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Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn Updated and Expanded Edition (Comparative Studies in Religion and Society) Updated Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520224759
ISBN-10: 0520224752
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Mama Lola, better known as Alourdes, earns a living by conducting Haitian vodou healing work in her Brooklyn home. In 1978, Brown, professor of sociology and the anthropology of religion at Drew University in New Jersey, met Alourdes while doing an ethnographic survey of the local Haitian immigrant community. Intrigued by the priestess and by the misunderstood, oft-maligned practices of vodou and the religion's loyal but secretive followers, Brown gradually won Alourdes's friendship and enthusiastically participated in ceremonies such as "birthday parties" for important spirits ( lwa ). The lwa , which are said to possess celebrants during rituals and to relay messages through dreams, are as likely to punish as to reward believers. In this commendable, illuminating study, replete with magical tales of past and present in Haiti and America, Alourdes reveals enduring faith and respect for her religion despite hardship. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Brown offers a sympathetic and vivid portrait of the lives of a group of women." -- Roland Littlewood, Political and Social Science

"I know of no other work about Vodou that can teach the uninitiated so fully what it means to know." -- Joan Dayan, Women's Review of Books

"Mama Lola provides an engaging, detailed, and sympathetic account of the world of Haitian Vodou." -- Eugene V. Gallagher, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"[Brown] has written a life story that is full of feeling." -- Constance Casey, Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • Series: Comparative Studies in Religion and Society (Book 4)
  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Updated edition (November 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520224752
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520224759
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William Courson VINE VOICE on July 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
Walking between the worlds

Karen McCarthy Brown has penned a masterpiece! Mama Lola, known to family and friends as Alourdes, is a Mambo, an initiated priestess of Voudou who earns a modest living by serving her immigrant countrymen in America as a traditional healer and by conducting Haitian Voudou rites in her Brooklyn home. In 1978, Brown, then a professor of religion at New Jersey's Drew University first encountered Mama Lola while doing an ethnographic survey of the local Haitian population. Intrigued by the priestess and her misunderstood and maligned tradition, Brown became at first a friend, then a member of Mama Lola's extended family and finally an enthusiastic participant in many of the rites that comprise the corpus of Voudoun devotional life.

Mama Lola, her daughter Maggie, their children and their ancestors, and the 'Lwa' (spirits) who frequently 'possess' them are an engaging, wonderfully diverse crowd: deeply spiritual, profoundly thoughtful and often humorous characters marvelously skilled in surviving conditions of extreme deprivation and oppression and in adapting to the conditions of life (or, afterlife) in the strange world of urban America.

By the time I had completed this delightful book, I felt myself deeply involved in Mama Lola's life and that of her extended family. Brown's writing is textured and a pleasure to read. The author goes far out on a limb, leaving her observer role and social scientist expertise and becomes an initiate into the religion, wedding the 'etic' of academia to the 'emic' of an ecstatic, profoundly sensual, Earth-centered religiosity.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not really a book on Hatian Vodou. Mama Lola is more a family history and a description of what serving the spirits means to them.

Dr. Brown makes this amazing woman and her family come alive on the page.

Alourdes is all at once a devout woman, devoted mother, petulent and powerful woman. Her family is at once inspiring and beverage out your nose funny.

By the end of this edition, I found myself not only falling in love with Alourdes family, but with the spirits they so loyally serve.

A terrfic book if you want to understand what Vodou means to it's followers, what life is like for immigrant women and the pride and strength that comes from growing up in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
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Format: Paperback
I read this book for a class, but found it very easy and enjoyable to do so. For many assigned books I have to force myself through them and not so at all with this one. Certainly, it is not meant to give a comprehensive look at Vodou and it doesn't do that. What it does do, though, is give someone with little or no knowledge of the religion a full and rich picture of the tradition. I very much appreciated the author's stance throughout the book that the spirits and the experiences of those in the book (eventually, including her own) were real. There was no questioning about whether the spirits "really" existed, but just the assumption that this was the reality for practioners of Vodou. One danger with ethnographic work is that the ethnographer is condescending when talking about those with whom she is working or studying, and this wasn't the case in the book. She seemed to view Alourdes and her family as equals and as friends.
Overall, I found the book interesting, not difficult to read (as is the case with many "academic" books), enjoyable and informative. It seems like it would be a suitable book for those interested in religion, vodou in particular, anthropology, ethnographic study, or those interested in Haiti.
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Format: Paperback
In most ethnographies, the reader must dig around to find out about the writer. In this book, McCarthy Brown is true to herself and says who she is--an outsider, drawn to the power and community of these Haitian immigrants. If anthropology is the study of human cultures and communities, this author provides us with an honest attempt to understand another's life with all the mysteries and ambiguities intact.
Mama Lola, as she serves her spirits and makes good luck for her spiritual godchildren, embodies the history of Haitian women and their creative mastery of many worlds within the New World. All the stories that Mama Lola relates "follow a line from mother to daughter" and emphasize the role of the matrilineal connections between Alourdes and her descendants (p. 16). The matriarch serves a special role in preserving the extended "family" of vodou practitioners.
In Karen McCarthy Brown's ethnography, Mama Lola is the center of a complex web of relationships connecting West Africa to Haiti to Brooklyn to other points extending even farther. The reader discovers the rural world of Haiti and the urban world of New York City through an alternation of personal narratives, interviews, and imaginative fictional interludes about the ancestors and the spirits.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this to be one of the most fascinating books I've ever read, on any subject! The author's relationship with Mama Lola is the heart of this moving portrait of the Haitian immigrant community in Brooklyn. This book should be required reading for the scores of folks still harboring negative stereotypes of Vodou (please, people, forget all that sensationalistic Hollywood garbage!); it will take its place besides Luisah Teish's works as the definitive portraits of Vodou as a strong, empowering force for women. Brown herself was initiated into the Vodou community while on a trip to Haiti with Mama Lola and her family in 1981; her life has never been the same! Yours won't either, after reading this wonderful book. Required reading for all serious students of comparative religion and women's studies!
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