Prof. Maureen Maureen Warner-Lewis

Maureen Maureen Warner-Lewis

Professor Emerita of African-Caribbean Language and Orature in the Department of Literatures in English, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, where her teaching specialisations were West Indian, African and Oral Literatures.


Her research on African cultural and linguistic retentions in the Caribbean has resulted in the publication of Guinea’s Other Suns (1991), Yoruba Songs of Trinidad (1994), Trinidad Yoruba (1996, 1997), Central Africa in the Caribbean (2003), Archibald Monteath (2007).


Prof. Warner-Lewis will speak on the topic “African Spirituality in the Caribbean: Belief and Practice.” As with indigenous African religious beliefs, several groups of persons in the Caribbean maintain that their welfare in this world is dependent on the constancy of their devotion to their deceased family members. Such persons practise ceremonies of ancestral veneration, among them Nation Dance in Carriacou, saraca in Grenada and Trinidad, etu and kumina in Jamaica, dugu in Belize. Failure to observe these rituals of commemoration are thought to invite misfortune for the living in the form of illness, accidents, etc.


Commemorative rituals also form a minor tradition within another category of religion, as is represented by Voodoo in Haiti, and Orisha or Shango in Trinidad, Cuba, and Brazil. This religious category mainly involves veneration of natural forces, such as rivers, thunder, lightning, the wind; symbolic recognition of dominant human activity such as agriculture, war, and love; and adulation of culture-heroes such as significant African kings and queens, and iconic discoverers of fire and metal. This latter category calls for elaborate rituals of dress, liturgy, food preparation, iconography, etc.


Another category of religious practice, in contrast to the other two, is private and individualistic, rather than communal. This type of religious belief centres on invocation of spirits of powerful dead medicine-men/women and the use of herbs and other natural agents together with magical oral formulae and amulets, with the aim of securing good fortune for an individual or bringing misfortune  on others. These practices are generically referred to in the English-speaking Caribbean as obeah, in the francophone areas as quembois.


The presentation of this paper will be illustrated with footage, where possible, of ceremonies, and musical excerpts.