Anthropologist publishes book on Afro-Ecuadorian culture, celebrations

Jean Muteba Rahier, director of the FIU African and African Diaspora Studies Program, has published a book, Kings for Three Days: The Play of Race and Gender in an Afro-Ecuadorian Festival.

Kings for Three DaysThe ethnography examines the racial, sexual and social complexities of Afro-Ecuadorian culture, as revealed through their annual celebration Festival of the Kings. In Roman Catholicism, the Festival of the Kings celebrates the Epiphany, or the visit of the Magi to Baby Jesus.

The people of the coastal province of Esmeraldas – whose population is 70 percent black and mulatto and is most associated with blackness – wear masks and portray themselves as blacks, whites and indigenous peoples as a reference to the origins of the three Magi and the three most prominent racial groups in Latin America In his book, Rahier studied two towns within the province: Santo Domingo de Onzole, an isolated village in the Ecuadorian jungle, and La Tola, a coastal village. He found the festivities in Santo Domingo de Onzole, where race mixing is not common, emphasize gender relations. In La Tola, a village whose population is heavily multiracial, the villagers emphasize race relations by critiquing white and light-mulatto elites.

“A given cultural ceremony can take different shapes and have different meanings in different locations or communities, even within the same cultural area. I hope that this study will help people to stay away from facile generalizations and essentializations of people and their cultural practices,” Rahier said. “The specific geographic and socio-economic contexts in which people live are very important because they inform what people think and do. This book calls for a detailed and sophisticated understanding of human beings and their cultural productions.”

The book was published May 1, 2013, by the University of Illinois Press.

Rahier is an associate professor of anthropology in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies in the School of International and Public Affairs. A member of the African diaspora himself, he was born in the Republic of Congo to a Congolese mother and Belgian father. Educated in Belgium and France, he developed an interest in the African diaspora as an undergraduate at Université Libre de Bruxelles. Chance took him to Ecuador in 1984 where he discovered African communities there and dedicated his dissertation to them, staying in the country and studying these groups until 1991. Rahier has a Ph.D. in sociology from the Université de Paris X in Nanterre, France.

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