Contentious diasporas: Gender, sexuality, and heteronationalisms in the cuban iyanifa debate

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A transnational debate over female initiations into Ifá (African diasporic religious practices) in Cuba arose between 2004 and 2007. It pitted different practitioners within nationalist terms. Cuban, Nigerian, and American “styles” of Ifá disputed gender regulations, religious sexualities, and global authority in what became known as the Iyanifa debate. The various sides of the debate made calls to global religious communities to either defend or condemn the initiation of women. Cuban Ifá priests argued that feminist imperialisms were attempting to colonize Afro-Cuban traditions in the name of profit. Meanwhile, the African-style priests who initiated women in Cuba argued against Cuban misogyny in neoliberal terms of religious freedom, while condemning the initiation of homosexual men. In this article, I examine how competing Ifá religious diasporas are held in tension through the Iyanifa debate in Cuba. Rather than consisting of a conflict between “American imperialist feminisms” and “Cuban colonial misogyny,” as the Iyanifa debate has seemingly played out in its public spectacle, I argue that this debate circumscribes nationalized gendered normativities between competing African and Cuban diasporic assemblages. I show how these diasporic heteronationalisms police religious sexualities transnationally and simultaneously reify the United States as an exceptional site of liberal sexual freedoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)817-840
Number of pages24
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Gender Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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