Sacred powers: Women and African-derived religions in 20th century Caribbean narrative

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

First Committee Member

Barbara R. Woshinsky - Committee Chair


My study examines the important role of African-derived religions in four Caribbean novels written in the latter part of the twentieth century. During this period, several female writers have offered a challenge to colonialist and androcentric postcolonial literature with a literary production that resurrects women from the silenced ranks of humanity. My research demonstrates that the practice of African-derived religions enables the major characters in the novels---all women---to gain a certain degree of authority not available to them either in mainstream Christian denominations or in their own male-oriented societies. The first chapter examines different theories of religious syncretism in the New World, since it was the meeting of African religions and Christianity that gave birth to the religious traditions that appear in the four texts. The subsequent two chapters contain a study of the narratives themselves: Maryse Conde's Moi, Tituba sorciere... Noire de Salem (1986), Mayra Montero's Del rojo de su sombra (1992), Simone Schwartz-Bart's Pluie et vent sur Telumee Miracle (1972) and Erna Brodber's Louisiana (1994). After considering the difference in the use of religion by the four writers, I conclude that by reclaiming an African ethnic past through the practice of ancestral religious traditions, the protagonists are able to exercise their sacred powers as they heal the minds and bodies of the descendants of the slaves. The authors place these women in a locus of enunciation from whence they can be heard, thus affording the downtrodden an opportunity to re-write/re-right their history.


Literature, Caribbean; Women's Studies

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text