1Colombo is a Guadelupean curry made from a mixture of seeds. Immigrant workers from India brought the ingredients and recipe when they arrived in mid-1800s. It is also used to name a feast, usually having ritual significance. The curry flavors the sacrificial meat—goats, chickens, and roosters—simmered in it. So colombo has extended its significance beyond its literal meaning. In fact, colombo stands at the center of debates between two sectarian groups, defining their different constructions of Hindu identity in Guadeloupe.
2Currently two sectarian pools of narratives shape Hindu identity in Guadeloupe. I call them “traditionalist” and “globalist.”1
3Traditionalist narratives appeal to those Indo-Guadeloupeans who still feel an active debt to their immigrant ancestors, who had left India the mid-1800s. For traditionalist Hindus the making and the use of colombo in ritual feasts perpetuates ancestral knowledge and social order in which the authority of the ancestors is maintained.
4In contrast globalist narratives appeal to those who find their identity embodied in a dream of constructing a universal Hinduism from the diaspora. In these circles colombo represents not a positive connection to India that should be maintained, but a corrupted, West Indian understanding of both Indian culture and Hinduism. To solidify their sectarian differences from the traditionalists, the globalists have replaced the ritual meal of Colombo with a vegetarian meal in which the curry itself and all meat is avoided.
5As the two Hindu sampradaya (or sect) strive to represent their respective worldviews not only as mutually exclusive but also as more legitimate than the other, they compete for the power to decide the fate of Guadeloupean Hindu religious practices. Undoubtedly, there is a lot at stake. Which Hinduism should be sanctioned as the valid and authentic one to pass down to the next generation: traditional or global? It is my argument that the appropriation or rejection of colombo not only infuses the two sectarian worldviews with exclusive authenticity but also promotes appropriate sectarian behavior and principles. In sum, through appropriating or rejecting colombo, Guadelupean Hindus convey and reproduce sectarian ideology, which in the process grants each sampradaya the power to choose the fate of Hinduism in Guadeloupe.
6In Guadeloupe, currently most Hindus feel the need to qualify the type of Hinduism they practice. This is how a Hindu devotee put it:
“Yes, we speak [of traditional Hinduism and of global Hinduism]. It is only to make ourselves understandable, however. It is only to make sure that our audience knows what we are talking about. It is only a rhetorical device. We are just talking about Hinduism. Traditional Hinduism was received in its particular way. And then there is a global Hinduism. Global Hinduism underwent numerous adaptations and several transformations. That is, it underwent a number of changes. This is Hinduism. And then there is the Hinduism that came to Guadeloupe in 1854. This is traditional Hinduism; it is traditional for us because until very recently we did not know any other type of Hinduism. These are our traditions. This is Hinduism as well.
It was not until twenty years ago—maybe more, maybe less, it has not been a long time—that new waves of Hinduism arrived to Guadeloupe. It was at this moment that devotees and officiants felt that they had to compare what they had been doing with what they saw these other Hindus doing. And so a comparative tendency began and questions arose: Which Hinduism is the true one? Which one is it that we must practice? What is it that we are to do with our ancestors’ practices? It was at this point that devotees and officiants began to question their Hindu practices and that the two denominations appeared. It was this point that centered around each type of Hinduism specific groups became proponents and others attackers.” (40-year-old civil servant and Hindu devotee)
7While she initially depicts the qualifiers “traditional” and “global” as “rhetorical devices,” in the end, her reflection portrays the qualifiers as competing sectarian worldviews.
8She explains that traditional Hinduism reached Guadeloupe in 1854 with the Aurélie, the first boat with Indian immigrants to reach Guadeloupe. Her definition marries not only traditional Hinduism and 1854, but also adorns it with a pure, unchanging light. Since this was the Hinduism the ancestors brought over, and since “until very recently [they] did not know any other type of Hinduism,” she represents traditional Hinduism as the pure version, consistently and completely passed down from their ancestors to them.2 She concludes that no matter what some say, traditional Hinduism in effect is Hinduism.
9Since the cradle of Hinduism is India, Guadelupean Hinduism emerged from global Hinduism. Because global Hinduism became traditional Hinduism when it arrived to Guadeloupe, global Hinduism has endured transformation. In other words, global Hinduism has adapted to the specificity of its new contexts. She concludes that even if global Hinduism has undergone change, it is also Hinduism.
10She continues to explain that twenty years ago, “new waves of Hinduism arrived in Guadeloupe.” While she does not linger on “new waves” of change, she presents the questions of authenticity and authentication that both devotees and officiants faced when they realized there was more than one way to be Hindu. How could there be two Hinduism-s? And if there were two, then surely one Hinduism was pure and the other was corrupted. She explains that the community was convinced that only one of the sectarian worldviews could have it right. As soon as different groups took sides, sectarian factions emerged. Again, she concludes by saying that both Hindu sects are Hinduism.
11Her insistence that both sampradaya are Hinduism suggests the tensions between the two. This devotee had her personal religious preference; nevertheless, in talking to me, she chose to distance her narrative from her preferences and portrayed both sects as equally Hindu. Her calculated effort to portray herself as impartial speaks further about the sectarian tensions to be examined ahead.
12A traditional Hindu pledges allegiance to the Hinduism his or her forebears brought to Guadeloupe a hundred and fifty years ago.3 Usually a traditional Hindu defends animal sacrifice as a means to communicate with the traditional deities: Mariyamman, Maduraiviren, Nagourmila, Kali and Mahabil. In addition, traditional Hindus embrace Tamil as the only language with the power to reach these deities. They attend first Friday or Sunday services at their Hindu chapel of preference, and once a year (or two) they become ritual patrons. That is, once a year (or two), they finance a big ritual sacrifice to thank the deities for taking care of them. They consider and participate in the sacrificial feast as a religious moment, and understand colombo as its symbol.
13In contrast, a global Hindu pledges allegiance to an international Hinduism or diasporic Hinduism. A global Hindu has replaced animal ritual killings for daily puja (or worship) and looks down upon traditional Hindus because their religious investment does not require daily interaction with the deities. Globalists have abandoned the traditional deities and accepted the great Hindu gods: Lakmi, Visnu, and Siva. In order to celebrate the great gods, they have imported some Hindu festivals, such as Divali and Sivaratri, to Guadeloupe. They consider the Tamil devotional poetry and ritual texts that precede the colombo feast insufficient to reach the great gods, so they have replaced them with Sanskrit verses. Quite simply, they abhor the symbol of colombo and its implications.
14In the next passage, a globalist Hindu explains how colombo has lost its cultural and religious referents, and why the sect has adopted the “vegetarian meal”:
“Usually, there is social life of sorts around any religious activity. This social life’s referent is the religious activity itself. That is, the social life surrounding the religious activity is always inserted within the perimeter of authentic religious referents. And so that means that the social life around the religious moment is honest, clean, and meaningful. If you remember, the puja we held here in my house a few weeks ago, we stayed around after the ceremony. We did not go home. [...] We listened to the lecture of Hanuman texts, we ate all together, without alcohol, and then we spoke. We exchanged ideas. This was good. If it had been a Catholic baptism, champagne would have had to be there. A Hindu puja and a Catholic baptism are in essence different. There is a different goal set for each religious event given the cultural referent they are embedded in.
For us the goal is not to meet and eat. The goal is to meet and discuss. Then we eat, but it is not just any food. It is Indian food. In this way, we all learn about Indian specialties. In this way, we discover new dishes and drinks, such as, chai or lassie. It is what Europeans call a good table. But again the whole goal is not the food itself but the discovery and the discussion.” (64-year-old retired banker and globalist devotee)
15Religious life, he explains, is by definition social. The social life of a religious event, however, must match the cultural references of the religious event. In Guadeloupe, Hindu traditional practices have lost their cultural referent and have adopted Western modes of festive attitudes; in contrast, he argues, the social life around a puja is unmistakably Indian. The goal of traditional Hindu practices, he claims, is “to meet and eat.” In other words, traditional Hindu practitioners have abandoned the proper Hindu social ways. Furthermore they have surrendered to the Creole ways—always needing champagne or rum to celebrate. Since they have lost their “authentic religious referents,” he claims, the social life around their religious events is not “honest, clean and meaningful.”
16He claims that unlike traditional Hindus, globalist Hindus are seeking to integrate their religious practices in the proper Indian and Hindu context. Instead of consuming large quantities of colombo cabri (Indian Creole goat curry) or colombo poulet (Indian Creole chicken curry), they consume Indian vegetarian specialties accompanied by non-alcoholic mango lassie. Since the food they consume is more authentic (it has not renounced its Indian flavor for a more Creole one), they are able to situate their food choices in what they believe to be the appropriate Hindu context. Simultaneously, by eating this more authentic food, they educate themselves about Indian flavors; for him, the goal is to “discover new dishes and drinks.” For him, the goal “is not food itself, but the discovery and the discussion.” Although the globalist Hindu does not directly critique the traditional Hindu ways, he proceeds by exclusion, differentiating his own globalist religious practices from those of traditional Hindus through emphasizing traditionalists’ lack of cultural referents.
17Next, I examine the tactics employed by officiants and devotees to legitimate their respective sectarian practices through colombo. Although Hindu sectarian narratives define themselves in reference to colombo, colombo does not have the same religious power or perpetuates the same religious connections for all.4 In other words, in Guadeloupe, the presence or absence of colombo in a feast maintained and transmitted sectarian cultural worldviews. Paul Toomey, in “Food from The Mouth of Krishna,” argues that culinary ideology has the ability to support and give shape to Hindu sectarian self-identity. He claims that the way food is handled not only varies from Krisnaite sect to sect, but also speaks to a specific sectarian outlook (Toomey, 1986: 55-6).
18Furthermore, food does more than express sectarian self-identity; it also legitimizes it. For traditionalists, the colombo connections were meaningful, carrying a positive connotation of self-preservation and continuity. Globalists, however, not only rejected colombo and all that it entailed, but also denied its significance as a Hindu symbol. Between these two groups were people who did not agree with the ideology of colombo, but if invited to feast could not (or would not) refuse an invitation to a good meal. Thus, in Guadeloupe, both groups of Hindus often legitimize their respective sectarian ideology by appropriating or rejecting colombo. I suggest that colombo, the spice and the meal, renders traditional Hindu practices authentic because it physically materializes the social relationship with the ancestors.
19In the traditional religious imagination, the existence of colombo first perpetuates the ancestral production of knowledge, and second, reproduces a social order where the authority of the ancestors is sustained annually with colombo. The preparation of the spice and meal, plus the enjoyment of the feast on the ritual day, disseminate the religious knowledge of the ancestors. In addition, traditional devotees believe that the ancestors passed down the process the spices undergo to become colombo and the subsequent transformation into brown curry sauce for the sacrificed goats and chickens. One devotee’s explanation suggests the transmission of this knowledge. In the midst of great fuming pots, she articulated the connection between the ancestors and her traditions: “I’ve been so busy preparing: I made lists, bought the fruits to offer, prepared utensils. It takes time to prepare well: I grind the colombo spice myself. I crush all the spices myself: cumin, mustard seeds, fenugreek, coriander, turmeric, pepper, fennel seeds, and cloves. I do it as I was shown. I do it as it has been done. I do it as it must be done” (69-year-old housewife and Hindu devotee).
20The devotee stirring one of the three fuming pots energetically said, “I crush all the spices myself.” In this statement, I identify the wish to connect her ways with her religious (and family) tradition. She did not purchase the industrially crushed colombo; instead, she followed not only her mother’s (or aunt’s) recipe, but also continued to use the same techniques to crush the spices. Furthermore, she declared three things. First, that she followed the proportions and principles of crushing shown to her; second, that these proportions and principles were passed down from mother to daughter since the mid-1800s; and third, that these proportions and principles could not (and definitely should not) be altered. With her last three sentences, she established not only that each time she crushed colombo she perpetuated the ancestral production of knowledge, but also that the legitimacy of her traditional ways was to be found in the ancestors.
21If the crushing of colombo perpetuates the ancestral ways, feasting on colombo during semblani, the month of the dead, reproduces a social order where the ancestors’ authority is materialized by feeding them colombo.5 Since the ancestors are not only offered a sumptuous colombo feast, but also are served first, they emerge as “higher than” those serving (Appadurai 1981: 501, 504). In the following passage, a traditional officiant briefly describes his family semblani, while pointing to the superior nature of the ancestors who empower his sectarian religious practices:
“Usually one puts garlands around the pictures of the ancestors and cooks their favorite foods: colombo cabri, colombo poulet or vade [spicy fried lentil dough] or whatever they liked. That is all. Then we offer the meal to them in different banana leafs. The ancestors recognize their meal, because each meal is designed according to their likes and dislikes. That day, we serve the ancestors their favorite foods first, only after having served them the family eats. That is all. Only after the ancestors have accepted the offerings, only then we eat. Serving them their colombo of preference and first shows that we think they are very important. My wife prepares the colombo long in advance. The food shows respect. That is all.” (68-year-old retired farmer and Hindu officiant)
22His description suggests that during the semblani ritual the ancestors are, if not deified, at least sanctified. Once all the meals are served to the ancestors, the ritual proceeds: each member of the family attending, from eldest to youngest, must lift the wooden incense platter with the right hand only and, in a round motion, dedicate her attention to the ancestors. Once this process is finished the family walks outside, leaving the ancestors alone, and enjoys the colombo feast. Usually, it is the deities decorated with scented and colorful garlands who are granted their favorite foods and who are served and eat first (Babb 1970: 296-7, 302). In contrast, during semblani, the ancestors receive all the culinary attentions, and the family eats the leftovers not consumed by the ancestors. In this way, the colombo offered to the ancestors during semblani expresses a social relationship characterized by rank, as the ancestors are served a great amount of what they love to eat, and they are served first (Appadurai 1981: 507). In sum, the colombo feast cooked and offered to the ancestors in the semblani ritual manner reproduces a social order in which the ancestors emerge as higher than the religious community that reveres them, and therefore as entities with enough power to authenticate the Hindu sectarian practices of that community.
23Traditionalists conceive colombo as a symbol that provides direct connection with the religious knowledge of the ancestors and as the means through which they grant the ancestors the power to legitimize their old sectarian ways. In contrast, for globalists, colombo represents the complete defilement of Hinduism. It is not just that, as the globalist said above, the ceremony has lost its Indian and Hindu referents and the devotees have adapted and adopted Western celebratory modes during the feast. It is that the ceremony and the feast are theatrical imitations of something that once was truly religious. In the globalist religious imagination, since colombo is the symbol of a religious tradition on the path of superficiality, this culinary obsession delegitimizes any religious claim. The reappropriation of other diasporic Hindu ways, then, emerges as the only viable path for globalist Hindus in Guadeloupe. In other words, claiming not to cook or eat colombo and refusing to participate in the colombo ideology is not a minor matter of sectarian appearances and politics, but is equivalent “to making a statement of ontological authenticity and ethical worth” (White 1992: 80-1).
24In the following passage, a globalist Hindu depicts colombo as superficial, concerned with earthly issues such as the stomach and the pocket:
“We observed that no matter what, the ceremony was an occasion to eat colombo rather than to conduct a ritual. The number of people who attended the morning ritual, for example, was much smaller than those who showed up for the colombo feast. In the morning, I could hardly find ten or fifteen people who would want to join me to attend the temple, but then there would be hundreds of people willing to join me for the feast and to drink alcohol. That was proof of a problem. Colombo cabri or poulet was all they cared about!” (46-year-old CEO and globalist Hindu)
25His diagnosis is simple: colombo ideology is superficial because it suffers from a proportional inversion of interests. Traditional devotees, he explains, do not pretend to be interested in the ceremony. They do not attend it but instead flock to the feast by the hundreds. He claims that traditionalists have lost their sense of religious relevance: they attend the feast in substitution for the ceremony. In sum, traditionalists are deluded, but he sees reality as it truly is. He knows that colombo is superficial because it is a culinary obsession of sorts.
26Thus, for traditionalists and globalists colombo is a moral substance (Khare 1992: 27-8; White 1992: 80-1; Toomey 1986: 62; Rao 1986b: 162; Appadurai 1981: 496; and Stone 1978: 61). If for traditionalists colombo is a sectarian symbol, for globalists, colombo does not have the appropriate social connections. Due to this, globalists not only have distanced themselves from the colombo scene but also have substituted colombo for other foods. To present their sectarian worldviews as legitimate and authentic, globalist Hindus assert their contested superiority with their strictly vegetarian food choices.
27A globalist Hindu suggested it with the following words: “We engaged in a cultural reappropriation at all levels: domestic practices, the way of dressing and behaving, music, the way of cooking and of eating! There is no more meat in my household, no more. We also saw necessary to reappropriate rituals, transmission of texts, and of transmission through initiation. So that is the path we took” (46-year-old CEO and globalist Hindu). Through a “politic of reappropriation,” his sect not only seeks to disassociate from the theatrical colombo scene but also to ground their sectarian worldviews and actions in clean, or vegetarian, Hindu ways. By espousing a strictly vegetarian diet, for example, he asserts the inherent superiority of his sectarian outlook. For traditionalists, not eating meat (that is, fasting) before a Sunday ritual ceremony is an extraordinary act of self-sacrifice; however, for him, the fasting state is the natural state. For a traditionalist Hindu, the act is self-sacrificing, while for him it is only normal. In his narrative, he claims that since his normal state of being equals the extraordinary fasting state of traditionalists, his globalist sectarian ways demand more of him, and thus are superior. The fact that he claims to abide by a strictly vegetarian diet not only suggests sectarian superiority, but is meant to prove ontological superiority as well (Sharma 1961: 56). As his physical and emotional make-up are more elevated, what is extraordinary to others is normal to him. In addition, since he only nourishes his family with proper Hindu vegetarian products, and since one is what one eats (White 1992: 57), he is thus a proper Hindu.
28These discourses proposing colombo as an authentic Hindu symbol and these questioning its traditional status are complex sectarian tactics that appeal to various audiences. At the same time, these discourses also assert that traditional and globalist Hindus own and practice the ultimate, authentic Hinduism. The choices they make about colombo carry sectarian meanings. What type of food is served? How big are the portions? What kind of drink accompanies the feast? The answers to these questions not only support and give shape to traditional and globalist sectarian ideologies, but also legitimize the grounds for their inherent differences and reasons for existence. The mere affiliation or lack of affiliation with colombo expresses desired social connections, either with the ancestors or other Hindus in diaspora. These social connections establish traditional or globalist sectarian legitimacy and, ultimately, materialize Hindu sectarian self-identity. The self-representations and depictions of the competing sectarian factions constitute a web of religious references that seek to legitimize one’s own sectarian worldviews and, simultaneously, to generate counter-narratives that hollow out the competing Hindu sectarian ideologies. The discourses appropriating or rejecting colombo suggest not only an inner tension in what many imagine as a cohesive Guadeloupean Hindu community, but also yield to sectarian power conflicts.
29Given that the traditionalist and the globalist Hindu sects compete for the attention, interest and, ideally, adherence of devotees, sectarian power conflicts surface. Both Hindu sects strive to convince audiences to cast their vote in their sect’s favor by attending the traditional Sunday morning ritual sacrifices or the globalist puja. While both rely on audiences’ reactions to their religious product to gain power, traditionalists cite the numbers of attendees as proof of their success, while globalists cite integrity as the mark of their success.
30During my time in the field, I saw traditional and globalist Hindus urge audiences—commonly viewed as potential adherents—to observe and embrace the value (the legitimacy, authenticity, and authority) of their respective sectarian ideologies. Traditional officiants appealed to their audiences to adopt traditional Hinduism for its immediacy and function: it solved tangible and intangible problems. On the other hand, globalist acharyas (or religious teachers) appealed to their audiences to accept globalist Hinduism if they felt disenfranchised in their current religious community. To claim religious power, the two Hindu sects largely relied upon their audiences’ reactions to the religious product: whether ritual appealed aesthetically or not, whether they would come back for more, and whether or not the audience was satisfied with the product, they had, through their attendance, “purchased.” If the audience was convinced of the value of the religious product purchased and came back for more, that sect’s worldview was empowered; if not, each sect would continue to try to encourage adherents to return.
31Traditional officiants and committed devotees appeal to audiences with the immediacy and function of traditional Hinduism. Furthermore, in addition to providing an immediate function, traditional Hinduism also offers possible devotees undemanding access. To become involved in the traditional Hindu ritual, a potential devotee basically needs devotion and a favor to ask:
“There are those who come regularly every month and those who come sporadically to be helped without a personal connection to Hinduism. I did not become an officiant to help everybody. I can’t do that. It would take too much time, I must work, I have children, a family, and I can only help those who I can help. I can only help those who come and to come one does not have to be a Hindu, but have devotion and a problem. One has to be sick, pass an exam, or you have something so big to solve that cannot even begin to figure out how to do it alone.” (39-year-old civil servant and Hindu officiant)
32According to this testimony, traditional Hinduism does not require a full-time or even a partial religious commitment. Thus, all are welcome any time. That is, to practice traditional Hinduism, a devotee need not reject other religious traditions. This, of course, exponentially increases the chances of attracting a larger number of devotees and of convincing them of the value of the product. Since all that traditional Hinduism requires is devotion, a “problem,” and the need to solve it, there were many people who, having tried other means to solve their personal problems, turned toward traditional Hinduism as a last resort.
33Since globalist Hindus criticize the commercial value of Sunday morning ritual sacrifices and condemn the fact that traditional officiants do not demand that their devotees reject their other religious interests, their potential religious audiences are much smaller. Thus, the possibilities of hearing success stories about global Hinduism are greatly diminished. For them, a success story is one that emphasizes the rejection of a former religious tradition and the acceptance of new life-style guiding principles. In the next few lines a recently initiated pundit (or learned Hindu man) exposes the progressive and reflective development of his religious community:
“The three first pundits were initiated in December 2000. In 2001, two more were initiated. Today, there are five. At the beginning, our goal was not to go and conduct rituals right and left. No! We wanted the pundits to be well instructed first and then to start responding to the demand. For now, we are initiated to conduct puja. For the moment, we are only learning to conduct puja. Instruction takes more time, as we are adults. In the future, for example, in 2003, we would like to start to conduct marriages and the rituals surrounding death and things like that. We are working on different stages.
Early on, we also organized cooking workshops: we learned vegetarian cooking. I’m not going to say we have two hundred or three hundred adherents. We don’t work that way. It is more a movement that works around families. There are twenty or thirty families that form our religious community.” (46-year-old CEO and global Hindu)
34In saying “Today, there are five,” he indicates that there are five pundits who were initiated into this new life-style, and thereby had rejected their former religious practices. As was the pattern, he defined the act of renunciation in contrast to traditional Hinduism: globalist Hindus did not wish to be initiated to “conduct rituals right and left. No!” They did not decide upon initiation based on the immediacy and function of ritual, but rather as a response to a religious thirst. They were yearning for religious instruction; they were craving to learn well before they began to respond to demand. The emphasis on the pundits’ motivation in this narrative underlines his wish to be perceived as a member of a community whose interests are to establish healthy relationships with the deities. That is, they were not taking their pundit vows seeking monetary retribution or expecting the deities to favor them.
35In addition to the theme of rejection, there is also a theme of complete acceptance of new life-style guidelines in this globalist success narrative. “Early on, we also organized cooking workshops,” he remarks. Handling and using food properly was not only important but also was performing Hindu life-cycle celebrations and rituals properly. In this narrative, the globalist seeks to represent his religious as one that extends far beyond the self. His goal was to represent his religious community as one whose members based their moral responses in relation to the deities on a daily basis. In other words, I suggest that globalists represented themselves as a community with higher values. They sought to portray themselves as a community with integrity.
36These stories celebrate the value of the Hindu sect in question and suggest the brutal sense of competition between the two. Which Hinduism should be endorsed as the valid and authentic one to pass down to the next generation? Clearly, there is more at stake than the answer to the latter question. Different officiants, pundits, and devotees expressed their doubts on numerous occasions. Should traditional Hinduism maintain its status as it was twenty years ago? How can one ask traditional officiants currently in training to stop relying on the books brought from India? Can traditional Hinduism continue to legitimate itself through the power of the ancestors, when in the last ten years newer and fancier ritual tools from Trinidad have replaced basic ones? Should the new pundits take power or should most of those who currently qualify themselves as Hindu stop feasting on colombo and become vegetarian? How can these new global ways be trusted if they impose such different rules from the ones passed down to them by the ancestors? These narratives seek to convince familiar and unfamiliar audiences about the value of the Hindu sects. In addition, these narratives infuse life with sectarian worldviews; they promote appropriate sectarian behavior as well as market valid sectarian principles. In sum, they convey and reproduce sectarian ideology, which in the process grants each sect the power to choose the fate of Hinduism in Guadeloupe.