Vodou en Vogue: Fashioning Black Divinities in Haiti and the United States (UNC Press, 2023; Where Religion Lives Series)
In Haitian Vodou, spirits impact Black practitioners’ everyday lives, tightly connecting the sacred and the secular. As Eziaku Atuama Nwokocha reveals in this richly textured book, that connection is manifest in the dynamic relationship between public religious ceremonies, material aesthetics, bodily adornment, and spirit possession. Nwokocha spent more than a decade observing Vodou ceremonies from Montreal and New York to Miami and Port-au-Prince. She engaged particularly with a Haitian practitioner and former fashion designer, Manbo Maude, who presided over Vodou temples in Mattapan, Massachusetts, and Jacmel, Haiti. With vivid description and nuanced analysis, Nwokocha shows how Manbo Maude’s use of dress and her production of ritual garments are key to serving Black gods and illuminate a larger transnational economy of fashion and spiritual exchange.
This innovative book centers on fashion and other forms of self-presentation, yet it draws together many strands of thought and practice, showing how religion is a multisensorial experience of engagement with what the gods want and demand from worshippers. Nwokocha’s ethnographic work will challenge and enrich readers’ understandings not only of Vodou and its place in Black religious experience but also of religion’s entanglements with gender and sexuality, race, and the material and spiritual realms.
“Nwokocha’s superb work offers a much-needed corrective to previous scholarship that presents Vodou as a religion defined by poverty and precarity. Her skillful observations and thoughtful descriptions of the thoughts, desires, and delights of deities and devotees reveal the rich thought-world of Vodou as it is practiced today. And it is simply a good read, not only for scholarly audiences but also for anyone who wants to understand the richness of Africana religious cultures.”
—Dianne M. Stewart, Emory University
“This exciting and important book breaks new conceptual ground by linking one’s manner of dress and bodily adornment to the formation of religious belief and community. Nwokocha’s idea of ‘spiritual vogue’ centers on Vodou and other African-derived spiritual systems, but the implications of her work extend broadly into fields such as Africana studies, religious studies, gender and sexuality studies, and fashion studies.”
—Judith Casselberry, Bowdoin College
“Eziaku Nwokocha reveals worlds where the complexities and sophistication of Vodou are awash in sartorial splendor, and where the cosmic is but one dream away. In language of inspiring clarity, she shows readers how threads of belief, fashion, movement, and more are woven together in the practice of Vodou today. Simply put, a great book.”
—Houngan asogwe/Professor Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, author of Haiti: The Breached Citadel