Tying the Yuma to the Stick
Tying the Yuma to the Stick
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter focuses on a so-far unexplored dimension of the literature on the Special Period—namely, the ritual management of desire via the use of love magic in the tourist-driven economy of Havana, Cuba. Tracing ethnographically some of the ways in which love magic is both talked about and practiced, it focuses on how the distortions of a dollarized tourist economy have come to be perceived as magically controlled and controllable. Love magic targeting foreign tourists in post-Soviet Cuba is simply one strategy to make ends meet in the new culture of resolver.
10 July 2004: El Gordo, the taxi driver, took us to visit Arcaño today. Arcaño's neighborhood is what Cubans call a llega y pon (literally, “arrive and put down,” but better translated as “shantytown”). Actually, it was a shantytown that had been partially transformed into more permanent housing. The result was a confusing jumble of simple, freshly painted concrete bungalows that stood up straight and weathered, wooden shacks that leaned at dramatic angles. Arcaño, out of rum and cigarettes, sent one of the local boys down to the bodega (government rationing store), and then led us down the narrow passage (pasillo ) that led to his house, which he had recently covered in stucco with money he had managed to save from his only source of income, performing ritual services for his many clients.
About forty minutes later a young, dark-skinned black woman approached and gently knocked on the door. Although she possessed a commanding, robust stature, Yaima, a thirty-two-year-old dancer at the infamous Tropicana nightclub in Havana, was timid and hesitated to explain the reason for her unannounced visit. “Now, tell me and don't worry,” Arcaño told her in his deep, gruff voice, acquired from years of ritual singing, chain-smoking, and the daily consumption of the cheap black market rum that Cubans call “train spark” (chispa de tren ), “we're all family here.” After a few aborted attempts at small talk, Yaima, visibly nervous and wringing her hands, explained that she had come after hearing stories of the power and efficacy of Arcaño's ritual work. The year before she had been the lover of a Spanish tourist. When he (p.88) left, the Spaniard had promised to return within a few months and the two had made plans to resume their love affair. The Spaniard did indeed make another trip to Cuba, but two weeks after his arrival he still had not made any effort to contact the young dancer. Concerned that he had lost his desire to be with her, Yaima asked for Arcaño's help in bringing the Spaniard back.
Arcaño, who was apparently accustomed to such requests, as would soon become clear, agreed to help. He instructed her to bring him a white dove, a piece of firebush (palo paramí ), a branch of wild tobacco (guaraguao ), a marigold (maravilla ), and the flower of a butter daisy (boton de oro ).1He explained that with these materials and the name of the Spaniard he would bring him back to her.
A week after Arcaño performed his magic, the Spaniard called Yaima twice from Havana but still did not express any intentions of meeting with her. Arcaño decided that stronger magic was needed; they would have to “sweeten” (endulzar) and “soften” his heart (ablandar el corazón) using a magically charged powder. He told her that she would in fact see her lover again, and that when she did she would have to secretly release the powder in his presence. The powder was prepared using cinnamon, firebush, wild tobacco, muskweed (yamao), a small branch from an almond tree, a spiderweb, and a piece of nfumbi, or spirit of the dead. Arcaño explained that some of these materials were things that the oricha Ochún liked and often used to seduce her lovers.2 He instructed Yaima to take a bath infused with white flowers, chalk, and perfume before she met up with the Spaniard. A couple of days after their reunion, Yaima and the Spanish tourist resumed their love affair.
Returning from Arcaño's house after first meeting Yaima, La Mariquilla was more concerned that I might suspect her of doing ritual work on me than she was shocked to learn, as I was, that the national economy is not only subject to but perhaps somewhat dependent on such magical manipulations of foreign tourist desire:
Look, I know what you're thinking. I don't do those things. But those things do happen a lot today. I don't like it, but the people do them. What happened is, after the socialist camp fell, a tremendous arroz con mango formed here. Now, with money [hard currency], everyone moves! Everybody wants to meet a tourist. They do a little ritual work [trabajo] so they will come. That's how it is. But those things are dan (p.89) gerous. That's why I don't get involved with that stuff. One does his little work [trabajito] and everything is good; they are drinking beer, eating steak, and going to the discotheque, and the next day they lose everything. The magic turns on them.
It is striking here that the revolutionary state has revived prerevolutionary institutions such as the world-renowned Tropicana cabaret and nightclub, attempting to capitalize on the magical allure of republican decadence in the form of a fetish, the tropical female body. At the Tropicana, for instance, foreign tourists can now experience, or perhaps relive, the opulent capitalist decadence associated with the nation's republican past. Alluring showgirls wearing glittery headdresses and little else—the predecessors of whom paraded before international gangsters and jet-setters before the revolution—now shake (menearse) themselves for curious and nostalgic tourists who pay in the hard currency upon which the socialist economy now depends. No less conspicuous, however, is that a quasi-informal economy based on the magical manipulation of foreign desire has also risen in unison with state efforts to revive the tourist industry.
State economic strategies that mimic something of the tropical hedonism associated with the republic spill out into an informal tourism sector where street hustlers, or jineteros, compete with one another as objects of tourist attention and longing. “Spellbound by the magic of an alien value form [foreign currency],” Palmié notes, “Cuba nowadays lives less on the sugar that it still officially sells than off the caramelos (lit. ‘sweets,’ but more adequately translated as ‘favors’) that its populace finds willing to (or unable not to) make available to powerfully effective foreign demand” (Palmié 2002: 273). As Yaima's story illustrates, local efforts to tap into this global economy of desire entail harnessing the occult powers of orichas like Ochún Yeye-Moro, the “perfumed whore” and patron saint of many courtesans and prostitutes in the 1940s and ʼ50s (see Benítez Rojo 1996: 15; Cabrera 1980: 310–18), herself a refraction of the infamous nineteenth-century mulatta who used her sexuality to trap white men of means in dependent relationships.
This chapter focuses on a so-far unexplored dimension of the literature on the Special Period—namely, the ritual management of desire via the use of love magic in the tourist-driven economy of Havana.3 Tracing ethnographically some of the ways in which love magic is both talked about and practiced, I focus on how the distortions of a dollarized tourist economy (p.90) have come to be perceived as magically controlled and controllable. Despite the revolutionary state's disparaging view of such local social actors as jineteros, the national economy, I argue, is not only subject to but to some extent dependent on the magical manipulation of desire and the fantasies of both foreign tourists and the Cuban masses.
“Money is transcendent!” La Mariquilla exclaimed in dismay. Ildamis's daughter had just stopped by and asked me to exchange one of my dollars for her twenty-six pesos. It never occurred to me that this mundane, seemingly innocent request may have actually been an act of predation—the sorcery of money. That money and objects are “transcendent,” that they can be transformed into mystical agents conveying secret desires and hidden intentions, was brought home to me that night in Guanabacoa. “You should never have done that,” La Mariquilla admonished, “she is envious and that money could be ensorcelled [embrujado].” In the hustle economy of post-Soviet Cuba, where the magical power of sorcery circulates alongside the equally magical, affective power and lure of hard currency, the desire to meet, befriend, and maintain intimate relationships with foreign tourists has not only become a major means of local economic survival, but also a strategy for transnational migration. Romances between locals and visiting foreigners hold out the prospect (or promise) of a coveted immigration visa, a ticket out of the country to better opportunities abroad. Rather than leave this process to chance, some attempt to enhance the value of their emotional and erotic labor by turning to the seductive power of love magic. Ildamis's daughter may not only have been eager to swap the faded images of Cienfuegos, Maceo, and Martí that grace the massively devalued Cuban peso for the once-forbidden, emerald images of Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin. Her request to exchange money, La Mariquilla and her family feared, might also have been a covert attempt to “tie” (amarrar) me down, to magically seduce me into beginning a prolonged, romantic contact with her.4
Challenging the widespread view that magical epistemologies and practices reflect the irrational superstitions of backward, “primitive” societies, a number of recent ethnographic studies have demonstrated that magic, witchcraft, and sorcery have not only developed in conjunction with but constitute meaningful responses to modern economic, social, and political (p.91) conditions (for example, see Taussig 1980; Apter 1993; Geschiere 1997; Comaroff and Comaroff 1999). In a highly influential article, Jean and John Comaroff, for example, focus on the alarming rise in what they call “occult economies” in South Africa (1999). This term refers to the real or imagined deployment of magical means for material ends (ritual murder, theft of body parts, production of zombies, pyramid schemes, and other financial scams). The Comaroffs trace the alleged rise in the magical production of wealth to the ideological confrontation of rural South Africa with the alien ideas of millenial capitalism and the neoliberalism. As Brian Brazeal notes:
The central tenets of this “occult economies school” are that impoverished people in post-colonies become aware of increased capital flows in their countries and vast sums of money concentrated in the hands of some of their compatriots. Since this money is not being earned through traditional channels like agriculture, industry and extraction, they conclude that earning money depends on the manipulation of occult forces. So they accuse the rich of manipulating occult, evil forces for their benefit, or they themselves undertake various forms of black magic for their own enrichment. Magic produces value without labor, land or capital. As Mauss put it, magic is “pure production ex nihilo.” (2007)
Brazeal, however, notes that although certain local actors may harness morally dubious occult forces to economic strategies, more often than not they are merely trying to subsist rather than get rich. Their appeals to occult forces are part of a precarious balancing act that mediates between the contradictory pressures of economic necessity, on the one hand, and religious and social obligations on the other. The use of magic for material ends is, then, a more nuanced practice, a morally ambiguous way of participating in a morally ambiguous economy. Although some ritual economies may mimic “the productivity of capital with alienated labor,” morally dubious wealth gained through paid ritual work can be laundered or whitewashed, then allowed to recirculate within a broader system of social relations that stress reciprocity.
Likewise, love magic targeting foreign tourists in post-Soviet Cuba is hardly a get-rich-quick scheme. It is simply one strategy to make ends meet in the new culture of resolver. “Wealth” generated through ritual work that violates morally acceptable constraints can be and is, in fact, domesticated. (p.92) La Mariquilla, for example, placed all morally suspect monies beneath her Elegguá, saying that after a few days of resting there the bills could be used to buy a little tobacco, rum, and candy for the spirit guardian of the house. The money, in other words, could not be employed for personal use; it would have to be spent on Elegguá. Yet the ritual domestication of new wealth can also function as a smokescreen for conspicuous consumption. Seduced by the magical allure of global capitalism and a consumer lifestyle, some seek in popular religions like Ocha-Ifá a less stigmatized arena for what Cubans call “speculation”—that is, a kind of ideological contestation based on ostentatious spending, the consumption of luxury items, and the hedonistic ethos of living for the moment (Holbraad 2004).
The social permutations and distortions that have come about as a result of the introduction of hard currency into the national economy and due to the pervasive presence of foreign tourists from mostly wealthier nations fuel perceptions of an economy both mystically managed and manageable. Although the state publicly shuns incipient capitalist values, singling out the jinetero as the primary culprit for the moral corruption that threatens socialist modernity from within, both official and extra-official strategies attempting to tap into global economic flows are tied at the hip. The intimacy between local magic targeting foreigners and the state's flirtation with capitalist economic models, therefore, cannot be adequately explained by appealing to the binary categories that mark scholarly discourse on domination. Moreover, as I describe below, magical idioms of power are not merely expressions of the work of global capitalism in another register, but rather, as Vidal and Whitehead note, “part of an original and independent postcolonial political condition” (2004: 77). In contemporary Cuba, love magic constitutes a unique political imaginary, both an interpretation of and attempt to influence the circulation of power in society.
Between Fact and Fantasy
Love magic exists somewhere in the borderland between fact and fantasy, intentional act and salacious rumor, the desiring subject and the love object itself. It is a common subject of local, neighborhood chisme (gossip and rumor) or radio bemba (word of mouth). It is in this context that all unofficial and informal circulation of news and sociopolitical commentary takes place. In a society where all news media are subject to state ownership and serve as the formal organs of state propaganda, radio bemba provides a medium (p.93) through which citizens chronicle both local minutiae and the public secrets of the nation-state, narrowing the gap between “official” news and people's lived experience (Miller 2000). It is both a trade in dirty secrets and an informal social palaver, where “stray facts, manic theories, and well-told lies” characterize popular discourse on the morality of power.
I remember something Lucita, one of La Mariquilla's neighbors, used to always say. Whenever I asked how everything was going, her favorite response was always, “I'm in the fight,” or the daily struggle to make ends meet, “looking for a foreign sugar daddy [estoy en la lucha buscando un pepe].” Although Cubans frequently joke about such matters in this manner, Lucita's response calls attention to the very real desire (and perhaps necessity) among some Cubans to pursue relationships with foreigners either for temporary monetary gain or the long-term benefits of marriage and migration. The bulk of the state's resources are now invested in reviving the island's tourist industry. As economic deprivations worsened throughout the 1990s and the number of foreign tourists from Europe and North America increased, the country experienced a sharp rise in illicit economic activities. This ranged from an expanding black market to what is referred to in popular speech as jineterismo; that is, the hustling and courtesan-like entrepreneurialism that takes place within the island's tourist zones. Although many, including some Cubans, use the term to refer exclusively to prostitution, the purveyors of this new form of hustling, the jineteros, actually engage in a broad range of economic activities ranging from the selling of various goods and services to providing both friendly and romantic company and, in some cases, sex to tourists. In return they may receive money, consumer goods, a nice meal in a hotel restaurant, or an invitation to a local discotheque for a night of free drinks and entertainment. In exchange for providing romantic companionship and sexual favors, they may also receive marriage proposals and invitations to leave the country and live abroad.
Hustling and black market transactions have raised concerns about the potential for moral decay and corruption of both socialist and cultural values; jineterismo, for example, is derided by the revolutionary Cuban state as reflecting decadent capitalist values that promote individualism, accumulation, and consumption. The Special Period has also witnessed the reappearance of the racialized images of sexuality that first emerged during the colonial era and were later reinforced by rampant prostitution in the republic that gave Cuba its infamous epithet: “the brothel of the Caribbean.” (p.94) In both the popular and revolutionary imaginations, the illicit economic activities of jineterismo, which may or may not involve commodified sexual exchanges with foreigners, are more often than not associated with women, and, more precisely, women of color. The resemblance of the figure of the jinetera to the seductive mulatta of bygone eras, the erotic image of which was produced primarily through the prism of white male desire, is uncanny. The predatory eroticism of the colonial and neocolonial-era mulatta was a fantasy that transformed white men of means into the victims of black and mulatta women and freed them from the guilt of sexual attraction, oppression, and rape (Helg 1995: 17,018). Her supposed salacious appetite for sexual liaison was held to be responsible for disrupting the orderly social boundaries of race and class that defined civil society.
Likewise, the erotic agency of the black or honey-colored jinetera of post-Soviet Cuba is not only a fantasy that frees male sex tourists from the guilt of sexual exploitation, but she is also a local scapegoat for the anxieties about capitalist entrepreneurialism and globalization that plague the Special Period. By flirting with capitalist values, the jinetera threatens to open tropical socialism to global capitalist penetration through morally dubious forms of intimacy with foreign tourists. Since she alone is to blame, the jinetera frees the rest of society from the guilt that has accompanied liberal economic reforms and an increasing reliance on foreign tourist dollars. Like her colonial and neocolonial predecessors, the jinetera has become a “symbolic container” for all of the assorted unease, contradictions, and competing values associated with the apertura, or “opening,” that followed changes in Cuba's post-Cold War policy (Kutzinski 1993: 7–11).
A comparable stock of racialized sexual imagery characterizes popular discourse on love magic. Almost invariably, women, and especially women of color, are said to resort to the use of magical charms, powders, baths, perfumes, and incantations to manipulate the amorous sentiments of desirable men of means. The association of love magic with women of color, so common in ethnographic literature on this subject (for example, see Ortiz 2001; Cabrera 1980; and Lachatañeré 2004), was immortalized in Guillermo Rodríguez Fife's popular composition “Bilongo,” in which the singer confesses his love for the beautiful “negra Tomasa.” His love for her is so unusually strong that he accuses her of casting a spell on him (esa negra linda que me echó bilongo) by introducing magical substances into his coffee and food. Love magic continues to be associated with black and mulatta women in the popular imagination. Yet, during my stay on the (p.95) island, something had changed. Whereas most believe love magic itself has essentially remained the same, the mystical erotic manipulations of local black and mulatta women were now said to increasingly prey on male tourists.
These suspicions are not just typical of local discourse, but have begun to capture the social imaginary of foreign tourists as well. Stephan Palmié, for example, recounts how a German tourist once contacted him after going to Cuba and spending a night with a woman there. The tourist wanted to know whether or not a garlic clove he had found on the windowsill of her house the following morning might have been an ingredient in some kind of magical operation to bind him to the woman (Palmié 2002: 286–87). The gender conceptions and racial imagery that underpin these stories about male victimization by magically empowered women in the Special Period have clearly been reinforced by popular discourse on jineterismo. The literal meaning of jineterismo is “horseback riding,” implying that the female jinetera figuratively “rides” both the new economy and male tourists through hustling and/or sex trade (Fernandez 1999: 81). In the popular imagination, jineterismo and love magic are implicitly linked; both cast black and mulatta women as the purveyors of a new entrepreneurial spirit and a mercenary sexuality that preys on male tourists and thus represents a threat to local machismo, socialist values, and the metaphysical boundaries of the nation-state.
Ochún, Love Magic, and Cosmopolitanism
The use of magic by Cubans in long-distance love affairs is not entirely new. One of Lydia Cabrera's informants, for instance, told her the story of their godmother, who commissioned the magic of a local brujo after her Galician lover left her and returned to Spain (the date is unspecified, but most likely it occurred sometime during the 1940s or ʼ50s):
More than just a curious entry in a long compendium of magical recipes and formulas, this brief ethnographic anecdote suggests that the cosmopolitan nature of Cuban love magic reaches much further into the past.
The sorcerer that my godmother went to consult in Regla passed three eggs over her body. He made two dolls. One represented her and was stored away. The other…he tied…to a garabato [hooked stick] of wild sugarcane with twenty-one knots. In a little play boat he also placed pome fruit and small bags. She didn't know what they had inside. He placed the doll in the boat and said that it would go looking for the man. He ordered her to take the boat to the Malecón, (p.96) to the Castillo de la Punta, and there she put it in the water. There were waves, and she saw the little boat fighting with the surge and it went along rowing, straight ahead, and far away into the sea until she lost sight of it. After a few months the Galician returned very much in love! (Cabrera 1979: 199)
Specific examples like this one, however, are few and far between in ethnographic literature on this subject. Where mention of such practices does occur, it usually consists almost exclusively of a vast inventory of magical materials and methods that are extracted from their personal and sociocultural context. Nonetheless, there are a few ethnographic particulars that shed some light on the general contours of these practices in Cuban society, both past and present. While most Cuban ethnographers usually make some reference to love magic, no systematic account of its varieties exist. The occasional ethnographic forays into the subject by Fernando Ortiz, Rómulo Lachatañeré, and Lydia Cabrera, however, along with what I was able gather, together paint at least a general picture. All magical operations are usually subsumed under the rubric trabajo, meaning “work.” Love magic, in particular, straddles what is in effect a morally thin line between those trabajos designed to “attract” (atraer), “subdue” (amansar), “soften the heart” (ablandar el corazon), “seduce” (seducir), or “captivate” (cautivar), on the one hand, and those intended to “conquer” (conquistar), “dominate” (dominar), “bind” (ligar), or “tie (amarrar) on the other.5 The difference is essentially between magical procedures that work to arouse desire in the other and more aggressive efforts that aim to mystically circumscribe their sexual potency or behavior. Although both types are considered morally dubious in the popular imagination, the latter is more clearly associated with mercenary sociality or predatory sorcery.
Although a number of organic substances and aphrodisiacs make up the magical arsenal of these practices (and their materiality is no doubt central to their efficacy and tangibility), the basic guiding strategy of most forms of love magic is the blurring of corporeal boundaries between the desiring subject and the desired love object. Reflecting the desire for anonymous access to the body of the other, love magic, following Ioan Couliano, is perhaps one of the most fundamental strategies for intersubjective transference (p.97) (1987). The more immediate and concrete focus of love magic, then, is on the ritual management of bodily, sensory, and eroticized exchanges between the desired and those who would like to arouse desire in them. Many trabajos, for example, involve placing bodily substances such as saliva, pubic hair, or genital secretions in the food or drink of the other. The consumption of these substances, whose fetish powers derive from their status as carnal synecdoches of the person, grants one access to the other's body or, more precisely, their desires vis-à-vis the heart.
The deliberate blurring of corporeal boundaries is further reinforced by the sensorial primacy rituals attach to smell. Perhaps because of their ethereal quality, odors are often associated with the liminal transgressions of love magic and the subliminal experience of desire and dream (see Howes 2003: 276; Gell 1977). In Cuba, many of these practices deploy pungent and/or sweet-smelling botanicals such as muskweed, cinnamon, almond tree blooms, orange blossoms, and roses. Love charms are made in the form of powders, scented baths, and perfumes that are either placed on or rubbed into the bodies of the authors of such acts or else released discreetly in the presence of the other. “When I was in my glory, and even more so later as an old man,” Lydia Cabrera's informant Calazán recalled, “a little splinter of cinnamon in my mouth to sweeten my words always made a woman fall in love” (Cabrera 1983: 364). Cinnamon powder, Cabrera found, was also mixed with makeup by “flirtatious women” and then rubbed into their bodies, “because cinnamon attracts men like flies to honey” (1983: 365). There are trabajos, of course, which focus on other sensory organs, such as the eye—for example, the eyes of the majá (water snake) are among the ingredients included in an amulet whose purpose is to “hypnotize” a lover; photographs and proxy dolls depicting the two parties are “stuck” together using magnets and honey and then tied in a magical act of binding. Transmission through food consumption, olfaction, and bodily absorption, however, were the most common means of delivery in those cases of love magic I was able to document.
Although there is evidence that men also commission trabajos for love matters—for example, the efficacy of men's love magic is often said to be made possible through the supernatural agency of Changó, and women's through Ochún—some of the earliest accounts of these practices directly associate them with women. Fernando Ortiz, for instance, suggested that love magic did not interest the “stronger” sex, but instead belonged to the domain of women, who were interested in guaranteeing the romantic or (p.98) sexual fidelity of men (cited in Lachatañeré 2004: 232).6 La Mariquilla seconded this opinion, once commenting that women use love magic “because we are weaker than men and suffer more in matters of love.”
Though sometimes embraced by women, these social clichés may in fact be rooted in male anxieties concerning the female body and sexuality that are traceable to the colonial period. Gender demographics in Cuba's slave economy during the nineteenth century, as Vera Martínez-Alier's study makes clear, were uneven; whereas men significantly outnumbered women in the white Cuban community, women significantly outnumbered men in the free black population (1974). Because the relatively small number of white women belonged to the elite classes of wealthy families and colonial officials, poor, white Spanish immigrants often took black and mulatta women as lovers and, in some cases, spouses. Sexual liaisons across the color line not only fueled masculine anxieties by upsetting the colonial metaphysics of blood (that is, the racial purity and sanctity of the white female body) upon which the orderliness of the slave economy depended, but also contributed to black male unease by undermining their role as the patriarchal guardians of black and mulatta women (Martínez-Alier 1974: 118). Although one might expect black males to have been more invested in mystical romantic coercion (and perhaps they were), given their tenuous hold on black female sexuality, women were nevertheless overwhelmingly associated with the morally dubious practices attributed to love magic.
Two related masculine attitudes may have conspired to produce this association in the popular imagination by the turn of the twentieth century: first, the mythical status of black and mulatta women as sexual mercenaries and harlots, an idea which freed white men from the shame of racial miscegenation and the transcendental moral stains it impressed upon the body politic; second, the lack of honor they experienced as a result may have fueled masculine unease across the racial divide and motivated their attempts to instill guilt in women vis-à-vis their alleged promiscuity, on the one hand, and their attempts to manage their own romantic and sexual labor on the other. Perceptions of male victimization by “loose” black and mulatta women could then have easily generated fantasies about the latter's predations through love magic. If so, it would not have been the black and mulatta female's status as the weaker sex so much as her actual exercise of power in relation to erotic predation that reinforced these associations in the male imagination. Whereas men are feminized in this discourse by the (p.99) female's attempt to circumscribe male desire, women assume the male role of sexual aggressor.7
These associations are often reinforced in the state-run media. Take, for example, the Cuban telenovela Al compás del son, which chronicles the story of a wealthy, white family and the daughter's love affair with a mulatto tres player during Machado's rule between 1925 and 1933. The mother of the girl disapproves and repeatedly prays to the Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre (who for her is the Virgin Mary) to make her daughter and a prominent government official fall in love and marry. Meanwhile, a poor mulatta who is also in love with the mulatto resorts to love magic using honey, perfume, sunflowers, and the image of the Virgin de la Caridad del Cobre (who for her is Ochún) to make the musician fall for her. Although both racial classes are ritually invested in these neocolonial economies of desire, both desiring subjects are women. Racial fantasies are, nonetheless, reinscribed in this revolutionary soap opera. The mother, for instance, appeals to supernatural assistance only to protect her class interests. The mulatta, on the other hand, who is ultimately held responsible for destroying the relationship after she tells the daughter a lie about the musician (thus becoming the purveyor of a malicious rumor), is depicted as being actually involved in mystical forms of sexual predation.
The fact that women apparently embrace these fantasies may reflect an entirely different kind of gender maneuvering—namely, female sentiments vis-à-vis the moral foundations of power, and the perception that they suffer more in matters of the heart.8 The racial cartographies and essentialized masculine values associated with relations of command (typical of colonial authority), the successive military dictatorships of the republican era, and the several decades of rule by the revolutionary elite are symbolically undermined by tales of Afro-Cuban women's mystical romantic agency. Take, for instance, the racialized erotic imagery associated with Ochún and especially her privileged status as the supernatural fulcrum of black and mulatta women's magic. First, there are the depictions of her as a sensual, cosmopolitan mulatta, a figure that was soon converted into a national fetish and screen for Creole fantasies:
Given the fetish power of her image as the sultry, supernatural mulatta, the owner of love, it is not surprising that Ochún would also become the mystical agent most commonly associated with feminine varieties of love magic. Indeed, one of her avatars, Ochún Yeyé-Moró, clearly embodies many of the features attributed to this mulatta seductress in the colonial imagination (compare Murphy 2001: 95).
Ochún, oricha of the river, love, and all things sweet, found out that those who were sent to Cuba were lonely and sad, so she decided to go there to dance, comfort, and keep them company. However, she (p.100) worried about the long voyage from Africa to Cuba. Full of apprehension, she went to visit her sister Yemayá, oricha of the sea, and told her, “Yemayá, I have to cross the sea to go to Cuba and be with my children but I am afraid of the long trip.” Yemayá comforted her, “Don't be afraid, Ochún, I will take care of you. I will take you to the bottom of the ocean and we will cross it without hazards.” Appeased, Ochún said, “You have reassured me, but tell me Yemayá, you who reach all the way to Cuba and visit its shores and beaches, how is Cuba and how are the Cubans?” Yemayá told Ochún, “Cuba is very much like Africa. There are many coconut and palm trees, it is never cold, and it has peaceful rivers and long tropical nights. However, all the Cubans are not black as the people here, some are white and others are mulattoes.” Ochún, still apprehensive, told Yemayá, “I am worried since I am not used to people different from us. I would like you to grant me two wishes. As we make our way to Cuba I want the waves of the ocean to straighten my hair just a little bit and its foams to lighten my skin just a little. Thus, when I arrive in Cuba I will neither be black nor white. I will be accepted by all Cubans, blacks, whites, and mulattoes. All of them will be my children.” With her queenly and maternal demeanor Yemayá granted Ochún her two wishes, and this is why Cubans were graced with a mother who resembles them all (paraphrased from Sandoval 1983: 620).
During the republican era, when tourist casinos and dapper social clubs became the Dionysian playground of wealthy North American gangsters and elites, this same Ochún became the patron saint of many prostitutes, courtesans, and brothels. In the popular imagination she is known for her charm or flattery (zalamería), playful romanticism, and seductiveness. Ochún Yeyé-Moró, as Arcaño put it, “is a whore, but here whoreness is sacred [es una puta pero su putería es sagrada].” Courtesans and prostitutes solicited her supernatural assistance in their trade by filling basins with river water, then adding five roses of varying colors, five grains of roasted corn, (p.101) five grams of Guinea pepper, five drops of honey, four spoonfuls of Valencia rice, incense or cologne, and Florida water. After covering the basin with a yellow handkerchief and leaving it overnight beneath her bed, the stage of her erotic arts, a prostitute would then use the liquid to wash the floors of the house, which was believed to ward off harmful magical substances and attract clients (Cabrera 1980: 318). There was also the so-called prostitute's powder—a love charm prepared using “talisman powders” such as the hairs of a dog in heat, the shell of a brooding dove, deer antler shavings, incense, white precipitate, valerian powder, cinnamon powder, chalk, musk wood, and five corals. The powder was blown and/or spread at the entrance of the house or rubbed into the woman's body “when in business” (Cabrera 1980: 310–11).
Just as Ochún had been the favored patron saint of prostitutes and courtesans before the 1959 revolution, the jinetera of the post-Soviet era is also typically depicted as a devotee of this oricha. The jinetera is said to carry around her amulets and special powders in order to “sweeten” and awaken desire in male tourists, gaining the magical upper hand in this changing economy of desire. Her flirtation with capitalist values, pornographic subversion of “the moral imaginary sustaining revolutionary governance” (compare Hernandez-Reguant 2006), cosmopolitan fantasies, and romantic mystical coercion of foreign tourists have transformed her into the screen onto which revolutionary anxiety is projected in post-Soviet Cuba. Her body is one of the most privileged sensual terrains upon which the moral cartographies of the Special Period are increasingly being mapped.
Magic, Tourism, and the Global Economy of Desire
The jinetera's alleged embrace of the new spirit of entrepreneurialism embodied in hustling activities and morally dubious solicitations of foreign tourists makes her the most stereotyped representative of the new culture of resolver.9 There are direct continuities, as Stephan Palmié notes, between the global inequalities of international tourism and the hegemonic power of colonial and postcolonial economies (2002). Just as colonial economic arrangements fueled the development of Caribbean societies and solidified their dependence on foreign capital, contemporary tourist economies are dependent on a single source of hard currency that appropriates local human and natural resources in order to satisfy the momentary pleasure demands of foreign consumers.
(p.102) These arrangements are not just driven by rational self-interest, but by specific economies of desire. The consumption habits and pleasure demands of wealthy Europeans gave rise to a whole system of commodified slave labor in the Caribbean and made possible a global structure of imperial power which racialized consumption. Black bodies were inextricably linked to the colonial economy of desire, a fact that explains the constant slippage between economic and sexual matters in colonial discourse. These bodies were in effect screens for the gendered, racial unease that haunted the colonial imagination. Likewise, sex tourism reflects a desire to satisfy fantasies of control over self and others in a sexual, racialized, and gendered context. So it is not just the erotic allure of exotic bodies that matters here; rather, it is the transformative work that exotic bodies perform in the valorization of identity that deserves attention (Palmié 2002: 271–76). Given the extent of local economic deprivations, the buying power of tourists is so great that racial fantasies casting tropical women of color as lusty nymphomaniacs that are always “hot for it” are willingly and routinely acted out for male sex tourists (O'Connell Davidson 1996: 46).
We are dealing here with what Denise Brennan has called an “economy of desire based on difference” (2004:22). What she describes concerning the Dominican Republic is equally applicable to Cuba. Sex tourists, for instance, tend to be motivated by gender and racial fantasies whose potential realization is imagined to lie in usually underdeveloped nations. Discontent with gender and race relations in their home countries sometimes fuels their eroticization of cultural gender and racial differences. Not unlike the state-run tourist industry, sex workers attempt to capitalize on the imaginations of foreign travelers, even if their fantasies are based on gender and racial stereotypes. According to Brennan, they are often consumed by an economic fantasy in which “[they] dream of European men ‘rescuing’ them from a lifetime of poverty and foreclosed opportunities” (2004: 20). During my fieldwork, for instance, women involved in these kinds of relationships often contrasted what they believed was the general politeness and respect of foreign tourists to the guapería, or machismo, that they believed to be typical of Cuban men. Cuban men described women, however, as being “lucky” with tourists. Sex tourists, on the other hand, warn others like them not to fall in love (Palmié 2002:284), alerting them to the dangers of falling for those “feminine,” “polite,” “classy” women who, “unlike their American counterparts…are completely comfortable being women and do not feel compelled to compete with men.”10
(p.103) The almost exclusive focus on commercial transaction in much of the literature on sex tourism in Cuba and elsewhere, however, has often helped sustain the myth of the sex worker as victim. Popular imagery associated with the jinetera, by contrast, explicitly acknowledges her erotic agency and the way in which she undermines sexual objectification:
The implication is that the jinetera does not simply attempt to satisfy the terms of a sexual exchange but “seduce[s] the stranger into potentially unwilled forms of emotional experience” (Palmié 2002: 284; Cabezas 2004; Fosado 2004). Yet the erotic agency of the jinetera also happens to be the source of her undoing in the popular imagination. In a society where old-fashioned machismo still defines the modus vivendi of public life, one of the side effects of this imagery is the jinetera's association with symbolic masculinity (as sexual predator), interés (material interests), and even mystical predation via love magic.
the jinetera is not just a depersonalized object of tourist desire, and her sexuality is not a mere object of commercial exchange. Rather, popular discourse inverts this imagery by casting [the jinetero or -tera]…as an agent who literally “whips the money” out of his or (more often) her victim whose desire she has aroused for strictly mercenary reasons, impassioning him (apasionarle) literally to buy into his own fantasy of sexual domination. It is, thus, the tourist's personhood that is reduced to an objectified source of hard cash. (Palmié 2002: 282–83)
Love Magic as Political Discourse
This calls attention to the tendency in both popular discourse and the literature on sex tourism to eschew the emotional economy of transnational romantic and sexual relations (see Constable 2003; Fosado 2003). The fact that feelings of emotional attachment, affection, and even love sometimes figure prominently in transnational romantic encounters is simply unthinkable for some, a structural impossibility for others. This premise is even played out in popular media. The Cuban teleplay Pompas de jabón (Soap Bubbles), for instance, depicts a young Cuban woman who feigns love for a wealthy, much older, French tourist. The silence in popular discourse regarding the emotional economy of jineterismo in post-Soviet Cuba has very tangible racializing effects. The rise in the number of interracial romantic relationships (p.104) between foreigners and black and mulatta women during the Special Period, as Ariana Hernandez-Reguant notes, “became the talk of the town, subject of scorn in jokes, plays and novels, and revealing, above all, a status quo of segregated intimacy” (2006). Many white Cubans routinely express their doubts about racially mixed, romantic encounters between locals and tourists, dismissing them out of hand as illegitimate or counterfeit and stigmatizing them by associating them with interés and the mercenary sociality associated with jineterismo (Hernandez-Reguant 2006).
Yet the use of love magic by women in the Special Period often undermines these caricatures and presents a more nuanced picture, one inextricably entangled with the murky interpersonal dynamics of the increasingly cosmopolitan spaces of Havana's tourist zones. What emerges is the sense that, in some instances at least, love magic resembles what de Certeau has called an “antidiscipline” or “tactic;” that is, the use of love magic by women as a mystical subversion of the local and global economies of desire that encourage their subordination (1984). Take, for instance, the story of Elcita, the older sister of one of Caridad's schoolmates:
As this story and many others like it suggest, love magic is sometimes an attempt to magically counteract both the fleeting or episodic character of romantic encounters between locals and tourists and the global dynamics of racial marginalization and exclusion.
I know this jinetera named Elcita that was with this Italian tourist. Things were all right between them but the foreigner's family didn't like the fact that he was going [andando] with a black girl. The first time he came here everything was good. But after he left he never came back. So, Elcita went to see this sorcerer I know. He made some kini kini and a powder out of I don't know what. Later, Elcita wrote a letter and mailed it to Italy with the powder inside. A few months later, the Italian came back here to see her. They were in love and wanted to get married. Elcita wanted to go live with him in Italy. When he returned she took him to meet the sorcerer. He didn't know anything about the magic. The sorcerer performed a purification rite [despojo] with seven strong herbs for Elcita because she was the one the Italian's family had problems with. The sorcerer was concerned that they had their own magic. They never got married because of his family but the Italian still visits her at times.
(p.105) The use of magic to stop the flow of people or thwart the exit of lovers “to other countries across the seas,” for example, has been common since at least the time of Lydia Cabrera's ethnographic field research in 1940s and ʼ50s (Cabrera 1979: 199; 1980: 305–306). This is no less the case in the tourist-driven economy of post-Soviet Cuba. Elcita's use of love magic is not so much mystical predation as it is a defensive act; she is in love and turns to magic in order to circumvent abandonment and her rejection as a negra by her lover's family. Here, the magical realism of popular culture subverts the magical power of neocolonial imaginaries that serve to mystify power relations (see Taussig 1987; de Certeau 1984: 17–18). Elcita's sorcerer suspects that her lover's Italian family may be deploying their own mystical arsenal to defend their racial fantasies from being jeopardized by interracial intimacy. The mystical power of love magic, then, is only matched by the equally mystifying effects of racial hegemony.
This is not just a problem that Cubans potentially face with their lover's or spouse's family abroad. Perceptions of racial profiling in the tourist zones of Havana function to prevent unregulated contact between locals and foreign tourists. In those sections of the city with a high concentration of tourists, police frequently stop black Cubans and ask them for their carnet (national ID card). Furthermore, Cubans, until recently, were not allowed in certain tourist hot spots (for example, hotels, theaters, and beaches) unless they were accompanied by a tourist. A policeman who stopped (and eventually detained) a black friend of mine along the Malecón one night, for example, told me that it was done for “our protection”—meaning, to protect foreigners from local hustlers. Most black Cubans, however, call attention to the fact that white Cubans are hardly ever stopped and that this really reflects a deeply rooted racist association of blackness with criminality. The National Revolutionary Police (PNR), as one acquaintance speculated, assume that tourists feel safer and spend more money the less “black” an area looks. This is what many black Cubans refer to as the “tourist apartheid” of the Special Period (see Schwartz 1997). Not a few of them carry special protective charms (resguardo) to evade police harassment. The need for mystical assistance is even more acute in matters related to travel and immigration. The stigma that immigration policies both at home and abroad attach to transborder marriages, especially if the couple is interracial, prompt many to seek extra help. It is perfectly normal for a Cuban to carry special magical powders and talismans prepared for them by some brujo or priest-healer (p.106) on the day of their visa interview, which they then deposit somewhere on the grounds of the immigration office.
The pervasive conviction among many of my acquaintances in Cuba that women are more vulnerable in their romantic relationships with men, that they “suffer more in matters of love,” was a common explanation for the association of women and love magic during my fieldwork. The tourist's mobility, as well as their ability to conceal much more of their personal life than can their romantic interest on the island, is a source of much anxiety for those locals involved in transnational romantic relationships. Juanita, for example, a thirty-year-old mulatta and waitress in a Vedado restaurant, told me she had initially resorted to hustling tourists in order to support herself and her mother, who was unable to work due to medical problems. Juanita told me about her various foreign “boyfriends” (novios), as she called them. When I asked if she had ever fallen in love with any of them, she said, “yeah, I was in love with a Spaniard. We used to do everything together but the problem was that he never told me he was married until later.” Juanita continued her relationship with the Spaniard nonetheless, hoping that he would eventually leave his wife, but he never did. With very few available means to seek redress for male sexual predation, objectification, or abuse, Cuban women sometimes feel that the mystical power of love magic is the only recourse. The use of love magic in these kinds of situations constitutes what might be described as mercenary acts of retribution directly linked to the gendered violence of both local machismo and the predations of sex tourists.
Stories abound in published literature and on the streets, for example, about women's appeal to magic as a way to circumscribe male sexual prowess or adulterous wanderings, evade abandonment, or provide escape from an abusive lover or spouse (for example, see Lachatañeré 2004: 133–34). Arcaño was enlisted by the mother of a woman trapped in an abusive marriage with a German. The woman's daughter, the mother explained, had married a German tourist and left the island to live with him in Germany, where they were raising a child together. The man, it turned out, was a drunk, and he had begun to beat his Cuban wife. Although she was desperate to leave him and return with her child to Cuba, the husband would not let her go. So, the mother, greatly concerned about the health and well-being of her daughter and granddaughter, asked Arcaño to help her do something about the situation. He had the mother bring an unsealed letter addressed to her (p.107) son-in-law, into which he placed a powder to “incapacitate” the man and cause him to release his wife and daughter. After the letter was left for a week or so in Arcaño's nganga, he gave it to the mother, who then mailed it to Germany.
Sometimes, however, abuse by a foreign spouse is said to be retribution for the predations of the jinetera. The moral trappings of mystical sexual predation are expressed, for example, in the following story about Ildamis, La Mariquilla's neighbor:
Accusation and counteraccusation constitute a whole economy of blame in post-Soviet Cuba. Those stories that I encountered dealing with this particular theme, which not coincidentally sometimes border on the fantastic, point directly to the moral ambiguity of hustling and mystical sexual predation. In other words, they form a popular discourse that warns of the moral repercussions of using others as mere means to an end:
Ildamis was a jinetera but she didn't have any luck getting a foreigner. So, one day she went to a sorcerer [brujero] and paid him to help her get an Italian she had met in Havana. The sorcerer took the money and performed a trabajo to change the woman's luck and attract the foreigner. But the magic didn't stick to him. Instead, the magic came back and stuck to her. Then things were worse. But Ildamis didn't believe it was the sorcery. She walked around telling everyone that it was the evil eye of her neighbors that was ruining her luck with foreigners.
Another of these stories similarly describes a black jinetera who married an Italian and moved to Italy. She woke up one morning with her eyes covered in bandages. The man, it turned out, had drugged her and paid a surgeon to remove her eyes, which he then sold to a friend whose blind son was in need of a “transplant.” These stories are deliberately sensational. They attempt to seize the imagination and force one to consider the horrific (p.108) consequences of the social predation embodied in jineterismo when it is reversed, in this case eroding one's personhood through metaphorical cannibalization or consumption in the underground European organ trade.
There was this black jinetera who married an Italian. Things didn't work out for them in Italy because the man figured out she had been hustling him the whole time. He told her that he knew she had never loved him and demanded that she pay him back the money he spent marrying her and bringing her to Italy. The woman ended up selling one of her kidneys to pay him back.
Magic, Money, and the Revolutionary Economy of Desire
During my fieldwork, men frequently voiced complaints about women's “luck” when it came to meeting foreign tourists and their shallow, materialistic desire for expensive consumer goods. Such male frustrations are finding expression in recent popular music and literature on the island. Timba music—the percussion-driven salsa that distinguishes Cuba's variety of this international genre—and reggaeton—dance music that combines reggae, dancehall, and hip-hop with local genres popular among Cuba's youth—both of which are largely the product of male artistic labor, serve as informal social chronicles of the Special Period. As Ariana Hernández-Reguant notes, they describe fleeting sexual encounters with little or no emotional commitment between Cuban men and women, and express doubt about the possibility of altruistic love in an era of scarce resources and opportunities (2002: 385). They give voice to the aggravation, hopelessness, and anger of many Cuban men who are financially unable to satisfy the growing consumer demands of their female counterparts and have grown accustomed to seeing foreign men fulfill this role. For example, in the popular timba song “Leave it to Me,” by Los Van Van, the singer expresses his grief over recent romantic trends between Cubans: “for a little bit of money, and a few drops of warmth, you left me for a Spaniard.” In Charanga Habanera's song “El Tembla,” women are told to go find themselves a papirriqui con guaniquiqui, or “a sugar daddy with lots of money” (Hernández-Reguant 2002: 244). Reggaeton songs popular on the street frequently ridicule the jinetera and her fascination with consumer goods, her reluctance to suffer the hardships of economic deprivation like everyone else, and her interest in finding a pepe or “sugar daddy.” In his “dirty realist” novel (2000), Cuban author Pedro Juan Gutierréz describes the jinetera as, “hypnotized by Yankees and dollars” (see Whitfield 2002).
Just as the imagined lack of female honor in the nineteenth century undermined black men's role as the patriarchal guardians of black and mulatta women (see Martínez-Alier 1974), the jinetera's alleged promiscuity, materialism, and fascination with the yuma is represented as a threat to local machismo and men's patriarchal status as the papi (daddy) of the nation's (p.109)
29 January 2005: Today I asked Wuicho, a rumba singer and brujo, if he had ever heard of special magic to attract foreign tourists. He stared at me for a few seconds without saying a word. Then he turned around and started rummaging through a stack of papers on the desk behind him. He pulled out two pages and showed them to me. They were plans for a trabajo called, “tying the yuma to the stick” (Figures 5.1a and 5.1b). A younger acquaintance had dropped them off one afternoon, wanting him to review the plan and make sure that everything was right before going through with it. This young man wanted to magically tie a foreign women he had recently met. But Wuicho (p.110) just shrugged the whole thing off. “I don't like it when people do that [ensorcell foreigners],” he said, “because it always ends in blood. It's more or less the same magic that you would use to ‘tie’ two Cubans together but it's more dangerous.”
Stories warning about the potential threat of such acts of social predation—even more dangerous, we are told, when it involves foreign tourists—may be read as expressions of moral ambivalence regarding both the new hustler economy and the seductive lure of capitalist consumption, lifestyles, values, and desires that tourism has reintroduced on the island. Yet, by turning the revolution into a tourist attraction, the state has fueled perceptions that it too is spellbound by the magical allure of hard currency, secretly harnessing the ritual work and erotic labors of the populace to drive these transformations in the revolutionary economy of desire. The state itself, then, might be seen as employing its own magic to “tie the yuma to the stick.”
(1.) I am relying here on Juan Tomás Roig y Mesa's 1988 Diccionario botánico de nombres vulgares cubanos to determine both the common and scientific names of these plant materials.
(2.) Even though Arcaño is a mayombero, the ritual title of specialists in one particular branch of the Cuban ritual formation known as Palo, when it came to love magic he always worked with Ochún, an oricha or saint in the Ocha-Ifá pantheon.
(3.) I have been able to locate only two references to the use of love magic in sex tourism literature. One of these references refers to the use of obeah among Jamaican sex workers to eliminate competition or protect them from the magic of other envious sex workers. According to one, “The girls they obeah each other to make each other don't make any money.” Another adds, “They go all over the island [to visit obeah men]. They don't want to see you prosper. If they see a way you can get out before them they ‘fuck’ you up. Even if they can't do it with obeah they do it with their mouths [presumably by spreading malicious rumors]” (quoted in Campbell, Perkins, and Mohammed 1999: 147).
(4.) See Anna Lidia Vega Serova's 2002 short story “Billetes falsos” for a poignant commentary on how the lure of hard currency is making some of the public secrets and banal evasiveness of the revolutionary moral community come into relief.
(5.) There are many more words used in relation to these magical procedures (for example, see Ortiz 1906; Lachatañeré 2004; and Cabrera 1983, 1980, 1979). Rather than attempt to list them all, I have selected the most expressive examples.
(p.182) (6.) Similar gender associations are made throughout the circum-Caribbean and in other areas of the world where love magic is practiced. In Belize, for example, women turn to magical “methods of attachment” because there are few recourses for those who seek emotional and financial support from husbands or fathers who abandon their families. Love magic, then, provides “an outlet for the resentment and hostility many women feel toward males,” which allows women to feel that they are at least magically in control, since practical control over men in such circumstances is rare (Bullard 1974: 264).
(7.) According to Christopher Faraone (1999), ancient Greek love magic took two basic forms: eros (sex) magic and phillia (affection) magic. Eros magic was normally associated with men, who used it to seduce women. Phillia magic was normally associated with women and was used to maintain their husband's or lover's affections. Eros magic had affinities with cursing magic; it worked by making the object of desire suffer insomnia or madness until they gave into the desirer. Phillia magic, on the other hand, had affinities with healing magic; it attempted to minimize the object of desire's passions for another person or else reduced their anger toward the practitioner. Although it is commonly held that ancient Greeks believed that females were more passionate, lascivious, and whimsical, Faraone argues that love magic actually suggests the opposite. Men turned to eros magic to heat up cold, chaste women; women turned to phillia magic to cool down men's sexual desires. But there were occasions when this structure was undermined. Courtesans, for instance, used eros magic to procure clients, assuming the male role of sexual predator. Men would sometimes use phillia magic to attract the attention of superiors, assuming the female role of reducing distraction or misdirected desire (it is feminizing, then, because it attempts to circumscribe male desire).
(8.) See David Graeber for a fascinating analysis of the association between love magic and fantasies of power and history in Madagascar (1997).
(9.) The published literature on the figure of the jinetera and her relation to tourism in Cuba is extensive. For specific discussions, including comparative literature from other parts of the Caribbean, see Cabezas (2004); Clancy (2002); Darling (2004); Díaz González (1997); Dopico (2002); Elinson (1997); Elizalde (1996); Fernández (1999); Fosado (2003); Fusco (1998); Hodge (2001); O'Connel Davidson (1999); O'Connell Davidson and Sánchez Taylor (1999); Paternostro (2000); Rundle (2001); Sanchez Taylor (2000); Schwartz (1997); Strout (1995); Valle (n.d.); and Wonder and Michalowski (2001). For comparative material on love, romance, sexual relations, and economic change, see Cole (2004), Corwall (2002), Jankowiak (1995), and Rubhun (1999).