During my trip to Trinidad I used the travel enrichment grant to look at the African influenced religions in the twin island nation. Africans were taken as slaves and brought over to Trinidad. In their struggle to survive and navigate the new space they merged the different spiritual traditions present among the different ethnic groups that were enslaved. Today that mélange of spiritual traditions presents itself in the form of various religious and spiritual practices.
With the grant I was able to visit different parts of the island that were not a part of the program’s scheduled excursions. I met with practitioners of the Ifa tradition, locally more commonly known as Orisha practitioners. I was able to attend some ceremonies and visit some shrines. This helped me see the day to day aspects of the spiritual practices of members of the Orisha faith. The grant helped me to not only be an observer but to also partake of some of the rituals and ceremonies.
One interesting thing I discovered about African influenced religious and spiritual traditions is that they are not only relegated to ceremonies but they are strongly tied with an Afro-centric identity and Afro-centric practices. I used part of the grant to join a dance company that was not only owned by Orisha faith practitioners but also was specific to West African dance. I learned that most of the people in Trinidad who practiced Ifa/Orisha used to be in some of the main stream churches before but they found the Ifa spiritual tradition to be central to their African history. They thus recognized with it more.
I was able to find another religious tradition that is heavily influenced by the African beliefs and practiced brought over by the enslaved Africans- this was the Spiritual Baptist faith. The Spiritual Baptists merge Christianity with ancient African spiritual practices. They were once banned from practicing their faith in Trinidad until fairly recently. With the funds I was able to attend the biggest holiday celebration of the Spiritual Baptists in Trinidad and I witnessed first-hand the beauty of this spiritual tradition.