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Stephen M. Fay

was born on 28 January 1940 in Havana, Cuba, to a middle-class family of Catalan descent. Barnet’s parents owned a successful autoparts business and sent their son to an exclusive American school in the city center. Although educated in an Anglophone and US-centric environment, Barnet was entranced by the popular Cuban culture he witnessed in the solar (tenement building) opposite his family home, where the noisy comings and goings of the residents of African, Chinese, Central European, Middle Eastern, and North African descent gave the young Barnet his first taste of the island’s ethnic and cultural heterogeneity. His initial ambition was to work in television and radio, for which he took classes in the city’s Institute of Advertising in the late 1950s, but the victory of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement and the flight of the dictator Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959 inspired a change of professional direction.

Barnet enrolled ...


Miguel Barnet is the author of Biografía de un cimarrón (Autobiography of a Runaway Slave, 1966), which recounts Esteban Motejo's life as a runaway slave in Cuba and as a soldier in the Spanish-American War (1895–1898). Other works by Barnet include Canción de Raquel Rachel ...


Rebecca Dirksen

also commonly remembered as Lina Mathon-Fussman or, equally, as Lina Fussman-Mathon, was born in Port-au-Prince on 3 January 1903, one of five children of Charles Mathon, a medical doctor, and Cléante N. Marie Anne Carré Mathon. By all accounts captivated by the piano as a toddler, she was formally introduced to the instrument at the age of 4 by Haitian composer Justin Elie. She subsequently studied the classical music repertoire with the best teachers of the era, including completing advanced studies at the Ecole Notre-Dame de Sion in Paris between 1917 and 1921. Blanchet would eventually cofound the Lycée Musical de Port-au-Prince (a music school) and was later named the first director of the Conservatoire National by Haitian president Paul Eugène Magloire.

A tireless promoter of Haitian folkloric music throughout her life, Blanchet is cited as the first artist to mount stylized Vodou-influenced spektak performances on a ...


Theodore Cohen

was born on 22 November 1904 in Mexico City to José Covarrubias and Elena Duclaud. José was a civil engineer and government official who helped provide Miguel with access to Mexico’s cultural and intellectual elite. Miguel was born into a family with Spanish, French, and Mexican—but no African—ancestry. He had an elite education, attending the Horace Mann School and the Alberto Correo School in Mexico City. He married the dancer Rosa Rolando (née Rose Cowan, 1898–1870) on 24 April 1930. Although he never officially divorced her, he also married Rocío Sagaón in 1955.

Covarrubias started to draw caricatures as a child. Mexico City newspapers and cultural magazines began to publish them in 1920. With a little support from the Mexican state, Covarrubias left for New York City in the summer of 1923 Mexico s foremost cultural promoter in the United States José Juan Tablada helped ...


Lamonte Aidoo

was born on 10 August 1823 in the town of Caxias in the northeastern Brazilian province of Maranhão to João Manuel Gonçalves Dias and Vicência Ferreira. Among the nation’s most celebrated writers, Dias was one of the foremost proponents of Brazilian Romanticism and the nineteenth-century literary movement known as Indianism.

His father was a Portuguese immigrant and a leader of the Portuguese loyalists against the Brazilians in the final stages of the independence movement Dias s mother was a mixed race woman of Gê Indian and African ancestry and mistress of João Manuel Though Dias is most known for his Indianist or nativist poetry that celebrated Brazil s indigenous populations he never openly acknowledged his heritage Instead his mixed race heritage and the illegitimacy of his birth would haunt him throughout his life as a constant source of shame insecurity and heartbreak When he was 6 years old his father ...


was born in Port-de-Paix, Haiti, on 21 September 1935 to Luc Foucard, a medical doctor, and Isabelle Markez, a Haitian of Dominican birth. She had eight siblings. Known by the sobriquet “Déïta,” this pioneering woman devoted her life to demystifying the mystical ways of Haiti—“mon pays unconnu” (my unknown country), as she would come to call it. Undeterred by social norms restricting the activities of women of her class and background, she spent much of her life conducting fieldwork and interviews among the rural peyizan (peasantry), attending Vodou ceremonies (sacred events of the predominant Afro-Haitian spiritual practice and way of life), profiling the lwa (spiritual entities of Vodou, including ancestral spirits) and elucidating their attendant mythologies, decoding the practices of secret societies, collecting proverbs and stories passed down generation to generation, and learning about the medicinal properties of the island’s native plant species.

Déïta s earliest interactions with Vodou were ...


Jeremy Rich

Beninese ethnographer and novelist, was born on 16 April 1890 in the southern Beninese city of Porto Novo to a very wealthy family. His father Alamavo Hazoumé was one of the chief advisors of King Toffa of Porto Novo, a self-proclaimed modern ruler who had collaborated closely with the French government against his rival Dahomey. Alamavo was a fervent believer in Western education, especially after he visited Paris on a diplomatic mission for King Toffa in 1895. His son kept a photograph of his father taken on this trip for the rest of his own life as a precious heirloom.

Alamavo Hazoumé sent his son Paul to mission schools run by French White Fathers missionaries in Porto Novo. There, Hazoumé so impressed his teachers, especially the ethnographer Reverend Francis Aupiais, that after graduating from the mission school, he worked for it as a teaching assistant, from 1905 to 1907 ...


Geoffrey Roper

British topographer, ethnographer, and philologist in Egypt, was born at Hereford, England, on 17 September 1801, the son of the Reverend Theophilus Lane and wife Sophia (née Gardiner). Having rejected higher education at Cambridge, Edward went instead to London in 1819, and learned the craft of engraving. There he developed an interest in Egypt, possibly stimulated by Belzoni’s spectacular exhibition of Egyptian antiquities in 1821. But he also seems to have shared in the excitement aroused about that time by the decipherment of the hieroglyphs by Jean François Champollion and Dr. Thomas Young.

Having already acquired some knowledge of Arabic, Lane embarked for Egypt in 1825. On arrival at Alexandria, he felt like “an Eastern bridegroom, about to lift up the veil of his bride, and to see, for the first time, the features which were to charm, or disappoint, or disgust him” (Lane, 2000 ...


Garvey Lundy

Jean Price-Mars is considered the foremost Haitian intellectual of the twentieth century. Born on 15 October 1876, in Grande Rivière-du-Nord (Haiti), he died on 1 March 1969, at the age of 93 in Pétionville (Haiti). In a life spanning nearly a century, Jean Price-Mars was a physician, public official, diplomat, ethnologist, and historian of Haiti’s sociological and intellectual development, expounding the contribution of Haiti and Haitians to the cultures of the Americas, and above all a spokesman calling on Haitians to take pride in their indigenous culture and to acknowledge the African roots of their culture.

Price Mars was born to Jean Eléomont Mars and Fortuna Delcour Michel He was only six years old when his mother died of smallpox After his mother s passing Price Mars was warmly guarded by his maternal grandmother At an early age it was decided that Price Mars would be educated at ...


Richard Watts

Jean Price-Mars was born in Grande Rivière du Nord, Haiti. After studying medicine, anthropology, and political science in Haiti and Paris, he joined the Haitian diplomatic corps. It was through this work that Price-Mars discovered his oratorical skills, giving a great number of lectures on Haitian culture and politics in the 1910s and 1920s that were gathered in his first published works, La Vocation de l'élite (1919), Ainsi parla l'Oncle (1928), and Une étape de l'évolution haïtienne (1929). Price-Mars subsequently split his time between active politics and more intellectual pursuits throughout the rest of his life. During the tumultuous middle of the century, he remained close to Haiti's ever-changing power élite, running twice for president and being appointed ambassador to Paris by François Duvalier in 1957.

More significantly Price Mars continued to write on the history of Haiti and on the ...


Orquídea Ribeiro

Angolan writer, poet, essayist, journalist, and folklorist, was born in Luanda, Angola, on 17 August 1909. He was the son of a Portuguese father, Arnaldo Gonçalves Ribas, and an Angolan mother, Maria da Conceição Bento Faria, a prototype of African ladies of the time, who kept the original sources of her culture alive. He attended primary and secondary school in Luanda, the Lyceum-Seminar of Luanda, and the Luanda Salvador Correia High School. After a short stay in Portugal to study commercial arithmetic, Ribas returned to Angola to work in the Directorate of Finance and Accounting. He resided in various cities of Angola, namely Novo Redondo (Sumbe), and Benguela, Bie, and Ndalatando.

Ribas gradually went blind during his early twenties but remained an indefatigable researcher and writer publishing books and articles on the culture of Angola from oral tradition to religious rites and culinary arts At the age of thirty ...


Jeremy Rich

French filmmaker and ethnographer active in Niger, was born on 31 May 1917 in Paris. His father was an adventurous naval officer who had traveled as far as Antarctica. His mother had a deep love of poetry and painting. Their son would combine his parents’ interests in his later life.

The Rouch family moved often in Jean’s early life, and he spent time in Algeria, Morocco, and Germany. In 1937, he entered the École des Ponts et Chausées to study engineering. Rouch did so at the behest of his father rather than out of a real interest in the subject matter. However, Rouch found plenty of opportunities to take other courses outside of engineering and science.

In his last year of studies Rouch met anthropologist Maurice Griaule whose work on Dogon communities in West Africa would later be one of the most well known and controversial examples of French ...


Elizabeth Heath

As a pioneer of ethnographic filmmaking, which documents the lives, customs, and cultures of ethnic groups, Jean Rouche developed styles and techniques that influenced a generation of African moviemakers. Rouche's mother was a painter and his father was a naval explorer. Born in Paris, Rouche trained to be an engineer. He graduated from a prestigious Parisian engineering college in 1941 and immediately left Nazi-occupied France for the freer West African colony of Niger.

Rouche was hired to oversee the construction of a road, but lack of equipment halted the project. The engineer, however, had taken an interest in aspects of Songhai culture, including spirit possession ceremonies conducted by African workers he had befriended. Fascinated by the rites and curious to learn more, Rouche returned to France, where he enrolled in a doctoral program in anthropology and studied with the famous ethnographer Marcel Griaule Taking a break from his ...


Kim Miller

historian and writer during Nigeria’s colonial period, was born in 1898 into the Tiv ethnic group in northern Nigeria. Sai was one of the first individuals in his village to convert to Christianity following the arrival of European missionaries in 1911. Sai’s father strongly encouraged and supported his conversion. Sai subsequently became employed by the missionaries and worked as an evangelist. Partly because of his associations with the missionaries, Sai was also one of the first individuals in his village to learn to write in the Tiv language. This skill would prove to be foundational in shaping the rest of Sai’s life and transformative in determining the important role he would later play in writing and recording the history of his people.

Akiga Sai was the editor of the monthly Tiv newspaper, Mwanger u Tiv, published by the Gaskiya Corporation. In 1951 he was elected as a ...


John Wright

magistrate, native administrator, and collector of Zulu oral histories in South Africa, was born on 30 January 1868 in Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the colony of Natal. He was the eldest son of Martinus Stuart (1841–1881) and his wife Mary, née Taylor (1846–1918). He was educated at Hilton College in Natal and St John’s College, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex.

In 1888 Stuart took up a position as clerk and interpreter in isiZulu in the civil service of the recently annexed colony of Zululand. Over the next eleven years he held various administrative posts in Zululand and Swaziland. From 1899 to 1901 he acted as magistrate in several centers in Natal before being appointed assistant magistrate in Durban, the colony’s biggest town.

By this time Stuart was devoting more and more of his time and energies to the project which he called his Idea of making himself a leading authority on Zulu customs ...


The holder of a Ph.D. degree in African Studies from the University of Paris, Pierre Verger traveled through various countries between 1932 and 1945 as a as a professional photographer and researcher for the Musée Ethnographique du Trocadéro (Ethnographic Museum of Trocadéro; today the Musée de l'Homme). He eventually settled in the city of Salvador in the Brazilian province of Bahia in 1946, where he explored in depth the black culture of Africa and Brazil, writing several books on the subject. Verger's pioneering work traced strong links between the religion and culture of Dahomey (now Benin) and Brazil. In 1952, while in Dahomey, he was initiated into the Yoruba Religion, given the name Fatumbi, and made a babalawo, or priest, of the Ifa divination system.

Some of Verger's publications include Fiestas y danzas en el Cuzco y en los Andes Celebrations and ...