The Black Saint

The Black Saint – Rediscovering TraditionHere’s a program from our archives.Ambience: Music (drums, singing, conch) Dia de San Juan, Curiepe, Venezuela On the Dia de San Juan, St. John’s Day – in Curiepe, Venezuela, there are two celebrations which link to traditions in Europe and Africa. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. The first celebration of the Dia de San Juan is a very public affair, honoring an icon representing St. John. There’s much drumming and dancing and gratitude for the help the saint has given throughout the year to the townsfolk of Curiepe, many of whom are descended from slaves brought to Venezuela from Africa.Well some years ago, another icon appeared on the scene, giving rise to a second celebration. Guss: And this saint was black; it was a black San Juan. That’s very unusual.David Guss is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Tufts University.Guss: This black San Juan had been handed down through many, many generations by a group of free blacks who used it as a focal point of a society which was raising money to buy the freedom of the slaves during slavery. And they had had this black San Juan constructed for their society and what was very particular about the construction of this black San Juan which is completely unique in terms of Catholic saints, is that it had a phallus. Not only did this make that St. Juan more potent, but it connected it to another tradition of saint makers that was clearly African. So now people started dancing to this black saint. So the whole orientation of the festival took on another dimension: that the reason that we’re doing it is to celebrate a struggle for liberation that’s represented not by a white image that was imposed upon us by a colonial figure, but by a black figure that we ourselves invented and are now rediscovering.Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner. You’ve been listening to a program from our archives.

The Black Saint

Black Venezuelans have introduced an African icon into a festival honoring St. John.
Air Date:06/24/2021
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Transcript:

The Black Saint - Rediscovering TraditionHere's a program from our archives.Ambience: Music (drums, singing, conch) Dia de San Juan, Curiepe, Venezuela On the Dia de San Juan, St. John's Day - in Curiepe, Venezuela, there are two celebrations which link to traditions in Europe and Africa. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. The first celebration of the Dia de San Juan is a very public affair, honoring an icon representing St. John. There's much drumming and dancing and gratitude for the help the saint has given throughout the year to the townsfolk of Curiepe, many of whom are descended from slaves brought to Venezuela from Africa.Well some years ago, another icon appeared on the scene, giving rise to a second celebration. Guss: And this saint was black; it was a black San Juan. That's very unusual.David Guss is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Tufts University.Guss: This black San Juan had been handed down through many, many generations by a group of free blacks who used it as a focal point of a society which was raising money to buy the freedom of the slaves during slavery. And they had had this black San Juan constructed for their society and what was very particular about the construction of this black San Juan which is completely unique in terms of Catholic saints, is that it had a phallus. Not only did this make that St. Juan more potent, but it connected it to another tradition of saint makers that was clearly African. So now people started dancing to this black saint. So the whole orientation of the festival took on another dimension: that the reason that we're doing it is to celebrate a struggle for liberation that's represented not by a white image that was imposed upon us by a colonial figure, but by a black figure that we ourselves invented and are now rediscovering.Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner. You've been listening to a program from our archives.