Atlas of Nanm

Maps for becoming human in a Haitian Vodou courtyard

My current book project (based on my dissertation) addresses embodied beings/becomings in a rural Haitian courtyard, led by a Petwo Vodou manbo in her ancestral village outside of Arkayè, Haiti. It follows how community members, especially women, cultivate and maintain each other as vibrant and relational selves in a shared sensual ecology through daily social practices and their concomitant rhythms. Towards this goal, the text passes through phenomena of infant care, eating practices, magical crafting, anti-werewolf campaigns, and zonbi manufacturing as exceedingly precious intrasubjective experiences of bonding and care which are the very flesh of life. Within the rural Arkayè region, being is rooted in the substance known as nanm. As people live, they exchange nanm: food-food, mouth-mouth, ailing heart to ailing hand. Wittingly or unwittingly people exchange nanm across a vast local ecology of humans, animals, lwa (ancestral deities), fearsome beings (such as dyab), and sites. In this sense, dwelling with others (whomever they may be) implictly involves bodily exchanges, from mothers strengthening infants bodies using medicinal baths, to experiences of werewomen draining infants bodies so that they may grow strong instead. People and other beings assemble, reassemble, and disassemble each other’s bodies as part of the regular work of living. Full bellies, healthy bodies, and magically protected spaces are not only “signs” of these bodily connections, they are themselves the substance (and substantiation) of social interconnectedness, just as their opposites become the substantiation of social disorder. People attempt to keep one another intact through myriad process of cleaning, feeding, baptizing, protecting, and healing one another, and through these acts they make specific forms of familial connectedness, as well as deadly social dangers, concrete, sensual, and temporally-present. I argue that Haitian Vodou practice, with its sensorial attention to the exchanges and permutations of flesh, brings to the surface a connection between human practices of self-making and their enculturated sensory world.

Region

Trans-Atlantic
Central Haiti
West & Central Africa
Caribbean

Methods

Ethnographic Poetics
Photography
Ambiant sound
Sound and music
Film

Theory

Feminist Phenomenology
Political Ecology
Anti-colonialism
Assemblage Theory

Woman embraces baby as ray of light shines through
In Haiti, a devout Evangelical kisses her infant niece, whose mother (and her twin sister) has been thrown out of the church.
Chains found in Montrouis, Haiti. They were used upon enslaved persons in St. Domingue, prior to Haiti’s birth in revolution as the first independent black republic.
Young boy fresh from bathing with a protective charm on his neck to protect from werewomen.