Dr Jerome Teelucksingh
One of the most fascinating recent books published on the West Indian diaspora is The Believers. The author, Dr Glenville Ashby is well-known and respected in New York and T&T as an accomplished journalist. He provides a profound analysis into the religious and spiritual experiences of a segment of the working class Caribbean diaspora in one of the most diverse states in the United States. The book contains 39 concise chapters that are coherent and informative. It provides valuable snapshots of a diasporic people who are trying to survive in their adopted homeland. Ashby is accurate in stating, “The Caribbean psyche is rooted in the spirit world. The spirits are everywhere. They are integral to social, economic and political life.”
Evidence of assimilation, acculturation and adaptation is prevalent in Chapters five, six and seven. The author provides a first-hand account of Kali worship and reflects on the lives of Hindus in New York. Pundit Rakesh Maharaj’s comment was noted by Ashby, “He talked about the City and Fire Department regulations that restricted the lighting of deyas, and how performing a puja here could be a little more expensive.” Throughout the book, Ashby’s analyses reflect a keen observer who utilises social, religious and cultural lenses. An illustration of his objectivity and awareness of historical baggage is evident in his comment, “Every culture is different and they worship God through their experiences…I gave some thought to the whole experience and realised how much Western religious thought had prejudiced our concept of the spiritual.” In Chapter 15, Immanuel Bones and Chapter 22, Haitian Magic, Ashby vividly recalls the conduct of meetings and the reactions of participants and leaders. Readers would be enthralled with Chapter 28, The Grandmaster, as it offers insight into the meaning of the spiritual alphabet and occult symbols.
The explanations emanate from Archbishop Philip Lewis, the grandmaster who recalled seeing people, associated with the banquets or Kabbalistic table, die unnatural deaths. The thought-provoking issues in The Believers will prove interesting for scholars and lay-people. Topics as life after death, the existence of God and spiritual forces, good and evil and forms of communication with gods will certainly contribute to philosophical and religious debates. The author also provides personal reflections such as, “The belief in God does not require you to be devout. It’s just a feeling you cannot explain, a knowing that you cannot prove, but a sure bet that there is something much bigger than us all.” This work should serve as an inspiration for West Indian writers in North America and Europe to document the rich spiritual tapestry of the Caribbean diaspora. In retrospect, The Believers should be compulsory reading for anyone who seeks to understand the significance of spiritual and religious realms of West Indians in New York.
The Believers: The Hidden World of West Indian Spiritualism in New York (London and Hertfordshire: Hansib Publications, 2012)
Nationwide: May 16th