Thursday, July 9, 2009

Weird NJ

Last week, fishermen found the body of a two year old infant in a plastic bag in the Passaic River. It turns out that this body was disinterred from its grave in Connecticut. Who would dig up the body of an infant girl in Connecticut and dump it in a river in North Jersey? Apparently, practitioners of "Palo Mayombe". According to the Record ("Police: 'Miracle baby' might have been stolen from grave as part of ritual"):

STAMFORD, Conn. – The body of a child ripped from her grave in Connecticut and found floating in the Passaic River may have been stolen for use in a ritual by practitioners of an obscure religion who prized the “miracle” girl.


“We’re seeing this as a ritualistic type of theft of the body,” said Capt. Richard Conklin of the Stamford Police Department.

Imani was born in 2004 with semilobar holoprosencephaly, a rare condition that kept her brain from fully developing. She wasn’t expected to live; the condition often causes babies to die before birth or shortly after.

Yet she survived two and a half years. Doctors hailed her as a miracle baby, and her short life was chronicled by the Stamford Advocate newspaper.

“We think that’s the hook,” Conklin said. “That the people practicing these beliefs sought that power, that mystic nature of this child.”

Conklin cited Palo Mayombe, a belief system that originated in Central Africa in which sticks and human bones and skulls are used to summon spirits. Palo Mayombe is sometimes referred to as the dark cousin of Santeria, a Caribbean blend of West African beliefs and ancient Catholicism often connected with animal sacrifices.

The Record quotes a local professor who worries that people might demonize Palo Mayombe:

Peter Savastano, a professor at Seton Hall University, cautioned that there is a tendency in Western Christian-oriented cultures to demonize African-diasporic religious traditions.

“I’m immediately suspicious that [people] are kind of demonizing of these traditions that are not easily understood by mainstream Americans,” he said.

To his credit, Record columnist Mike Kelly rejects Prof. Savastano's appeal to cultural relativism. In his column ("Who steals the body of a child?"), Kelly writes,

[I]n a nation that cherishes freedom of religion, what do we make of this? Is there a place in our diverse and open society to allow the theft of a baby's body as a form of religious expression? Or can we call this what it really is – barbaric?


JK said...

I don't think you are interpreting Savastano correctly. He didn't make an appeal to cultural relativism, because he was not defending the action in question. As a sociologist, he was presumably an expert on the subject matter that the newspaper went to for input.
What he and Prof Olmos seemed to be saying is that the actions didn't sound like the Palo Mayombe they've studied, so they cautioned against jumping to conclusions to blame a grotesque act without evidence on a marginalized religious belief in order to close the case. (remember the satanist hysteria in the 80s?) I don't think either of them are defending the barbarism that occured.

DaveinHackensack said...

You could be right, it's not entirely clear from the brief quote. If I were the reporter, I would have tried to nail him down on it.