosio Fornet, El libro en Cuba: siglos xvii y xix (Havana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1994).