Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Heather A. Williams
This ethnographic project explores the embodied sartorial practices of Haitian Vodou that are produced and transformed within transnational communities in the African Diaspora. I study how fashion in the religious and social life of Vodou accentuates the importance of aesthetic trends to communal identity formation in the African Diaspora. My primary sites of research are the temples of a Haitian Vodou practitioner named Manbo Maude in Mattapan, Massachusetts and in Jacmel, Haiti. Manbo Maude creates ritual garments and sells them to her practitioners for adornment during religious ceremonies. The production of these ritual garments offers a critical lens through which to discern the adornment practices that are key to serving the spiritual worlds in Haiti and the Diaspora and that reveal a larger economy of fashion and spiritual exchange. I propose the term spiritual vogue as a multisensorial ritual practice to address the performative use of fashion in Manbo Maude’s temples to unify practitioners and connect with the spirits. Through the presence of the spirits, dress, touch, movement, and the process of being seen, spiritual vogue is an interactive, multisensorial practice for the practitioners, the spirits, and the audience alike. This project builds on theorists like Sally Promey, Elizabeth Perez, and Linda B. Arthur, who engage with the performativity of gender, race, the multisensorial experience of religion, and religious and material exchanges between Africa and the African Diaspora. I demonstrate how religious fashion addresses the transnational relationships created through faith labor, spirit possession, tattoos, and other embodied manifestations of Vodou. Mambo Maude’s temples are investigated as sites of religious innovation that reflect the dynamic relationship between religious ritual, material aesthetics, and spiritual embodiment within African Diasporic religions.
Nwokocha, Eziaku Atuama, "Vodou En Vogue: Fashion, Ritual And Spiritual Innovation In Haitian Vodou" (2019). Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 3335.