Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces by Patricia Spyer

By Patricia Spyer

First released in 1998. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa corporation.

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The largest also has a double string of small red beads on one outer side near the brush, and a small black brass chain around the stalk at the other side, as well as nails with round top covers, resembling drawing pins. 18 Both obeah have white cotton thread wrapped around them; one has a hole in the freakish stalk through which the thread runs. What did Van Breugel make of the elements that made up the obeah? 19 He focuses exclu­ sively on their vegetable components, describing the palm trees and their utility for making brooms and other household implements, as From Brooms to Obeah and Back 43 well as food and drinks.

What we will see is that these objects only could become visible as religious symbols the very moment they were destined to disappear from their own community. Within that community, the two obeah could be regarded as "border fetishes" in a literal sense, referring here to the crosscultural process in which they were created by enslaved and displaced peoples from a variety of African ethnic and cultural backgrounds, both newly arrived in the colony and born on planta­ tions, who lived in close contact with indigenous Amerindian and maroon communities in the rainforests, as well as with a growing number of free blacks and mulattos.

Although there is no certainty that the ancestors can hear these words, at least in this way ritual speech establishes its ap­ propriateness for spanning the semiotic gap that intervenes between speaker and listener (see Keane 1995). In contrast, the linguistic forms of Protestant prayer resemble those of everyday speech. 11 On the other hand, although marapu speech has a clear relation­ ship to its addressee, it leaves some doubt about the relationship between words and their speaker. Since they originate with the an­ cestors, the words are clearly distinct from the speaker in at least some respects.

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