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Shakers of St. Vincent.

Edited by Bradford Keeney, Ph.D., photographs by Kern L. Nickerson Ringing Rocks Press in association with Leete's Island Books, June 2002 $39.95, ISBN 0-918-17233-0

On the hilly and lush island of St. Vincent, one of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean, thrives a mystical and sacred religion that dates back to the 18th century. With its roots deep in both African spirituality and the Protestant Christianity of the Methodist Church, the St. Vincent Shaker faith--not to be confused with the Shaker religion of English origin--is characterized by the believer's intense display of ecstatic physical and unintelligible verbal expressions, much like "speaking in tongues." In a new book in the Profiles of Healing series, Shakers of St. Vincent is an introduction to a religious culture that has been relatively unknown and insufficiently documented.

The history of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, its slave trade and rebellion in the early 1700s, is worthy of further examination. And a study of the country's religious customs is a fine launching point. In the St. Vincent's Shaker faith, a practitioner is appropriately called a Shaker, someone on a spiritual journey. Among the Shakers, pilgrims must surrender all of their worldly troubles to the rituals of baptism and mourning--a spiritual death and rebirth that eventually leads to an enlightened and meaningful existence.

Many of the world's formal religions have an established set of conventions that oftentimes require firsthand explanation of their doctrines. The Shakers of the West Indies are no different. Incorporating stimulating text and vivid color photography, renowned psychotherapist and practitioner of traditional healing practices Dr. Bradford Keeney along with photographer Kern L. Nickerson chronicle the elements that comprise the Shakers faith.

As editor of Profiles of Healing; Dr. Keeney has been involved in shamanism for over 30 years, and has cultivated an intimate relationship with fellow practitioners of traditional healing. Shakers is supplied with narratives and descriptions of the elders, teachers, objects and terms that are characteristic of the Shakers community. Much of the written content are testimonies of the member's own personal odysseys. Dr. Keeney also includes his own commentary and biblical references as they relate to the essays and imagery.

There are more than 200 vibrant photographs by Nickerson--some of the island's landscape, but mostly portraits of the Shakers. Having lived side-by-side with native Shakers, his photography melds easily with the text. Even so, less than half of the images were full-page, especially those of the rhythmic bodies of the Shakers, which would have added visually to the strength of the book.

Shakers of St. Vincent is the seventh volume in a collection that Dr. Keeney calls an encyclopedia of alternative medicine. Just as with the other titles in the series, including Gary Holy Bulk Lakota Yuwipi Man, Ikuko Osumi, Sensei: Japanese Master of Seiki Jutsu, and Guarani Shamans of the Forest, this latest chapter is an unflinching look at some of the world's indigenous and traditional healers, medicine people and shamans who are willing to share their wisdom and practices to help restore the world's spiritual health; they truly believe the planet is in desperate need of some serious healing.

As a bonus for this unchartered journey, Shakers of St. Vincent also comes with an audio CD, which contains native music and spoken words.

Overall, Shakers of St. Vincent is an edifying cultural reference. Its visually and textually balanced story sheds light on a unique practice and how this religious belief contributes to the cultural and spiritual fabric of an indigenous people.
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Author:Reynolds, Clarence V.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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