Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Of Shrines, Talking Drums & Religioius Chants: Santería in DC

Footage From Last Year's Panel Discussion and Performance Now Available on HCTV

Last Summer, the Smithsonian Latino Center held a workshop at the GALA Theatre in Columbia Heights to discuss an often overlooked part of Washington, DC's cultural heritage. A panel of scholars, artists, performers, and practitioners traded stories about Santería and Afro-Cuban music and dance entitled Of Shrines, Talking Drums, & Religious Chants: Santeria in D.C. 

Since the 1950s, the practice and the sense of community associated with these traditions has emanated from a single house on Parkwood Place, NW. The house's current owner, Eloy Hernandez described the building's early role in fostering a sense of camaraderie among the Cuban immigrants who came to DC throughout the latter 20th century, and he and his wife's current efforts to pass traditions on to new generations. 

Other panelists included: Dr. Elaine Peňa, the professor responsible for conducting much of the history research; Smithsonian ethnologist James Early; Smithsonian curator Michael Mason; and Afro-Cuban musician and dancer Oscar Rousseaux. Footage from the event will be archived at the Smithsonian, and is meant to serve as a “living document” that will be used to supplement a written essay to be developed on the subject. 

To close the program, Rousseaux led a talented group of Afro-Cuban musicians, while carefully describing the significance of the instruments used and the chants performed. A brief compilation of the footage is available below and on the Humanities Council's Youtube Channel, but it is well worth viewing the film in its uncut form (coming soon to the DC Digital Museum). Dr. Peňa and the other panelists make a convincing case that sites like the Parkwood Place house serve as focal points for underrepresented cultures; their relative obscurity leading to a paradoxical cultural persistence unusual in a constantly changing urban setting.

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