From cab confessions to the ‘converted’

Nicole Sharp

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Wallace Zane is a man with an interesting past, a past that including people having sex in the back of his cab, communes and the discovery of an unknown Caribbean religion.

Zane, a part-time anthropology lecturer at CSUN for the past six years, provides his students with a class full of passion and funny stories.

“I fell in love with the knowledge,” Zane said, referring to why he chose the field of anthropology. “Anthropology tried to look at the topic in a complete way as possible.”

Dr. Wendy Birky, an anthropology professor, has known Zane for as long as he has been at CSUN. She said he’s “a wonderful professor and students seem to really like him.”

Zane said that the holistic approach of the field was “what attracted (him) in the first place.”

Born in Hawaii in 1964, at the age of five Zane moved with his family to a commune in Agoura, Calif. During the two years he stayed at the commune he was in charge of the morning chores, including taking care of the horses.

“It was a spiritualist commune,” he said. “They would have these s’eacute;ances where they would try to have the voices of dead people talk through them. Because the s’eacute;ances room was right next to where the boys slept, Zane said that the kids would play truth-or-dare.

“It wasn’t uncommon to dare one another to run around naked or throw something into the s’eacute;ances room,” he said.

“My parents were creative, artistic individuals,” Zane said. “As child of ‘hippie’ parents, we never stayed longer than two years in one area.”

The classic novel “Kidnapped,” by Robert Louis Stevenson, about murder, false accusations, and shipwrecks intrigued Zane. He said he read the book for the “sheer adventure of it.”

After dropping out of high school in his freshman year, Zane became an actor at the age of 18.

He traveled all over England with a small drama company, often playing for small audiences in nursing homes, churches and the military. He once asked a group of elderly men at a nursing home what it meant to live a good life.

“Their response to me was ‘you don’t want to have any regrets,'” he said.

This led to Zane finally establishing some roots in Santa Barbara. While living with family, he attended Santa Barbara City College and received his GED.

While studying for his master’s at McGill University in Quebec, Canada, Zane noticed a local surf shop, miles away from the nearest beach. Zane, being an avid surfer himself, began his research on Southern Californian surfers and how the media portrays them. His research and results were published as a book called “Surfers of Southern California: Structures of Identity,” and can be found in the Oviatt Library.

Like many college students, Zane choose to go for his doctorate degree, but was unsure of what university to attend. He suggests that students try and talk to everyone in the program, just “to make your name known.”

“I read at least one book from every professor in the (anthropology) department and I made an appointment with each of them, just to let them know that I really wanted to be there,” Zane said. He was soon accepted into the anthropology program at UCLA.

Once he got his doctorate, Zane was without a teaching position and wanted to do more research. His quest led him to an unfavorable profession — a cab driver in L.A.

“It is one of the most dangerous jobs,” he said, noting how he often dealt with fights and violence on a daily basis.

“You would be surprised how much sex people have in the back of a cab,” Zane said. He said he became familiar with a lot of the local pimps and prostitutes, as well as becoming friends with many of the local cab drivers.

He discovered that people are exceptionally open with cab drivers and don’t mind telling their life stories.

“It felt like a confessional,” he said.

Despite the dangers and excitement of the being a cab driver, Zane is most passionate about his discovery of a religion that isn’t well known outside of the anthropology community. While studying in St. Vincent in the Caribbean for his dissertation, he became first to write and study about the “converted,” an Afro-Caribbean religion which believes that when in a trance, a person can travel to other worlds, take the form of someone else and come back with the skills of that person’s profession.

In Anthropology 222, Zane often talks about the religion he researched. His stories engage the students into a world like no other.

“He’s interesting,” said Hadiprayinto Gunawan, a finance major. “He tells a lot of interesting stories about his experiences.”

“No one has studied the (convert) religion for a long period of time,” Zane said. “I was finding out things that no one even knew existed.”

In 1999, Zane’s research was published in a book called “Journeys to the Spiritual Land: The Natural History of a West Indian Religion.”

Another of Zane’s current hobbies includes filmmaking. He recently wrote and produced a film called “Souvenir,” about a young woman who inherits a collection of African funerary pieces, all of which seem to complicate her life.

“I think he’s good,” said business major Nely Rangel. “He does a good job. He’s a great professor.”

One of his current hobbies is to try to view the Hollywood sign from different locations in the city. Zane describes himself as a “lover of Los Angeles. Anyone who hates L.A., meets me, and then they love it.”

In the future, Zane says he hopes to keep on doing what he has always been doing– keep making films, teaching students and surfing.

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