Just as surely as Haiti is "possessed" by the gods and spirits of vaudun (voodoo), the island "possessed" Katherine Dunham when she first went there in 1936 to study dance and ritual. In this book, Dunham reveals how her anthropological research, her work in dance, and her fascination for the people and cults of Haiti worked their spell, catapulting her into experiences that she was often lucky to survive. Here Dunham tells how the island came to be possessed by the demons of voodoo and other cults imported from various parts of Africa, as well as by the deep class divisions, particularly between blacks and mulattos, and the political hatred still very much in evidence today. Full of the flare and suspense of immersion in a strange and enchanting culture,Island Possessed is also a pioneering work in the anthropology of dance and a fascinating document on Haitian politics and voodoo.
Katherine Dunham received a fellowship to study both dance and anthropology in Haiti in 1936. She has never separated the two...with evident reason in this intriguing memoir. She operated out of a fierce, almost frightening curiosity, seeking out secret rites in the back country and finally was actually initiated into the vaudum (voodoo) sect. An event recounted at much length in the most fascinating section of the book. She was also an intimate of Dumarsaes, the reform president who was ousted after a relatively short time and died a pitiable death in exile. She's had her run ins with Papa Doc and the rigidities of the "class" color system. She's slept directly beneath an enormous snake, watched the corpse of a witchdoctor sigh and raise an arm to point out his successor, observed the effects of possession and exorcised a haunted plantation. And in the interim she's taken dance groups all over the world. Like the island she's a weird, unforgettable mixture. (Kirkus Reviews)