Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

A “Brutology” of Bozal: Tracing a Discourse Genealogy from Nineteenth-Century Blackface Theater to Twenty-First-Century Spirit Possession in Cuba

  • Kristina Wirtz (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

In tracing a discourse history for the emergence and enregisterment of Bozal, a Cuban speech style that robustly indexes the historical persona of the African slave, this paper proposes that such discourse “genealogies” are more accurately reconstructed not through a linear, teleological metaphor of “speech chains” but through a more reticulated, multiply stranded web of interdiscursive connections. Bozal, in contemporary Cuba, characterizes the voices of African deities and spirits of the dead who possess their devotees to speak during folk religious ceremonies. I consider a deeper history of theatrical “blackface” influences on religious performances of spirit possession, a discourse history that destabilizes facile notions of “authentic, African” cultural sources in Cuba. I argue that rather than reflecting direct memories of actual speech by African-born slaves, once upon a time, Bozal's enregisterment began with, and always involved, double-voiced representations of imagined social types—what recent scholarship has described as “mock” forms disparaging the speech of racialized Others. The “Bozal slave” was a figure caricatured for comedic effect, proliferating into a whole set of stock theatrical characters, some of which became focal points for building nationalist sentiment in mid-nineteenth-century Cuba. The lesson for understanding the role of Bozal or any “Africanizing” voice in performance today is clear: we must always consider the mediating effects of metacultural practices in shaping our understanding of the social meaning of speech styles.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Kristina.wirtz@wmich.edu
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Asif Agha . 2003. The Social Life of Cultural Value. Language and Communication 23:231–73.

Asif Agha . 2006. Language and Social Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Benjamin Bailey . 2001. The Language of Multiple Identities Among Dominican Americans. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 10, 2:190223.

Laird Bergad . 2007. The Comparative Histories of Slavery in Brazil, Cuba, and the United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Laird W. Bergad , Fe Iglesias García , and María del Carmen Barcia . 1995. The Cuban Slave Market 1790–1880. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mary Bucholtz . 2009. Styles and Stereotypes: Laotian American Girls’ Linguistic Negotiation of Identity. In A. Reyes and A. Lo , eds., Beyond Yellow English: Toward a Linguistic Anthropology of Asian Pacific America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2142.

Elaine W. Chun 2009. Ideologies of Legitimate Mockery. In A. Reyes and A. Lo , eds., Beyond Yellow English: Toward a Linguistic Anthropology of Asian Pacific America. New York: Oxford University Press, 261–87.

Nikolas Coupland . 2007. Style: Language Variation and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cecilia Cutler . 2003. ‘Keepin’ It Real’: White Hip-Hoppers’ Discourses of Language, Race, and Authenticity. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 13, 2: 211–33.

Erwan Dianteill and Martha Swearingen . 2003. From Hierography to Ethnography and Back: Lydia Cabrera's Texts and the Written Tradition in Afro-Cuban Religions. Journal of American Folklore 116, 2: 273–92.

Hilary Dick and Kristina Wirtz . 2011. Introduction: Racializing Discourses. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 21, 1s: E2E10.

Rudolph P. Gaudio 2011. The Blackness of “Broken English.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 21, 2: 230–46.

Elina Hartikainen . 2008. African Accents, Speaking Child Spirits and the Brazilian Popular Imaginary: Permutations of Africanness in Candomblé. In S. Palmié , ed., Africas of the Americas: Beyond the Search for Origins in the Study of Afro-Atlantic Religions. Leiden: Brill, 323–50.

Jane H. Hill 1993. Hasta la Vista Baby: Anglo Spanish in the American Southwest. Critique of Anthropology 13, 2: 145–76.

Jane H. Hill 2005. Intertextuality as Source and Evidence for Indirect Indexical Meanings. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 15, 1: 113–24.

Jane H. Hill 2008. The Everyday Language of White Racism. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Judith Irvine . 2005. Commentary: Tears and Knots in the Interdiscursive Fabric. In “Discourse Across Speech Events: Intertextuality and Interdiscursivity in Social Life,” special issue of Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 15, 1: 7280.

Judith Irvine . 2008. Subjected Words: African Linguistics and the Colonial Encounter. Language & Communication 28: 323–43.

Webb Keane . 1997. Religious Language. Annual Review of Anthropology 26: 4771.

John M. Lipski 2005. A History of Afro-Hispanic Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Barbra A. Meek 2006. And the Injun Goes “How!”: Representations of American Indian English in White Public Space. Language in Society 35, 1: 93128.

Rafael Ocasio . 2012. Afro-Cuban Costumbrismo: From Plantation to the Slums. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Maggie Ronkin and Helen E. Karn . 1999. Mock Ebonics: Linguistic Racism in Parodies of Ebonics on the Internet. Journal of Sociolinguistics 3, 3: 360–80.

Jennifer Roth-Gordon . 2011. Discipline and Disorder in the Whiteness of Mock Spanish. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 21, 2: 211–29.

Kenneth Routon . 2008. Conjuring the Past: Slavery and the Historical Imagination in Cuba. American Ethnologist 35, 4: 632–49.

David Scott . 1991. That Event, This Memory: Notes on the Anthropology of African Diasporas in the New World. Diaspora 1, 3: 261–83.

Michael Silverstein . 1993. Metapragmatic Discourse and Metapragmatic Function. In J. A. Lucy , ed., Reflexive Language: Reported Speech and Metapragmatics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3358.

Michael Silverstein . 2003. Indexical Order and the Dialectics of Sociolinguistic Life. Language and Communication 23, 3–4: 193229.

Kristina Wirtz . 2007a. Enregistered Memory and Afro-Cuban Historicity in Santería's Ritual Speech. Language and Communication 27: 245–57.

Kristina Wirtz . 2011. Cuban Performances of Blackness as the Timeless Past Still among Us. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 21, 1S: E11E34.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 2
Total number of PDF views: 17 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 128 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd July 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.