Gender and Religion

The African slaves, Indian indentured servants, and European colonizers who settled in the Caribbean brought traditional African religions, Hinduism and Christianity with them. African religious traditions and Christianity continue to interact in the faiths of West Indians of African descent. "Black" West Indians have belief systems that range from " 'orthodox' Christian denominations through Afro-Christian groups to African cults" (Cary, 1998, p. 49).

The church is an important resource for West Indian immigrant families. Many immigrants belong to ethnically rooted churches and rely on networks formed with pastors, priests, and other parishioners to ease the difficulties of raising their families in new surroundings (Waters, 1999, p. 202). Most of the high-status members of the clergy for Christian faiths are males. Scholars of Caribbean women's roles in Christianity contend that women are in general barred from leadership roles, and are often relegated to tasks such as washing altar cloths and organizing fundraisers and tea parties (Baptiste, 1991, p. 14).

Strong female figures certainly exist in the African religions transported to the Caribbean, and powerful female roles are still held by obeahwomen (conjure women) and by female Shango (cult of Yoruba origin) in various West Indian societies. However, it can be argued that the African and Caribbean-based religions practiced by West Indian Americans place women in contradictory roles which are, on the one hand, powerful and on the other, negative or subordinate. While some practitioners of Rastafarianism, for example, emphasize the gender equality of this faith, some Rastafarian groups observe rituals of female confinement during menstrual flow and West Indian popular culture depicts Rastafarian women in distinctly inferior roles (Cary, 1998, p. 56; Chevannes, 2001, p. 208).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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