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Sacred Spaces and
R e l ig iou s Tr a di t ion s
i n O ri ent e Cu ba

a volume in the religions of the americas series
Series Editors: davíd carrasco and charles h. long

Sacred Spaces and
Religious Traditions
in Oriente Cuba
Jualynne E. Dodson
african atlantic research team
michigan state university

In collaboration with
josé millet batista
casa del caribe
santiago de cuba

university of new mexico press



II. isbn 978-0-8263-4353-6 (cloth : alk. Published 2008 Printed in the United States of America 13  12  11  10  09  08    1  2  3  4  5  6 Library of C ong ress Catalo g ing -in-Pu blication Data Dodson. cm. — (Religions of the Americas) Includes bibliographical references (p.5/14 Minion Pro Display type is Incognito . Dodson in collaboration with José Millet Batista. Millet Batista. Jualynne E. José. ) and index. Title.6097291´62—dc22 2008024176 Book design and type composition by Melissa Tandysh Composed in 10. Holguín (Cuba : Province)—Religious life and customs.© 2008 by the University of New Mexico Press All rights reserved. 2. Sacred space—Cuba—Holguín (Province) 3. Afro-Caribbean cults—Cuba—Holguín (Province) I. Sacred spaces and religious traditions in Oriente Cuba / Jualynne E.c9d63 2008 299. p. bl2566. paper) 1.

Dodson. Dancing body. Sent Power Messages Rising Beyond. Moved to Ancestor Rhythms. Serve Between Both Worlds. 2002 . All Felt Strong!!! Greater Service Now Beckons Make Ready Our Giant. Vicente Home Going! Tower of Power! Moves Humbly Home Going Service Calls! Broad of Frame & Shoulder Carries Ancients’ Knowledge Guide Today! Limbs of strength and agility Affected Deep Rituals. Swift Fluid.Dedicated to the Spiritual and Historical Lives of Vicente Portuondo Martin of Santiago de Cuba and Olga Batista of Holguín. Prepare Prenda to Release. Jualynne E. Gift of Olodumere Received.

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Contents  List of Illustrations and Maps viii Editors’ Foreword ix Preface by the African Atlantic Research Team xi Acknowledgments Introduction xiii 1 Part I chapter 1. Vodú 104 chapter 6. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe 81 chapter 5. What Sacred Spaces Do 61 Part II chapter 4. Contours and Concepts 21 chapter 2. “Land of the Dead” Beginnings: Muertéra Bembé de Sao 147 chapter 8. Espiritismo 124 Part III chapter 7. Findings and Conclusions 160 Notes 177 Glossary of Select Terms 189 Bibliography 192 Index 205 Color plates follow page 18 vii . African Cosmic Orientation: Core Commonalities 39 chapter 3.

Nineteenth-century Oriente palenque sites Map 5. Artistic sidewalk ceramic tile by Wilfredo Lam Figure 6. Moncada nganga of Los Hoyos Figure 4. Part of a Muertéra Bembé de Sao space viii 4–5 23 . Los Hoyos neighborhood in city of Santiago de Cuba Plates 26 30 31 65 follow page 18 Figure 1. Public sacred space visible for community view Figure 3. Palero in ritual gestures to his nganga Figure 8. Cuba political map with Oriente provinces Map 3. Cazuela of Santiago de Cuba Figure 18. Babalú Ayé in a sacred space of El Cobre Figure 16. Sacred space of Santiago Vodú community Figure 12. Slave trade era map of West and Central West Africa. Portion of an Espiritismo Cruzado sacred space Figure 15. Cordon ritual of Espiritismo de Cordon Figure 17. Tabletop portion of a Las Tunas Vodú community Figure 11. Hunfo Festival del Caribe Figure 13. Drummers in Santiago de Cuba Figure 2. Espiritismo space.Illustrations  Maps Map 1. Cuba within the Caribbean Map 2. Vevé-like image showing Haitian and Cuban flags Figure 14. including eight principal trade regions and ports of embarkation Map 4. Cosmogram of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe in Oriente Figure 7. Proximity of Oriente to Jamaica and Haiti Map 6. Closeup of part of a nganga Figure 9. Bayamo Figure 5. Image of Native American Indian Figure 10.

the very structure of research embodied in a concrete manner the nature and meaning of a “contact zone.” Jualynne Dodson’s book Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba echoes overtones of Ortiz’s initial formulation. In the first instance Dodson’s work concentrates on the province of Oriente whereas most studies of Afro-Cuban religions have concentrated on Havana and the areas close by.Editors’ Foreword In 1947 Don Fernando Ortiz in his book Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar coined the terms “transcultural” and “transculturation” as expressions of descriptive and methodological orientations to the reality of Cuban culture and religion. the same site of Ortiz’s original research. but as the subtitle of his book. Dodson’s work is the result of a long-term research project that she began in 1996. and African cultural elements and modes in the history and formation of Cuban culture. and critiqued some of Ortiz’s original assumptions. Her study. Ortiz did not limit his study to simply ideas and ideological formulations. is unique in its understanding of the materiality interwoven in the AfroCuban sacred sites of religious spaces. Subsequently she was joined by her graduate students. supplemented. Thus. enhanced. he was interested in the material modes of culture as expressed in the work of agricultural production. she undertakes a radical critique of Ortiz. Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba represents both a continuity and discontinuity from the work of Ortiz. ix . Tobacco and Sugar indicates. Dodson’s work also continues this concern for materiality but in so doing. and during the last phases of research by the African Atlantic Research Team of Michigan State University in collaboration with the Popular Religions Study Team of the Casa del Caribe in Santiago de Cuba. Not only has Dodson returned to Cuba. while presupposing the gross economic nature of economic and material productions. The terms were used by Ortiz to describe the dynamic processes produced by the interaction of indigenous. but she has also revisited. European.

Dodson’s work opens us to a new orientation to these religious realities. These spaces are seen by her as sites of transcendence. meaning. and values on the mundane level.There have already been too many books that have discussed AfroCuban religions as examples of “syncretism” or have simply attempted to outline the “beliefs” of these religions. and depth of the spaces. In undertaking the study of one of the reglas congo. on the African substratum of Cuban culture and religion. and more importantly.” From a conventional point of view. The transcendent power is present precisely because of the material and sensuous nature of the sites. They carry a meaning of transcendence precisely because they are simultaneously the embodiment of histories. and significance.” for in common parlance it does not convey the structure. of Vodú of Espiritismo. This study will have the great value of redirecting research on the nature of sacred sites. and of Muertéra Bembé de Sao. x editors’ foreword . And she does this by concentrating on what she has called “sacred sites. power. one might regard these sites as “altars. meaning.” Dodson is careful to avoid the term “altars.

Through collaborative data collection and analysis of those findings. not “backwater” articulations to Western Cuba’s lead. AART was founded on the principle of collective and integrated engagement and we have worked to refine practical applications that step beyond normative boundaries of social science research. We believe we have contributed in highlighting the religious traditions. we have grappled with conceptual issues identified by the project and presented from the field. members gave the same care and support to Professor Dodson that she has given to us. The character of this book reflects and speaks to the intellectual development of the entire African Atlantic Research Team. as the book also raises important questions and conceptual clarities about the construction of African Diaspora knowledge systems in the Caribbean. We have worked with Dodson on Sacred Spaces and Religious Tradi­ tions in Oriente Cuba to challenge her to present the dignity and in­tegrity upheld within sacred practices of Cuban indigenous religions in Oriente. and the socialization of students. team members have worked in Oriente sites for several years.Preface The African Atlantic Research Team (AART) is a mentoring collective that attempts to socialize as well as educate graduate and undergraduate students to the rigors and demands of academic production. the devotees. Within this atmosphere of AART’s work. Inspired by the call for serious exchange of ideas and scholastic excellence. Production of the book has ebbed and flowed into fruition through a dynamic interplay of love and care that transcends demands of rigorous social science research and/ or the requirements of academic writing. investigative methods. and the region. Practitioners of these are authentic in their rituals. In that regard. We hope those who read this book will do so within a mindset that links xi . Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba is situated within a distinct epistemological posture that we endeavor to practice: one that embraces collective foundations of scholarly as well as everyday knowledge production.

helped refine Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba with superior skill and expertise. —On behalf of the African Atlantic Research Team Sonya Maria Johnson Alexandra P. because we are. in the final stages of production. We believe this posture challenges the individualistic approaches of most scholarship. This project has been a labor of love and unwavering dedication. That cultural organization led the way in studying indigenous religious traditions of Oriente. It is. Gelbard Shanti Ali Zaid Harry Nii Koney Odamtten xii preface . the copyeditor. It represents our united blood. this entire enterprise has served as a model for book production and the final editing was equally important in that learning process. We feel Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba exemplifies such a focus and represents intentions and goals that are critical to our team. We thank her for helping Dodson. This volume also supports investigative approaches pioneered by colleagues and teachers at Casa del Caribe in Santiago de Cuba. Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba prioritizes religion in the modality of life-practices of Oriente’s African descended population. Rosemary Carstens. She deftly comprehended the subject matter in its context and then proceeded to retool the language to a level of excellence we believe the work deserves.the collective approach that was foundational for the work that produced it. sweat. as well as in our conceptualization of the spiritual and material lives of Oriente inhabitants. For AART. and tears. and retains that priority in the methodological approaches we took in gathering the research data. The book explores several issues significantly absent from the cannons of scholarship in our disciplinary arenas. our mentor and teacha’. an area central to any study of Cuba but one terribly neglected. this volume situates the island-nation as a significant tributary to the study of African Diaspora in the Caribbean. It opens the eastern region of Oriente. Equally.

the next generation. because it has taken so long. There are at least two hundred or more persons whose help was indispensable to this volume’s completion. and hard work. I am indebted to Sonya Maria Johnson. Sonya has been present since the envisioning to the completion of this project and. and Alexandra Pauline Gelbard for years of steadfast trust. and the entire African Atlantic Research Team. Shanti Ali Zaid. Eva Fernandez. Madre Los Angeles Felicola (“Madridia”). Ruth Simms Hamilton of Michigan State University. Angelita. I also dedicate this work to Ceiba and Caoba. Juan Gonzales (“Madelaine”). Norec Mozo. xiii . whose intellectual life and groundbreaking conceptual work greatly influenced this book. there never would have been a book without the Oriente practitioners who took our research team into their communities and shared their sacred spaces. Indeed. and everyone at Casa del Caribe. commitment.Acknowledgments We give thanks to those who have gone before and made it possible for us to be at this moment and time. Flora Gilford’s family in the United States. Among the many we extend special appreciation to are Raphael. Eternal debt to Dr. Don Chino. It is equally impossible to consider acknowledgments without including the Millet and Rosa América households of Santiago de Cuba.

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Africa-based  1 . the indigenous religions we studied are Africa-based. and they reflect categories of human religious meaning. Images in this book show sacred spaces that were built between 1998 and 2007 by contemporary practitioners in Oriente Cuba. I guided five team members in the investigation of four religions that are indigenous to Cuba.Introduction Space s c onst ru ct ed b y religiou s pr ac tition e r s of Oriente represent their understanding about the sacredness of their world. The sites also are distinguishable through particularities of the adherents who built them. the spaces contain customs handed down from colonial African descendants and integrate an alternative. Many will notice that we do not include the more well-known Cuban religious traditions of Regla de Ocha or Santería. This means that beyond the complexity of meanings derived from practitioners and their religious activities. as they are practiced in Oriente: Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. Vodú. Espiritismo. They also incorporate ideas about what it means to be human as they express portions of the collective history of a particular religion and its followers. With the exception of Espiritismo. As director of the African Atlantic Research Team. These practices were omitted because our intent was to better understand traditions that have received little if any academic focus and to explore a geographic area of Cuba that is rarely the subject of research projects. and Muertéra Bembé de Sao.

the spaces also exemplify an alternative temporal modality. Cuban religions vary according to where continental sacred fragments originated. they exist as an alternative model of time. ethnology. and so on. and other important ideas concerning the meaning of being human as expressed by the traditions. if any of these materials. a cosmic orientation. and used both understandings to create ritual behaviors that became underpinnings of new religious traditions. and we have taken the opportunity to reflect on what the spaces say about sacredness within regional religious practices. with its alternative model of timed human possibilities. The images of spaces presented in this book are from each of the four researched religions and symbolize the inherited and shared cosmic orientation. when traditional rituals were established in Oriente. and depending upon materials and ritual activities.epistemology or knowledge system about what it means to be human. Literature Most scholarship about Cuba’s religious traditions is concerned with the black population and their Africa-based behaviors. These works have focused on research conducted in western provinces of the island. include research conducted in the five current provinces created from the older region of Oriente (see map 2). In addition this volume is equally attentive to examining alternative models of time. We want to attempt to qualify some of what is unknown about Oriente and indigenous religions as performed there. areas in or near the cities of Havana. There is an abundance of published work about these regions and it appears in such disciplines as history. ethnomusicology. Our presentation is enhanced by color photographs of Oriente spaces.1 Only a small amount of these materials is in English and few. persisted as the overarching sacred perspective.2 2 introduction . Matanzas. sociology. the specification of a tradition. space. Trinidad. when and how these were combined to construct the practices. It may be the first systematic exploration of these traditions in their Oriente context. and psychology. Enslaved colonial Africans transported this other model of time to Oriente as part of an epistemological foundation. as well as the particularities of individual practitioners. However throughout the region. the cosmic orientation or epistemology. anthropology. Within that epistemological core. criminology. The book offers an interconnected examination of the history and entrenched understandings of the four indigenous religions.

fought. Ortiz argued that. Ortiz was impressed with the black Cuban population’s continued use of Africa-based spiritual customs. linguistic variations. He proposed “transculturation” as the pivotal concept to describe Cuba’s colonial cultural mixing wherein groups grappled.5 There are no indications that Ortiz engaged the contention but. Lachatañeré contended that procedures in the east could be different because of different historical and cultural factors that influenced and distinguished the region from Cuba’s western areas. and grappling for social presentation were distinct phenomena. in Spanish and English. Ortiz conducted some of the earliest anthropological research and writing on the topic. musical instruments. Long and Mary Louise Pratt would explore such colonial spaces of inequitable power distribution where this cultural mixing. Charles H. Later. another Cuban writer and one who worked with Ortiz. and dynamically combined their ideas of appropriate behaviors for introduction 3 . Rather.”6 But Ortiz saw that Cuba’s processes of cultural creation were not merely representations of prevailing academic ideas about assimilation and acculturation. ritual dances.4 but he barely mentioned Ori­ente and there is no evidence that he collected data or wrote about the eastern region. He proposed that these were not practices assimilated into existing European definitions of cultural behavior or religious activities but were created from African descendants’ basic understandings about life as they contacted and exchanged with different ethnic groups and with members of other cultural groups on the island. Ortiz is primarily responsible for introducing international academic and general reading audiences to the documented presence and continuation of Africa-based practices in Cuba. “contact zones. exchanging. plus other ac­­ companying cultural expressions and material objects. song traditions. sociocultural changes that took place in Cuba required a more interactive conceptualization. to be fully understood.Definitive research into Cuban religions was made popular in the first half of the twentieth century by the internationally renowned scholar Don Fernando Ortiz (1881–1969). corresponded with the elder scholar and suggested the need for investigating religious practices in Oriente. Ortiz’s ongoing groundbreaking investigations also established a conceptual canon about Cuban cultural customs. He suggested that essential details of the island’s racial composition and historical development were not unilateral processes of cultural acquisition—Africans behaving like Europeans. Rómulo Lachatañeré.3 He was interested in how such a continuation of cultural manifestations affected race relations in his country. despite this methodological omission.

Washington DC: United States Central Intelligence Agency. (From Cuba. and 124 miles wide at its widest point in the east. approximately 22 miles wide at its western point.) 4 introduction .Map 1: Cuba’s location within the Caribbean and its relationship to other land spaces of the region. 1994. The island is 750 miles long.

introduction 5 .

normative model of organized and civilized social structure.9 Others who followed in Ortiz’s footsteps must be positioned as important researchers of Africa-based Cuban customs.the new society and came to form entirely new ideas. mulattos. not belonging to perceived ideas about regular or serious culture and religion. Dominican Republic. but positioned also as researchers who conceptualized them as folk behaviors. Melville Herskovits (1895–1963).” “syncretism.”11 Too much of this paradigm persists even as there are newer research findings about the integrity of Africa-based sacred practices in Cuba.” We concur with Christine Ayorinde in her overall assessment that Ortiz viewed the exceptional religious behaviors as primitive. born from contact and exchange among the multiplicity of cultural inhabitants living under colonial conditions in lands across the Atlantic. poor and mostly uneducated Cubans—as “a confusing mess. Brazil.” or the result of “fanatical practitioners. Religious traditions that continue to exist outside the model (particularly the Christian model) are then understood and reified as “less than.” even paganistic if not demonic.10 This perspective employs Eurocentric standards and vocabulary that devalue folk traditions as outside a universal. new behaviors. though falsely dichotomizing thought. and others are part of this school of normative. These US researchers held opposing views. At the same time. Jorge Castellanos and Isabel Castellanos. Rogelio Furé. uneducated black people who were peripherally related to the progress of Eurocentric modern understandings about human life. to Ortiz and to each other. Lydia Cabrera. and it erroneously encased further study of Cuban religions within the colloquial rubric of “folk practices. while Herskovits argued that many West African behaviors still existed across the Atlantic among descendants who were born in the Americas.7 For the first three decades of the twentieth century. and their followers.” “animalistic.12 6 introduction . Frazier hypothesized that Africa-based practices had been lost or assimilated in the Americas. though exotic. Franklin Frazier (1894–1962). Miguel Barnet. Ortiz’s work was integral to the ongoing debates of E. Puerto Rico. The dichotomy goes forward to position behaviors of blacks.8 Ortiz’s third option was that Africa and the Americas were each present in New World cultural expressions but these were new formations. expressive holdovers of a backward. Ortiz’s research and writing was embedded in the social Darwinism of his education and historical era. and a new people. and campesinos—peasant farmers. and other parts of the Americas.

At the same time. of more than 413 two-columned pages. but these authors conducted extensive explorations of the Cuban roots of the traditions. Four Yorúbá Rituals and other books by John Mason. Exemplary literature in this category are Walking With the Night by Raul Canizares. an abundance of English language material began to be published about two of Cuba’s seven coherent sets of religious activities. but he. is much less copious and much less published in English. However. and Afro-Cuban Religious Experience by Eugenio Matibag are equally centered on Regla de Ocha/Lucumí (also known as Santería) as lived outside Cuba. we are introduction 7 . It is an excellent reference and part of our rationale for omitting the practices from our research. Cuba’s eastern region. This material concerns various practices of the Yoruba-based traditions of Regla de Ocha/Lucumí and Regla Ifá.Late in the 1970s. The Way of the Orisa by Philip John Neimark. too.14 Santería Enthroned’s first 162. At the same time. are replete with historical and field research data gathered in Cuba about ritual beginnings that became the Santería of Brown’s North American study.13 In this fashion. In some small way. Brown’s more recent publication. and literature focused on their performance on the island. Santería: An African Religion in America and Working the Spirit: Ceremonies of the African Diaspora and other volumes by Joseph Murphy. Santería Enthroned. many of these works do not focus on customs in Cuba but on practices that are derived from island origins and performed in other geographic locations. Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba is based on research of four non-Yoruba traditions as a way to begin improving academic knowledge about other sacred practices that have Cuban origins. is concerned with contemporary practices outside of the island. Our research team’s consensus is that concentration on sacred spaces can provide a locus from which to comprehend significant ideas and meanings that are aligned with the four religions because the spaces contain material artifacts of religious meaning for the human beings that assembled them. Flash of the Spirit by Robert Farris Thompson. literature on other Cuban religions. and Santería by Migene González-Whippler. David H. All of these and more focus on Yoruba practices outside of Cuba and are descriptive considerations of ritual activities rather than findings from systematic field research on the island. Santeria from Africa to the New World by George Brandon. this book explores sacred spaces of the four religions as practiced in Oriente. contains wideranging research on the western Cuban origins of Ocha/Lucumí and Ífa traditions.

José Millet’s booklet. Vodú. “The symbology among Congo entities . Another reason for the absence is the western. The hope is to produce a baseline of data and exploratory analysis for sacred spaces of the religions that can become foundational understandings for future comparative research. There is so little published English literature about expressions of the religions we studied—Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. Bakongo-based practices. as they are carried out in Oriente. . even this work begs for theoretical considerations and we continue to await a comparison of Haitian and Cuban customs. However. José Millet and Alexis Alarcón of Casa del Caribe in Santiago de Cuba have produced an important volume on the island’s tradition. Published works on Cuban Espiritismo are almost exclusively limited to Spanish. but very little if any materials can be found on the Vodú of Cuba.”17 More published literature does exist on the Vodou of Haiti. which looks at the migration of the religion from Haiti to the Spanish island and then describes several key practices. For example. is in Spanish and tends not to give conceptual emphasis but to descriptively explore ritual details in generalized categories or particularized activities. even as we welcome existing contributions. This is partially because the strongest communities of Cuban Vodú arrived in eastern portions of the island and continue to remain most active in Oriente. and Muertéra Bembé de Sao—that a review of existing materials isn’t too time consuming.19 Nevertheless. Espiritismo. . for ex­­ample. Miguel Barnet is correct to assert that academic research has yet to begin to descriptively delve into particulars of Palo Monte/ Palo Mayombe or other religions derived from Cuba’s Kongo heritage. warrants more thorough study. and their relationship to other expressions from the cultural family. El Espiritismo: Variantes Cubanas.18 The absence extends to literature in Spanish as even island scholars have failed to give much attention to the tradition in their homeland.16 If nothing else. This means that a large void exists in published materials that consider theoretical significances of these Bantu.15 In this regard. as Barnet continues. Most published work on Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. Havana emphasis of much of Cuban scholarship. but so far we have not encountered literature that conceptually engages the nganga or Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe in their fullest historical and sociocultural presence in Oriente. is a 8 introduction .doing what Rómulo Lachatañeré suggested that Ortiz do: consider Oriente’s religious expressions on their own terms and within their own context. El vodú en Cuba. the nganga (cast iron caldron) in which essential sacred elements of the religion are kept is a frequent locus of such discussions.

Guantánamo. The full universal population consisted of all sacred spaces built by Oriente practitioners of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. the team employed qualitative datagathering techniques of naturalistic field research. and we wanted to help qualify the unknown regarding Oriente religious practices. Holguín. This book is an initial. A sample group of more than two hundred devotees was identified through “snowball” techniques with referrals coming from academics and practitioners. Several major research questions guided the investigation. as well as nonpractitioner elders who are familiar with the nation’s culture and religions. The intent has been to comprehend sacred spaces of the religions from the historical and epistemological foundations that undergird the knowledge practitioners use to construct the sites. so also is the fact that we found nothing in Spanish or English about Muertéra Bembé de Sao. members of the African Atlantic Research Team have been reading English and Spanish literature on Cuban religions as we conducted field research in Oriente.singular description that examines select varieties of that tradition and does so within Oriente expressions. large-scale effort designed to share coherent findings from collective research and to explore how Oriente sacred spaces can be embedded with historical legacy. What do Oriente sacred spaces contain? What are the meanings of this content within practitioners’ cosmic orientation? What historical and sociological forces helped shape knowledge that led to constructing the spaces? To answer these questions and others. We were interested in what the spaces could reveal about the fundamental historical and epistemological origins of the four religions of our investigation. Methods For more than ten years. all in Spanish.20 We have been unable to identify books published in English about Oriente Espiritismo and. and Muertéra Bembé de Sao. introduction 9 . El Cobre. Millet has also published journal-length articles on the tradition. and religious meanings. and Santiago de Cuba. Vodú. We conducted directed individual interviews and focus group conversations with practitioners in such rural and city locations as Las Tunas. The project belongs to a larger body of our academic research regarding African descendants in the Americas based at Michigan State University. Espiritismo. as well as practitioner particularities. Bayamo. if that is a regrettable void. cosmic orientation.

or surrounding area who knew of. For example the “metropolitan” area of Santiago de Cuba. and countryside locations with the understanding that even urban centers in Oriente are not the densely populated. and Bayamo. Sociologically. Our observation is that Oriente is an interconnected social web or network wherein practitioners have linked relationships that intersect across geographic locations and religious traditions. Many in Oriente. or had shared ritual practice with persons from another city or town. personally knew one Santiago leader of a Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe group. towns. Cubans repeatedly told us “the east is the region of hospitality and friendliness. There are no more than a dozen apartment or other buildings over twenty stories high in this or other eastern cities. our respondents were from cities. As previously mentioned. Las Tunas.” This proved to be true for most of our initial contacts with unfamiliar practitioners and communities of indigenous religions.No less than four research team members consistently lived within Oriente communities for no less than a full month each year for five to nine consecutive years.21 We were participant observers within more than ten specific ritual communities and conducted directed individual and group interviews with more than one hundred of the sample population. has just over a million inhabitants. With but one exception in Holguín. Guan­tánamo. received our research team with little hesitancy. the largest city in the region. individual adherents. though it took time for us to prove our sincerity.” 10 introduction . The intersection was demonstrated as we commonly found individuals in one town. knew personally. A high degree of personal familiarity characterizes this less than densely populated region and the relative size of cities and towns in the area appears to help create a sense of familiarity among inhabitants. cosmopolitan arenas of western Havana or other large cities of the Americas. for example. Throughout the island. It was equally normal that individual devotees were the godchildren of a mutual religious leader. some of these images are included in this book. as well as communities of worshippers. just as several leaders from different traditions knew the work of a female leader and knew her to be “a grand Espiritista (leader of an Espiritismo community). city. We also took color photographs of many spaces in order to provide visual data that would enable us to better comprehend the dynamic nature of sites once we were not in Oriente. such as Holguín.22 Obser­ vational data within worship communities overlapped with the interview protocol to cover the complete sample.

and/or research activities were based in employment or living arrangements where they also were obligated to participate in some sort of physical labor: mopping floors of common usage. and everyone was literate. There is free universal high school education for all Cubans as well as university and/or higher vocational education. and at least three practitioners with a PhD. medical. Even those involved in academic. Social scientists from the United States understand that the level of education. and so on. plus.The socioeconomic class status of our research group requires more intricate analysis than is the focus of this book. The greatest income disparities are between those who work in sectors that serve tourists and the general population that lives from income garnered within the country’s limited manufacturing and production sectors. he’s a writer too. separated enclaves. and did not regularly participate in such activities. tending and harvesting crops. There are only a few tourist resort areas in Oriente. For the most part. Only once. In Cuba. building and/or repairing community houses. did not gain status based on their position or its accompanying benefits. these indicators are harder to disaggregate and comprehend. the social lives and incomes of Oriente practitioners of indigenous religions are not directly affected by the introduction 11 . to the contrary. amount of income. The majority of our respondents had completed a high school education. if appropriate at all. the income source for most respondents was related to some type of physical labor. Guadalavaca near Holguín is a good example (see map 2). after two years. and their impact has yet to make major inroads in Oriente. and these are highly controlled.” Income disparities and/or variations have only recently begun to creep into the general Cuban population since the 1959 revolution. there were several initiates who had completed the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. The few respondents who were “directors” of city or regional agencies. several with masters’ degrees. providing neighborhood security. occupational position. with the exception of elders over sixty-five. As one respondent said to us. and there is a societal ethos that encourages citizens to complete each level. contrary to those who were actively engaged. dental. the president of the Union of Cuban Artists and Writers was elected and “knows what he’s doin’ better than anybody. Occupationally. Within one worship community. and other such social factors are indicators of individual class status. a practitioner and his performing group were no longer part of our research because they were transferred to provide entertainment at a tourist center.

and we were in contact with communities where this was the reality. most practitioners of Muertéra Bembé de Sao and Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe were dark 12 introduction . This signified Oriente as a region of what we learned to call “integrated religious plurality”. the centuries of institutional racism that perpetuated status by race have been dealt a death blow since the 1959 Revolution. education. We were impressed that although most leaders of religious communities drew part of their survival income from their religious work. and many simultaneously practiced more than one religious tradition. at least half of them also held other independent employment. secretaries. practitioners of multiple traditions. Vodú in Oriente also is rather gender balanced in membership and leadership. At the same time. artists. their positions of authority are known to community members and not readily visible to others who observe their religious practice. And though they lived in different geographic locations in Oriente. but only one worship community in our research population was led by a woman. and their daily lives are relatively removed from those activities. In our research population. plumbers. but the practice of indigenous religions was the connecting thrust for and among all. There appeared to be a balance in the overall number of women and men practitioners in any given community. disparity between women and men in any one local community was linked to the specific tradition. But it would be naive to propose that there are no racial differences in Oriente. Our research respondents had differing occupations. bartenders. and with little or no sense of conflict or contradiction. and lived in different locations. and income status. although there are roles for women in Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. Race is as complex a sociological issue in Cuba as is social class. In most varieties of Espiritismo. agricultural workers. There is no doubt that there are white and light-skinned Cubans just as there are darkskinned ones and that phenotype characteristics have been and are important indicators of some social class distinctions. they regularly interacted with other practitioners. and others. For example. often within the same household. on the other hand. agency directors. Membership in each of the worship communities included taxi drivers. We will address this issue later as we discuss the four traditions we focused on and as we summarize our findings.nation’s tourist economy. maintenance personnel. women are the largest number of practitioners and make up the majority of leaders. But we were impressed! An additional sociological observation is related to issues of gender and religious practice. carpenters.

We utilized a number of categories to provide boundaries for our observations and interviews. The three largest were • The history of populations who practiced a specific religious ritual tradition and. Similarly. over the years. In coding and analyzing information we gathered in the field.brown to black-skinned Cubans. our data collection was guided and supplemented with information from primary documentary materials as well as from secondary literature in Spanish and English. Beyond the patterns of participation in religious traditions. and every possible combination of Cuban phenotype. we did not observe that skin color differences and perceived linkages to African heritage derived benefits of social status. tradition of ritual practice. foreigners. and/or racial or skin difference. particularly those from the United States. • The presence or absence of Africa-based cosmic orientation within and among such practitioners. were well integrated with black. most practitioners of Vodú were mediumbrown and light-brown skinned. the most serious limitation was that we were not able to employ questionnaire procedures and could not acquire reliable demographic or statistical data from Cuban authorities. Amidst all of these social complexities. were light brown to white-skinned Cubans. This type of quantitative data gathering is not permitted beyond a select few Havana-based Cuban investigators. except Espiritismo Cruzado. We will try to address these sociological issues as we discuss specifics of the traditions. The subgroups were introduction 13 . but. brown. all respondents’ neighborhoods reflected the ravages of deferred maintenance and none could be classified as upper class. • The comparative relationship of practices that undergird spaces as well as of religious groupings of Oriente sacred spaces. and these were also used in coding the data. no matter geographic location. constructed sacred spaces within Oriente. we disaggregated these three main groups into subcategories that allowed data from different religions to be better understood and compared. and practitioners of Espiritismo. Neighborhoods where our Oriente respondents lived. Often the documentary findings helped refine research techniques and the design of our work. as a part of that tradition. white. are not given access to such processes or information.

when Sidney Mintz and Richard Price read their monograph to the American Anthropological Association and subsequently published The Birth of African American Culture: An Anthropological Per­ spective. even under the most formidable and horrific of circumstances. and where to sleep with safety. that human cultural lifestyles are in a perpetual process of building and rebuilding around experiences of cultural groups and developing these into their shared collective meanings concerning the universal cosmos. Genealogy of Thinking As early as the 1970s. • Any alignment of the spaces with religious tenets of practitioners who assembled the spaces as well as alignments with other religions’ practices. Symbols. • Distinctiveness of a shared relationship to the common Africa-based cosmic orientation. he was reminding us that US African Americans and other conquered peoples possess and develop religious traditions that. yet again. And when sociologist Ruth Simms Hamilton produced “Toward a Paradigm for African Diaspora Studies. 14 introduction . and assures the formation of such groups just as it guides group members’ interactions. and Images in the Interpretation of Religion.23 communities of researchers and scholars were reminded that human beings do not lose their entire repertoire of cultural information.24 In their fashions. all underlie the perceived larger and more immediate body of personal information that is actively used to make concrete decisions about survival—what food stuffs are edible. Likewise. how to avoid thirst. for fullest comprehension. how to stay warm or cool. for example. where they are positioned in the scheme of universal order. Rather. when Charles Long published Significations: Signs. This cosmic orientation defines where the species and human cultural groups are situated.” she was asserting a systematic approach to producing scientific studies of African descendants worldwide. Neither the fundamental orientation nor the guiding rules of life that evolve from it are at the surface or conscious level of human thought. The cosmic orientation. these investigators were reminding the academic world. Similarly. require alternative analytical perspectives. cosmic orientation advises the discernment of basic principles or rules about living and surviving amid the myriad of ever-changing phenomena in the world that humans occupy. • Particularities of a religion’s history and geography.

The last two. and Regla Arará.the phenomenological principles of life. The seven Cuban indigenous religions are the reglas congo. including their distinctiveness. Palmié’s works definitively probe salient parallel issues and serve as a small body of Eng­lish literature. if not stronger than. We understand indigenous religions to be those coherent sets of ritual behaviors that. For example. over ancestral history.26 We concur with these and other conceptual propositions put forth by these researchers and firmly hope that our book will contribute to this and other schools of thought. Only one of these traditions is not derived from the Africa-based knowledge of that era. studied Cuban religions in Cuba. We have used these ideas. However. Abakuá (a secret and exclusively male tradition) and Regla Arará. He did not include Oriente in his investigation. he contends that there is a single. too. Vodú. Regla de Ocha/ Lucumí. Cuban Religions There are at least seven sacred lifestyles or religions of Cuba that evolved indigenously from information absorbed within the island’s early colonial environment.25 Palmié continued this line of analytical thinking and proposed additional ideas that our Oriente data support. Espiritismo. consisting of different traditions that adhere to Kongo-derived rules of practice. and he. have developed in a land space and in conjunction with the orientation and practices of cultural groups who originally inhabited the land. are mostly practiced in western Cuba and neither appears to have introduction 15 . to help place data from our Oriente research into a conceptual family. He recognizes that there are several coherent sets of religious rituals but that these and all other such practices are comparably aligned. and the behavioral approaches to survival combine to comprise foundational knowledge components of what it means to be human. overarching sacred perspective/orientation with differential behavioral customs that were built in Cuba from different African ethnic origins and using contributions from different cultural participants. For example. sanguine relations. nor was he attentive to sacred spaces. coupled with those of the above authors. Abakuá/Ñáñigo. an early publication examined the “ethnogensis” of Africa-based religions and correctly proposed that commitment to an initiated religious family can and has functioned as strongly as. Stephan Palmié’s work belongs to this conceptual arena. Regla Ifá. within/under the arch of Cuban sacred orientation.

Several fundamental activities of Regla de Ocha/Lucumí were practiced in Oriente during earlier centuries but the coherent set of religious customs did not arrive in the area until the twentieth century. In one form or another. as it appears to contain rituals that can be connected to colonial experiences that were foundational behaviors for most such traditions. Vodú. Espiritismo. Part I. 16 introduction . and we found that it continues in contemporary Oriente. The book is divided into three parts.27 We chose not to include either of these Yoruba-based practices in our investigation. serves to delineate the historical and conceptual context through which we view and comprehend Oriente religious practices. Muertéra Bembé de Sao is rarely included in public conversations and we have seen no literature on the behaviors associated with it as a coherent set of ritual activities. and Muertéra Bembé de Sao. Of these seven well-known indigenous religions. Muertéra Bembé de Sao. rituals of this tradition are expressly popular in Oriente and we were able to include a community of practitioners within our research sample. Oriente. also is a religion indigenous to Cuba and is widely practiced in Oriente. Espirit­ismo. composed of appropriate maps and chapters 1 through 3. may come to be considered an eighth indigenous Cuban religion. composed of chapters 4 through 6.migrated as organized ritual practices to. or evolved in. but it is the only such tradition not fully Africa-based in its origins. Regla Ifá is a religious system of communicating with the otherworld of divine spirits and has recently blossomed in eastern Cuba. Part III closes the book with chapters 7 and 8 wherein we descriptively discuss Muertéra Bembé de Sao and some images from the tradition as a research anomaly and then conclude our presentation. The Book Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba presents data from our research and thinking about sacred spaces from four of the eight Cuban religions actively practiced in Oriente: Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. thus we did not include either of these in our research population. An additional set of ritual practices. the reglas congo and Espiritismo are each subdivided into several practice lines with­­in their tradition. included in the research. Part II. presents the descriptive data on three of the four religions we investigated.

and chapter 6 discusses Espiritismo. In chapter 2 we are concerned with the cosmic orientation that enslaved Africans and their progeny employed to help create ritual behaviors that evolved to be the spiritual ethos of the region. power. Similarly. revelation. In chapter 8 we offer the beginning of an integrated analysis of our explorations into the introduction 17 . but the spaces and rituals. As such.Chapter 1 attempts to unravel relevant background and historical circumstances that brought Africans to Cuba. We believe this is a fully coherent set of ritual practices that is indigenous to Cuba and Oriente. “What do spaces do?” is the focal point as we introduce readers to Oriente specifics within the generalized discussion. but we reference Cuba as the overall context in which the eastern area is located. we are presenting information and data findings about three researched traditions and sacred spaces built by their practitioners. We focus on early colonial periods because this was when a variety of African groups were imported to the region and interacted with Indians and various Europeans. ritual practices in the eastern region. This section begins with chapter 4. and so on—all significant arenas that define human activity and religiosity. Part III begins with chapter 7 and entertains the religious tradition of Muertéra Bembé de Sao. We use existing historical findings to clarify and speculate about the early colonial context in which continental descendants built ritual behaviors and social arrangements that formed the core of what is considered religious perspective and activity in Oriente. but with great caution. were revealed so late in our research process that we agonized about including them here. Chapter 3 closes Part I of the book. In Part II. chapter 5 considers Vodú. Oriente is the center of our attention. In chapter 3 we turn our attention to the function of sacred spaces. which engages Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. possession. We examine that spiritual ethos or cosmic orientation as an alternative temporal modality (model of time) for being human and explore its comprehension about time. we felt we could not omit it from discussion and have included it as an anomaly or research in progress. if not all. The selected features are important common components of the Africa-based cosmic orientation and. as well as the religion. are shared by the four religions of our investigation. to varying degrees. we know that those earliest colonial patterns of ritual practice have tended to set the foundation for what would become the indigenous religions of Cuba. space. We have done so because Muertéra Bembé de Sao behaviors appear to have extraordinary historical and cultural significance for other.

It is our hope that Sacred Spaces and Religious Traditions in Oriente Cuba will begin a larger scholarly conversation about the variety of indigenous religious practices that exist in Oriente and about the myriad of complexities they embody. It is our goal to help qualify the unknown and we anticipate that resulting conversations will inspire regional comparisons among Cuba’s indigenous religious traditions. we have tried to maintain consistency throughout and we do not believe our spelling choices will distract from understanding or the sense of meaning for important ideas. We specifically hope that there will be further investigations of what Oriente has contributed. readers will encounter terms that are spelled differently from what they may have seen in other literature. religiously and otherwise. We spell it consistent with usage by Casa del Caribe in Oriente just as.myriad issues and complexities of Oriente sacred spaces and indigenous religions of Cuba. for the most part. At the same time. There are a variety of spellings for many terms associated with the indigenous religions and we make no claim to know what is or is not absolutely accurate for each. we have chosen to use spellings that are common in Oriente despite the fact that some differ from generalized spelling and usage. 18 introduction . An example of generalized Cuban spelling that may not hold true elsewhere is Cuban Vodú. to definitions of what is considered Cuban. Throughout this text.

African Atlantic Research Team.Figure 1: These Oriente practitioner drummers are using their Kongolesetype drums during a Muertéra Bembé de Sao ceremony. . Photo by Shanti Ali Zaid.

Figure 2 (Above): The one sacred space of an indigenous religion that we
observed with a visible, outdoor sign. Photo by Sonya Maria Johnson, African
Atlantic Research Team.
Figure 3 (Opposite top): Local legend says this is a nineteenth-century nganga
used by Guillermón Moncada, an Oriente native and hero of Cuba’s first and
second wars for independence. Photo by Shanti Ali Zaid, African Atlantic
Research Team.

Figure 4 (Opposite bottom): Located in Bayamo, the first city freed by the 1868
insurgent Cuban army, contemporary practitioners in the city constructed this
space that includes images of national heroes. Behind the granddaughter of an
officer of the Liberation Army is a photo of her father and his wife; a Cuban
flag is above it and a larger flag is to the right; another photo to the left of the
couple’s portrait pairs in one image Antonio Maceo Grajales, the Afro-Cuban
general of two national wars, and Jose Martí, another significant revolutionary
leader. Photo by Ricardo Merlin, Casa del Caribe.

Figure 5: One of several sidewalk ceramic tiles in the La Rampa area of the
Vedado neighborhood of Havana. It is one of many by the internationally
famous Cuban artist Wilfredo Lam. This representation clearly was inspired
by the Kongo-based scripting that is still part of Oriente’s Palo Monte/Palo
Mayombe. Photo by Alexandra P. Gelbard, African Atlantic Research Team.

Figure 6: A replication of a cosmogram scripted in a Palo Monte/Palo
Mayombe “casa de religion” of Oriente (although this appears as black writing
on white, original scripting is in white chalk on a cement background).
Replication drawing by Shanti Ali Zaid and Jualynne E. Dodson, African
Atlantic Research Team.

Casa del Caribe. in a typical salute to his nganga. . practitioner of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe.Figure 7: A palero. Photo by Ricardo Merlin.

and one center on the floor to the left of the stuffed object.Figure 8: Nganga space with four visible ngangas—one left with a lion’s head. African Atlantic Research Team. . one partially visible on the right. Photo by Shanti Ali Zaid. one center behind the white stuffed object.

sitting to the left. but during certain rituals the headband is placed on the head of a spirit-possessed person. is also linked with autochthonous inhabitants. . The red headband made of feathers. African Atlantic Research Team.Figure 9: It is normal for there to be an image of a Native American Indian in the sacred space of a Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe practitioner. Photo by Jualynne E. Dodson.

African Atlantic Research Team. . The two red drums are typical for Cuban Vodú and Tumbas Francesas. Photo by Jualynne E. The proper sound is produced by warming the animal skin top of the drums and twisting the wooden pegs to tighten the skin. The three men are blood relatives.Figure 10: Tabletop portion of a Vodú sacred space in Las Tunas. and the older man in the hat is a leading elder in the religious family. Dodson.

The insignia at upper center is a typical Vodú presentation of the Haitian national emblem. Ceramic figurines (center on three different tiers) are of Loa warrior spirits whose identities are venerated. . The framed picture (right) is of the Haitian republic’s national symbol. Photo by Ricardo Merlin. African Atlantic Research Team. Figure 12 (Opposite top): A hunfo built for an annual Festival del Caribe. Photo by Shanti Ali Zaid. Photo by Shanti Ali Zaid. the lower insignia represents the Cuban emblem. Figure 13 (Opposite bottom): A vevé image ritualistically produced on the entrance floor of Teatro Heredia before the beginning of Festival del Caribe. Casa del Caribe. African Atlantic Research Team.Figure 11 (Above): Four ritual drums of the Dahomeian Vodú style in a sacred space of a Haitian neighborhood of Santiago de Cuba.


Note the white and gold plate with an image of Jesus Christ. most likely representing an Arab. Just to the right is a star and crescent moon from the Islamic tradition. Rafael’s space is filled with objects inherited from his spiritual and biological family. Then there is the familiar Shango/Santa Bárbara. For some time he traveled by way of an extensive network of Espiritismo communities and practitioners. In front of that are a white porcelain cup and saucer as well as a white elephant with its backside facing the viewer. .Figure 14: Part of Rafael Melendez’s sacred space. with the golden cloth draped from a white sopera (soup tureen). Uninformed observers might assume disorder. Casa del Caribe. making it a composed composition. Melendez is an actor and director of a children’s theatrical company. are symbolic objects from what appear to be contrasting traditions. dressed in her appropriate red and white. On the upper shelf. to the right of Rafael. He is wearing collares— necklaces of Cuba’s most revered oricha–spirit forces. under the sopera dressed in gold cloth. just above Rafael’s head. is a porcelain figurine with a turban head wrap. Below these. the contrasting and interwoven components of the space are a beautiful collage of spiritual reality. Photo by Ricardo Merlin. but the entire room has been converted. When viewed within the transculturated context of Oriente creation.

and death. a town a few miles outside of Santiago. Photo by Ricardo Merlin. pain. The walls and ceiling of the living room and dining area have been covered with murals. an artist practitioner.Figure 15: The Africa-derived divine spirit of Babalú Ayé is linked with resistance to physical disease. . Josh Seoane. Here the spirit/ saint is in the sacred space of Juan Gonzalez in El Cobre. This papier-mâché construction of the spirit. Casa del Caribe. depicted as the Catholic San Lazaro. was commissioned (but not paid) to paint the murals. is the saint aspect of the spirit force. Mural images were revealed during dreams and when spirits came to Juan’s body. including his symbolic crutches and dogs.

and chant as part of their work. move in a circle. Dodson. The leader of this worship house claims there are no Africa-based or Christian elements. African Atlantic Research Team.Figure 16: An Espiritismo Cordon ritual. Photo by Jualynne E. but representations on the wall suggest otherwise. . Practitioners raise hands.

. Photo by Shanti Ali Zaid. African Atlantic Research Team. It is the very large center object that sits in front of the person in blue.Figure 17: A cazuela of a Muertéra Bembé de Sao community in Santiago de Cuba. The cazuela is filled with a variety of powerful sacred objects.

Photo by Shanti Ali Zaid. African Atlantic Research Team. objects on the tiers contain much more food than we saw in other Espiritismo geographies of sacrality. . Although the tiers resemble some Espiritismo spaces.Figure 18: A tiered component of the Muertéra Bembé de Sao sacred space we visited.

Part I  .

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these early enslaved people carried knowledge from their homelands and. Where in Cuba did Africans arrive? When. Africa-based groups within European colonial structures? Answers to such questions are important because. We should be interested in how practitioners’ sacred activities. therefore. is to review geographic as well as sociohistoric particulars that were significant to the earliest Africans brought to Oriente during the first years of the more than four hundred years of Spanish colonialism. The purpose of this chapter. as human beings. Mary Turner argues that the earliest linguistic  21 . why. and what was their demographic impact? What were the significant geographic features of Oriente that helped regularize early Africans’ ritual practices so they could be passed on to newer members and generations? And were there shared cultural characteristics that allowed early Africans to transcend ethnic and language differences to become self-intentional.1 Contours and Concepts To be gi n to c om preh end and ana ly z e s ac re d spac e s constructed by religious practitioners in Oriente it is essential to appreciate the geographic as well as the sociohistoric and religious contours that set in motion the ideas and realities from which today’s sacred locations are built. affected the structuring of their world(s). including spaces. given conducive social circumstances. laid the ritual foundations for contemporary religious practices.

for the most part. and fishing. Haiti. attention will be given to the implications of these activities for colonial social structures. They made their livelihood through gathering roots and fruits. The Ciboney2 are among the Indian people known to have inhabited Cuba long before Europeans arrived. Oriente region. and events—produced ritual foundations that set the stage for contemporary religious practices. the Florida Keys.500 miles of coast.practices set the direction of colonial peoples in the Caribbean1 and our intent here is to think through how early particulars of Oriente—people. and/or miscegenation. assimilation. the Yucatan peninsula. places. description. Varieties of Arawak migrated from northern areas of South America to the Greater Antilles. The Taíno who encountered Europeans lived in villages with up to two thousand inhabitants. By the time Africans were authorized for importation as replacement labor. Cuba is 750 miles in length. they did not settle beyond Cuba’s eastern region. Cuba has three distinct mountain ranges. about 22 miles at its narrowest point in the west. It is the westernmost of the Antillean archipelagos and is strategically located at access points to the Atlantic Ocean. with the highest of these—the Sierra Maestra—located in the eastern.4 Spanish immigrants began to establish social roots in the Caribbean as early as 1492 when Christopher Columbus founded the settlement of La Navidad on part of the island of Hispaniola that we know today as the 22 Chapter 1 . bays. but it was the “sub-Taíno” and Taíno of Arawak origins who remained to encounter the Spanish late in the fifteenth century. and 124 miles at its widest point in the east. This chapter also will identify and clarify important concepts that are integrated into the identification. and possibly parts of Florida. much but not all of this Amerindian population had disappeared through death. In the process. the Caribbean Sea. and inlets on the approximately 2. There are more than two hundred harbors. and Jamaica (see map 1).3 Almost immediately. agriculture. physical abuse. the Gulf of Mexico. the Bahamas. Geographic and Historic Contours Cuba is the largest among those Caribbean land spaces referred to as the Greater Antilles—the larger islands. and analysis of Oriente sacred spaces to be discussed in subsequent chapters. the Spanish began to have sexual contact with Indian women and used members of the population not eliminated in military encounters as slave labor. but.

Santiago became the commercial and political center of Spanish concerns for the period and later was designated the colony’s capital city.”7 and the first formally recognized enslaved Africans were brought from Spain to the Caribbean in 1502. granted permission to the colonial governor to import “negro slaves or other slaves born in the power of Christians. Bayamo (1513). Renewed interest in expanding the Spanish presence in Cuba arose due to several factors. When he returned in 1493 and 1494. Hispaniola was deemed less desirable because of in­­ creased competition for shrinking resources. These circumstances produced a concerted interest in establishing communities on the larger island. Ferdinand and Isabella. Dominican Republic. authorities in Europe had already begun organizing to administer their colonies in all of the Carib­ bean and by 1508 Spanish immigrants seeking to make their fortune in the New World began viewing Cuba as a new opportunity. Map by Shanti Ali Zaid. African Atlantic Research Team. and Santiago de Cuba (1515). Havana (1514). Seven settlements resulted: Baracoa (1512).5 In 1501. Holguín.Map 2: The five current provinces of Las Tunas. Santiago de Cuba. and Guantánamo that comprised the older province of Oriente. and there were recurring rumors of gold in Cuba. However. he explored much of the northern and southern coastlines of Cuba even though there were no Spanish settlements there yet. Gramma. Sancti Spíritus (1514). there was a significant decline in the Indian population there to be used as labor. This initial entry of Africans was suspended then reopened in 1505 after it was clear contours and concepts 23 . Puerto Príncipe (1514). Trinidad (1514). the dual Kings6 of Spain.

8 The Spanish slave trade was solidified by 1512. but.11 In a small community outside of Santiago de Cuba. Spanish immigrants began experimenting with cultivating sugar cane on Hispaniola as early as 1506 and. They also successfully raised livestock for hides that were exported in sufficient quantities for several Oriente colonists to amass considerable wealth. Mining would continue to have a foothold in the region even though the Spanish crown confiscated the Prado mine in 1670. Africans were the labor force substituted for the Amerindian population.12 For these early evolving economic endeavors. with the earliest entering Cuba at eastern Oriente ports.that Spanish colonists depended on enslaved labor for economic development and prosperity. In so doing. The first African laborers were purchased from sixteenth-century Portuguese and other European transAtlantic traders. reviewed pre-eighteenth-century historical 24 Chapter 1 . maize.10 But at that time. plantains. that island had its first sugar mill. it took major advancements in lucrative agricultural and other enterprises before the demographics of Cuba’s African population would become significant. Santiago del Prado (currently known as El Cobre). when clergy petitioned authorities of the Roman Catholic Church to stop the inhumane treatment of Amerindians by colonists and to allow the colonies to substitute the labor of captive Africans. and ground provisions. Specifically. sugar had not yet taken hold as a productive enterprise in Cuba.9 The structural impact was felt immediately as Africans released settlers from toilsome activities and became the source of economic development. the number of enslaved Africans was small compared to later centuries. it was the advent of the profitable cultivation of sugar cane that caused great numbers of Africans to be imported to the Caribbean in general. Aimes uncovered and reported that the King of Spain issued a 1517 contract stipulating that white emigrants to Cuba could each take “about a dozen negroes. like the number of Spanish settlers. sixteenth-century colonists also found copper mining more lucrative than sugar cane cultivation. Sugar exportation began in earnest about 1521 and by 1527 Hispaniola had nineteen mills that were expanded to thirty-five by the close of the century.”13 Another historian. by 1516. Nevertheless Africans and their descendants were a significant part of Oriente’s social order as Cuba began to develop into a fully viable colonial enterprise. Historian Hubert H. Rafael Duharte Jiménez. Africans were seen as a necessary feature and became a demographic reality. However. S. Colonists there were still experimenting with ginger.

the presence of African descendants in Oriente was a visible and demographic reality.records and found that in 1522 Oriente received three hundred bozales (enslaved persons born in Africa).19 contours and concepts 25 . the slaves who worked on the few sugar plantations. their overseers.14 In 1599.” as described and reported by Hugh Thomas: Even the overall density of population was only about three to the square mile . bordering on abandonment. and other such renegades. This is a conservative estimate given that at least seven hundred descendants lived legally in the region during this earliest period. Histories also indicate that Africans who were imported during the earliest colonial period came mostly through Portuguese traders involved in the cross-Atlantic slave traffic.and sixteenth-century Kongo region of West Central Africa (see map 3). pirates. which added to the African-descendant population in the region. “the ad­ministrator Francisco Sanchez de Moya began copper mine prospecting with 200 enslaved Africans. This means that those who arrived in Oriente were largely from the fifteenth. entered the island at southeast harbors near Manzanillo and infiltrated Oriente ports with their illegal cargos of enslaved Africans. The fact is important because. Domingue (now Haiti. clandestine European ships. members of ethnic groups from this kingdom inaugurated the region’s cosmic orientation and ritual foundations.15 For some time clandestine activities were so developed that the east was notorious for a separate economy based on trade with smugglers.18 As sparsely populated as the colony was. the entire island remained sparsely populated and was described as “in a wretched condition. unlawful importation of additional Africans. plus the legal introduction of enslaved captives brought the total number of Africans in Oriente to more than one thousand. . migrations of runaways. tobacco farmers with their servants and families. as the first descendants to the island.” In addition. By 1600. particularly English vessels. . They would help create part of the region’s cultural core that would be transmitted through centuries and come to characterize Oriente’s distinctive spiritual approach. see map 5) to Oriente. Those who did live in the country were escaped slaves.17 At the same time.16 Africans who ran away to escape enslavement also traveled from Jamaica and St. primitive Indians.

Ashanti. 26 Chapter 1 . and Dahomey empires. Map by Shanti Ali Zaid. Note the words “kibombo” and “bembé” that are also active components of the Oriente communication lexicon. Mandinga. and note the city of Benin as well as the Kongo. Oyo.Map 3: The west and west central portions of Africa designating ex­­portation points for captive Africans. African Atlantic Research Team.

57 (41. The mining. Antón Recio had built the first sugar farm in Oriente’s Guantánamo valley and named it “Guaicanamar. By 1613.8 percent) were identified as the same origin. Even the Mandingo was not a contours and concepts 27 . the common collectivizing denominator of the Africans. it was chiefly Bantu-speakers from ethnic communities of this Kongo Kingdom that flowed into Oriente during the sixteenth century. and the Democratic Republic of Congo.The Bakongo By 1522. positioned Oriente as an early commercial trading center of the Caribbean.24 Of course there were other African ethnic members who were early colonial laborers in Oriente. Rather. Of the 138 adult male slaves found in the settlement by 1608. but the Carabalí were not truly of an African ethnic family grouping. Congo. 10 out of 48 female slaves (20. she remarked that Most of the first West African slaves in the settlement came from the region of Angola. as it was used in the production of cannons and military forts throughout Spanish America. literally and figuratively. for example.”23 Africans of the Kongo Kingdom were laborers in Oriente’s beginning experiments in sugar cultivation just as they had been the labor force for the copper mines. now known as Gabon.21 When María Elena Díaz wrote about the relationship between the Spanish crown and Africans of El Cobre during this period. the label was given to persons from a diversity of West African societies sent to the Western Hemisphere on trans-Atlantic ships from a common port of departure. Angola. The presence of Carabalí and Mandingo has been recorded. many arrivals who shared those experiences were called Carabalí and the label was reified into a cohesive New World ethnic identity. and exportation of copper. In Cuba. processing. was that they all left from the port city of Calabar.22 Copper mining in Oriente was deemed less profitable than gold mining but Europeans did engage in copper mining. and among the whole adult female population. when numbers of bonded Africans were imported to Oriente as substitute labor for the diminishing Amerindian populations. they were from ethnic groups associated with the southwest central expanses of their continent. In the minds of Europeans.20 Although the Portuguese brought their human cargo to other parts of the Americas. as conducted by African laborers.3 percent) were explicitly labeled as “Angola” or “Engols”.

By about the midpoint of the seventeenth century. The division between the two regions began as early as 1553. political. demographic.27 Subsequent to the transfer of colonial government to the west. commercial. Until the middle of the eighteenth century. As the sixteenth century drew to a close. in 1607. Sig­ nificant social events occurred in the west. the demographic shift of the African population continued as many ships arriving with new captive labor disembarked in Havana. Cuba was well on its way to becoming “the gem of the Antilles” for its central role in trade and commerce within the Americas and between Europe and American developments. Significant to our work is that much of the Bakongo linguistic system continues to be a language of religious ritual in contemporary Oriente. political. while isolated from the western center of colonial activity.fully ordered African ethnic group in Cuba because their early numerical concentration was small. By 1608. The absence of effective transportation and communication systems to span the geographic distances of Oriente’s rough mountainous terrain exacerbated the separation. and larger army garrisons were also situated in the west. and other colonial responsibilities were moving west. Havana became the colonial capital of Cuba. A social. Santiago de Cuba was still the largest eastern settlement and remained capital of the colony. more than half of the twenty thousand island inhabitants lived in Havana and the colonial military. officials rarely made eastern visits. and. economic. commercial. and attitudinal separation of eastern and western Cuba continued to widen.26 Even as the Kongolese were becoming commonplace in the eastern region. when Span­ ish authorities transferred residence of the colonial governor from Santiago de Cuba to Havana. and shared an understanding about what it meant to be human and to exist in the universe. as were more government officials. That developing shift is critical to our focus on historic and geographic contours that assist the analyses of religious ritual growth in Oriente because the divide produced an eastern region that. particularly to cities outside of coastal areas. These were persons from a common set of languages and cultural perspectives. and the divide was more than mere geography. political. higher-ranking military officers were based there. was relatively self-referring in its development. Eastern regions of Oriente became the 28 Chapter 1 . and military divide was also developing between the island’s western and eastern regions.25 The Bakongo ethnic members of the Kongo Kingdom best represented a community of African descendants in Oriente’s formative colonial years.

29 This is not to suggest that no new Africans arrived in Oriente. as they. Manzanillo. and again in 1633. and the English privateer Henry Morgan plundered Puerto Príncipe in 1668. However. escaped their bondage and relocated in the numerous liberated zones—palenques de cimarrones—that were scattered in Oriente’s mountainous expanse (see map 4). just as they were the more culturally influential amid the ten thousand or so Africans and their descendants at the time.backwater of colonial activity and Cuban development. development. in small. the discontented continually sought and established alternative free-living zones from which contours and concepts 29 . reinforced Oriente’s social and political status as an isolated backwater. and even the leveling of entire settlements. As a result. The French attacked the cities of Santiago and Bayamo in 1603. Indeed. The English pillaged Santiago in 1662.and medium-sized village settlements. Bayamo. particularly the Kongolese. ransackings. and some Amerindians. as well as in more heavily populated townships like Guantánamo. but existed with their knowledge. too. And the rough terrain of the Sierra Maestra mountains compounded the situation. raids. Palenques de cimarrones were a strong manifestation of African influence in the colonial social structures of Oriente.30 All lived in rural areas of plantation life. through both authorized and clandestine pathways. but it would be in the eighteenth century that the number of continental African descendants in Oriente would accelerate. They were not authorized by Cuban or Spanish officials. Palenques were settlements of Africans. Those of the Kongo Kingdom were in the majority. combined with western authorities’ reluctance to provide military protection or to respond to needs of the region. who had escaped bondage as an expression of discontent with the inequity of their status in the colony. Carabalí. clandestine ships brought new captives. and Santiago de Cuba. the western repositioning enhanced Oriente as a center of clandestine and illicit trade. including opportunists’ raids and attacks on cities and settlements in the region. the Bakongo. while interior Oriente towns became targets for robberies. However.28 This was equally true for African descendants. and cultural affirmation. eastern inhabitants learned to rely on their own and local resources for survival. and Mandingo continued to be the three main ethnic groups imported to Oriente. between 1511 and 1790. It was from these large and small population centers that many enslaved workers. were isolated from influences of western Cuba’s newly imported bozales. These activities. in 1628. From approximately 1533 to at least 1871.

and is also conducive to the establishment of long-term communities. providing excellent individual hiding places. to create neo-African. across African ethnic groupings and with some few remaining Indians.31 Individual cimarrones banded together in settlements. Map adapted by Shanti Ali Zaid.32 The neo-African character of the settlements was determined by the numerical preponderance of African descendants and. Palenques were also sites where African and Indian descendants waged military-like battles and campaigns against colonial forces hired to return them to a bonded state.Map 4: Nineteenth-century map of palenque sites in Oriente. within that. The map shows documented paths of escaped African descendants and their migratory directions in the year 1841. and forests. those of the Kongo Kingdom were the most influential. El Portillo was such a palenque and colonial authorities had known of it for at least twenty years. These resistance activities were enabled by the Sierra Maestra terrain. In 1747 they raided the 30 Chapter 1 . microsocieties. as was the Kongo background of the settlements’ inhabitants. African Atlantic Research Team. We have inserted some known palenque and rancheadores’ (hired slave catchers) sites. One example that affirms this contention occurred in 1747 when Oriente palenques were well established. mountains. which abounds with hills. ethnic members of Africa’s west central regions. they advocated self-interest.

34 Despite internal activities and development.compound and captured eleven people. the eastern region remained an isolated territory of seventeenth. changing horses. The last (adult) was a Crillo [sic] of Jamaica. two were Carabalí. as Cuba grew economically. the general status of Oriente did not keep pace with gains experienced by western regions of the island.and eighteenth-century growth. Map 5: Map showing the close geographic relationship between Oriente and Haiti and Jamaica. and politically. As Hugh Thomas describes the state of affairs for transportation. commercially. Communication was mostly by sea. “There were no good roads in Cuba.”35 True. and the transportation problem only made the division worse. In the nineteenth century. This journey took the postman fourteen days. contours and concepts 31 .” A baby who had been born in the palenque was also captured. though a postal service went once a month from Havana to Santiago. Together they identify the numerical and cultural majority presence of Kongolese in colonial Oriente. Records of the captives’ inquisition reported that six were of “Congo ethnic heritage. Map by Shanti Ali Zaid. African Atlantic Research Team. one was Mandinga [sic] and one was Mina.33 This experience strengthens María Elena Díaz’s report on descendants in El Cobre and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s discussions of African ethnic clusters in the Americas.

When the French Revolution in Europe spilled over to affect her colonies. and other Caribbean settlements (see map 5). The region’s French Haitian presence transferred needed expert production knowledge as numerous cafetales (small coffee farms) began to spring up under the direction of the new Oriente settlers. Palenques. Domingue.Santiago de Cuba continued to serve as an important focal city of trade and cultural exchange for Haiti. Ewé Fon/Adja Haitians Challenges to the numerical and cultural primacy of Kongo Kingdom. 32 Chapter 1 . Oriente’s remote location resulted in inhabitants increasingly turning inward. and. the Ewé Fon/Adja of Haiti and the Kongo descendants in Cuba shared many cosmic understandings. Many of these relocated in eastern Cuba during the last decades of the 1700s and brought their enslaved laborers with them. too. and they brought their cultural and religious particulars to Cuba at the close of the eighteenth and opening of the nineteenth centuries.36 Practices of the Bakongo were the strongest of these. the lives of St. eventually. African descendants on the island took up the cry for freedom and independence to begin their own revolution and with its success renamed their nation Haiti. and taking pride in their independent behaviors. The recent migrants successfully contributed to Oriente’s economic sectors through their expertise in coffee. Jamaica. strengthening their self-reliance and self-referencing. African ethnic groups in Oriente came from the close proximity of Cuba’s Caribbean neighbor under French colonial rule. Even before the 1804 success. St. as well as other understandings about the universe. but their mutual conceptions about the priority of spirits as a part of all life. including those of their religious activities. great numbers of colonial planters left the French colony to avoid upheavals associated with revolts. is significantly more important for our consideration. began to reflect the presence of African descendants from Haiti as these enslaved laborers also ran away from bondage. Domingue’s inhabitants were permanently altered. tropical fruit. but major decisions about Cuba rarely considered the needs of the island’s eastern residents beyond general discussion and debate. sugar cultivation. They also shared common social status as enslaved workers in a plantation economy. Whether in palenques of African ethnic mixtures or in other locations.37 Most of Haiti’s enslaved colonial descendants were of Ewé Fon/Adja African ethnic groups.

remained vigorous despite continuous efforts to deny. There is no doubt that during the four-hundred-plus years of Spanish colonial domination over Cuba’s plantation economy. Ironically. religious infiltration. At the same time.22 percent (n=354) . even if those articulations were not overtly visible to the public eye. For contours and concepts 33 .52 percent (n=3. . For the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.38 percent (n= 453) between 1800 and 1820 and then to 34. Oriente inhabitants have continued to live out indigenous religions that contain a copious number of behavioral remnants from colonial-era rituals.”38 Despite their numbers and subsequent cultural influence on Cuban religious life. the entire island was a neocolonial but constitutional republic under the direction of United States business investments.40 The absence of bona fide colonialism did not change the legal and extralegal restrictions imposed against African descendant practitioners and their indigenous religious rituals. strongest. When the Ewé Fon/Adja of Haiti arrived. governing social structures did not prevent early practitioners from demonstratively articulating their cosmic orientation through sacred lifestyles and spaces. between 1760 and 1769 to 8. much content of the ritual practices. However. or the adherence to spiritual understandings associated with their Africa-derived lifestyle.161) between 1850 and 1870. persecute. The numbers are startling: “the number of Lucumí/Yoruba rose from 8. Sacred work remained mostly clandestine. and/or impugn ideas related to an African identity. For the first fifty-nine years of the twentieth century as well. their practices were well aligned with these Kongolese-derived foundations. the system of African enslavement was the larger societal mechanism that influenced how and what these descendants produced. and general influences. This does not preclude some Yoruba-based ritual activities in Oriente. these individuals did not arrive in large numbers in Oriente and thus their presence there was not a dominant factor. and those adjusted from early colonial activities. it does reinforce that the first. particularly in the west.Most Cuba historians draw attention to the extraordinary number of Africans of Yoruba ethnicity imported to the island during the nineteenth century. and longest lasting reference for Oriente’s spiritual approaches was established by ethnic groups from Africa’s west central Kongo region—those who were in eastern Cuba from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries onward. for their masters and for themselves.39 The region’s geographic circumstances and sociopolitical separation provided conditions that allowed the initial Kongo-based spiritual core to be handed down to subsequent generations. .

”45 Major changes began to occur for religious devotees of all varieties after efforts by organizations such as the Council of Baptist Workers and Students 34 Chapter 1 . as one respondent explained. The new government disdained religious work as “primitive” behaviors.example.41 Many customs were developed or adjusted and remained intimate to the changing sociopolitical lives of Oriente inhabitants during the twentieth-century era of clandestine existence.42 Success of the 1959 Revolution brought an end to Cuba’s neocolonial status but did not immediately bring religious freedom that allowed public acknowledgment of indigenous traditions. animal sacrifices were deeply “underground” events. In cities outside the capital city of Havana. and public knowledge of any of these could produce a visit by police or other authorities with disruptive penalties assessed. similar provincial folkloric groups were organized and locally performed the same functions. but it found ways to incorporate some practitioners’ activities into the developing social transformation.44 Nevertheless. and publicly perform rhythms. practitioners maintained their customs and. “I just couldn’t pretend to be somebody I wasn’t even though I support the revolution and fought at Playa Gíron. and dances derived from religious heritages. songs.43 The revolutionary government conceptualized some indigenous traditional activities as part of “Cuban cultural and folk practices” and thereby offered a new veneer—consciously or unconsciously—to such customs. a national dance company was established to study. The father said. known practitioners were prohibited from participating in other work of the new government. demonstrate. such as university professor. names of religious leaders were kept secret. The Folklórico Nacional became the professional organization that carried out the cultural work and instructed students. as they had during the earlier enigmatic colonial periods.” All the same. self-identification as a practitioner was rarely acknowledged. For example. They could not hold certain categories of jobs and were barred from educational preparation for specific careers. was to experience systematic discrimination in Cuba’s political and economic sectors. “the cultural stuff doesn’t change the religion and we don’t talk to everybody about the religion. One family interviewed reported how the father and at least two sons were denied professional advancement because the elder would not deny his beliefs or even pretend not to be a religious practitioner. To be “religious” and known as a practitioner. notification of bembé drum parties to devotees or trusted colleagues was only by word of mouth. of any tradition.

and before moving forward with a description of the salient functions of sacred spaces. Bembé drum parties became easier to convene as police no longer raided but passed by to ensure that safety codes were maintained. practitioners of indigenous religions experienced their most socially inclusive encounters with authorities. to hear and participate in the sacred music. The island’s economy experienced a major downturn and ushered in the “Special Period” of economic hardship during a time of peace. and they anxiously lined up to purchase souvenirs that they thought were a part of these practices. However. This had not occurred since before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. the 1984 national “rectification” processes. The government took notice and began authorizing and certifying indigenous religious activities. Animal sacrifices could occur with only a required authorization. On a regional level. to talk with religious leaders. and followers of indigenous traditions were among them. Every­ one’s life was negatively affected and the government took drastic action on all fronts. even those held late into the night or in early morning were tolerated.47 All of these changes and more became part of early twenty-first century social reality for Oriente and its practitioners of indigenous traditions. to attend workshops that clarified the traditions’ history and distinctive activities. Religious leaders were increasingly included in state-sponsored educational and some diplomatic activities. Subsequent to these events a Protestant pastor was even elected to the Cuban National Assembly.of Cuba. including opening the country to visiting tourists. Tourists were willing to pay to see dances from indigenous practices. and the historic 1984 dialogue symposium between Cuban Marxists and US Christians. it was difficult to overcome the more than four centuries of public prejudice and bigotry that impacted the daily lives of these Cuban devotees. Even with changes in the revolutionary government’s attitudes. Among the things visitors most wanted to experience were those activities derived from and related to the island’s indigenous religious traditions. The government supported publications that discussed how indigenous traditions were in concert with ideas of the revolutionary government. Given these relations to social structures. full freedom to practice traditions indigenous to the island was not yet a full reality. the shared contours and concepts 35 .46 A series of social expansions allowed more participatory flexibility for all religious believers. It was during the closing decades of the twentieth century that the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost most of its economic trading partners. but only time will determine the consequences of these changes.

as it is through shared experiences and interactions in a cultural group that orientation and beliefs about the universe are formed. particularly those of the Caribbean. Human groups develop religion.cosmic orientation that undergirds the four religious traditions. Spiritual customs of settlers who brought their religious traditions to a foreign land but who do not unite those practices with those of the original inhabitants were not considered indigenous. and transculturation. nor respect the sacred customs of the island’s Indians. From such collective perspectives about life. we had defined an indigenous religion as one where the cosmic orientation and practices of a group of human beings were related spiritually and/or genealogically connected to original inhabitants of a land space. but they do allow our findings to be incorporated into existing systematic investigations of religion and Afri­ can descendants in the Americas.and sixteenth-century Spanish explorers and settlers who arrived in Oriente encountered autochthonous inhabitants and their spiritual practices. what behaviors must be enacted to carry out the relationship. Concepts Important to our investigation were conceptual considerations with which we approached the topic and the research site. and a basic description of each. what is their relationship to the universe. Religion As social scientists committed to interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary understandings of our findings. Four concepts are key—religion in general. Indigenous Religion Prior to encountering the origins and practices of Cuban religions in Ori­ ente. but the Europeans did not engage. Together. we view religion as systematic beliefs and practices exhibited by a group of people regarding issues of ultimate human existence. these concepts do not yet comprise a theoretical construct. it is important to briefly clarify important concepts that guided our research. The social nature of human group behavior is pivotal to our conceptualization. indigenous religion. The newcomers were settlers to the 36 Chapter 1 . intentionality. groups develop systematic practices and behaviors concerning what it means to exist. adopt. and so on. The fifteenth.

especially that of African descendants in Oriente. as well as the religious activities that resulted from them. They shared the inequities of enslaved status but. and communal rituals for interring the dead of both groups in the shared landscape. respecting the wisdom of these island-based who would not integrate themselves into existing cosmic orientation and would disassociate from the inherent values of ancestors interred on the island. humans are collective in their existence. indigenous to Cuba. contours and concepts 37 . belong in the larger universal scheme of human activity. not as settlers. the two groups shared overlapping appreciation for spirits and ancestors. to give priority to their goals and actions whether or not these were directly related to the constraints of their situation or to the techniques of those who oppressed. These commonalities eased contact and exchange that introduced into the collaborative existence new. Our understanding of intentionality is inextricably linked to the fact that. we defined intentionality as purposeful acts of a people. A pattern of ritual customs developed and evolved to characterize sacred ceremonies and spaces. but we also struggled to comprehend intentionality. The interaction produced acceptance. This idea is not focused on the individuality of intention but the shared values and understandings a people have produced for themselves that are concerned with where they. On the other hand. “indigenous. Resistance is an obvious conceptual category for understanding such behaviors. We will reconsider this concept later on in this volume. and particularly those of African descendants in the Americas. We call these shared sacred rituals. more importantly. We attempted to put the oppressed at the center of our investigation. and many other consequences. respect. as a species. Toward this end. Intentionality In discussing the lives and history of oppressed people.” that is. and an active reverence for both. Their contact and exchanges with Indians revealed a common ground wherein both groups were excluded from access to the dominant colonial power. that invoked their shared historical and cultural memory and were focused on their partial or full liberation. Africans arrived involuntarily as enslaved workers. individually and collectively. as a group. with emphasis on what we learned about it during our field research. our research team noted that such discussions inevitably revolve around the nature of oppression and/or how oppressors have or have not been successful in achieving their goals. transculturated behavioral forms.

We were geographically focused in the process. The process is what Fernando Ortiz labeled transculturation and what he contends occurred in Cuba’s long colonial era. In the end. as solid investigations should be. however. Power imbalance gives some groups a disadvantage but does not prevent them from inserting their cultural ideas and preferences into the new social arrangements. The new constructions become normative for the contact zone and can evolve into new identities. or attempt to elaborate a particular set of theoretical ideas above another. are mostly associated with imbalanced social and political power where multiple groups from different cultural backgrounds are struggling to establish their group’s social space in the whole. However. for example.Transculturation The concept of transculturation came into academic usage through the Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz as he began his investigations into descendants’ continued use of Africa-based cultural expressions.48 We employ the idea as an analytical tool for probing historical events and circumstances that encased the lives of African descendants in Oriente and led them to create sacred rituals that they conveyed to their progeny. There are other important terms and concepts that our Oriente research employed. and we gave consideration to investigative methods and relevant literature that engaged our issues and population. espouse. We do not propose. 38 Chapter 1 . we have only explored sacred spaces of Oriente and await others to correct and/or expand our thinking about them. These locations. new social and cultural behaviors. we gathered information from a specific population. in colonial situations a process of exchange and sharing occurs—most times through grappling and contesting—in those longterm arrangements and locations where there are or have been different cultural groups living in relative permanent proximity of each other and where there is an inequitable distribution of power and social resources. Nevertheless. and new societal structures. sharing. the Oriente research was rigorous and systematic. and exchanges constitute a process that produces new ideas. According to this concept. definitions and clarifications of these usually will be provided as they are introduced in the text. Our work is exploratory above all. struggles. called contact zones. The ensuing grappling. ethnogensis.

even in a new landscape. 1998 Thi s chap t er i s devot ed to exa min ing the sha re d cosmic orientation that permeates indigenous religions as we investigated them in Oriente and as that sensibility originally arrived with sixteenth. Much of this was remembered. These individuals brought conscious and unconscious appreciations about what it meant to be part of the universe.and seventeenth-century Africans who landed in Cuba’s eastern region. film by Bernardo Bertolucci.  39 .1 The captives also had behavioral experiences with their homeland orientation and certainly remembered. since most of the Africans were older than ten when they were captured. for example. as opposed to cognitive continental knowledge. they went about the business of adapting.2 African Cosmic Orientation Core Commonalties You Africans don’t know time You don’t even know who invented the clock —Besieged. a world into which they had been born.2 From this base of phenomenological knowledge. societal rules about how to interpret and evaluate natural phenomena. and constructing behaviors appropriate to the new Cuban environment. Africans were not empty vessels into which whole new definitions of what it meant to be human or to exist in the universe was poured. reconstructing.

colonial Africans produced a symbolic universe. We propose that with distinct comprehensions about these phenomena. and that some of these components continue in contemporary Oriente practices. we must begin the discussion of common cosmic orientation with the briefest review of conceptual understandings about the interactive nature of human knowledge production as the foundation of the social construction of reality. From what foods to eat to why they are alive. However. humans comprehend who they are in the world through their interactions. Like many behavioral creations. if not directed. As such. Human beings. possession. including Oriente inhabitants. and ritual. Religious practices are equally a social product of what human beings understand about themselves and the world in which they live. space. power. These comprehensions are generalized just as they are specific and the knowledge includes a multiplicity of ideas and behavioral characteristics. We also examine Africa-based understandings of such concepts as being.We examine noteworthy aspects of the overarching cosmic orientation and some shared phenomenological principles that colonial Africans used to create ritual behaviors in Oriente. such sacred practices also are embedded within humans’ understandings about what it means to exist and what is existence. we will proceed to explore salient components of the Africa-based orientation that Oriente practitioners employ in their interactive world. spirits. Human Interaction and Knowledge Knowledge that human beings acquire or possess is a direct product of the social nature of their species. by Africabased cosmic orientation. time. acquire their sense of self and eventual identity in interactive and reciprocal-behavioral groups 40 Chapter 2 . revelation. reality that includes organizational arrangements and institutions. as well as forms of reverence. With the clarification of these complex interrelationships as a reference. the emblematic body of perceptions and knowledge is central to sacred spaces they build. Knowledge about existence is built into religious practice and in Oriente sacred spaces reflect practitioners’ understandings of their religion with all of its inherent components. behaviors that were regularized and passed on as religious practices to new members and generations who shared their cultural and sociopolitical world. The symbolic world they constructed also continues to be influenced.

norms. and so on. Behaviors in organizations include the entire body of interactive relationships existing within the structural arrangements of a society. Social institutions are mandatory to ensure the survival of society. Organizations are formal and informal. specific clothing to wear for special occasions. The shared cosmic orientation of the african cosmic orientation 41 . and taken for granted by members of a common group or cultural community. many such patterns are classified and further linked into definitive group subtypes. such as hugging. talking. regularized patterns of interactive relationships where individuals from different local groups and sometime different cultural communities intersect. Typifications are passed on to new members and generations who also then share experiences in the cultural community. including distributing them in space and time. For the first five centuries of Cuba’s existence. Their shared experiences of discrimination.where they produce patterns of habitualized activities: particular greetings to others on a first encounter. They also lived within interactive and reciprocal exchanges with other continental descendants as well as with individuals from differing ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The African descendants developed.. and farms. they lived minimally within social organizational arrangements of small cities. oppression. plantations. Whether enslaved or free. they are categories of social roles. typifications mark the beginning of organizations that help form social institutions. they were not fully integrated into the colonial social order of shared resources. and enslavement became the body of knowledge around which they built religious practices. understandings about self and their world within these collectivities of Oriente exchanges. sleeping. and behavioral associations that are sufficiently widespread to affect all society members. social institutions are those relatively stable and organized roles. In cultural communities. The typified interactions are not personalized or individualized per se but are expectations of behaviors by individuals who have common relations in the group and in society. and continue to develop. ordinary. if not stereotypes. African descendants of Oriente lived within the institutional arrangements of a colonial slave economy. As such. These are typifications (i. categories) of interactive behavioral patterns commonly associated with groups of humans who share the characteristics. The habitualized patterns of social interaction become expected. eating. Group participants recognize and respond to many of the patterns as part of everyday life categories. Typifications develop to help organize the myriad of complexities and unpredictabilities in human life. well integrated.e. Similarly. and laughing. praying.

universal order. characters (e. the Bantu-speaking peoples of the Kongo Kingdom of modern Angola and Gabon. The Ewé Fon/Adja people of contemporary Benin. cosmic orientation is pivotal to the complete body of knowledge shared by human cultural communities and it is used interactively in members’ daily living experiences with time and space. like family. our field observations and understanding of the core components of cosmic orientation and principles or rules of natural phenomena led us to propose that Africa-based knowledge remains a part of the cosmic core that practitioners continue to use to adapt and create their symbolic world. individuals and collectives. Over mutual time and experiences. and transmitted to African descendants in the new world. the orientation is an appreciation of what it means to exist or “to be. Eventually. music. gestural. At the same time. For enslaved Africans in Oriente. cross-cultural contact and exchange had been a reality for most of their ethnic groups even before their trans-Atlantic passages and these were an important beginning for the body of knowledge shared. and vocabularies. languages. comprehended their world as part of a divinely created.cultural communities. was central to their creation of such customs. written.” just as it indicates basic rules about behavior with natural phenomena. created. Understandings about cosmic orientation are contained within symbolic representations produced by human communities in their dance. the peoples of Yorubaland (now known as Nigeria). and they understood human beings as part of that order but not the most important 42 Chapter 2 . the collective knowledge defines the group members’ world and becomes a significant part of their reality. Language and vocabulary may be oral. interactive migration and trade long before trans-Atlantic crossings as captives.4 These contacts and exchanges were partially facilitated by reciprocal relationships and/ or warfare. These symbolic representations contain appreciations about reality. and so on. Each African societal cluster.g. art. These are critical understandings for all humans and foretell their existence in Oriente practices of indigenous religions. religious affiliates. When expressed. and so on.. and the cosmic orientation is rooted deep within the shared linguistic system. with a variety of ethnic and subcultural groupings. Chinese symbols). and peoples of other areas in western and southwest central Africa had had mutual.3 Their orientation is also used to construct fundamental social relations. but the ease of African cross-ethnic cultural exchange was also due to the common cosmic orientation of the ethnic groups. educational relations.

is an important early reference that helps clarify assertions about cosmic orientation and other commonalities among African societal groups. These cultural communities were intimately aware that • Religion permeates all departments of life so fully that it is not always easy or possible to isolate. ceremonies.5 John Mbiti’s book. • There is no formal distinction between the sacred and the secular. a living creed. and each one [person] is . This was the enculturated or primary socialization foundation that captive Africans brought to colonial Oriente and other parts of the Americas. [so] is his religion because he is a religious being. instead. rites. Mbiti and other authors have expanded academic thinking about the shared body of foundational knowledge of those raised on the African continent. Enslaved persons transported to Oriente carried their homeland ideas to the Americas and we contend that such conceptions remained active in the regional environment throughout the colonial eras and beyond. In addition. many African societies had several overlapping and/or similar rituals. A contributing factor to the continuation was that Oriente received legal and clandestine shiploads of Africa-born captives throughout all of the colonial centuries. various African ethnic and societal groups developed interactive patterns and typifications for ritual practice. . • There are no creeds to be recited. between the spiritual and the material arenas of life.8 We observed contemporary material and nonmaterial objects within regional sacred spaces that practitioners reported were part of what had been handed down to them through history and adapted to contemporary circumstances.7 From the basics of their mutual cosmic understanding.6 Amid the various ethnic communities within West African societies. what we would call religious activity. . particularly those from West Africa. Where the individual is. Since its publication in 1969. The rhythm that maintains the order is not under the control of human beings and does not necessarily respond to human desires. between the religious and non-religious. any equivalent of creeds are written in the heart . african cosmic orientation 43 . African Religions and Philosophy. . most had a mutual understanding about what Western Europeans and North Americans might comprehend as religion. .part. and other behaviors of life that evolved from that shared orientation.

envisioned. they used words that coincided with spiritual understandings of the man and his actions even as he is the political leader of the island. many responded that they lived “an African life” or “an African way” rather than speak about “religion. Changes or adaptations to twentieth. This concerns the existence of a creed or regularly articulated statement of beliefs. communities of practitioners recited the same sets of statements to express religious beliefs or basic understandings about the cosmos. The creed-like litanies were recited during ceremonies of Oriente’s Regla de Ocha/Lucumí and Espiritismo traditions. but respondents also spoke of him as a participant in indigenous religious reality—actual. Therefore. we began to analyze information from their viewpoint of an integrated. An example of the interconnection between cosmic orientation and language can be seen in how practitioners spoke of the president of Cuba. When coding individual and focus-group interviews. to distinguish between spiritual and material arenas of life. African way of life.The understanding of reality articulated by contemporary practitioners confirms Mbiti’s findings on Africa-based ideas about religion. For example. Fidel Ruiz Castro was regularly referred to as president of their country. They were so persistent in linguistically connecting what we separated into two categories of life—the sacred and the secular—that we became convinced we could not faithfully portray their symbolic world if we maintained our categorized perspective. This was a surprise because up to that point we had known the Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe spiritual practice to be particularly without a creed. at least in one area of Africa-based religious practice. practitioners consistently converted our language of separate categories into words that blurred linguistic difference. when our research team first asked what religion an individual practiced. but we also heard such a litany in one community of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe adherents. Again. Initially we also tried to delineate between sacred or religious activities and those we presumed to be secular. This is consistent with Mbiti’s discussions about African conceptualizations of religion. In this fashion.” Their statements and body language conveyed a dislike for the use of religious language and a preference for the Africa-related descriptors. a valued exercise 44 Chapter 2 . or if the creed was merely rote. We observed that. during some rituals. or symbolic.and twenty-first-century life do seem to be occurring in Oriente. we could not clarify if practitioners felt the content of the recitation was integral to sacred comprehensions. This is yet another way in which indigenous religions impact life in Oriente.

as well as an exemplary discussion about Oriente practitioners’ alignment with those ideas.learned from ancestors.” and fragmented behavioral details about how life was suppose to be enacted. and the consecration of new babies. The two anthropologists contend that these principles concerning natural phenomena. and natural environments were different across the Atlantic. coupled with remembered behavioral fragments. recitations do not appear to have compromised practitioners’ visions of themselves as beings that “carry their religious creed within their hearts. political. the work of anthropologists Sidney Mintz and Richard Price also appears to be grounded in an interactionist posture regarding the arrival of enslaved Africans in the Americas. We now shift to explore salient components of the shared cosmic orientation that helped colonial Africans develop principles about phenomena in their new social and natural surroundings. Africa-based cosmic orientation and phenomenological principles. captive Africans were led by their imported.” This introductory presentation of Africa-based ideas concerning the nature of religion. guided enslaved Africans toward adaptations and/or facsimile re-creations of Africa-based activities in their new environments. However. These investigators propose that Africans who survived the trans-Atlantic Middle Passage carried with them their homeland-based cosmic orientation. african cosmic orientation 45 . and where they are is where their religion is. the flash of lightning. not necessarily reflective of ideas incorporated into ritual meanings of their lives. burial of the dead. the rise of the sun. All of this is inherently integrated into the social nature of human knowledge we presented earlier and equally embedded within Africa-based cosmic orientation as it has been reformulated in the Oriente environment of Cuba. There is a clear need for further research on this aspect of indigenous religions in Oriente. the crash of thunder. “phenomenological principles. principles that directed behavior about such things as the phases of the moon. Cosmic Orientation In concert with the above interactionist approach to human activities and their foundations to societal organizational formations. even when these phenomena occurred far from their homelands. is a backdrop to our descriptions of the four religions and their sacred spaces.9 We concur with Mintz and Price and further assert that although social.

including humans. created by the ultimate supernatural Creator. The distinction is between a universal order that goes beyond human knowledge and the world that is part of human historical awareness. In addition.12 African cosmic orientation appreciates that nonmaterial spirits exist and often share the universe as well as the historical world with humans. In both instances. new things. ethereal beings.10 In addition to knowing that humans are part of. and new social ideas.Their understandings were a baseline body of unspoken and subconscious knowledge that did not disappear just because life for the captives was in­­ terrupted by horrific displacement and laborious lives. water. the world of humans includes other life forms—fish. new lands. located within. and that humans did not control the organization. and spirits of people no longer living in a physical body—the dead. or world. There also is a category of supernatural or divine spirits who are part of the universe 46 Chapter 2 .11 Over time and in response to European contact on their homeland continent. air. sociopolitical condition of enslavement. colonial Africans adjusted their phenomenological responses to be survival behaviors appropriate for interaction with new humans. had fundamental organization and rhythm. They knew one ultimate supernatural or Supreme Creator of all things and understood that the essence of life was contained in all things created by that being. The Indians and Africans shared basic beliefs about the cosmic world as well as a mutual. ethereal beings. In Oriente. animals. Among the tenacious cosmic ideas they sustained was that the world still included spirits. but the shared understanding of a Supreme Creator remained even as the Europeans they came in contact with misunderstood or disparaged Africans’ different representations. and rocks. spirits who will soon enter life form and participate in the historical material world. and plants—as well as objects and phenomena seemingly without life—dirt. some African cultural communities shifted their understandings of an ultimate supernatural being. rhythm. and intimately linked to the universe. an emphasis not previously highlighted. This became an important common idea as early Africans encountered autochthonous inhabitants of the region. and attributes based on specific traditions and practices of African cultural groups. as a means of establishing religious legitimacy and political cachet in the eyes of powerful European intruders. The ultimate supernatural Creator entity had different names. Africa-based orientation comprehends that the universe consists of living beings. colonial Africans knew that the world existed within a basic order. stories. All contain spiritual essence that was provided by the ultimate supernatural Creator.

spiritual. Colonial Africans possessed this body of shared cognitive and unconscious knowledge and used it in their Oriente interactions. some do not. but spirits may be distinguished by categorical types. • The concept of time. Their shared knowledge served to inform the development of an assemblage of ritual activities and their transmission to others such distinct spiritual customs. • Some spirits of the supernatural phenomena share worldly existence with humans. and who can be called upon to visit. overlapping. Such an orientation clearly generates essential knowledge about the world and how it is ordered. is integrated. Our observations of their activities also reveal that Africa-based principles or rules about naturally occurring phenomena are still actively employed in Oriente. • Humans share spiritual essence with biological/animate and nonbiological/inanimate phenomena. We identified the following five natural phenomena as salient to practitioner communities and for which they employ an Africa-based understanding: • The nature of being in the universe. and that they organize their understanding and life based on them. and otherwise. The sum of ideas from practitioners’ ritual traditions informs the building of their sacred spaces just as they build sacred spaces in conjunction with ideas about natural phenomena. Phenomenological Principles Contemporary practitioners say that their ritual lives lie within the Africabased orientation we discussed. and permeates one to the other. Respondents reported that the principles are as handed down from their ancestors.but who do not necessarily live in the world with humans. material. • The essence of creative existence. • The nature of space and the spirit world. african cosmic orientation 47 . A summation of this African cosmic orientation can be stated as follows: • An ultimate supernatural entity or Creator is ultimately responsible for creation of the totality of the universal order and all phenomena therein not made by humans.

Practitioners in Oriente also revere specific nonmaterial entities that share universal space and time 48 Chapter 2 . universal order. lakes. such as rhythms and dance. including humans. This ultimate creative force is the core essence of all beingness as well as the distributed portions of that life-giving essence. to be.13 Oriente ritual practices continue to mirror their Africa-based origins and reflect beingness as belonging to all that has been created. animals. rocks. mountains. rituals and other forms of reverence. When expressed in religious practice. plants. The supernatural force. Our field research revealed that. animals. insects. The Nature of Being The idea of “being” is a complex understanding about what it means for humans to be part of and within the totality of the world in which they live. and so forth. This appreciation is a fundamental part of indigenous traditions’ comprehension that the universe is an integrated phenomenon wherein all things are interrelated and connected. Some of the sacred spiritual essence or power from the Supreme Creator was instilled within everything in the created. trees. • Acceptance of spiritual revelation and possession as events that are normal occurrences in the material world. mountains. Most indigenous religions give reverence priority to a select number of created material things in accordance with instructions from their specific tradition. fish. Within Africa-based orientation. and sacred spaces are constructed from these categories and experiences. the ultimate entity. Understandings about “beingness” are derived from cosmic orientation. no thing stands wholly independent or alone. This consciousness means that rocks. rivers. oceans. The single source of core spiritual power is the one shared relationship of all creation. Each component is discussed in more detail below. what it means to exist. within venerational activities. “to be” is possible because all created things—those not made by animate beings—were ultimately given their original life form by the supernatural force of the Supreme Creator. the components convey an understanding of devotees’ lives. and all created things possess some of the supernatural essence of the Supreme Creator force and should be revered. plants. is also transcendent across life and imminent in daily encounters. the ultimate entity. trees. are equally important components of the Africa-based cosmic knowledge Oriente practitioners use. • Understandings about the nature of power in the universe.

It has no beginning and is considered unending. The present is right now and the future is almost without substance because events from the future have yet to happen and when they do. events. nor a commodity. Those who exist in the present know of the past because stories have been told about past events. time does not move forward toward an inevitable end of the world.15 The past—time phases with events that have already happened—is of long duration because a multitude and complexity of events have previously occurred. and each form has a variety of durations and qualities. For time to be real requires that someone experience events and pass that understanding to others.with animate material beings. Humans produce reality through interactions in their groups. ritual time. african cosmic orientation 49 . the present. all of which are part of the various rhythmic time forms of the universe. No one has existed in the future and told stories of what happens there. Time takes multiple forms. and all are coordinated in different yet integrated ways. For example. nor does it unfold continuously to a better or worse stage of development. and persons of the present complete their time as material entities and their material selves die. The phases of time include a long past. their spirit selves proceed into past time to become part of the living dead—if those who occupy the present continue to honor their memory. and lunar time.14 Time is event based. not about abstract time. even though creation marks a beginning of the material universe that humans know. producing a more two-dimensional rendering that directly links to events that have happened. and this orientation informs behavioral principles that directly link the time phenomenon to events. Time is neither linear nor a thing. minimally as related to Western European and North American understandings. just as they give sacred attention to spirits even though these ethereal beings may be invisible to most humans. there is mythical time. The Creator gave time but it is episodic and discontinuous. and will happen rather immediately. When things. and a short-to-nonexistent future. Within Africa-based cosmic orientation. solar time. historical time. This bears selected resemblance to our earlier discussion of the social construction of reality in that reality is built by humans’ social interactions that create events. are happening now. seasonal time. emphasis is placed on past and present time. Within Africa-based orientation. not connected to abstract consequences. The Concept of Time The Africa-based idea of “time” is distinct. it will be in present time.

This is because individuals in a community are familiar with varying aspects of the same events and no individual life can amass the sum of the group’s experiences. therefore. Knowledge is transmitted to contemporary generations and incorporated into the present through particulars of events and past things that may never have been known by present-day persons. generalized if not specific knowledge of those past events has been passed to many descendants as part of their historical memory and identity. However. pageants. is imparted through roles and responsibilities of social structures. and the memory and identity it helps to create. These expose humans to knowledge of past and present events whether or not the individual was actually present. For example. The knowledge can be transmitted to additional individuals of a community through stories. Sacred spaces of Oriente belong to this arena of memory communication as they present. The cosmic awareness is also reflected in stories. Single individuals. poems. dances. Africa-based cosmic orientation circumscribes principles about the time phenomenon and intimates its relationship to a socially unified understanding of historical. have a larger understanding of themselves as African descendants than each personal life can entail. parades. express. This body of knowledge. chants. is produced through the telling and retelling of details about the Atlantic crossing and the centuries of ancestors’ enslavement. The collective experiences expand the breadth and depth of single-event time while increasing the body of knowledge about the present and past. of formal and informal education. few if any contemporary African descendants in Oriente were ever enslaved and none ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean in ships to be enslaved workers. but also through other social networks and processes. songs. theater. poems. past time. as well as past knowledge. each can envision or vicariously experience details about members of their cultural community. No single individual can experience a longer present or past time and space than the collective members of a cultural community. and so on. songs. Knowledge of the past. or other performance productions prepared for significant events.Material as well as spiritual experiences in time happen through one’s life and through the lives of people in one’s cultural community. and other means embedded in a group’s memory communications. or in parades. art. dance. pageants. Portions of a community’s transmitted cosmic knowledge can be reflected in memorial activities staged for those who have died. 50 Chapter 2 . The nature of the relationship is found in a community’s cultural values and socioreligious conditions and is intertwined with complex references to the past.

and each tradition gives differentiated emphases to the Creator and divine spirits. However. In our study. such material objects can bring the past into the present. the indigenous religions have dissimilar customs re­­ garding how humans interact with. Oriente sacred spaces envelope a community’s moral principles and their contents convey information about past-time values. and thereby include spirits as a constant. The Nature of Space and the Spirit World Each indigenous tradition possesses creation stories that include an ultimate supernatural entity or Creator. as well as methods and processes for using it. see the photograph of two Cuban heroes on the wall in figure 4. the material objects articulate Africa-based comprehensions of time in the sacred geographies. Objects can reflect deeds of practitioners’ ancestors as well as past knowledge. and are the conveyors of the community’s inherent values. reflect important parts of what a human group values. Placed inside sacred sites. The variations are a result of beliefs rooted in the African-ethnic backgrounds of the different religions and in their differential evolution within circumstances of Oriente’s historical development. the perception should not be equated with Western civilization’s ideas about heaven and hell. therefore. both before and after creation. as well as other divine beings and spirits. The shared understanding that african cosmic orientation 51 . Oriente practitioners appreciate that the human world of historical and material things—including galaxies and other known and unknown parts of the totality of the universe—is not the only world. On the other hand. but it also posits that supernatural forces influence some human-made things and their relationships. Like other methods and processes of human knowledge transmission.and embody a special appreciation of Africa-based orientation and its ac­­ companying understandings of past time as well as understandings about knowledge and being. the religions’ common Africabased orientation informs the understanding that creation included bringing the universe into existence. Ancestors transmitted the information. respond. The stories describe how the forces of these ethereal entities function. Sacred spaces. and material objects assembled in those spaces are memory items. In so doing. This comprehension acknowledges a world of benevolent and malevolent spirit forces that participate in the historical world of humans and in the otherworld of spirits. For example. including their responsibilities in the cosmic universal order. and react to divine spirits.

hair color. Spirits. Oriente practitioners place enhanced value on visitations by spirits. Divine spirits possess an astonishing amount of supernatural essence that is the power of creation. acquaintances.” The second category comprises the spirits of human ancestors. Ancestors and the living dead spirits continue to interact with the material world as long as living family members. the cosmic perspective of Africa-based religions integrates belief in a singular entity of ultimate supernatural nature with an appreciation of multiple. This group of spirits inhabits the spirit world of a far distant past. those who died a long time ago. 52 Chapter 2 . Family members. known and unknown. Members of each category can have distinct characteristics just as humans can be differentiated by gender. are another category of the dead. and to humans and other spirits. and others remember the spirits and call upon them. all groups of spirits can temporarily visit and participate in the material world of humans. height. Their participation in future time is through the yet-to-be-born. food preferences. eyes. friends. The integrated relationships of these spirits to nature and to the process of creation exemplify the monotheistic and polytheistic linkage of Africa-based cosmic orientation. Remembered ancestor spirits. as they know spirits who visit can share with humans the wisdom gained from participating in past time and in present time.16 Such a comprehension overlaps with the cosmic appreciation about time and coincides with the nature of spirits of the dead. weight. and others who remember and call upon ancestors and the living dead may never actually have known the individuals in life. can be part of future time and space. Divine spirits are intimately related to the ultimate supernatural entity (the Supreme Creator). They occupy a more distant past time from the living dead and from those in the generalized category of recent or unremembered ancestors.traverses each tradition is that divine spirits occupied or filled space long before a material. to other supernatural forces of the cosmic world. supernatural spirit forces. The latter category is a separate but related group of spirits whose differences are demarcated by the time phenomenon. babies who will come into human form soon and/or are still in the womb or conception process. cosmic world appeared and they remained present and active even as the world known by humans was created. as well as have access to the near future. The first group of spirits of the dead is composed of those whose bodies have recently died and who occupy present time in a category known as the “living dead. to creation. Said another way. friends. However. usually those of either ancestor category. and so on.

shared or different.18 A fraction of the universe-derived power. more in line with what Weber considered “charismatic” power. there is overlap in the function of spirits across religions as well as overlap in some of their characteristics. may possess a human body. No one suggested why this was the case. This was usually that white color you can see through [translucent]. almost all natural forces and all spirits of all categories can be activated or invoked to assist living members of the material world. practitioners in Oriente view the ultimate supernatural entity—the Supreme Creator—as the actualization of total power. each tradition has a variety of practices associated with categories of spirits. and beyond. in the east. usually during ritual time. as the force of creation and more. This idea resonates with sociologist Max Weber’s basic definition of the power phenomenon but goes beyond it to include an ability that transcends natural relationships. long long time ago. This exemplifies the transworld process of spirit communication. in ancient human times. The Nature of Power In concert with their African heritage. “You know. Africa-based cosmic orientation about spirits continues to inform each religion’s development of ritual customs. part of the cosmic world humans know. Oriente devotees name divine spirits according to their religious tradition and collectively and individually. [long before contact between Europe. lots of people could see spirits.”17 Practitioners also agreed that the living dead and divine spirits are the ones more regularly persuaded to participate temporarily with humans in present time. the Supreme Creator.Oriente practitioners further propose that some humans are allowed or are given an ability to see some spirits. An interesting occurrence to be discussed further later is our observation that. With the exception of the ultimate supernatural power. Africa. or an ability to make things african cosmic orientation 53 . for good or not. and the Ameri­ cas]. So if they could see spirits. as well as particular ancestral spirits. This power transcends forces of nature to produce all that is natural. particularly spirits of the living dead. Generalized power is the ability to make things happen within the creative rhythm of the universe but beyond patterns understood by most humans. even though names for spirits differ. These respondents reported. That is to say. Ancient divine spirits. general power is the ability to make things happen even when there is total opposition. these people would paint themselves the color of these spirits. As we have generally delineated.

an individual’s partial power must combine with the partial power of other created things. and so on. each tradition uses the power phenomenon differently. fire. the dynamic phenomena of revelation and possession are connected. Practitioners of all indigenous religions revere and respect universal order.happen. This makes the spaces themselves geographies of spirit engagement. humans can monitor such forces as thunder. He further explains that revelation is an expected means by which Africans and their descendants are regularly prepared to receive disclosure from the supernatural world. the ocean. earth. lightning. though revelation can occur without possession.19 Collaboration can be with the power of particular spirits of either category of the dead. was distributed to everything at the time of creation but not in equal portions. Revelation and Possession In Cuba’s eastern region. fire. although each tradition approaches powers of the universe and powers of creation in different ways. Revelation is an accepted aspect of most religions and serves as a mechanism for receiving otherworld knowledge. to make things happen. with the power of divine spirits. one must collaborate with the power of other natural and supernatural entities to access powers that transcend opposition. Oriente practitioners agree that to approach comprehension of the creative power in the natural rhythm of the cosmic world. or with the power of the natural forces of the world—including thunder. death. rain. stars. water. and love. as well as the cycles of life. Colonial Africans of Oriente would normally have expressed their awareness and readiness for revelation and passed the phenomenological principle on to their progeny. and life again. while others employ power to make things happen based on adherents’ requests. The historian John Thornton correctly proposes that revelation is the apparatus through which all religions are formed and changed and that it is an important phenomenological principle of African consciousness. wind.20 This suggests that those who live within an Africa-based orientation and lifestyle will provide time and space in their activities for revelation to occur. Some emphasize its use for revealing spiritual messages for the living. Likewise. That is to say. To allow space is an additional phenomenological principle that has human behavioral consequences and may be perceived better in the arena 54 Chapter 2 . In order to participate in the extraordinarily efficacious power that transcends patterns of humans and other beings. but both most often happen in sacred spaces.

The musical forms and people who have mastered them are anticipating disclosures from the spiritual world and they allow space inside the timing of their compositions for such an event. and they socialize new members to expect spirit contact.” However. “Spirits that come in dreams. the expectation of revelation is recognized and expressed by Oriente religious practitioners who assemble sacred spaces. Devotees told us that rather than a sighting or embodied event. just as they must remain open to receive the revelations. An event that demonstrates how revelation of ritual time and space changed plans for scheduled activities occurred with our research team at the worship house of a religious community. You all gotta be sure to be here when he comes. Neither of the practitioners were expecting the visit at this event because it was not designed to (and had not) summoned spirits. Many artists. They make room in ritual time and their spaces for spirits. “Vicente just came to me while I was washin’. We call this improvisation and the definitive role of syncopated rhythms in Cuban music might well be a creative musical consequence of the culturally expressed phenomenological idea of revelation. with no words to walk on” refers to the idea that spirits need human receptacles who hear and can speak messages from the otherworld. Spirit possession is intimately linked with revelation and represents the process of entering a condition of amazing perceptive consciousness: a state of altered awareness caused by the presence of an ethereal being. as community members gathered later that day for a sacred event designed for purposes not related to the visit from Vicente. Vicente. Indigenous traditions practiced in Oriente hold that revelation happens through contact with or by spirits. He wants us to be ready to receive him at the next work. At the same time.21 Likewise. a spirit african cosmic orientation 55 . develop abilities to respond creatively to revealed inspiration. The provocative quotation that opens the next part encapsulates spirit inspiration rather than embodiment.of Western civilization known as art. several worshipers who had not heard the tata’s earlier statement revealed that the spirit of the previous leader. humans must have knowledge and ability to recognize the symbols when and however they happen. had been in the room. The occurrence demonstrates that those with consciousness about spirits are regularly open for contact and revelation. We were sitting with a family when the tata (leader of a Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe community) entered the room and announced. such as jazz musicians. they also experienced such inspirational contact through dreams.

Ritual Rituals. The time flexibility allows practitioners to transcend present time. Nevertheless.22 Possession by a spirit of any category happens most regularly when some portion of space in the human material world has been temporarily reordered to permit these forces to enter present time. drumming. are reminded that the material. Harding proposes that spirit possession “is a relationship of exchange. chants. songs. lives that are more in balance with the created universal order. and reinforce shared knowledge just as they reinforce sacred and creative acts from past and recent present time. Although efforts at atmospheric alterations can and often do lead to spirit visits. This spatial and temporal rearranging is usually achieved through appropriate rituals and other sacred procedures. While sharing the body of a human. the person(s) possessed. prayers. repeat. which she encountered in Brazil. Harding affirms this when she says that “possession is particularly significant because the occupation of black bodies by divine beings is a stunning contestation” by the oppressed of inhumane positions imposed on colonial and contemporary African descendants.” The possessing spiritual entity can be a divine spirit. and dance. reiterate. This is the episodic discontinuity of the Africa-based concept of the 56 Chapter 2 .temporarily occupying a human’s body. This knowledge can be empowering for individuals and collectives whose lives and beings have been signified as powerless. and those who witness the event. The rearrangement uses liturgical and venerational devices. accurately represent the significance of spirit possession as understood by practitioners in Oriente. and above all of accompaniment. of mutuality. all of our respondents expressed the understanding that spirits are available to help humans lead better lives. In this way. an ancient ancestor spirit. such as spatial adornment. as well as food. each type of spirit can impart knowledge and images from the historical world as well as from the otherworld of supernatural beings.23 Rituals are prescribed activities through which humans can unite with the historical and thereby generate special time flexibility within the present. and other offerings known to please and facilitate contact with spirits of the otherworld. a recent ancestor spirit. of shared responsibility. by definition. historical conditions of their present world are not the ultimate statement of existence. there is no guarantee that the beings will possess humans or that the contacted spirits will be the ones to visit. or a spirit of the living dead. drink. We feel that Rachel Harding’s findings about this phenomenon.

almost invisible action. everyday. and tap the iron three times. We experienced an exceptionally elaborate healing ritual. indigenous religious practices also instill a range of ritual behaviors into ordinary. These are but a few characteristic conducts that are prevalent within the phenomenon of ritual as experienced in the lives of most Oriente african cosmic orientation 57 . Of course. Respondents reported and we observed that devotees’ lives are filled with such ritualized activities. when he was alive had been well known by many in Santiago de Cuba. For example.time phenomenon. from the first thing done after waking in the morning to the last thing done before sleeping. Practitioners may be given specific regimes from the knowledge gained and instructions for the person seeking help may be accompanied by directives to see a medical doctor. who when walking across railroad tracks pause. simpler sets of ritual procedures. and thereby infuse the sacred throughout the lives of adherents. but instructions for such procedures are normally received during smaller. humans reestablish contact with inspired historical events in which those attending a ritual may not have participated. but it is such a common action that practitioners take it for granted and the uninformed rarely notice. During ritual time. and if they choose to disregard imparted information it is at their own risk. however. When he came to a practitioner’s body during the ritual we attended. taken-for-granted life. not everyone entering a house performs the ritual. bend. This behavior is well blended into ordinary actions of everyday life and reiterates the cosmic orientation that life is part of the sacred and living life is sacred. In Oriente. Rituals also allow practitioners of several indigenous religions to access healing knowledge during the transcendence of present time and to guide those in need toward healthier lifestyles with the received information. Members of our team experienced the coming of a spirit who. This also is true for practitioners. Ultimately. those who seek spiritual rituals for healing are responsible to follow all instructions. Some rituals are overt and distinguishable while others are almost invisible. those unfamiliar with indigenous religiosity in the region may not notice that people entering a practitioner’s home will tap the front door frame or knock on a small cabinet sitting at the entrance. we observed devotees of all descriptions doing this quick. As we moved throughout cities and rural towns of the region. none of our team recognized him and had to be told his story as well as receive translation of his linguistic dialect. This spirit had been known as a popular “ladies’ man” but his downfall was the use of cocaine. one that included sacrifice and fire.

24 58 Chapter 2 . and even spatial adornment—as well as interactions among and between these—are coded to identities of divine spirits. The goal of the changes is to invite spirits to present time so that practitioners might receive an embodied experience. ancestral spirits. if only temporarily. The articulations also can include events about other practitioner groups and worshipers who share the same sacred tradition but within a different community. sung. These allow humans to be included more deeply in the insightful knowledge and rhythms of creative power. or an altered consciousness. Such activities as chanting. chants and some drum rhythms contain stories and proverbs about continental beginnings. For example. some songs. Drum rhythms. and dance also function as mechanisms that transmit historical information. Activities of reverence are a form of prayer as well as a means of preparing for entrance into the perceptive consciousness of spirit possession. Other Forms of Reverence There are other forms of reverence derived from Africa-based cosmic orientation and phenomenological principles. Some of these forms of reverence are more prominent. one or more appeared in ritual work done in sacred spaces we researched. Rhythms. drumbeats. The activities were never observed as mere ambiance or supplements to sacred work but were perceptibly essential components of the totality of symbolic language contained in ceremonial behaviors of a religious practice. formulaic chants. chants. energetic. singing. but we have identified a select few as significant and wish to explore them as additions to the above major categories. but. or spoken in languages of a religion’s African origins or transculturated linguistic creation. and spirits of the living dead. a possession. The coded presentations help to change the material world’s atmospheric space of sacred work in order to create a charged ambiance that encourages visitation from the supernatural world.practitioners. To expand beyond these generalized descriptions would violate particularities not shared across religious traditions. while many invocational songs and chants that begin ceremonies are regularly played. at some time or another. drumbeats. These linguistic religious and ritual utterances incorporate descriptive messages of events that mark a community’s connection to ancestral history and more recent past events. songs. and dancing are intimate and integral parts of Oriente reverent behaviors and they characterize religious traditions as practiced in the region. and visible in one or more traditions. dance gestures.

Furthermore. drumming. rules for how to exclude battlers who are telling a story incorrectly and/or are exceptionally weak. but other aspects of the sung and performed prayers may also be in the language of a tradition’s African origins. there are precise rules for how the events are to proceed. chants. and collective participation as important forms of sacred behavior. A ritual event of the Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe tradition will be useful to demonstrate some of these points.” The battles are planned ritual occasions as well as spontaneous gatherings in which designated reputed singers from different worship communities come together competitively to learn and demonstrate detailed knowledge of significant ancestral episodes of their religion and respective practicing communities. and/or affirms at­­ tendees in their knowledge of historical personalities and occurrences of their tradition. In Oriente. These and other ritualized occasions are activities of reverence even as they are oral records of events and revitalize a tradition’s historical chronologies. the most important aspect of battle occasions is not the competition but the fact that the ritual introduces. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe is noted to convene special chanting or singing “battles.Oriente’s Cuban Spanish may be used for the names of significant personalities. there are specifications to determine when the social event has ended and who was the most successful. or another embodied experience is more likely to african cosmic orientation 59 . revelation. However. Battlers are trained within their worshiping groups and require years of preparation as well as an appropriate voice and spiritual designation. possession. There can be dancing at the battles but whatever the components. including genealogies. chants. rhythms. and dance. and there are rules for who is eligible to compete or be a battler. songs. Successful competitors are collectively determined and individual as well as community reputations are vested in the competitions. There are rules for interrupting a battler’s verbal performance in order to respond or change the direction of the storytelling. and places. The gatherings also confirm the valued aesthetic of song. the atmosphere surrounding the activities is reordered. including the coded forms of reverence in drums. A spiritual current can be established and under these rearranged conditions. If there are resources.25 When all components of some rituals are appropriately performed. corrects. The songs of storytelling that accompany the rhythmic drums and chants are coded expressions traceable to streams of knowledge about African origins and ancestry of the religion and/or a specific community. the battles include drumming and rhythmic chants. activities.

elements of phenomenological principles. time. revelation and possession. Our focus was on concepts of being. The interactionist clarifications were the reference point for presenting fuller details about the Africa-based cosmic orientation. These examinations of shared orientation. We then discussed salient core elements of the shared Africa-based cosmic orientation employed in Oriente. drumbeats. Each religion acknowledges that rhythms. We move now to explore some purposes of sacred spaces and how they generally function in Oriente.occur. a perspective that confirms that human beings gain identity and their ability to survive through group interactions. and other forms of reverence are all derived from that cosmic knowledge and provide solid groundwork for the discussions in following chapters. chants. power. spirits and space. 60 Chapter 2 . and/ or dance are normal parts of sacred reality and are central to invoking a personified spiritual occurrence. Summary Thoughts In this chapter we have presented our interactionist perspective about the social construction of reality. as well as ritual and other forms of reverence as understood and practiced in Oriente.

” composed of spaces. anthropology. Sandra Greene took her examination of spaces to Ghana and produced the volume Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter: A History of Meaning and Memory in Ghana. geography. Most investigators will agree that human interactions produce knowledge that is indispensable to the construction of a society in a given environment. can take on this complexity. too. explores spaces as visual culture. For example. we set forth the geographic and historical parameters that examined colonial Africans as intimate participants in building  61 . In chapter 1. Promey’s anthology. sociology. The Visual Culture of American Religions. and others have persistently investigated religious activities as a product of human group interactions.3 What Sacred Spaces Do Academic fields of religious studies. David Morgan and Sally H. Sacred spaces that result from religious activities also have received considerable attention as scholars and researchers study them and apply an array of methods and theories. human phenomenon created through habitual interactions of ordinary daily life. and sacred spaces can be significant parts of the knowledge produced. And the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan centers his interest in space on how “place. Tuan contends that “the concept of place refers not simply to geographic location but to a dialectical relationship between environment and human narrative. is an experienced.”1 Sacred spaces.

of years.Oriente. Most have experienced and/or know of occurrences in the spaces that are unlike the dynamics or action performed in other. The purpose is to clarify important functions and particular responsibilities of these geographies in the context of indigenous religions practiced in Oriente. Contemporary practitioners’ specific appreciations about the cosmos are mostly derived from the continental heritage passed to them by colonial enslaved Africans. we reviewed the interactive nature of human knowledge production as the foundation for constructing reality. Now we turn our attention to the idea of sacred spaces themselves. Sacred spaces are constructed assemblages of shared awareness that articulate a three-dimensional symbolic expression of the body of knowledge that undergirds practitioners’ comprehensions about life and being in the world.3 We will return to the topic of charisma shortly. entities. This is a pool of cultural information produced through commonly understood interactions with beings. ideas. and activities of the historical and cosmic world—a world that existed long before humans appeared. outside locations. things. and we examined the shared Africa-based cosmic orientation brought to Oriente by colonial enslaved workers. Sacred spaces of Oriente’s indigenous religions exist within the general complexity of collective cosmic orientation and knowing. sacred spaces of all varieties and religious traditions are part of the world of humans and have roles in that reality. This suggests that in addition to having specific functions.2 These regional inhabitants also understand that interaction in sacred spaces is charged with dynamic and sometimes explosive cosmic energy. At no time do we purport to be exhaustive in the functions attributed to sacred spaces but we believe that important functions will be considered and that they resonate in the eastern environment of Cuba. They accomplish certain 62 Chapter 3 . collective body of knowledge that has been accumulated and transmitted by religious practitioners over several. Roles of Spaces Generally. if not hundreds or thousands. We also presented salient elements of phenomenological knowledge derived from that orientation as contemporarily used among Oriente practitioners. Sacred spaces—locations or geographies of sacrality—are visual representations of a common. In chapter 2. sacred spaces of Oriente possess a charismatic character.

We want to review salient functions of both large and small spaces and will do so by using ideas put forth by David Morgan and Sally H. They can be small. this was an abstract idea for members of our research team. Promey. that emphasize religious activity from locations that have other emphases. like city districts. roles and we have expanded their propositions to incorporate general observations of spaces in Oriente. massive settings.5 We also knew that Cuba’s three armed struggles for independence originated in the eastern region. even locations that may be in close proximity.4 These are not the only authors to suggest functions of spaces but their discussions proved useful for our work in qualifying the unknown of Oriente assemblages. personalized locations where individuals perform particular acts related to a personal understanding of the cosmic order. For some time. and we were aware that Oriente has always been noted what sacred spaces do 63 . where a community of supplicants regularly gathers to perform and reenact activities related to principles of their cosmic orientation and religious tradition. Morgan and Promey propose that sacred spaces have an assortment of important. just as they can be large.purposeful goals and objectives and are arenas of ritual behavior. though not exhaustive. Context and Boundary Setting A first responsibility of sacred spaces is that of setting boundaries within which context-particularized human activity occurs. and • serve to stimulate and inspire creative acts and actions that are drawn from within the meaning-making practices of a tradition. We knew that Oriente was nationally recognized as the region where the largest number of enslaved workers ran away from their island captivity. • serve as a defining aesthetic foundation that is associated with a tradition. A series of sacred spaces can designate the boundaries for specialized content and behavior within the enclosure. • serve as stimulus for communication and communion between hu­mans and others through ritual exchange. Our thinking combines with these authors to suggest that sacred spaces can • help set boundaries to demarcate the social context of a community. • serve to re-member participants of a tradition as well as to create meaning and memory. Spaces as boundaries can separate internal locations.

for having a high percentage of African-descendant citizens. We had even
been advised in Havana that, “Santiagueros (those who live in the city of
Santiago de Cuba) are a different breed.”6
However, it was only after we had spent time in the region that our
research respondents introduced us to their generalized understanding
that Santiago is filled with city neighborhoods where indigenous religious
practices are pervasive and that sacred spaces within such vicinities help
demarcate identity of the neighborhoods and prescribe boundaries between
and among them. For example, there is a portion of Santiago that is noted
on official documents and by some citizens as Los Olmos. This is a large
urban section sitting northeast, at the bottom of the hill area where the city
was first organized (see map 6). Early in our investigation, we were introduced to Los Olmos but not by civil or geographic specifications. Rather,
a respondent agreed to take us to “Los Hoyos” and explained that, “You’ll
see. You’ll be able to know Los Hoyos inside of Los Olmos ’cause there’s a
special house that tells you. The house is a mark.”
He was right. The outside of the marker house was colorfully painted
with a mural, and inside, visible even to an outsider passing by, was a sacred
space built in honor of a spirit force of an indigenous religion. We were told
further that Los Hoyos has an extraordinary number of such indoor sacred
spaces because a large number, if not the majority, of neighborhood inhabitants are practitioners of one or more traditions. As our guide respondent
said, “There’re lots of spaces like these. They’re everywhere. Everybody’s
got one somewhere in their house ’cause almost everybody around here is a
godchild [practitioner].” Now we had been introduced to an entire city district, Los Olmos, where a specified house served as boundary marker for
an internal neighborhood, Los Hoyos, which was known for its religious
emphasis and sacred spaces.
Los Hoyos became an important center of our Santiago research, but
we needed considerable more face-to-face encounters before we began
to fully comprehend the neighborhood as a specialized sacred “place” as
conceptualized by Yi-Fu Tuan.7 He contends that perception is affected by
cultural exposure, and early in our work we lacked that exposure to indigenous religions. An expanded guided tour of Los Hoyos helped to improve
our understanding of content, context, and boundaries of the pervasive
religious nature of Los Hoyos, Los Olmos, Santiago de Cuba, and Oriente.
We were escorted on the exploration by a prominent tata, leader of a reglas
congo (rules of congo) community. He walked us through Los Hoyos where

Chapter 3

Map 6: Map of Los Hoyos neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba showing
several significant street names, as well as the location of family homes of
military heroes, Oriente natives, and African descendants General Guillermón
Moncada and General Antonio Maceo Grajales. Map enhanced by Shanti Ali
Zaid, African Atlantic Research Team.

his temple house and sacred spaces were situated. We were told that this
was an historical city site of Cuban religious rituals because the neighborhood had been the home of the leader credited with introducing Oriente
to coherent practices of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe and of Regla de Ocha.8
One block beyond the tata’s house, we encountered a small unobtrusive
building, well painted, with large pink and black letters that read Templo
San Benito de Palermo (see figure 2).
what sacred spaces do


We had seen the building before but never perceived it as a site containing indigenous religious sacred spaces and activities. We had understood that buildings that served as centers for such religious practices or
that contain sacred spaces of these traditions did not have outdoor signs.
The absence of outside notifications is connected to the fact that colonial
and twentieth-century authorities vigorously persecuted practitioners of
the traditions. This forced many, if not most, practices to be conducted
clandestinely.9 We knew this and initially perceived Templo San Benito de
Palermo to be part of Cuban Catholic reality; a religious tradition sanctioned for centuries by island authorities.10
For those whose cultural knowledge was greater, the building was a
focal point of religious life and customs that evolved from particular historical experiences of Los Hoyos and Oriente. The tata explained this to
us and we finally understood that the building stood as monument to
our cultural misunderstandings about the anonymity of worship centers
of these traditions. The entire escorted exploration helped to expand our
cultural perceptions as there are general, abstract, or academic rules about
human phenomena, and there is the actual lived experience within these
generalities. We were beginning to know Los Hoyos as a specialized place,
a place with content of indigenous religion, and a place bound externally
and internally with worship locations of the practices. We continued to
have experiences that enhanced our cultural perceptions, but these examples demonstrate that spaces can and do set boundaries and context, even
within city neighborhoods.
At the same time, many Oriente geographies of sacrality are bounded
within domestic residences or other family buildings. No matter how
tiny the family’s living arrangement, most practitioners will have at least
one or more sacred spaces in their homes, and boundaries of the different assemblages demarcate what does or does not belong. In some
homes, a sacred site is larger and better appointed than the area where
the family lives. However, when leaders are responsible for building and
maintaining the sites, they become specialized gathering locations for
practitioners to collectively contact spirits of the otherworld. Leaders’
sites are then often referred to as “Casas de Templo” (temple houses)
and though they are rarely bounded with outward signs or notations
as the San Benito de Palermo location was, spaces of religious leaders
are exceptional.


Chapter 3

Communication and Communion

Sacred spaces, the stationary materials in them, and the movable objects
used in the settings can and do function ritualistically to communicate
with the supernatural world. This positions the sites as geographies of spiritual engagement and practitioners come to the sites to “talk” with spirits of
their religious tradition. We consistently observed that whenever community members arrived at a space after a period of absence, they immediately
went to the place where the concentration of ritual objects was assembled.
They performed several prescribed behaviors in front of the objects and
made petitions, gave thanks, or made an offering to the spirits—flowers,
rum, sweets, money, or otherwise. This reflects their immediate and clear
understanding that the space is a center for communicating with spirits.
Religious adherents share ideas and desires with all categories of spirits, the living dead and ancestor spirits as well as divine spirits. They do
so with the knowledge and expectation that the spirits will reciprocate in
response to human reverence and communication. Such comprehensions
and activities within the spaces also denote the sites as geographies of spiritual engagement; that is, practitioners communicate with spirits in sacred
spaces and, according to our respondents, the spirits act in response. In
addition, the locations are charismatic because practitioners understand
that, in and of themselves, sacred spaces activate the collaborative dynamism of human, natural, and supernatural powers. The combination of
the collaborative interaction can produce efficacious action. Respondents
reported that “doin’ ritual in spaces is the way you get spirits to help in your
life.” Sacred spaces are an axis of spiritual engagement that can be charismatic in character.
We had several experiences that confirmed the charismatic character
of the geographies of spiritual engagement but one was exemplary. During
ritual activities of a particular celebration, a glass of water fell from a shelf,
leaves fell from tree branches in the space, pictures fell from walls, and the
amount of liquid in bottles never lessened even after several practitioners
drank from them. When the glass of water fell, it spilled on a worshiper who
began to shake and tremble but not from cold or saturation. This was not a
celebration that had drums, dancing, or dramatic movements, so we found
no logical reason for items in the space to move. When asked why things
were moving around, practitioners who were present responded, “The space
helps make things happen, even when we don’t ask. But we’re always ready.”

what sacred spaces do


or more. the reciprocal character of the relationahip requires that adherents’ regularly contact them within the spaces. large turtles or their shells. stuffed animals.” The 68 Chapter 3 . rocks. We were told that “it’s in the spaces that we can be sure the spirits will contact us. Flowers. The sacred sites are dynamic and can “make things happen” without human power. The relationship also affirms that spaces themselves are understood to help make things happen. seawater.” Sacred spaces also include a variety of indispensable material objects that are important communication elements in indigenous traditions. We use them to ask spirits to visit. spirits align their participation inside them and their activity is unpredictable. In that way the spaces are charismatic. Our research team found that visitations and transworld communication was an ordinary occurrence and we noted that practitioners were in the spaces two or three times a week. Religious followers fulfill part of their reciprocal responsibility by remaining in communication with spirits and by receiving wisdom transmitted from the otherworld when a spirit enters a human body. beings. and. The three-way collaborative connection—practitioners. tree limbs. their relationship with spirits is a pattern of reciprocal behavior that produces interactive exchanges. three. for Oriente inhabitants who practice indigenous religions. leaves. stones.11 Spiritwisdom is derived from an understanding of the past and the present and from a spiritual vision about the immediate future. not controlled by humans. Part of the giveand-take relationship with humans occurs regularly in places of spirit engagement and is a manifestation that affirms the Africa-based cosmic orientation of religious life.Such happenings are spectacular but they are not considered spectacles. seeds. and spirits—evolved from the common Africa-based orientation that identifies the world as inhabited by material objects. even against the will of practitioners. earth and sand. Sacred spaces are the predictable locations for ritualistic communication of this knowledge. The objects were reported as substantive essentials “helping us get in touch with the spirits. and spirits. spaces.12 Whether or not spirits visit when Oriente worshippers perform rituals in sacred spaces. individually or in groups of two. or interacted with as though they were a spectacle. and various animal skeletonal parts are typical objects and this held true for each of the religions we investigated. All worshipers in our research expressed the understanding that the spirit world is available and participates with humans when humans act in accord with cosmic knowledge.

objects help establish ritual time as an interrupter of historical time so that communication with the spirit world can occur.”13 This opened an analytical avenue in the study of religion wherein Bradford Verter expanded upon Bourdieu for applicability in the field and proposed a notion of spiritual capital we feel is useful for understanding material objects employed in Oriente religious practice. and other small objects they presume hold spiritual power and are part of Oriente religiosity. seeds. Sometimes the pieces are also appropriated and made available for distribution and consumption. that some spiritual themes.” an expansion of Pierre Bourdieu’s exploration of theoretical ideas about “capital. and/or objects can be understood to acquire a materiality and value that transcends their inherent composition or religious function. Later in our discussion. some objects are transformed into “form[s] of material and symbolic commodities” of spiritual significance. bracelets. while still connected to religious participation. Objects are symbolic representations of the Africa-based alternative time model. portable objects become spiritual capital that is sold to international tourists willing to pay to own materials associated with indigenous religious practices. these objects in their spaces contain and are manifestations of the divine power of creation.14 Verter contends. The objects say all things of creation have inherent value. has additional value: they are spiritual capital.” He proposed that while the concept is normally associated with economics. we will return to the concept of spiritual capital in Oriente. it could also be understood as “various species of symbolic capital. as some select. This is precisely the nature of several categories of material objects within spaces of Oriente. and we agree. In addition to the spiritual power they may possess. and their objectified appreciation. objects are valued as capital because of their ability to garner financial return in the country’s strained economy. ideas. the alternative temporal modality contained within the cosmic orientation. The material transformation is in addition to the sacrality of objects and their function as participants in communication with spirits. they also are grounded in the world of humans. stones. Their incorporation in the spaces exemplifies practitioners’ intentional continuation of their inherited customs and cultural identity. This extended understanding objectifies spiritual items. small. While material objects in spaces continue to evoke this characteristic. For Oriente practitioners. what sacred spaces do 69 . Many can be considered as “spiritual capital.15 Such visitors seem to be attracted to necklaces.

We. they also are locations of generalized. if not their actual religious lifestyle. as such. To the informed. No one was 70 Chapter 3 . observing an object’s position in a space activates a body of shared knowledge and can elicit a cultural and/or religious perception about communication between humans and spirits in that space. The materials are the special rocks. the other. helping comb hair (male and female). and the religious community. cloths. and so on. To test this proposition. joking with teenagers. that must accompany drum rhythms. however. even as our presence was proactive participation in reciprocal interactions of everyday life and conversations. but a time when we were conducting prescribed observations to determine if the spaces were truly settings of human communing. went to the location of sacrality. must be acted upon and interacted with. The objects are internal boundary markers of symbolic sacredness and.Within the sacred nature of their function. talking with neighbors and family members. Sometimes we sat for hours. feathers. Practitioners contend that the locations are “family meeting places. Objects’ assistance in spiritual communication is almost always invisible to uninformed observers or those who do not share an understanding of practitioners’ symbolic universe. playing with children. This was not a formal interview time. and other forms of reverence needed to change the atmosphere so that spirits might visit with practitioners. varied. dance. were communing with practitioners. and/or members of a different worship community. chants. or visitors who were initiates of a different religious tradition. they rarely involved themselves in the communing. often facing the street. We found that although tourists did visit some sacred spaces. material objects are necessary participants in processes of atmospheric change that allow the entry of spirits into sacred spaces. special decor. neighborhood. and with all those familiar with one. made appropriate gestures to acknowledge the site’s spiritual essence. and frequent communing between and among humans. This was unlike visits by worshipcommunity members. we carefully began each data-gathering encounter by spending time in the family house and/ or neighborhood of a sacred space. too. We first entered the house. We also were reintegrating ourselves into the rhythm of the particular house. or generally visiting with passersby. with the sacred geographies. or both.” settings where adherents can rely upon seeing and talking with people who share their cosmic orientation. tree branches. Just as sacred sites function in a variety of ways to communicate with spirits. and then sat wherever other visitors or family members were seated—inside or outside the house.

The created bond reinforces the social network of associates who give mutual and reciprocal care to each other. To remember spirits is an important and required phenomenological principle derived from Africa-based orientation. or physical death. But practitioners could be observed making such visits three or more times a week as a means “to show respect and love for the spirits and to talk with others who’re here.obligated to be at the spaces during nonceremonial times.17 In Oriente. life circumstances. as well as the returning of the absent members. The complete body of believers is thereby symbolically re-member-ed.16 Functionally. A litany of names of absent members and spirits of all categories can be recited during the allocated invocational time. as well as titles of significant events of ancestors and divine spirits. this is an important role of sacred spaces. spiritual. sacred spaces themselves become the locational ritual instrument for recalling and re-member-ing those not present. returned together into present time of the human community and communion ritual. because of geography. what sacred spaces do 71 . and religious linkages—the putting of actual and spiritual bodies back into the ritual time of the community’s cosmic orientation. re-member-ing is not merely the mental recall of people or events but includes the cognitive returning of an absent community member to the consciousness of those present in ritual space. and tourists were not regular visitors. The re-membering accentuates practitioners’ physical participation in ritual activities and sacred spaces are the context. This is achieved during ceremonial gatherings and through verbal or symbolic articulations that intone names of the absent. Also intoned are the names of special spirits of the living dead. The intoning and recalling is putting the entire religious collective back together for the ritual work to be done. if only by visual memory. However. they are integrated and reintegrated into the body of religious knowledge that bonds the practicing collective. “Re-member-ing” and Memory Another important role of sacred spaces is to provide practitioners with locations that guarantee they will remember those of the spiritworld.” They came to commune. When members have long periods of absence. The result is a concrete and symbolic reestablishment of human. Each time a member practitioner actually or figuratively returns to locations of sacrality. they are re-member-ed. repeated communing visits forge a bond among the people. and between people and spirits who visit the space. between people and the space.

The pouring of libations to the earth is understood as a gesture of reverence to all foreparents and ancestors because all are interred in the earth as a universal place. inhabitants habitually pour a small amount of a newly opened bottle of beverage. Cubans know that thousands of sacred spaces are constructed by way of religious knowledge transmitted through the history of their country. on the ground as a spiritual libation. for the departed. spirits of the living dead are understood to exist within current human life reality and thereby are available to assist in difficulties of living family members. Minimally this consciousness is created through basic information imparted in the nation’s educational curriculum. The repertoire of religious knowledge that undergirds libation behavior is derived from the same cosmic orientation that informs ceremonial re-member-ing. We pour libations for the ancestors. if living persons remember them. and the government maintains Casas de Cultura (cultural houses) in every municipality.” all of it is sacred because it was divinely created and holds the bodies of those who have died. 72 Chapter 3 . Therefore. for the ancestors. no matter where they were buried. particularly rum. Rituals performed in sacred spaces enhance the significance of religious reality as part of this alternative concept of time. that is. Locations of sacrality also serve to stimulate collective memory of the general Cuban population since the vast majority has working familiarity with practices associated with the nation’s African heritage and with its indigenous religions. parties. at a minimum. street corners. “It’s for those who’ve gone before. Respondents insisted that “the earth is one. and so on. parks. When we asked about this behavior. taken-for-granted. That knowledge and those actions help to reinforce the orientation as well as to maintain the union of sacred and secular that Oriente practitioners operationalize in their Africa-based lifestyle. we were consistently told.” The action occurred in sacred as well as in everyday places. everyday life behaviors of Oriente practitioners that demonstrate the importance of keeping the memory of those who have died. front doorsteps.The shared Africa-based cosmic orientation necessitates re-membering because. Ritual re–member-ing helps accomplish this obligation but there are other ordinary. The coming together of sacred and secular within life is but one representation of an alternative model of time—an alternative temporal modality contained within the orientation. For example. before drinking from a new bottle of liquid—whether in sacred spaces or otherwise—humans should pour libations as reverence to the creative relationship of the earth and to those whose bodies have gone before.

Three blocks of the street had been blocked off and children comprised the majority of performers and audience. the school-aged children simultaneously and enthusiastically recited the correct names and sang out appropriate coded chants. and laughter of children’s normal play. are memory markers for nonpractitioners’ shared historical and active contemporary relationship with their African dances. When the young audience was asked to identify the spirits represented in a particular performance.19 Throughout the larger. The rites are collective activities in sacred spaces that incorporate new members into a community. where an abundance of extracurricular activities designed to familiarize citizens with this national heritage are performed. citywide festival activities. loud talking. poems. Ritual processes of initiation are outstanding in this regard and include socialization instructions to adherents about their duty to remember the experiences. They recounted in great detail the ritual bath that everyone must take for initiation and acknowledged recalling such details when encountering a sacred space. There was the expected high energy. but there also was structured dancing. Practitioners reported vivid memories associated with sacred spaces and their initiation experiences.18 Neighborhood performance events convened by Santiago’s Festival del Caribe introduced us to an example of how the religiosity of Cuba’s African heritage is disseminated to become generalized national awareness. sacred spaces serve as memory devices to hearken practitioners’ imagination back to collective ritual experiences that occurred at the sites. as well as knowledge of them.20 In addition. and other content from the reservoir of Cuban cultural knowledge. songs. myths. Citizens also know that the traditions have sacred spaces and the spaces. Within these were details about and from indigenous religions of the nation’s heritage. drumming. proverbs. whether or not they are practitioners. The impressionable rituals that occur in the what sacred spaces do 73 . and most towns. or to sing a chant associated with ritual coding. An initiation usually occurs in a worship community leader’s geography of spirit engagement. Therefore. Our team accompanied an annual neighborhood celebration for young children. and singing choreographed from rituals of indigenous religions. Cubans are informed about the country’s religious inheritance and familiar with stories and myths associated with many such traditions. a street festival. Experiences that included supernatural participation are especially significant and memories associated with them are activated by sacred spaces. we also heard a multitude of stories.

Practitioners’ collective meanings about reality are created through shared interactive historical experiences as well as through linkages to those experiences in which they did not participate. and they are reminders of individual and collective relationship to a religious usually establish initiates’ awareness of their linkage to dynamic. Thus. This is especially true because generations of regional practitioners were active in colonial Africans’ palenques. Language is indispensable in the development of this interpretative commonality. These are the places where members regularly and predictably acquire knowledge of their shared cosmic understanding and learn their tradition’s interpretations of life and the universe. Regional 74 Chapter 3 . It is therefore not surprising that respondents reported memories of their initiation process are evoked when they actually or figuratively revisit that site of sacrality or even visit other sacred spaces. Members teach and share common meanings about the world as understood through their practice. a role of sacred spaces is to reestablish the special meanings of individual’s shared experiences and reaffirm their belonging to a ritual family. Sacred spaces serve to create strong memories of significant ritual events. These languages serve to assist in creating and sustaining historically forged identity and interpretative commonality among practitioners. spiritrelated customs and authority of the tradition. the liberated zones of neo-African social reality. Meaning Another sure role of sacred spaces is their influence in establishing meaning for a religious community/family. to stimulate the evocation of such powerful recollections. independence. there are no private schools in Cuba. and sovereignty. As well. not in schools. Individuals also can momentarily reflect on completed or incomplete religious responsibilities when they encounter sacred spaces. Oriente spaces draw meaning from devotees’ shared experiences in the social and political realities of their eastern environment.” As such. the sites are locations of communication and communing. It is important to remember that ritual language of some indigenous religions in Oriente is directly linked to the African and Cuban historical heritage of the traditions. and most of these customs are taught in sacred spaces. places where whole communities are re-member-ed literally and figuratively. More recent generations fought in Cuba’s three nineteenthcentury wars of national identity. “My head is just filled with pictures and images of that time when I was scratched (initiated).

fought fearlessly in the Ten Years’ War of 1868 but received a disabling wound and could only fight briefly in the 1895 War of Independence. As is the custom in families who practice indigenous religions. an Espiritismo practitioner. Many women and men who supported the liberation efforts were religious devotees who gathered for sacred activities before. historical details that contained a spiritual emphasis were made accessible to the larger public. The pilon is a large wooden. Combatant practitioners inevitably wove into their war stories supernatural beings’ battle participation where that was the case.21 Veterans returning from these fields narrated their account of the events and thereby handed down stories of activities. what sacred spaces do 75 . Particularly important were events where supernatural intervention occurred.participants helped create memories. Guillermón. re-member-ing litanies. We verified this story through interviews with several nonfamily elders of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe and see it as part of Oriente reality. Local legend contends that General Moncada used this nganga in his work as a leading member of his practitioner community. neighbors. a military general of African descent. and general conversations continue to re­­ peat many of these stories. their interpretive reporting was fraught with nationalistic as well as spiritual meanings. Some accurate historical accounts were made into popular poems and songs about the cosmic nature of military occurrences but many reports became legends and myths that took their place in the Oriente expressive repertoire. Moncada’s descendant inherited these artifacts from ancestors and elders. and historical authority that carry contemporary significance for Oriente ritual customs. The stories were passed on to new generations—practitioners.23 The home of one Moncada descendant. during. cylinder-shaped. sacred drum rhythms. In this way. chants.22 Sacred spaces can encapsulate these historically significant meanings linked to spiritual. Throughout Oriente. We were able to conduct interviews with descendants of Moncada. invocations. and after going into combat. ritual songs. national. contains a pilon and nganga as inherited family artifacts (see figure 3). as our practitioner colleagues affectionately called him. reputations. and family members alike. The pilon and nganga of the national hero Guillermón Moncada are exemplary. heroic people. bowl-like vessel used in earlier generations with an equally large mortar-like grinding stick. and pivotal deeds of their military experiences. The nganga is the cast-iron kettle used to hold the sacred elements for the religious tradition of Palo Monte/ Palo Mayombe (see figure 8). and regional identity.

poems. The space in figure 4 includes a photographed portrait of Antonio Maceo Grajales and José Martí. In real-life human terms. style. and so on. Many spaces are colorful. We were equally impressed that children. They are three-dimensional public expressions of sacred meanings of an aesthetic derived from the Africa-based orientation with its alternative ideas about time. statues.Cuban school curricula include General Moncada as an important patriot of national liberation struggles. revelation. and legends that they hear while visiting and playing near the numerous sacred spaces of their neighborhoods. and variety. Espiritismo. rhymes. dances. outwardly expressed in dynamic color. objects. and space. There are basic religious parameters concerning what a space must contain but content and structure of the sites are ever changing based on differences in practitioners’ inspirations. but the locations also serve to stimulate creativity. five years and up.24 Defining Aesthetic and Creative Acts Cuban sacred spaces are the result of creative. songs. Older children. known as “light spirits” in one 76 Chapter 3 . This makes him familiar to most citizens. but Oriente inhabitants are more personally involved with Guillermón as a regional favorite son and national hero who is revered in school curricula. artistic cornucopia arrangements that attract the eye and elicit comments. iconographic images. Most assemblages include flowers. We recorded and were consistently impressed with the pervasive presence of large numbers of young children in and about locations of sacrality. Most all of this content is coded to meanings as understood through the artistic lens of a religious tradition. the geographies of sacrality also help define that aesthetic. Both are attractive expressions of meaning from particulars of their practice but each space presents a dramatically different use of color. and available resources. texture. power. were active and knowledgeable participants in the activities. two Cuban national heroes who represent important otherworld Espiritismo spirits. revelations. figure 4 and figure 14 represent a range of artistic variety that can occur in two sacred spaces of a single religious family. volume. symbolic objects. For example. some as young as two years. and symbolic script. Regional children learn a great deal more about Guillermón’s relationship to indigenous religions through chants. designated artifacts. were a constant presence at rituals and they were given special instructional care. constructive actions taken by those who assemble them.

The spirits are reported to frequently participate in contemporary rituals. His creations contain representations from identifiable religious practice.”26 Sidewalk tiles of the La Rampa neighborhood in Havana’s Vedado district are showcases of Lam’s images and provide an example of spiritual inclusions in the contemporary. • re-member participants and practices and create meaning and memory. This space contains such a wide variety of objects as to suggest contradiction. and they are also different.27 The ceramic tiles are derived from cosmograms or sacred scripting of the reglas congo.tradition. However. • stimulate communication and communion. as well as from practices of other indigenous religions. both spaces are actively used in Oriente for ritual activities.25 In figure 14. both are eye-catching artistic arrangements. what sacred spaces do 77 . Summary Thoughts In this chapter. We clarified how the sites • set context and boundaries. Although we cannot verify that he was initiated into any tradition. ordinary life of urban Cuba (see figure 5). Another example of sacred spaces inspiring artistic expression is the work of the internationally known artist Wilfredo Lam (1902–1982). we explored some important yet general roles of sacred spaces in Oriente religious practice. His “godmother” was a well-known leader of a religious community in the island’s Sagua la Grande area. The tiles publicly display the inclusive nature of religious ideas through art in the nation’s cultural customs. both are within the same family of religious tradition. Lam was the son of a Cantonese immigrant and a Cuban mulatto woman. we do know that he grew up and was socialized with an intimate relationship to the country’s indigenous religious environment and his artistic creations were inspired by exposure to and experiences with that atmosphere. and he is said to be “the first plastic artist in all the history of western art to present a vision from the African presence in America. one from the other. the number of objects probably cannot be accurately counted even as the assemblage is profoundly colorful. • define aesthetics and inspire creative acts.

we devoted considerable discussion to clarifying how sacred localities serve to re-member absent members. The latter exploration allowed us to site Oriente spaces as charismatic phenomena and detail how the sites contain material objects instrumental in spirit communication while the objects simultaneously exist as spiritual capital. and how the sites create meaning and memory. Significantly. as well as how sacred spaces of the region are sites of dynamic interaction between humans and all categories of spirits. 78 Chapter 3 . All of this exploration lodges particularities of Oriente sacred spaces within the human family of expressed religious knowledge and practice. humans. and spirits.We integrated the discussion with particulars of Oriente practitioners’ ex­­ pressions of these roles.

Part II  .

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A considerable share of Cuba’s more than two hundred other harbors. and inlets are also in Oriente. Spiritual life among this group of peoples is personally interconnected with the dead and with spirits of the dead. as well as the site of the first European settlements and importation of enslaved Africans in the sixteenth century. and Europeans. —African proverb Mor e than an y other landscape in Cuba.3 The coastal  81 .2 The region has recorded regular earthquakes since 1551 and is home to very active seaports near two of its larger cities. culture. bays. Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo (see map 2). and religion.4 Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe Spirits that come in dreams With no words to walk on. the autochthonous population.1 Captives from the kingdom arrived in Oriente (see map 2) as early as the sixteenth century and established the African presence as an intimate and ongoing factor in social structures that would become Cuban: people. Or iente is known as “land of the dead. Oriente was the first island location of contact between Africans.” This is largely due to the historical presence of enslaved descendants from Africa’s west central region of Kongo Kingdom ethnic groups. nation.

Santiago. and other tropical agricultural crops such as bananas. centuries of mining. though now legal. operated to reinforce Oriente as an isolated and insulated backwater of the island colony. spiritual behaviors developed from contact between autochthonous inhabitants and Africans would become indigenous. Kimbisa. economic base. and cacao. particularly Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. and are known to be derived from different regions in West Central Africa associated with Kongo Kingdom ethnic groups. The behaviors are indigenous because they evolved from remembered practices of West Central Africans who shared and merged their spiritual approaches with similar ones of the remaining Amerindians.6 The reglas consist of a variety of established ritual lineages. allowed the region to become the site of a flourishing contraband economy during the four colonial centuries.5 Even though most of the original inhabitants and their descendants would not survive as a distinguishable group. The illicit enterprises also helped maintain the region as an internally well-organized and integrated economy. the work of William MacGaffety and that of John Thornton would support the idea. Remnants of these earliest behaviors appear to be part of coherent practices of the reglas congo. and Manzanillo. Clandestine trade and smuggling with foreign and Spanish ships was a normal pattern and fashioned Oriente into a separate economic arena from the island’s official commercial and trading center in western Cuba. and Briyumba. including cattle ranching that came with Spanish settlers. as well as wind and ocean currents that were more convenient to trans-Atlantic trade in western harbors to serve Spanish colonies of Mexico and Latin America. Balongo. The transculturated ritual behaviors expressed mutual spiritual identity and were used to bury each group’s dead with common cosmic comprehensions. as well as other smaller harbors (see map 2).4 The absence of transportation across the Sierra Maestra mountains.7 82 Chapter 4 . as well as sugar production. The differing names for the reglas seem to correspond with various regions of ethnic groups in that area. Early emphasis on rituals and activities related to the dead has been passed on to later generations of Oriente practitioners as well as to other inhabitants. based on the underground exchanges. citrus. The region has continued to have a rather diverse. full-scale coffee cultivation arriving from Haiti. Several Oriente practitioners shared their assertion that the names are associated with Kongo ethnic groups and maps of the region (see map 3).sites of Guantánamo.

The spirits speak the Cuban-Creole-Congo language. and recent remains of the living dead. specialty spirits in or of forces of nature. powerful.9 This is significant because it reinforces our research findings about ideas. From this brief introduction. This chapter will discuss salient details of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe or “Palo” and sacred spaces palo monte/palo mayombe 83 . these contemporary devotees continue to use their special language as a cognitive and linguistic affirmation of connections to their African heritage and religious practices. The greatest hesitancy and respect. ritual behaviors. generalized spirits of the dead. Palo Monte and Palo Mayombe. and efficacious.8 but we acknowledge respondents’ understandings as these guide their lives and published literature has rarely if ever included insights from Oriente. was for Palo Monte/ Palo Mayombe.We found practices of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe in Oriente to be the most prevalent given that we encountered no devotees of other reglas congo. Arwin Schwegler and other linguists have found that much of the ritual language of Oriente’s Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe continues to be that of the Kikongo speakers among these Bantu-speaking ethnic groups. they comprehended only one set of practices with two names. and religious understandings in the region. not merely those of religious practitioners. The practice of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe in Oriente emphasizes contact with elements of nature and contact with spirits: mfundi/nfumbe. This contrasts with some Spanish language literature that discusses two separate sets of traditions. When we spoke with practitioners from all social arenas. mpongo/npungo. we now proceed to review the arrival and settlement of the Kongolese in Oriente. This importance of spirits is a marker for cultural customs and generalized attitudes of the region. They repeatedly said that we were confused because “you just don’t know the language of the spirits. However. their intentionality.” Clearly. languages. it is an intentional activity. when we interviewed practitioners about differences. Although most historical research indicates that a variety of ethnically Kongo Africans were captured and transported to locations in Cuba. even though we understood Spanish. Examples of this occurred early in our work when we told practitioners we were having difficulty grasping some of what was being said during ceremonies. This was the response even as many acknowledged fear of such traditions. if not fear. We first thought this tradition represented two distinct sets of ritual customs. they considered religious traditions that work with spirits and remnants of the dead as the most complex.

10 However. It was in 1522 that the Spanish colonial empire began to exchange autochthonous labor in Cuba for that of enslaved Africans. continuing on to consider sacred spaces created by Palo Monte/ Palo Mayombe Oriente practitioners. nor was there social or political equity between the alternatives. given the nature of human interaction. We contend that knowledge and ideas from Kongo Kingdom ethnic groups arrived in the region much sooner—in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of Spanish colonial occupation. was the colony’s capital until 1607 and was the main port of entry for the first generations of African descendants. Their understandings about the cosmos and the principles or rules of nature were enculturated comprehensions learned from birth and childhood in African time. it was an additional model for understanding what it means to exist and.11 The relationship was not coincidental as the Spanish purchased Africans from the Portuguese whose trade had been established with Africa’s Kongo peoples since the mid-fifteenth century. There were at least two oppressed cultural groups in colonial Cuba. organized in 1515. The earliest and initial entrance into Oriente of the Africa-based cosmic orientation and phenomenological knowledge provided an alternative to that of colonial Europeans. The Kongo Kingdom families of Bantu people were the largest number of persons of a single ethnic group imported between that time and the end of the seventeenth century. The Portuguese’ human cargo was imported to Cuba as cheap. space. Arrival and Formation As an organized and coherent set of ritual behaviors. 84 Chapter 4 . this is only true for the “organized. reliable labor for copper and other ore mining and for the development of small agricultural enterprises.12 The city of Santiago de Cuba. We begin with the arrival and formation of re­­ gional rituals and then proceed to engage foundational knowledge of the tradition. It was not a dominant alternative. However. and social orders. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe arrived in Oriente at the turn of the twentieth century with migrants from western Cuba’s Matanzas area. the population of Africans shared their perspective. coherent” set of ritual expressed in the region.13 Those Africans who survived Atlantic Ocean crossings experienced inordinate pain and suffering but nevertheless brought with them their cosmic orientation as an important body of knowledge about what it means to be human.

In return. The purpose of the raid was to capture food and other consumer resources. and they each understood that spirits could and did inhabit the world of humans. invoked spirits will contact. Contempo­ rary practitioners refer to these spirits as muertos (the dead) and understand that they are active in the material world of humans’ present time. What has become Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe ritual practices would have been part of the transculturated emphasis on communication with spirits and specifically working with spirits of the living dead. devotees in order to transmit knowledge. the transculturation process. Enslaved Africans found that many of their comprehensions about being human and how to effectively operationalize that humanity was shared with their new relations. the linkage expanded as together Africans and Indians attacked the colonial town of Baracoa. Spiritual focus was not omitted from the process. as well as the common cosmic orientation and shared phenomenological principles took root in Oriente. The two groups of enslaved people were linked by spiritual affinity. began immediately and did not require generations to be productive. particularly with ancestral spirits who when called upon can be active in the present. the use of tobacco15 and Africa-derived drum rhythms. European settlement in the region had only begun in 1514 and enslaved Africans began arriving in notable numbers in 1522. Europeans enslaved both and. the interconnection of ancestors and the land. despite differences in customs and language. Amerindians and Kongo descendants each understood the significance of ancestors. This suggests that the creation of new behavioral forms. the two suppressed groups engaged in reciprocal.Africans and the Native Indians. and by mutually constructed rituals. Local legends contend that the Indians shared the ritual use of tobacco with the early Africans and Kongo Kingdom descendants introduced Indians to the use of drum rhythms to invoke a spiritual atmosphere. but humans are obligated to maintain a relationship. interactive relationships. if not embody. and power that can help palo monte/palo mayombe 85 .14 Hence.16 Significantly. by sociopolitical status. These conceptual commonalities became part of Oriente’s spiritual foundation as the two groups continued to interact and conduct new combined ritual activities. Muertos can be invoked to help humans accomplish goals when adherents maintain spiritual contact. and the necessity to revere ancestors and communicate with spirits. Practitioners also are to remain in communication with divine spirits. In 1533. In less than twenty years the two bonded groups had connected sufficiently to implement an attack. wisdom. For example.

Santiago. The separation included palenques. if not before. the mountainous geography exacerbated the separation and produced Oriente’s isolation. coastal cities such as Baracoa. palenques of the east were distinct in their size. and social functioning. life in the present. Women are eligible to receive spirit wisdom just as the female aspect of spirits can be invoked. enslaved Africans and those remaining Indians began running away from bondage and forming settlements in the mountains of Oriente. and socially isolated in its geographic separation from western centers of colonial activity.18 Some mountainous towns of the region are the result of or built around old settlement sites. longevity. and spiritual survival centers for the oppressed. Neither spirits nor receivers of communications from these are given categorical gender-specific designations. from western Pinar del Rio to eastern areas of Guantánamo. the role of muertos remained of primary ritual importance because these spirits were available to help.20 However. Within palenques and other rebel locations. At best.21 86 Chapter 4 . The mountains also helped separate Oriente from official colonial control based in western Cuba. When in 1607 the island capital was moved to Havana. Oriente was politically.17 Oriente’s early ritual activities were passed on to new generations to some extent by way of life in palenques de cimarrones—settlement communities of Africans and Indians who escaped enslavement. but even these relations were not dependable. historical space.19 Palenques were neo-African zones of liberation and epitomized resistance to the system of colonial slavery. As early as the second half of the sixteenth century. These palenques operated from the mid-1500s through approximately 1886 when slavery in Cuba was outlawed. There was increased difficulty (if not reluctance) in providing the east with military and other authorized protections. Guantánamo. Palenques It is impossible to envision the development and continuation of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe or any Africa-based practices without discussing palenques. economic. but they were also domestic. military. The Sierra Maestra mountains provided isolated forested spaces for hiding after runaways escaped from a plantation or other work center. Such locations existed in various parts of the island. and Manzanillo might have contact with the west. as well as economic support. Consequently.

as well as traded with clandestine supply ships for needed provisions. and records show that the communities participated in the clandestine trade relations that helped characterize the region’s colonial economy. as these ethnic members were the strongest residential participants. procreated. There were separate settlements designated for women and children. When nineteenth-century Chinese were brought to Cuba. Oriente residents.22 Within the settlements. some of them also joined palenques. despite military attacks to close them down. crossethnic African group interactions brought forth new. Carabalí.27 palo monte/palo mayombe 87 . and conducted raids on nearby plantations. is one such ritual attributable to the forested circumstances of palenque life. Even as Kongo groups were culturally dominant. The mountains and foothills facilitated thicket and forest retreats and. and towns. and died in their well-organized. palenques took on complex social organizations.The absence of support from colonial authorities made eastern inhabitants more vulnerable to increasing attacks from foreign pirates and privateers. neo-African communities. The liberated zones perpetuated themselves and were known by colonial authorities to exist through generations.26 As palenque residents retreated into forested areas to perform sacred customs. including palenque in­­ habitants. their Africabased cosmic orientation and principles about phenomena of the universe informed ritual behaviors that addressed spiritual needs of members. The bembé (drum party). hunted small animals. became self-reliant for material survival and self-referencing in social behaviors. for example. Mandingo.24 There were famous or “infamous” palenque captains in charge of strategic planning for the collectives and whose reputations were well known by Oriente establishments. such as Maluala. over time. The early patterns were the foundations upon which indigenous religions would evolve through centuries of such Africa-based activities. Palenque members fought. transculturated ritual behaviors that referenced inhabitants’ African background.25 The social order of palenques was aligned with Africa-based structural arrangements if by no other evidence than the existence of a chief or captain and the inclusion of gender-separated arenas. worked. villages. This aided the continued use of Kongolese Africa-based ritual knowledge.23 Members cultivated food products. and members from different palenques coordinated regular and successful raids on nearby plantations in a fashion resembling military operations of local authorities. and members of other African ethnic communities also found Oriente’s mountainous geography ideal for participating in liberated communities. especially the English.

shallow pan or bowl-like container.” In addition to Kongo-type drums. The top of the drum is larger in circumference than the bottom. and other items that religious historian Charles Long identifies 88 Chapter 4 .29 Drums in many contemporary Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe celebrations are similar in shape and function to their colonial predecessors. a large. played a central role in the colonial gatherings. on at least one occasion. the elder signaled for the middle drummer to move and replaced him. The cazuela. drumming. and other heritages of these African people. the cazuela was a transculturated ritual object that appears to have been incorporated into early ritual behaviors of colonial Oriente and transmitted to new generations. On two successive occasions during the activities. to hold important sacred objects. Sounds that come from Kongo-type drums are deep in tone though there is a tonal range. he had chastised the three younger drummers to “stop playing those batá rhythms. cylinder-shaped. pieces of animal and human bones. a specially designated cazuela was set aside for exclusive use in Oriente’s Africa-based ritual life. we observed more than three drums participating in a celebration. and singing. Cazuelas were material objects whose symbolic representation often violated colonial authorities’ definitions of religious normality (see figure 17). They are usually played in groups of three. cooking. wooden constructions with animal skin stretched across the top or head. with the whole instrument standing about two and a half to three and a half feet tall. skin.” After the second call for corrections. and so on. Kongolese rhythms.Responses from contemporary practitioners and current re­­search findings of Casa del Caribe investigators describe colonial bembé as a grand celebration event that invoked ancestral and other spirits to visit the world of gathered descendants. Indications are that early colonial activities continued late into nights of dancing. twigs. and chanting/singing under the trees and stars. although we participated in events where only one or two were used and. was used for such domestic tasks as food preparation. As the elder took-up the middle drum he insisted that the drummers “go back to playin’ rhythms of our Congo ancestors. The containers held rocks. The large. drums were the definitive instrument of the events and the character of bembé drums was based on Kongolese construction. Figure 1 shows these Kongo-type instruments after the middle drummer emphatically took his position to demonstrate to the others. dancing.28 Along with the voice. The middle drummer is an elder practitioner whose drumming and ritual knowledge is well known in the region. hair. At the same time. dirt. chains. washing. nails.

31 The cultural and linguistic concept of nkisi concerns spiritual power that is used systematically by contemporary Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe practitioners who identify it as supernatural power of material objects that is used to work with mfundi/ nfumbe (generalized spirits of the dead) and mpongo/mpungo (specialty spirits). as well as to work with divine spirits.30 The designated cazuela was available for use in spiritual communication and it continues to be a central part of ritual life for Oriente practitioners. the nganga is invested with nkisi. the nganga was and is a three-legged iron cauldron in which a variety of material objects are placed. the power and ability that is beyond individual human powers and sometimes beyond natural associated with “intimacy and obligation. as well as their spiritual understandings. but we did note the clear physical resemblance of the sacred instrument and the iron cauldrons used to process sugar cane syrup during the period. and a powerful devotee of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. Early colonial palenque residents used the cazuela as a spiritual instrument to hold and represent the symbolic incorporation of the Kongolese idea of nkisi. and habits and conduct” regarding spiritual influence in humans’ lives. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe practitioners have rarely been composed chiefly of descendants of Kongo ethnic groups but have included palo monte/palo mayombe 89 . a nonmaterial spirit. We could not determine when the nganga became a central necessity to colonial Kongolese ritual activities.32 The nganga is another ritual idea and material as well as a human instrument handed down from Oriente’s colonial Kongolese practitioners. similar to those used with the cazuela—only those of the nganga are more powerful. but customs associated with use of the material objects. Physically. have been handed down to Palo initiates of a practitioner community and the ideas continue to be included in today’s Oriente practices. the nganga was and is comprehended to be a spirit and a powerful practitioner of Kongo-based customs. We aren’t sure how these functioned or were manifested in palenque ritual life. the term nganga can be used to identify a material object. actualities and potentials.33 Anthropologist Stephan Palmié suggests that ethnogensis is a key to the fact that Cuban ritual communities are associated with one particular African ethnic group but that practitioners are from various heritages. In addition. For example. The continental sacrality of material objects like the nganga and the cazuela persisted as spiritual work of colonial and more recent practitioners remained aligned with Kongolese traditions. Like the cazuela. That is to say.

34 In other words. The ritual subgroups provided African ethnic descendant members with familiar emotional. as well as criollos. Cuban colonists feared further uprisings and full-fledged revolution on 90 Chapter 4 . Europeans controlled which ethnic groups would arrive in any given location but within the liberated formations. blurring of ethnic identities and the merging of ethnic practices within groups bound by ritual initiation. The colonial government authorized the existence of the neo-African groupings and labeled them as cofradias. psychological. ritual affinity relationships. As rebellions continued throughout colonies of the Americas. At the same time.many of Oriente’s other African ethnic groups. The assumption was that cofradias would function much as such European groups had in Spain.35 However. They and their activities served as a type of moral and social organizer for members and existed inside and outside of neo-African social formations like palenques. if not real. and even foreigners. constantly caused large and small economic disruptions. members controlled behaviors as they had social and spiritual commonality. Multi. the transculturation process took place and we would further say that the shared cosmic orientation facilitated this. that authorities felt compelled to align them within existing social arrangements of colonial Spanish authority. Palmié contends that the cross-ethnic practices are not based on sanguine genealogy of practitioners but on their ritual initiation into a group. the evolving ethnogenic. specifics of their ethnic backgrounds. European descendants born in Cuba. political. The enslaved population had engaged in resistance activities since the beginning of the trans-Atlantic trade and.and crossethnic membership in ritual affinity groups as well as in palenques became the pattern. benevolence was not the motivation for the colonial shift. Authorities envisioned that cofradias would function as separate African civil organizations and thereby increase contentment with the existing social and political colonial order. and spiritual comfort that was related. Oriente’s early palenques were populated with smaller subgroup admixtures of informal ritual clusters of practitioners. in so doing. Not withstanding the stronger Kongolese influence. affinity ritual groups were not exclusive or exhaustive in the east but appeared elsewhere. and geographic landscape facilitated this symbolic. By the close of the seventeenth century colonial officials were so well acquainted with the informal. In attempting to understand this cross-ethnic membership. Oriente’s social. and grew larger in sites in Brazil and Haiti. and they were so well organized in their activities. but not exclusive to.

many of whom brought their enslaved laborers with them to Oriente. officials sanctioned social space for the informal neo-African arrangements to participate in colonial social order. function. but among Oriente neo-African cofradias.36 To hold back Africans’ rebellious ideas and behaviors. too. In the latter parts of the eighteenth century. By the close of the historical revolutionary event and the establishment of the Haitian Republic. they worked with the dead. The migration from the French colony had begun earlier in the century as small farmers were pushed from their lands by competition from large successful sugar plantations. The newest arrivals understood Africa-based time. they used drums and drum rhythms in their spiritual work. the ritual affinity groups were neo-African cofradía societies. the international sugar capital shifted from Haiti to Cuba and gave the Spanish island a tremendous need for large numbers of enslaved Africans. This meant that although Haitians settled and established their own religious tradition and communities in the region. Rebellious activities of all types continued in the region throughout the eighteenth century and cofradias employed official sanction as social space for further implementation of members’ preferred transculturated customs.their island. space. including ritual practices. They searched for ways to thwart such developments. The movement of farmers and their laborers was exacerbated as rebellion and the Haitian Revolution unfolded. In form. there was a shift in African ethnic membership in Oriente’s palenque liberated zones. The cosmic orientation of Haitian Africans was aligned with that of Oriente’s existing Kongolese foundations. though it did not displace the earlier effect. and for them. The successful Haitian Revolution of 1791 produced the world’s first independent nation of African descendants and caused a major exodus of French colonial planters. and power. there was little if any obligation to replicate the European model. The approved cofradias were modeled after European civil groups that emphasized spiritual content. They knew that spirits were present in the material world. Africa-based sacred practices had already been transculturated in the French colony and Haitian Africans brought these and other customs to Oriente. they did so upon Kongolese foundations and shared palo monte/palo mayombe 91 . cofradias became marginally part of the social structure. The mid-eighteenth-century presence of increased numbers of Haitian Africans in Oriente provided an additional African cultural influence to that of descendants from the Kongo Kingdom. as well as in the ethnic affinity cofradía groups. animal sacrifice was an important ritual activity. and now with colonial approval.

(2) spirits of the dead (ancestors and more). and (4) inanimate material. omnipresent. At the same time. but this is as often as the name is uttered. devotees of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe do not even call the name of Nsambe. and Palo Mayombe is the tradition that reflects that influence in a coherent fashion. Nsambe. but the foundation for ritual behaviors for the region continued to be the cultural heritage and ritual behaviors of the Kongo Kingdom Africans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 92 Chapter 4 . through the power of this supernatural force or being. or Sambia-Mpungo. can be recognized as the singular. Foundational Knowledge Central to the Oriente practice of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe is the knowledge that the world of humans contains at least four elemental categories: (1) divine spirits.perspectives. as it was brought into existence through the essential creative essence of Nsambe. Individually. the tata. We will consider the Haitian African in Oriente shortly. This does not mean that there are equal amounts of energy in each of the four categories or in each entity within a category. neo-African ritual activities and religious traditions. In palenques and cofradias. on sugar and coffee plantations. although the power force is conceived in all things that humans need. humans were created with sufficient capacity to attend to their own subsistence in a rational life cycle and have no need for further contact with the ultimate supernatural. may utter a brief invocation with Nsambe’s name at the beginning of a special ritual. as humans know it. Although practitioners do not normally envision the following in this way. The supernatural Supreme Creator of all is known as Nsambe and comprehensions about the four categories include knowledge that entities in each possess some of the cosmic energy dispensed at the time the universe was brought into existence. This influence also characterizes contemporary Oriente. The leader of a practicing community and possessor of the powerful nganga spirit of the community. Everyone is grateful to Nsambe because humans and everything else were brought into the world. Rather. ultimate supernatural Supreme Being and Creator of all ex­istence. and in rural and city areas. each entity in a category was given some portion. and one must have a well-developed ear to hear and recognize the calling. (3) animate things. new groups of enslaved men and women who worked side-by-side produced further transculturated.

practitioners often build sacred spaces that replicate those areas. the stuffed head of a monkey. Oriente scripts are part of the sacred and cultural vocabulary that exemplifies shared knowledge and can inform practitioners on both sides of the Atlantic about the religious identity of the signature. the sky. These are natural. The naturalistic emphasis understands that the convergence of supernatural creative energies is best found in uncultivated settings in forested areas. some or all of which were ordinary inclusions in Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe spaces. Greenery is also part of an embelé (initiation) of a new practitioner. Those who know the symbol system can read Oriente’s cosmograms. auditorium. and so on. a straw mat. a dried muskrat. For example. as part of the initiation ritual. Communities of this tradition that were part of our research always began certain rituals by writing a cosmogram on the floor of the sacred space where activities were to occur.” visibly notating practitioners’ orientation about their world and affirming their cosmic perspective at the start of circumscribed activities. the head of a lion. and a turtle. “We understand our relationship to the earth. They are a language of their own. uncultivated materials of a forested environment brought into sacred spaces to represent the concentration of the creative life force that the religion holds in sacred esteem. placed near the nganga.” The symbols and scripting are a “flash of the spirit. or another natural fiber completely covers palo monte/palo mayombe 93 .Another comprehension of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe is its naturalistic and scripting focus as reflected in its sacred spaces. This is consistent with Palo Monte/ Palo Mayombe as one of the island’s reglas congo cultural family of religions. These are Africa-based cosmograms that are scripted sign complexes. such as the animal sacrifice that is part of “feeding” the nganga. gardens. We saw similarly preserved forest animals. We observed a dried taxidermic snake wrapped around a stick. they bring the forest into domesticated places such as homes. To affirm the significance of the forest. Outdoor greenery is placed near other sacred objects in the spaces and the outdoor materials are especially added for major ceremonies. patios. written as symbols and pictures that communicate meaning. Physically the symbols mark the ritual beginning as they communicate to those present that. large green leaves. including an iguana. and all that is in creation. Sacred spaces of the tradition can include other components of forested areas as well. The presence of consecrated scripting is also found in locations of sacrality and is an important component of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe knowledge and practice.

nobility. When identifying themselves via their religious affiliation. The word nganga and other language used in Oriente Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe rituals are consistent with language of ethnic groups of Kongo Kingdom people. nganga refers to an extraordinary leader whose knowledge. like spaces themselves. The nganga.the cosmogram and uninitiated participants never see the written symbols. The 94 Chapter 4 . The three-legged. cast-iron cauldron or pot. nga adds a superlative character to the meaning of any word. The name of a community’s nganga is also the name of the prenda. just as the scripts carry information about the spiritual initiation and genealogy of specific community groups. The symbolic writings contain the spiritual signature of a community’s tata who will orchestrate a particular activity. can be negatively used by others. and history.”39 The prefix nga connotes the title of a leader and emphasizes nobility and dignity. therefore. Figure 6 is a simulated representation of an Oriente cosmogram. The objects and their power are brought into geographies of sacrality and the objects must be from each of the religion’s four essential categories. identity. but practitioners understand that etymologically the term refers to continental usage as “the wise man who is material and knowledge. contains objects from the four elemental categories. if widely known. the nganga. is in each nganga and is known to be exceptionally powerful.38 The linguistic and continental connection clarifies the nomination of nganga.40 Although nganga may be embodied in a human. As antecedent. practitioners (called paleros) recite a genealogical litany of their nganga community that includes this hereditary name. is the heart of ritual life for the tradition and is a prerequisite instrument that sits in the center of sacred spaces. The genealogical identity is exceptionally important for it establishes and maintains the active reputation of a practicing group.37 For example. the hereditary spirit of a practicing Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe community. Practitioners understand that this ritual prerequisite is the core of efficacious power in the religion even as there is a large repertoire of objects that contain some of the power of creation. Scripting that contains the community’s name. We say representation because practitioners are exceptionally protective about publicizing their sacred and symbolic work. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe requires work or engagement with spirits and material matter from the deceased. dignity. called the prenda. in Oriente it is dually understood to be the power concentrated within the iron caldron. and wisdom are superlative in their nature.

Nganga work is a vigorous. dignity. wisdom. The coming of a Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe spirit. the ultimate supernatural spirit. and the superior power of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. They can show us how to live better and join them in that world. in turn. interactive. energetic exchange between spirits of the caldron. is through work with the nganga and work with the dead of all categories. while the leader of a community of paleros is a tata. “The dead lived together with us in flesh.container does not merely hold the powerful objects but the nganga is the power. These practitioners are known as paleros and/or ngangaleros. is not often accomplished even as adherents call on the nganga daily with questions and petitions. Neither responses of the nganga to human petitions nor the coming of a spirit to a palero are predictable phenomena but practitioners know it always happens. The collaboration usually includes ngangaleros who. between any generalized spirits of the living dead. As one tata nganga reported. The nganga is the universal world. The instrument symbolically represents and is knowledge. nganga is being. and may achieve the extraordinary state of consciousness or trance. or a human’s crossing the threshold to extraordinary consciousness. Human communication with Nsambe. along with knowledgeable and well-experienced paleros/ngangaleros who identify individuals with this potential spiritual strength. Initiated individuals who own and/or work with the nganga conduct spiritual work through it. The tata is responsible for translating and interpreting these messages as devotees rely on the interpretations palo monte/palo mayombe 95 . However. However. nobility. possess the strength for spirit embodiment. spirits are known to come to the tata or a palero in a sacred space whether or not a ritual is in progress. It is the tata.” The dead are usually called upon to help humans solve problems and receive understandings about a doubtful future because they are powerful actors in the universal order. forces and spirits of initiated practitioners. possess the ability for a spirit to come to their bodies. by definition. and it is an indispensable cosmic element of the tradition’s practice in Oriente. a spirit must actually come to the body of a person before that person is confirmed as possessing the strength of spirit. and between the extraordinary spiritual powers of the tata. spirits must confirm the human identification. The most ordinary location for the coming of a spirit is in a sacred space and during ritual activities. and now they’re with the otherworld of spirits. give symbolic clarifications through mythological messages related to the historic past. A tata consults spirits of the dead who. it is all life.

Africa-based understandings of time and space are another Palo Monte/ Palo Mayombe foundational appreciation that intersects with ritual work with spirits. the blood of an animal or fowl. It is in the intensive actions and interactions of ritual time that humans may also have limited and temporary access to the supernatural realm. help resolve issues of the present. a feeding of essential energy essence. This is an wise messages from the dead who. Ordinarily this occurs during the sacrality of ritual activity when humans can more easily facilitate spirits crossing into the historical realm. an alternative temporal modality that is beyond the linear historical understanding of Western religions. a ritual sacrifice may be needed to return to a more balanced state of affairs. is directly linked to the nganga and work with that sacred instrument. normal. too. humans must live with consequences of their requests and the resulting actions. Knowledge of how to participate in rituals of cross-realm experiences represents practitioners’ comprehension of an alternative model of time. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe provides an organizational model of family based on the tradition’s understandings about the ordered nature of the spirit world. Humans implement the model with the tata nganga as head of the structure. It extends beyond blood relations to include the totality of initiated members of a religious community as well as to encompass all spiritual beings of that group.42 Imbalance is common. The concept of family is an important foundational aspect of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe lifestyle as practiced in Oriente. When these relationships become particularly skewed. ritualized sacrifice of animals is normal community work. that power also can be activated to do negative things in humans’ historical world. Animal sacrifice is yet another foundational understanding of this religious tradition and it. Energies from elements in human time and space must interact with those from supernatural space and time if a given issue is to be resolved with spirit assistance. in this manner. He is assisted by the female Yayi and both are guided by the 96 Chapter 4 . In Oriente. coupled with a reputation for exceptionally efficacious spiritual work. foundational comprehension of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe.41 While power of the dead can be called upon to do good. These sacred activities are understood within the cosmic context of humans’ responsibility to seek right relations in and with everything that Nsambe brought into existence. and predictable among the interwoven and complex varieties of universal components. Socio­ logically. In either case. The sacrifice is an offering to the nganga.

Usually. inherited the community’s nganga cauldron and its powers have been passed to him by the previous tata nganga. All persons initiated into the religion by a community’s successive tata ngangas are included as members of the extended family. In other words. Noninitiated but consanguine family members are also considered part of the family and the number of members in a single religious community/family can be in the hundreds. the Netherlands. The whole is a symbolic universe. The transfer occurs at a ritually designated time after the death of the original leader and requires that ritualistically all decision-making members of the community come to consensus as to who will actually assume leadership work. “I guess I have about four thousand godchildren” is what one tata told us. Designation of the potential new leader is expected to be made just before the previous tata dies. However. We know of an Oriente family/community that includes members who live in Spain. who themselves may possess a nganga. This role is expected to be transferred to a genealogical family member of the dead tata who was identified early in life. and who has been trained throughout adulthood to assume the position if he has been designated and there is ritual consensus. as it is assumed that a tata will know when he is going to die and will name his successor close to that date. and the United States. have the option to form their own community and/or to connect with another worshiping family. Initiated members can reside oceans away from the sacred space and leader who initiated them. if not at birth. whether or not they remain with the original group. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe practitioners may have memberships in more than one worship family. spiritual elders of a community. the tradition does not separate social organization of humans from that of the spiritual world.powerful spirit instrument. Nsambe is at the apex of all that is in the universal world and is the head of the human family. the tata has. father of the entire extended religious family. The father of a given worshiping community is the tata nganga. This leads to additional structural components that are equally hierarchal in the historical world. but spirits of the sacred cauldron share responsibilities as leader of the human family. if the decision-making community members ritually agree to accept the designated person. Venezuela. After the death. the nganga. by spiritual genealogy and social relations. palo monte/palo mayombe 97 . This indicates that a community will include more than one tata nganga and more than one set of initiates. a new leader becomes tata. if not thousands. One respondent reported that at the death of a tata nganga.

In Oriente. we accept that Oriente devotees of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe engage their nganga as the holder and personification of “el muerto” and “prenda” as extraordinarily powerful spirits available to assist humans. All initiated members experience symbolic. a man must have been identified as strong enough to receive spirits. The nganga resides in the tata’s sacred space and. and “Madre nganga” are titles of such positions. and characteristics of the muerto of an nganga.” none of the practitioners attending the annual meeting on religions disputed. Respondents reported that “Madre de Agua” (mother of water). And despite the fact that humans exist in a material world. particularly through the nganga and the tata. meaning. When we presented our discussion of these as “positions. until there is further research. However. The muerto is a most critical component of the nganga as it is the spirit of a specific dead person known to visit the historical world. must have acquired a requisite secret body of ritual and religious knowledge. between the leader and the nganga. the Africa-based orientation of the religions sees most all problems and difficulties as spiritual. and must have inherited a nganga that he directs and is reciprocally directed by. though there is disagreement and inordinate hesitancy to discuss what these are. The Yayi. and this is usually conducted by the Yayi and tata. questioned. or corrected our report from the field. We could not determine how paleros in Oriente understand the relationship or difference between the prenda and the muerto. The prenda is an extraordinarily powerful. Our posture is that. mother of the practicing community. the tata and Yayi are godparents to all members of a given community of practitioners and they are in charge of helping to resolve members’ spiritual problems and difficulties. there was no general consistency in their responses. accompanies the tata in managing spiritual affairs of the family through the nganga. but in some locations we were told that they are equal. the one characteristic about which respondents did agree was that the nganga is and does contain the prenda. they coordinate affairs of the extended religious family. Each sacred caldron possesses such a designated muerto. spiritual “birth through the nganga” by way of the embelé/initiation. although they had done so on other 98 Chapter 4 . Initiated women may also hold positions.To achieve the level of tata nganga. “Madre Nkisi” (mother with power that makes things happen). divine spirit designated to communicate with humans with specific messages from the spirit world. but when we asked practitioners about the definition. while in other places it was said that a muerto is too young to be a prenda.

memorial rituals for the dead. Rituals of initiation. this is not a complete discussion. At the same time. We also found men and women cleaning the floor of sacred spaces after specific ceremonial sacrifices. these responsibilities are not gender specific. The outdoor sacred geographies are sites where it is known that energy from each of the four essential categories has focused power and where power of the otherworld of spirits has united with the four to equal an authoritative juncture. We observed men and women preparing ritual foodstuffs just as we observed men who prepared animals after sacrifice. and celebrations. a sacred center is a location wherein descending cosmic power is known to have previously intersected with other energies from elements in the four essential categories of the human realm. in chanting and battle events. Although these are important elements of the foundational knowledge from which Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe practitioners live out their Africabased lifestyle in Oriente. rituals to return balance to earthly matters. rituals. the sensually explosive potential of convergence can be felt if not observed. rituals to eliminate negative situations. We also observed that the gender fluidity noted in Palo communities extended to women participating.44 Some of women’s ritual responsibilities in Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe include dressing ceremonial animals after a sacrifice and preparing foodstuffs during and after rites. This combination is acknowledged as existing in an alternative modality of time and space. The cosmic arena also characterizes sacred spaces built by devotees and. but this fact is rarely discussed and only shared with a few people for public consideration. Sacred Spaces Constructed spaces of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe are designed to replicate outdoor forest areas. a dynamic flowing of highly articulated reciprocal spiritual communication that is spectacular. when special ritual work is done appropriately. or rituals to celebrate the day of a palo monte/palo mayombe 99 . but not a spectacle. Palo practitioners understand that the conversion creates an arena of cosmic energy. even as men more normally maintained the regular cleanliness of sacred sites.43 Women who hold these positions may possess a nganga.of our databased reports about Oriente religions. We have chosen to present the more salient comprehensions that are rarely omitted when practitioners speak of their tradition. In forests. but not competing.

Some material objects of a nganga can be seen in figure 7. as well as skeletal fragments from a wide selection of dead sacred humans and animals. On the left in figure 7. a characteristic marker of Oriente sacred spaces. To know where to find and how to select any and all of these requires decades of training and experience. sits in the center of the space to receive offerings and to actively participate in all Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe work. and expressly empowered rocks from oceans. The nganga. with all of its characteristic elements. The lighted candle designates the space as one where practitioners know who they are spiritually and that they belong to a cosmic order. There can be dirt from farreaching corners of the earth. the nganga sits in sacred spaces and contributes to their charisma.” A glass of clear water helps spirits cross from the otherworld and arrive in the human realm. According to the tradition. lifts the upper body to offer personal words of thanks and petition. red. it is this characteristic of reciprocal cosmic communication and dynamic energy transmission that positions Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe spaces as charismatic centers. each with its own cosmic energy. It takes well-developed religious knowledge to assemble a nganga within a sacred location. “Salaam alaakem. the practitioner says. and valleys. rivers. sticks from an assortment of specialty trees and bushes. mountains. malkem salaam. Initiated practitioners are required to salute the nganga whenever they enter its presence and before sacrificial rituals. While knocking three times. Respondents also report that “The candle lights the way for visiting spirits. is a cazuela. The salute has several forms but usually begins with the ngangalero/palero kneeling before the nganga and sacred objects centered in the space. The spaces make things happen even against opposition. Conceptually. Crossed fists touch the floor. As a mandatory religious instrument. Often the practitioner takes a 100 Chapter 4 . and the image includes the ngangalero/palero saluting the sacred cauldron of his space.divine spirit are exemplary occasions when cosmic energy convergence can occur. the green tree leaves and branches are inserted natural elements that help transpose the small room into a location of sacrality and a space for strong effective ritual activity. just behind or above the green.” The forehead gently touches the floor and the practitioner. still bending. Palo practitioners understand that cosmic forces are more likely to visit and consult with elemental energies of an assembled space when it and the nganga are prepared in a ritualistically appropriate manner. first one over the other and then the reverse. and white can.

sprays the liquid across all items in the space. The animal’s blood flows in a straight line. holds the animal during the presentation. When proper congo-style drums are not available for the ceremony. as the animal enters. and drumming if resources permit.mouthful of malafa (clear rum) and. chanting. while crossing one hand to the opposite shoulder. Doors to the sacred space are opened when the specialized activities are over and just before it is time for the sacrificial animal to be brought inside. the fed nganga and other objects are ritualistically returned to their regular places in the sacred space and the floor is cleaned and sanitized. and the tata nganga is the person with sufficient religious knowledge and spiritual authority to determine what type of sacrifice must be done—a change in human behavior and/or animal blood offerings. a collective meal is shared by palo monte/palo mayombe 101 . Drums and drummers can be an integral part of this festive phase and. and drumming again.” such as a cazuela. Before turning his or her back to the space. Then. Participants are also asking that the sacrifice be acceptable. Before a sacrificial ceremony. another tata. the tata nganga or a designated tata places a special knife to the animal’s throat and everyone present pinches their throats. based on the nature of the ritual. with the same gesture of the opposite hand and shoulder. This is accompanied by singing or chanting. The knife and blood are then directed toward covering other sacred objects of the ceremony that were designated to be “fed. A similar or variation of this type of salute is required of everyone before the beginning of “feeding of the nganga” or a ritual with blood sacrifice. After all have bid farewell. a cosmogram is scripted on the floor (see figure 6). There is a sequential and procedural pause before generalized celebration resumes with singing. A designated and trained religious authority. Sacrifice is one of the more important rituals to occur in sacred spaces of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. the practitioner’s hands usually touch the nganga and then his or her own forehead or lips. The scripting signifies that only initiated practitioners should be inside the sacred space. sprays another mouthful of the liquid in the same manner. and dancing. for example. some community member will beat the appropriate rhythms on some other surface or on their bodies. chanting. and says ceremonial words that ask for a smooth and quick cut. Individually everyone bows and presents their body to the held animal. vibrating the pinched skin. All practitioners and any visitors begin singing. down the knife blade that points to the nganga below (the assembled group is “feeding the nganga”). When all required animals have been sacrificed.

the femur or other bone of a human. When the Indian spirit crosses over and comes to a tata or a palero. towns. These are symbolic inclusions from the cultural traditions of Cuban Indians. 102 Chapter 4 . the taxidermic character of a large turtle. The dried blood of sacrificed animals. During certain rituals. large axes. These were the early and initial enslaved workers who delivered the continental cosmic orientation that became foundational in the Oriente practice of indigenous religions. and used in contact with other cultural groups of the eastern region’s colonial circumstances. not authentic characteristic replicas. links of a large chain. farms. the skeletal head of a lion or other being. the red headband is ritualistically placed on the person and the spirit imparts knowledge to practicing members who are present. spikes from railroads. When one enters a Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe sacred space. and more are all dramatically and unavoidably attractive to human senses. and cities of the region. The ceramic image is not what we believe Cuban Indians looked like but practitioners’ focus on the category of Indians. colonial authorities sanctioned the informal groupings as cofradias. Among these is a ceramic representation of an Indian and a red headband with feathers (see figure 9). concretized. a dried snake skin. villages. Figure 8 is a close-up of a Palo sacred space including the variety of material objects associated with ritual work of the tradition. Ritual customs were equally stabilized within hundreds of palenques de cimarrones that were scattered throughout Oriente’s Sierra Maestra mountains. Eventually. Summary Thoughts Religious customs associated with Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe were brought into Oriente with captives from ethnic families of Africa’s Kongo Kingdom. as well as in informal ethnic affinity groupings that could be found on plantations. The Africa-based pool of knowledge included rules for adjusting to a new natural environment and the full body of comprehensions was adapted.individuals for whom the sacrifice was performed. the tata nganga and/or other paleros/ngangaleros can receive a special Indian spirit and respondents reported that this is a particularly special and powerful spirit. Practitioners understand that eating cooked flesh of appropriately designated and sacrificed animals gives strength to all who consume it. Every effort is made for everyone in attendance to receive some of the sacrificial food. the most visible and striking aspects are the sensuality of material objects.

Sacred spaces of the Kongo-based tradition are replications of outdoor forest areas where cosmic energies of created essence from four essential categories are known to converge. The cazuela also has become an important ritual device whose use developed among colonial African descendants. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe practices do not appear to be exceptionally dogmatic. even though noninitiated persons may be allowed to participate in some activities. Women hold leadership positions and designated female leaders assist in coordinating affairs for the community. we turn to the religious tradition brought to Oriente by Haitian Africans. wisdom. and experiences. Females have intimate roles in ritual life as well as a direct relationship with its requisite knowledge. The region’s generalized spiritual reputation as the “land of the dead” is linked to the content of these containers. the nganga is the central ritual instrument and contains a plethora of other powerful objects from the essential categories. In Oriente. palo monte/palo mayombe 103 . In Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe locations of sacrality. although there is clear hesitancy to reveal most knowledge and activities to noninitiated and unfamiliar visitors. A Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe community of practitioners is a family composed of all persons initiated by the religious leader plus all spirits associated with the community’s performance of the tradition. In the next chapter.

Although religious traditions from the Ewé Fon/Adja arrived directly from Africa in colonial Cuba before the close of the eighteenth century. the second largest city in Cuba (see map 5). Oriente does not seem to have Arará societies. although it does have active Vodú  104 . known as Arará. where at least 66 percent of the contemporary population is of African descent.5 Vodú Approximately thirty-five miles of sea separate eastern Cuba from the nation of Haiti. has influenced religious traditions in Oriente. Some small numbers of Arará groups continue. Domingue. It is no wonder. one can see the lights of Santiago de Cuba. Africabased practices from the tradition. have been mostly confined to western and central parts of Cuba. from shores of the former French colony.1 Haiti is internationally known as the seat of Vodou religious practice in the Americas. these early Fon practices were not as widespread as in St. On a clear evening. ritual behaviors were adapted from their African origins and transculturated within colonial activities of cultural populations that inhabited the French colony then known as St. that Haiti. Domingue. but based on our literature and field research. therefore.2 The Ewé Fon/Adja ethnic group of West Africa was the most dominant continental population in the colony as they had been captured and brought to the Caribbean from areas now known as the People’s Republic of Benin.

the Fulani. yet again. Coming to Cuba The African starting point of Haitian Vodou is the Ewé Fon/Adja ethnic communities of fifteenth.4 Despite this perception. When Europeans began transporting Africans across the Atlantic Ocean.and sixteenth-century areas we know as Dahomey or Benin. the Fon had already incorporated ideas and customs developed through contact and exchange with other African cultural groups. Groups from the Ewé Fon/Adja. persons introduced into the French colonial system of enslavement brought the reformulated sacred knowledge in their minds and hearts. war. and other neighboring kingdoms and empires participated in cultural exchanges that accompanied trade. substituted. those of Yorubaland. Oriente sacred spaces of the tradition mirror the Haitian origins just as they express content from their African beginnings and their eastern sociopolitical environment. The enslaved reformulated. but. and/or woven compatible features into new spiritual practices. that many academics mistakenly consider it an exclusively Oriente phenomenon. and other such contacts.communities. We turn now to important specifics that brought Haitian Africans and their Vodou practices to Oriente. like others from Africa imported to the Caribbean. As they made the involuntary voyages. the new religious practices from their remembrances of the African traditions. captured members of the intersecting communities had already incorporated. on a visit to Ciego de Avila. adapted. the Kongolese. political alliances. vodú 105 .3 The Cuban tradition of Vodú permeates Oriente but it was brought from Haiti. Customs and procedures of the tradition are so prevalent in the eastern region.and sixteenth-century Ewé Fon/Adja knowledge as these captives first arrived in the Caribbean. and scripted in their bodies. Religious practices of these continental groups provided foundational orientation and phenomenological principles. These merged behaviors were part of fifteenth. we interviewed Cuban Haitian descendants who emphatically identified themselves as members of a practicing Vodú community and we were introduced to others who belonged.5 This suggests that the tradition is not exclusive to Oriente but probably follows a pattern of Haitian migration to Cuba that occurred during different historical epochs. not directly from the African continent. In this regard. a city not in Oriente. The contact had occurred long before Europeans arrived. particularly in mountain communities of the Sierra Maestra.

during this period and before. Africans’ Haitian religion was one of a multitude of such new creations that included language. Spanish. Kewtu and Anago Yoruba to the east—were fairly close to the Dahomean way of life. French farmers could not compete with the large agribusiness of sugar cultivation. Domingue’s enslavement 106 Chapter 5 . first in Dahomey and then all over again in Haiti. Domingue began to reduce the production of these crops for that of sugar. and Dutch. and so on.and sixteenth-century encounters the religious tradition of Haitian Vodou was produced. And it was the transculturated Haitian Vodou that Haitian Africans brought to Oriente when French planters moved themselves and their bonded persons to Oriente. indigo. sugar. As the eighteenth century moved into its second decade. . Domingue. including Portuguese. some African descendants who ran away to escape the horrific conditions of St. ensured that new behaviors would evolve. and tobacco farmers of St. The large number of enslaved workers they brought to the east diversified the region’s existing African-descendant population and its religious practices. whether they chose to or not. Everyone on the French colonial island developed new behaviors appropriate for the Caribbean environment. bringing their slave labor with them. The crop conversion and the demand for the cheap labor of enslaved African workers pushed small farmers out of the French colony.Robert Farris Thompson has the following to say about the multiethnic African inclusion of content in the African and New World process: The cultures of the conquered—Mahi to the north. coffee. political structures. and other profitable enterprises initially brought French settlers to the Americas just as such economic opportunity had lured other Europeans. . and through fifteenth. By the mid-1600s. Gold. The multicultural nature of populations and exchanges in the Americas. migration to Oriente from Haiti had begun before this late eighteenth-century movement. Profitable sugar cultivation demanded larger and larger land spaces and infinitely more human labor. clothing. However. resulting in a first French migration to Oriente.6 Sacred customs of Dahomey’s Ewé Fon/Adja people were dominant among early practices in St. coupled with the inequitable distribution of power in the sociopolitical colonial structures. Fusion and refusion of Yoruba spirits. . food.7 Similarly. go a long way toward explaining the phenomenon of multiple avatars of the same DahomeanYoruba god.

such as mangos. Africans from the French colony. a region that proved ideal for their agricultural projects. Mountains and foothills of the Sierra Maestra were also conducive to the successful production of coffee and tropical fruits. for enslaved Haitian Africans now relocated in Oriente. were small compared to the large numbers of Haitian Africans who arrived in the region as a result of turmoil surrounding that revolution. familiarity related to our interest in sacred spaces. They were particularly helpful in mechanizing Cuba’s coffee and sugar production and transforming those enterprises into internationally profitable commodities. Ewé Fon/Adja descendants had transculturated Oggún and Santiago through contact and exchanges with Europeans in St.fled to Oriente where the Sierra Maestra and its palenques offered them liberated zones. bananas. French planters fled the disorder by the thousands and again migrated to Oriente. French Haitian farmers and slave masters viewed the eastern region as an opportunity to capitalize on the international sugar trade now that Haiti’s production was in disarray. and pineapples. Robert Farris Thompson says the following about this process: In the course of supposed Westernization. Oggún Fai. renamed Haiti after the success of the 1804 revolution.8 These migrations. The name of Oriente’s largest city. Domingue.10 Oggún Fai/Santiago was one such divine spirit who was restructured through European contact and was the force invoked by Boukman’s vodú 107 . However. Haitians actually transformed the meaning of the Catholic icons by observing their similarities to African spirits. sun-soaked growing environment allowed migrants to quickly adapt their agricultural skills as well as technological and administrative expertise to the eastern region. Planters brought enslaved laborers of Ewé Fon/Adja background and these became the second definitive African ethnic group in Oriente. Haitians restructured the identity of the saints to the Catholic Church in terms of their own religious language. were intimately familiar with Oggún and knew of his similarities to the Catholic warring saint of Santiago de Compostella. is also the name of the Catholic counterpart of Haitians’ transculturated religious warrior spirit. prior to the Haitian Revolution. there was special familiarity. Santiago de Cuba. The cool. if not before.9 The social and political changes brought about economic upheavals that forever interrupted the island’s sugar production.

but common sights in the capital city of Santiago can not be ignored. animal sacrifice. the confessional . human hair on the Christ. “Santiago.11 Shared cultural and spiritual familiarity did not alter conditions of enslavement. overloaded with mysterious moldings. Can’t you see that I’m the war’s son?” According to legend. I’m the war’s son. Similarly. called serviteurs. and iconic parallels in sacred spaces— and each group of African descendants understood the coming of spirits to 108 Chapter 5 . He was burned at the stake. . Carpentier describes what the Haitians would have seen: Baroque gold.12 Such eighteenth-century images and realities in the Oriente environment contained cosmic truths already known by Haitian Africans. and Oggún Fai/Santiago became interconnected for most Haitian Africans. dragons being smashed by Holy feet. Santiago. They all had an enveloping force. Mackandal was a fugitive slave who escaped burning at the stake after poisoning several French as well as Haitian colonists. They were in new geographic territory but the visual aesthetic was well understood. the connection between revolutionary warriors of Mackandal. Mackandal. . but as no one saw the punishment or Mackandal’s body thereafter. All similar to those that emanated from altars consecrated to Damballa. He reportedly proclaimed that he would change his form before his execution. Those arriving in Oriente were surely familiar with the association. Saint Anton’s pig. but included. had been handed down from earlier freedom fights and helped strengthen the comparative understandings between French and Spanish island realities. black Virgins. also recognized several patterns of their spiritual customs in the already-established Kongobased practices of Oriente sacred lifestyles. he became part of legend about supernatural forces. shared orientation about the supernatural world. Boukman. the serpent god in Haitian hunfos [temples]. practices of ritual initiation. .soldiers of the Haitian Revolution. by presence. The recognition went beyond. remember. he dared poison whites. Haitian religious practitioners. An old song about another Haitian rebel leader. a seductive power. The song said. . attributes and signs. symbolism. Saint Jorge with buckskin and doublet. Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier evoked the familiarity Haitian Africans would have felt in Oriente’s sights and situations as he speculated on their religious comprehensions when first encountering churches. .

Vodou. it was thought. There were several militias and police units of African descendants early in the French colony’s history.14 and rituals derived from Ewé Fon/Adja heritage gave spiritual foundation and cohesion to many of the black groups. and those patterns gave structural order to their transition in the colonial land space. and even some enslaved blacks to participate in the colony’s civil order. Such integration.15 It was from their history and/or experience as part of such social ar­­ rangements that Haitian Africans in Oriente found familiarity in the eighteenth. and they. These social patterns helped them become Cuban. Becoming Cuban Societal similarities between the French and Spanish plantation economies were a factor in facilitating eighteenth-century Haitian Africans’ adjustments in Oriente. the religious tradition constructed by African descendants in the colony.and nineteenth-century cabildo arrangements. One such ritual event is repeatedly cited as an important catalyst.human bodies. into a more functional relationship with colonial social structures. was instrumental in inspiring activities that led to the Haitian Revolution. Cuban authorities initially had sanctioned as cofradía associations Africans’ informal affinity groups.13 The colony of St. Existing and familiar patterns of Africa-based organized social life was also recognizable to the immigrating Haitian Africans. Kongo-based traditions’ emphasis on spiritual work with the dead was equally well known to African Haitians. They had rituals that revered and worked with remnants of dead ancestors. would vodú 109 . The intent of cabildos for sanctioning authorities was to integrate independent affinity groups. Haitians also shared economic and social status with African descendants in Oriente as both were Africans in a land that enslaved and brutally exploited descendants of their continental homeland. Central to the arena of religion and religious organization were similarities of civil society groups in the two locations—French Haitian societé and Cuban cabildo. free blacks. Domingue was noted for its variety of cultural and ethnic inhabitants as well as for its racially separated social groupings. called upon these spirits to help humans confront the precarious circumstances of the historical world. but by the close of the eighteenth and opening of the nineteenth century. Independent voluntary associations of the public sector were mechanisms used by free persons of color. from palenques and elsewhere. these had been restructured into more formal cabildos. too.

one can realize that the Afro-Haitian culture has grown in eastern Cuba. “When considering that 32 percent of the total immigrant ‘French’ population were slaves.17 Still.prevent rebellious activities in Cuba. despite differences in purpose and some functions. enslaved Haitian Africans maintained their traditional ritual songs. however. lies deep within the Sierra Maestra and is a strong example of earlier areas where enslaved Haitian Africans lived and worked. not even during Cuba’s 1868–1878 Ten Years’ War when large numbers of African descendants voluntarily fought with insurgent criollo Cubans.20 These musical preparations 110 Chapter 5 . They worked on geographically self-contained coffee and other farms.18 The groups de­­veloped as permeable but relatively closed communities for no other reason than that Haitians arrived in Oriente as a group during roughly the same time period. and many were performing collectives for civic and religious holiday activities. the fact of sanctioned cabildos in Oriente permitted Haitian Africans to adapt to social organizing in their new homeland. but the cultural definition was clearly Haitian and the groups named themselves Tumba Francesas or Tajones. Isabelica was saved from fires set by insurgents during the 1895 War of Independence and now serves as a visible reference for the contained nature of Africans who cultivated coffee and other products in the mountain region.and nineteenth-century Haitian Africans arrived at this point of conversion and found that cabildos functioned much like similar organizations in their island homeland. called cafateles or fincas. African Haitian organizations included members from other ethnic families. and Judith Bettelheim proposes that the “Afro-Haitian” population was infinitely significant. The cafetales and fincas of Oriente were successful production centers. One archeologically restored finca or cafetale. Research of Casa del Caribe field investigators found that Haitians rehearsed their routines on flat-stoned terraces used to dry coffee beans.”19 In remote areas of the mountains. which were surrounded by mountainous areas with extremely limited transportation. At the same time. entire cabildos did not serve as military units. dances. Unlike in the French colony. the Isabelica Plantation.16 Eighteenth. the groups were religious associations and mutual-aid organizations. These factors helped to strengthen tumbas and tajones in their Ewé Fon/Adja Haitian identity and were reinforced by the numbers of descendants who continued to arrive from Haiti. and drumming practices within their Tajona/Tumba Francesa associations. She says.

21 Individual Haitians also are known to have escaped Cuban bondage. and formed their own in the Sierra Maestra.”22 By the 1860s. “Several children were killed and Spanish authorities” argued that the Africans were “brujos. a “small army organized by a group of runaways” was successful in “attacking coffee and sugar estates. Moncada chose to serve as the comparsa’s bastonero (stick fighter). By 1815. We found that the chant continues to be used in local congas’ songs during Carnival and is intentionally maintained as a connection between vodú 111 . Guillermón Moncada. Contemporary Oriente respondents reported that the legendary Palo de Limones waved by Moncada. when Oriente descendants were restless and focused on freedom and the elimination of the enslavement system. For example. The competitive activities continue today and performing Tumbas Francesas can be seen in such cities as Guantánamo. The groups participated so extensively in Oriente festive activities that they became well known for the distinct nature of their performances. Santiago. including mountain groups with their cabildo or tumba memberships. the Haitian groups were one of many that joined Santiago’s annual Carnival parades. The preparations also included drumming and dancing from the spiritual heritages of Africa and Haiti. and Las Tunas as they fuse colonial religious ideas with public presentation. as this position gave him the “customary license to use his baton [symbolically] against whomever he desired. The insurrection and the army became known as “Brujos de Limón. freeing and taking” some of the enslaved forces of ranches of the Partido de Limones. Each group paraded for prizes before a judging panel. take with you whomever will go). and is said to have chanted “Chinchirin se va pal monte. The parade-performing groups. The palenque army launched this particularly deadly and well-known insurrection against Limón. coupled with the equally legendary chant. were organized along lines of neighborhood inhabitance. Located just outside the Oriente town of El Cobre.” Moncada used his “Palo de Limones” (stick of Limones) against Spanish soldiers. joined existing palenques de cimarrones. an African Cuban of Haitian ancestry. cogelo con quien se van” (You dark-skinned one. called congas and comparsas (carnival parade band). were signals that it was time for listeners to join the mountain palenques and resist Spanish rule. had organized a comparsa named Brujos de Limón.were in advance of carnival or other festive occasions and included versions of staid dances that referenced those their foreparents had observed French colonists carry out.” the Spanish word given to Africans who worked with spirits. go to the mountain.

for example. This continuous in-migration was precipitated by the need for cheap labor.274. unlike most other African ethnic groups. and most went to areas in Oriente. Between 1912 and 1916. Haitians brought ideas and familiarity. This and other continuous movements of large numbers of African descendants. singing and chanting rhythms from Haitian African—now Cuban—traditions. from homes in the western hemisphere to other locations in the Americas. Crombet. Names like Valiente.24 The ethnic-based groups had created social space for themselves in Oriente life and were contributing to transculturated expressions that signaled being Cuban.contemporary African descendants and their palenque ancestry. Results of their contributions can still be seen in the disproportionate number of Oriente apellidos (surnames) of Haitian French origin. with Haitian Vodou. Haitian Vodou was also recomposed in Oriente where eighteenth. over more than four hundred years. which Haitians provided far into the twentieth century.25 It was/is a migration pattern generated by capitalist needs for cheap labor or other cost reductions. However. Haitian immigration to Cuba grew from 8. and sticks down the roads from their fincas and cafetales to the celebrations. danced in distinctive manners.and nineteenth-century religious practices of other African descendants were already participating in the Cuban transculturation process. Members of the Santiago conga group Foco Cultura Congo de Los Hoyos directly informed us that they use the chant and claim to have organizational origins in the Tumba Francesa organized by Moncada. elements of Haitian regional customs were renewed and reaffirmed by an uninterrupted inflow of additional Haitian migrants that persisted even after legalized slavery ended in Cuba in 1886. Lescay. successive Oriente relocation of Haitians as a specific ethnic group has reinforced ritual customs and strengthened the region’s Haitian-African character. if not active experiences. 112 Chapter 5 . and sang in Haitian French patois. Martín.23 Before a carnival or festival event in cities and towns below the Sierra Maestra. Like their ancestors of earlier years.26 Over centuries. as well as similar patterns of movement in Europe. and Millet are reminders of this special involvement and are an equally strong remnant of Haitian influence in the region. costumes.784 people to 79. The groups used special Haitian-style drums (see figure 11). is what sociologist Ruth Simms Hamilton called the “geo-circularity” of African descendants—from their continental homelands to the Americas. Tajona/Tumba Francesa members marched with their drums.

in St. and the other called PetroLemba. and they are even stronger. For the most part. from the south peninsula of what is now Haiti and the northern Kongo trading and healing society.27 Beyond and above each of the Rada and Petro divine spirit lines is the Bon Dieu or Grand Met. Petro Loa are ancestors whose bodies have departed the human historical world beyond the living dead. beyond the time of the living dead. Baron Cimetiere. called mambo and hungán respectively. Petro spirits are even able to intervene in Rada activities on behalf of human beings who serve the Petro Loa through Vodú ritual practices. Domingue where they became Haitian. the seas. the Supreme Creator power. and yet another articulation of the tradition in Oriente. Loa lineages are Rada and Petro. Oriente’s early Vodú groups and their ritual activities were closely aligned with consanguine family relations and included any additional kin related to the female and male leaders. In Haiti and in Oriente. and the universe. Don Pedro. Absolutely fundamental to practice of Vodú in Oriente is the reverence of Damballa. they are spirits of the dead who have moved beyond phenomena of humans’ material time. the sky. Robert Farris Thompson describes their presence in the Americas: Rada. These Loa only perform good works and. as strong as they are. or divine spirit forces. Rada Loa are exceptionally powerful. Allada. The genealogical family of the mambo or hungán provides the closest internal vodú 113 . Damballa is the lead spirit within the Rada class of Loa and is represented as a serpent. Lemba. Cuban Haitian Loa are a reblending of African Ewé Fon/Adja continental knowledge with cultural contacts. and Baron Crois lead the Petro class of spirits. They are responsible for and have dominion over the soul. itself derived from the name of the holy city of the Dahomeans. These are the primary spirits venerated by traditions in Haiti as well as in Oriente. after the slaving designation for persons abducted from Arada. the earth. and into macrotime of the long past as discussed in chapter 2. or simply Petro. after a messianic figure. Another important foundation to this religious tradition in the east is the linkage of ritual and sanguine family relations. The triumvirate of Baron Samedi.Belief Foundations The Vodú tradition of Oriente contains the characteristic Dahomean-type pantheonic lineages of Loa. their power is limited. on the coast of Dahomey.

and are all ritually bonded into a full worship community. Most members of the group comprise a worshiping Vodú community and their performances are built from ritual stories and dances of the two Loa. This kin-based social organization continues to be active in Oriente. where the three male members span three generations and are blood relatives as well as members of a Las Tunas group of Vodú practitioners. The pattern appears normative and was further confirmed through interviews with family descendants of two prominent Cuban military heroes. no matter how far removed they were from direct blood lineage. Vodú customs. another foundational practice of Vodú in contemporary Oriente is the predominant devotion to the family of Loa associated with warrior spirits. Emphasis on warrior Loa is consistent with the battle lore of African Dahomeian and Haitian historical events and religious practices. Two descendants reported. have children. blood family members of the leading hungán or mambo marry. for example. Our respondents were the great-grand and grand relatives to the Maceo Grajales brothers and each independently reported that their family ancestors were intimately familiar with. all members had a genealogical spiritual relationship to the group leader. The transculturated Oggún spirit force is shown in figure 11 and presents the warrior as a Haitian expression within a ceramic figurine. In each collective of our sample population. if not actual practitioners of. “I learned how to do the [spiritual] work from my grandmother and her grandmother taught her. Family offspring of military brothers Antonio and José Maceo Grajales continue to reside in Oriente. They are the spirits on whom public performances of musical extravaganzas of Guantánamo’s Tumba Francesa performing group are based.linkage of a ritualistically bonded Vodú family.30 Significant to 114 Chapter 5 .29 Another major Vodú supernatural warrior spirit is Leggba and several Oriente communities continue to venerate both Oggún and Leggba. That is to say. presented throughout the island as well as in Europe. and reflect clear reference and representations of Oggún and Leggba.” The latter relative was not known by other respondents but minimally would have been a great-grand relative to the Maceo Grajales military men. We interviewed the director of this group after observing their performance at the Guantánamo Hotel and were told that the variety shows were produced in Cuba. as demonstrated in figure 10. These respondents acknowledged that even some contemporary men in their immediate families are practitioners.28 In addition to blood and ritual linkages. a warrior astride a horse in motion on the battlefield.

so real that he seemed to be standing in the room. firstborn son of the Faith and of Saint Francis. . . Then I went to Bula.our exploration is that Oriente Vodú communities also can be performing Tajona/Tumba Francesa. She reported on experience with the spirit and body phenomenon that was based on encounters with a visiting spirit significant in Kongo history. However. . and inform humans through embodied communication as we observed with our research groups: A clear vision appeared. . We prefer the more accurate descriptor suggested by Rachel Harding from her research in Brazil. but I had to leave as the people there did not revere me well. First I had gone into the head of a woman who was in Nseto. I have been sent from God to your head . nor derived from knowledge foundations of the continent. Serviteurs understand that the most basic access to the supernatural otherworld occurs through the act of spirit mounting or possession. Possession is particularly significant because the occupation of black bodies by a divine being is a stunning contestation of subalternity. and above all of accompaniment . and the people wanted to beat me.31 This more accurately reflects how Oriente respondents communicated their experiences with the phenomenon. the term possession is not conceptually positioned in Africa-based cosmic orientation. visit. of mutuality. An older representation of experiences expressed by our respondents was presented by Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita. Harding contends that the phenomenon of a spirit coming and mounting a human body is a relationship of exchange. and vodú 115 . Then I left Nseto and went to Soyo where I entered the head of an old man. the seventeenth-century Kongolese revolutionary leader. Ritual practice of possession and revelation is another important foundational understanding in the region. This coincides with cosmic ideas held by members of other indigenous religions and most regularly occurs during Vodú rituals in sacred spaces as Loa “borrow” a practitioner’s body. But there was a Reverend Father stationed there. “I am Saint Anthony. so again I fled. of shared responsibility. It was a man dressed in the simple blue hooded habit of a Capuchin monk. just as they are centers of Haitian ritual practices. Beatriz’s account represents yet another manner in which spirits speak.

and being entered or mounted. type of spiritual submission. and I have chosen you. cosmic time and acquire knowledge that can aide in human life.34 Faithful submission to divine will. The orientation identifies humans’ historical material world as one that includes spirits and is a world that is periodically visited by spirits. History.”32 Dona Beatriz’s report is pointedly significant because she was a member of the Kongo ethnic family of Africans who were ancestors to the enslaved Bakongo captives imported to Oriente. if not the highest. The overlapping but distinct African ethnic communities had knowledge and experiential familiarity with spirit mounting and revelation. and become a vessel for use by the Loa is the best. contends that for those who serve the Loa. particularly divine spirits who can appear at ritual times. author of Haiti. This profound and honored process is made possible through ritual activities performed in assembled geographies of sacrality. Practitioners understand that divine spirits of the supernatural world must own the body if serviteurs are to participate in the phenomenon of macro. “being mounted” by the spirit evokes a trance-like state of awareness. where. and the Gods. and with what to build sacred spaces. Oriente Vodú serviteurs understand that as a spirit accompanies the human body. Joan Dayan.the same thing happened again. Serviteurs surrender their bodies in service to divine spirits. is the aspiration of most Vodú serviteurs. body.33 This is an especially important foundational aspect of Vodú comprehensions that also expresses an alternative model of time. That most serviteurs hope to experience this spirit embodiment is because the Africa-based cosmic orientation of their religious tradition informs them about the priority of the phenomenon. Beatriz and her people were also ancestors to Kongo groups that exchanged religious knowledge with Dahomey ethnic groups on the continent and in Oriente. the human person is able to enter a temporary state of exaltation and move into the time and space of the spiritual otherworld. From the perspective of our observations. as well as about other aspects of the world in which they live. to surrender individual will. 116 Chapter 5 . I am trying once more this time in Kibangu. Both Dona Beatriz and Harding’s descriptions of the phenomena are conceptually closer to statements of Oriente practitioners regarding spirits who revealed knowledge to them about how. sacred spaces of the tradition. they experience an extraordinary force moving into/onto their being. Vodú serviteurs reported that as a spirit enters their bodies.

too. music. We have never seen a house pet sacrificed. R. and the observance of the proper behavioral course. work. knowledge of gods. and animals are natural parts of the Vodú tradition’s sacred scenery. The shared cosmic orientation informs them that all things created have the essence or power of Bon Dieu/Grand Met. as this lace occurs during the possession. This. During designated ritual events. Today. It is a lifestyle that encompasses everything that might concern practitioners. animal blood must be offered as an indicator to the Loa that humans are living within the cosmic rhythm of creation. Many Oriente worshiping communities continue to live. the right type of sacrifice. Vodú in Oriente is much more than an organizational structure or an exchange relationship with spirits who accompany the human body. but chickens. and carry out their ritual practices in such areas. birds.35 Another foundational understanding of Vodú in Oriente is the ritual sacrifice of animals. death. the Supreme Creator. Blood is the material manifestation of this essential power because with it there is life and without it there is no life. mountains. Dathorne described how intimate and all encompassing the religious practice is. rivers. It is also an instance laced with Bon Dieu [Good God]. and death. flatland communities of llano canero (areas of sugarcane production) that were sprinkled throughout the mountain range. goats. and pigs—chiefly pigs—are a normal sacrificial offering in Oriente Vodú rituals. marriage. Vodú is nation. Spaces Oriente colonial Vodú sacred spaces usually were in wooded areas of the Sierra Maestra mountains. historic as well as contemporary spaces can be found in more visible vodú 117 . Vodú is part of all aspects of their existence. They turn to it to consult the most adequate alternatives they must pursue in life related to crop and harvest. trees.At the same time. birth. O. is a fundamental aspect of the tradition. the venerator is able to obtain the knowledge of the sense and significance of life itself. and everything else connected to the whole existence structure. At the same time. ideal spaces of sacrality are still in forested areas where the sky. Of serviteurs he said. Practitioners reported that animal sacrifice is intimately linked to their Africa-based understanding of the cycle of life.

vicinities of cities like Santiago, Guantánamo, and Las Tunas. We were told
of communities in every locale—in the hills, suburbs, and cities—but our
most active contact was with sacred spaces and serviteurs from areas of Las
Tunas, Santiago, Guantánamo, and Palma Soriano.
Some spaces are built within domestic settings: the interior of a bedroom or a specified room of the principal official’s residence might be dedicated to ritual activities. Other spaces were completely separated from the
leader’s domestic household. From one community to the next, sacred
sites do not appear to be built according to dogma or exact standard. Their
size, shape, materials, and contents vary depending on spirit communication received. Rituals that incorporate a large number of practitioners will
require more space than the inside of a typically small room of an Oriente
house. This variety based on spirit communication is consistent with the
foundational understanding that rituals are more often than not organized
by leaders and are based on a leader’s ability to receive and interpret messages from Loa. Yet and still, the most valued of all sacred geographies are
in forested areas of Oriente’s mountains and an extraordinary number are
known to be there.
When not outdoors in forested places, and sometimes when in these
locations, the hunfo is the site of a common Vodú geography of sacrality.36
These are assembled edifices but not the finished or refined structures we
associate with most constructed buildings. Hunfos are erected specifically
for particular Vodú occasions and can remain or be disassembled after the
events. The semipermanent buildings are situated in patio-like areas where
members of a community gather, individually and collectively, to engage in
time-honored activities. Hunfos usually have four poles that circumscribe
a building’s perimeters, and a thatch roof is preferable. Some may remain
upright and not be dismantled, but they are usually secured to prevent outsiders from entering.
One Vodú community in our research regularly erects a hunfo at the
beginning of the annual Festival del Caribe, a weeklong event (see figure 12).
To uninformed visitors, the configuration is an artistic inclusion of activities
that celebrate popular Caribbean religious cultures. The structure is made
of animal skin, processed and stretched around poles to resemble an octagon shape. There is one entrance where two pieces of skin come together.
We were informed that as a functioning part of the religious community
that builds this structure, it serves to define and construct as sacred the
space that members will use throughout the myriad of activities associated

Chapter 5

with the festival. The hunfo becomes the center around and in which ritual
Vodú customs are enacted during the international events. Members of the
worship group can reconnect with their tradition, even as they participate
in larger more general events. After seven days of Festival del Caribe, this
hunfo is dismantled.
However, whether in a temporary or permanent location, or even when
the sacred sites are in domestic places, the floor of a Vodú space is an ex­­
ceptionally important focal point of spiritual activities. Before most ceremonial events, a Vodú vevé is drawn on the floor. The vevé is an intricately
shaped symbolic representation that is scripted by drizzling flour, meal,
colored dust, chalk, ground eggshells, or other designated materials on the
ground or floor surface. The precise configuration of a vevé is based on serviteurs’ knowledge about Loa and Vodú cosmic matters. An authoritative
leader for the activity for which the community gathers usually constructs
and/or instructs the drawing before ritual events. Additional ritual acts are
then performed on and around the vevé.
Oriente practitioners and artists have created beautiful and expansive
aesthetic art works based on the concept and process of the vevé. During
one Festival del Caribe, the creation in figure 13 was assembled at the
entrance of Santiago de Cuba’s main conference center, Teatro Heredia.
This specific vevé was scripted in front of the constructed hunfo and contained the Haitian national emblem at the upper center and the flag of
Cuba at the bottom. Sand for the scripting was made from grinding colored rocks that are a natural formation in eastern Cuba. The vevé itself was
built to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Haitian Revolution
and Haitian contributions to the people, culture, and religious landscape of
Oriente. This vevé also demonstrates our contention about the inclusion of
nationalistic ideas in ritual work as well as the integrated nature of sacred
and secular activities.
Like the vevé, a place for fire is significant in Vodú consciousness and
sacred spaces. Most rituals take place in front of a fire, usually a very large fire
that has been built in front of the space. However, the poteau-mitan (wooden
pole that sets a midpoint of an entire geography of sacrality) is an indispensable component for rituals and spaces of the tradition. This pole is anchored
in the earth of the peristyle dance area that is the hunfo. The poteau-mitan,
which reaches from the ground toward the sky, or through a hole in the roof
if the site is indoors, functions as a symbolic centering device that connects
the earthly world with the realm of the supernatural. The pole is the site of


Loa entry into ritual arenas and into human historical time.37 The poteaumitan often includes a carved representation of Damballa the serpent, or
an actual reptile is wrapped around the pole with its head facing upward.
A Vodú ceremony cannot begin without four critical components: a leader
(mambo or hungán), a fire, a poteau-mitan centering pole, and a vevé. The
actual location of the sacred space is less significant, though most practitioners reported that designated, constructed hunfos in outdoor forested areas
are the most spiritually powerful.
The color red dominates Oriente Vodú sacred sites, but these special
locations also contain a variety of material objects in other colors. On a low
shelf, or on the floor near the poteau-mitan pole, is a large, darkened bottle
or jug containing aguardiente (unrefined clear rum) or another strong clear
alcoholic liquid. Included within the liquid can be distinguishable amounts
of vinegar, small sticks or twigs, rocks, fermented herbs, an abundance of
hot peppers, leaves, a gun bullet or two, small pieces of metal, and other
materials. The jug immediately catches the eye of a person entering an
Oriente Vodú space because this bottle is ritualistically passed to every person who crosses the threshold. Each person is expected to take at least one
mouthful of the liquid. The first mouthful, by those who are knowledgeable,
is to be sprayed at the table or other location of the room where there are
sacred objects. After that, when the jug is passed, one is expected to swallow
some of the peppery mixture.
Sacred spaces of Vodú rituals also contain broken tree branches hung
on a wall or placed on the floor, as well as noticeable other material objects
that include seashells, large seeds, sticks, animal skins, bones, rocks, animal tusks or horns, and small animals themselves. A variety of photographs
and other iconic images of humans and Catholic saints are on the floor and
walls of a hunfo. The variety of rocks, stones, and other objects represent
and embody the spiritual presence of Loa and are numerous, noticeable,
and symbolically significant in all Oriente Vodú spaces. These objects help
serviteurs’ transcend historical boundaries associated with contemporary
human time and space to that of ritual spirit time and space. The colorful
hand-sewn banners that regularly appear in Haitian Vodú sites are much
less common in Oriente sacred spaces of Vodú.38
Objects in these spaces are known to be part of divine creation and to
interact with bodies of humans as they both participate in time and space
of otherworld knowledge. This comprehension infuses sacredness into all
life by not separating conceptions of subject and object. Material things of

Chapter 5

Vodú and other indigenous religions are regularly understood to be sacred
subjects, not merely objects of no inherent value. It is a clear reformulating
of the material world of humans as integrated with the spiritual otherworld.
Here again, we are confronted with the alternative temporal modality, the
alternative model of time operationalized by indigenous traditions. The
Africa-based cosmic orientation gives birth to this awareness though it has
sat inside colonial, postcolonial, modern, and postmodern constructions of
reality for centuries. Accordingly, individuals of the orientation reset time
and space to one that values and empowers the spirit-consciousness of practitioners. Vodú serviteurs know and live this alternative vision of being in
the world. They know that their sacred spaces contain material things that
represent and exist simultaneously as Loa and other spirits of the super­
natural world.
Sacrifice is equally an intimate part of Vodú practices that occurs in
sacred spaces. The specific sacrificial sequence, the selected animals, and
other ritual acts of Vodú sacrifice may vary from other indigenous religions, but the overlap of animal sacrifice is operative and normal for all.
Serviteurs comprehend the shedding of animal blood not merely as important, but as a mandatory, powerful, and efficacious ritual conducted in
geographies of sacrality. One respondent reported a Vodú event wherein
sacrificial blood was directed by the Loa to indicate the next leader of the
community. This leader had not yet been born but, during the designated
sequence of the rite, flow from a specified animal fell upon one pregnant
woman. The community understood that the baby would be a boy and that
they would need to prepare him to lead the group. A short time later, the
woman gave birth to a baby boy though no one had prior scientific knowledge of its gender.
The ritualistic surrendering of the blood of an animal is the sharing of
the sacred essential liquid of life. It is a sacrifice offered to the cosmic order
of creation, which, when done and received appropriately, returns some
balance to that order that has been disrupted. However, shedding of animal
blood is not the only type of sacrifice that can and may occur. Humans can
be instructed to change their behavior in favor of that preferred by divine
spirits or be called to sacrifice their resources, energies, and/or time to help
return their world to a more balanced set of relationships.
Just as Oriente Vodú sacred spaces and their accompanying ritual practices are religious endeavors, they also serve to maintain consciousness of a
distinct Haitian cultural identity. We consistently found that each location


Haitians could not escape the slave system but they were able to organize and appropriate a modicum of social flexibility wherein they practiced their religious customs. even for those born on the island and who have no experience in the Haitian homeland. symbols. even as the cultural and religious environment seemed familiar. a repetitive. as in their previous Caribbean homeland.of sacrality contained a discerning metaphor. or a picture inside sacred sites. The representation can be found on a flag. or under a sky crossed by ferocious lightning. above all the enslaved. The image is also a consistent presentation of religious understanding because the symbols of Haitian ethnic identity are also symbols within religious knowledge of Vodú spirits. a banner. Haitian migrants found familiar signs. and meanings. Domingue even as these were reconstructions of previously fused African practices of the Ewé Fon/Adja and others of Dahomey regions of West Africa. Sacred spaces of the tradition are semipermanent. A plethora of material things. The metaphoric presentations supply serviteurs with a memory device for the Haitian heritage of their Cuban ethnic identity. The locations depicted a saber on top of a mountain. wooden structures with a center pole reaching upward that symbolically and realistically connects the world of humans with the spirit world. guarding a bonfire under a silent sky. as well as cabildo social arrangements that resembled similar organization in their island homeland. Oriente Vodú practitioners identify their spirits as Loa and conduct rituals that are centered on knowledge about these supernatural beings. There were earlier and smaller movements of Haitian Africans to Oriente but the major thrust of Haitian Vodou arrived with enslaved workers of French colonial planters who were fleeing the Haitian Revolution of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Within the cosmic orientation of their continental heritage. Oriente Vodú serviteurs are Cuban even as they remain religiously and culturally linked to a transculturated Haitian symbolic universe. and symbolic cultural representation within other portrayals of the religious tradition. Summary Thoughts Vodú of Oriente is a direct derivative of religious lifestyles that evolved in the French colony of St. as well as small animals that represent and embody Loa spirits. are always in Vodú sacred 122 Chapter 5 . Haitian Africans encountered a sociopolitical environment that disempowered dark-skinned people. In Oriente.

geographies. Like many sacred spaces of other indigenous religions in Oriente. vodú 123 . things. The spaces contain photo images of deceased community members as well as iconic representations of Loa spirits whose transculturated images may be presented in the veneer of Catholic saints. and beings. Vodú sites are a colorful montage of images.

His séances were designed to converse with select spirits in particular categories. Kardec focused his work on cosmic ideas about spirits and their ability to visit the historical world of humans. it does include marker characteristics from the nation’s African heritage. Espiritismo originates from practices in the United States and from the spiritual work of the Frenchman Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail (1804–1869). but his main idea was that spirits of the dead could be put into different groups or categories and that they communicate and visit the living. to demonstrate that spirits of the dead did visit the living world. and its fundamental beliefs centered on such understandings about spirits. and principles of the tradition also contended that spirits reincarnate in another human body. Kardecian doctrine drew from Christianity. Although it is not an Africa-based tradition. and in 1857 he published Spiritualist Philosophy:The Spirits’ Book. better known as Allan Kardec. He was concerned with demonstrating the scientific veracity of spirits and their capacity to communicate. including an articulated interpretation of the Ten Commandments. called séances.1 The practice he developed was known as Kardecian Spiritism.6 Espiritismo Cuban Espiritismo is a varied set of religious practices that are exceptionally popular in Oriente. Kardec held gatherings. The  124 .

influenced by Kardecian Spiritism. Scientific and technological transformations also affected US family and work life and all of these factors joined forces with those of the hundreds of thousands of European immigrants arriving in never-ending waves at the nation’s ports. The search for legitimacy was important to populations of European descendants on the island.4 Cuba’s eastern region was particularly receptive to ideas of Kardecian Spiritism as influenced by US Spiritualism. and ideas about spirits resonated with inhabitants there. Spiritualism/Spiritism as well as US-style Protestantism entered once Catholic-dominated Cuba. but with the arrival of Spiritualism/Spiritism.doctrine became an international phenomenon. Several Protestant principals from the island had studied in nineteenth-century US seminaries3 and the confluence of social relations brought US Spiritualism. Many had working knowledge and behavioral familiarity with the Africa-based orientation that had arrived some three to four hundred years earlier with Africans from the Kongo Kingdom. Residents of colonial Cuba were familiar with events within their northern neighbor’s borders. Religious practices based on cosmic ideas about working with spirits of the dead were already deeply embedded in Oriente ritual life. Thus. as well as significant social and cultural changes. As island insurgents of the Spanish colony prepared to enter their Ten Years’ War of 1868–1878. ideas about and the practice of working with spirits was normal in Oriente. The potential of war’s dire consequences served to heighten a focus on death and life thereafter.2 Kardecian ideas and séance customs traveled to the Americas sometime in the decades before the 1860s. Oriente Cuban ideas could be aligned with a certain scientific and modern legitimacy. The North American movement materialized earlier in the nineteenth century and enjoyed popularity as the United States underwent geographic shifts in its expanding population. The mounting sense of social change and instability was equally affected by the increasing probability of civil war. The two countries were more than geographic neighbors because of close relations between many of their leaders and intellectuals. following the development of spiritualism in the United States. creating a ripe environment for Kardecian ideas. Many who had been born in Cuba but without distinguishable connection to European status and privilege were intent upon demonstrating their allegiance to their island and their opposition to espiritismo 125 . to Cuba sometime in the 1860s. but it was more akin to philosophy than a religion with systematic ritual practices.

ignorance. to the Catholic Church. This convergence of religion and politics further characterized Oriente as an independently strong and nationalistically Cuban region with distinctive spiritual patriotism. Santiago. But neither were many white-skinned European descendants enamored with Africa-based ritual practices. The interactive contact brought forth new behaviors in most all ritual practices and gave birth to Espiritismo. but the widest variety and the largest number of practicing communities is in the east. The tradition has at lease four distinct families or pathways that reflect contact. Adherence to the new religiosity became an important signifier of patriotism. Las Tunas.the colonial monarchy. as well as campesinos and others of the period.6 Spiritualism/Spiritism presented an alternative set of ritual practices because it allowed Oriente progeny of campesinos (peasants) and other island-born descendants to continue their eastern perspective regarding spirits and everyday life without directly linking them to an African heritage. and Gramma. in the contemporary provinces of Guantánamo.5 Religious legitimacy was noteworthy as part of this vision. Things African were negatively associated with slavery. Many intellectuals. A spiritual and religious alternative to well-established Africa-based customs. Holguín. Therefore. to be a Spiritualist identified one as a Cuban patriot. and transculturation between ideas of Kardecian-influenced spiritualism in Oriente’s multicultural and multireligious population and their established orientation. and some African descendants as well. and primitive underdevelopment. were poised to break away from Spanish control of the colony’s social structure. Only a few island-born Cubans held deep loyalty to Spanish colonialism. exchange. or to its equally elitist colonial clergy. Oriente was amenable when Kardecian-influenced spiritualism arrived. Today. This could be done partially by aligning themselves with the new scientifically legitimate Spiritualism/Spiritism and distancing themselves from Africa-based traditions or descendants. The goal of many light-brown to white-skinned Cubans. and shop owners. Each of the four families 126 Chapter 6 . several varieties or families of Espiritismo can be found in western areas of the island. and an alternative not aligned with Spanish colonialism. It was a quest that intersected with growing nineteenth-century sentiment toward scientific development and nationalistic support for an independent Cuba. was an acceptable religious and political choice. landowners. was to have an independently recognized and respected Cuban identity whose cultural foundations were endorsed by or resembled customs of Europe and North America. free from Spanish colonial rule.

Practitioners strongly contend that by so doing they garner benefits to themselves and/or to others in need. practitioners carry out spiritual work by forming a cordon (human chain or cord). not religion. and coherent set of particularized. Espiritismo de Mesa o Científico Followers of this family of Espiritismo self-identify their practice as science. their central ritual consists of believers sitting around a mesa (table) and entering a state of trance after making invocations that establish communication with cosmic spiritual forces.contains a rich. Regla de Ocha/ Lucumí. Fundamentally. espiritismo 127 . Cruzado appears in many forms because it was born in the island’s multicultural and multireligious environment. yet linked and sometimes overlapping. whichever this may be. “When the Cuban African men practice a religion. as well as with practices from Cuban folk Catholi­cism. This ritual practice is particularly prevalent in Oriente but rarely found in Cuba’s western or middle regions. customary practices. Espiritismo de Caridad gives more emphasis to the practice of despojo8 (charitable gifts) and santiguación (sacred pilgrimages). With the leadership of spiritual mediums. Vodú. Cruzado is just such a constructed sacred tradition that represents the “Cuban way. Don Fernando Ortiz once wrote. dynamic.’”7 He was acknowledging the reality that practitioners adapted religious traditions to the particularities of their Cuban-African lifestyles and cosmic orientation. The popular denominationlike varieties can be summarized as follows: Espiritismo Cruzado Practices of this family of Espiritismo are characteristically filled with transculturated and reconstructed components of the island’s Africabased religions. Despite this activity. followers do not consider themselves ritualistic.” Espiritismo de Cordon This variety of Espiritismo is set apart by the richness of dance and songs that accompany its rituals. they tend to add: ‘according to my way. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. Espiritismo de Caridad Similar in beliefs to those of Mesa. Of this tendency to multifaceted expression.

We do not believe the tradition is a variety of Espiritismo and so we have not included it in this chapter. and it will be examined in a chapter by itself.Several of our Espiritismo-practicing respondents contended that there is a fifth variety of their tradition. Muertéra Bembé de Sao. Many spoke of rituals from separated “Muertéra. if not a complete resolution. of the situation. They even referred to leaders of these practices as “spiritistas”. identified by our empirical experiences. or Bembé de Sao” traditions. “Bembé de Sao. but those who knew about the practices thought that Muertéra Bembé de Sao was a variety of Espiritismo because its leaders are called “spiritistas” and many of the practices resembled elements contained in other Espiritismo varieties. Meanwhile. participated in additional rituals. We had additional discussions with religious leaders. More significant in helping us reach some clarity was respondents’ emphatic insistence that rituals of this tradition were “as old as the first Congo slaves in Oriente. we turn to a discussion of Oriente’s two most popular varieties of Espiritismo: Cruzado and Cordon.” if not to a sixth variety itself. We see Muertéra Bembé de Sao as a research anomaly. Bembé. It was not until the last weeks of our final third and fourth rounds of directed interviews that we began to get a clearer picture. Espiritismo Cruzado crosses Kardecian Spiritism with ideas and customs of several other religious practices found in Oriente when 128 Chapter 6 . and many of the general Oriente population.” In all. and linked the field information to historical reports we found on the development of religions in Oriente. families of Espiritismo did not arrive in Oriente with “the first Congo slaves” but came during the nineteenth century. if nothing else. this would have increased the number of indigenous traditions by two. we were able to piece together parts of the picture. and that the drumming party events known as “bembé” are linked to this alleged fifth variety of Espiritismo. a confusion that we are not yet sure has been resolved. As we conducted more interviews and observations with members of a Muertéra Bembé de Sao community. “Muertéra. Espiritismo Cruzado Specifically speaking. other practitioners. We had searched documents and literature but none revealed a set of ritual practices by the name(s) respondents used.” This was a clue because. this linguistic labeling initially caused confusion in our investigative efforts. Most practitioners insisted that “Oriente está la tierra de muertéras” (Oriente is the land of the dead ones).

Each type of practitioner may construct sacred spaces but believers have little understanding about what should be assembled or why. are fully knowledgeable about the tradition and purposefully place objects in assembled spaces based on their awareness of how to work with the power of espiritismo 129 . Cruzado practitioners were also resolute in distinguishing their tradition as one where supernatural spirits are collectivized. those collective energy transmissions that flow from otherworld spirits who are in communication with humans. we discern that such articulations are designed to position the religious practices in a differentiated if not higher moral posture compared to other regional religious activities. we found that respondents’ ongoing linguistic use of such phrases as “material practices” versus “real spiritual work” seem to function as idiomatic codes when placed next to Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe or Vodú. Officials reminded us that individualizing rather than collectivizing spirits is a negative “material” practice—“It’s not a real spiritual practice.” From our interview and observational experiences. Vodú. for example. As we continued the review and analyses of interview and observational experiences with Cruzado. This was further demonstrated as Cruzado devotees repeatedly spoke negatively and expressed similar opinions about the totality of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe and Vodú customs. the latter two traditions were well established in the region and permeated much of spiritual life for some three centuries prior to the arrival of any form of Espiritismo. and Muertéra Bembé de Sao. Belief Foundations A first foundation of Espiritismo Cruzado is that work of the tradition is divided into two major categories of practitioners: celebrants and believers. However. Believers are persons who are faithful devotees of Cruzado but who do not personally work with such spiritual currents or the spirits themselves. At the same time. on the other hand. The emphasis on efficacy for the living constitutes the essential operational. axis of the tradition. except as positive mimicry or beauty. Celebrants. not given individual identities. contemporary Cruzado practitioners adamantly contend that fundamental comprehensions of their religion are not related to the older customs even though observation of their rituals revealed that they are similarly focused on working with spirits to actualize effective results for the living.the nineteenth-century Euro–North American–based tradition arrived. The older practices were Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. Celebrants are persons who work directly with spiritual currents. rather than doctrinal.

the divine spirit associated with the Yorubabased tradition of Regla de Ocha/Lucumí. One such custom is the offering of fruits and sweets to divine spirits. In each of the six Cruzado houses.the spiritual currents and commissions. Another external crossing of Cruzado modifies. that crossing is in two directions. interchange. Espiritismo Cruzado derives its name from the crossing of these currents. or vocal chanting. representations of Elegguá. and the other internal. This divine spirit is known by most all Cubans. that we investigated. Animal sacrifice is an additional externally imported practice. are well known in Oriente to have been derived from rituals associated with Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe of the reglas congo. These objects. For example. practitioners or not. and conscious borrowing of elemental practices and/or materials from other religious traditions. Transmissions. called temples. • One that notices the presence of Regla de Ocha/Lucumí. but nevertheless includes. The visual portrayal of spirits through capabilities that parallel practices recognized as associated with Catholic saints is yet another external importation of the tradition. • One that is the spiritual current of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. that is. adoration of spirits/saints is not directly related to practices of Catholicism. one external. celebrants worked with three fundamental spirit currents: • One properly understood as spiritual. Each container possesses a different set of objects. Cruzado uses ritual containers such as a caldera and a cazuela. Cruzado devotees understand that internal crossings are determined and informed by contact with spirits who communicate with celebrants. as is the custom of offering fruits and sweets to divine spirits. These crossings are based on episodic needs of the moment and the necessity for a specific type of work as determined by spirits based on the type 130 Chapter 6 . and the spiritual elements with which they are associated. External crossings are produced through the incorporation. called obras materi­ ales (material works). performed during Cruzado rituals are additional external crossings derived from Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe and Espiritismo de Cordon. However. to be responsible for crossroads of all types. specific groupings of spirits whose combined power manifests itself to Cruzado celebrants. These externally crossed customs are nevertheless grounded in the overarching Africa-based cosmic orientation of Oriente practices of indigenous religions.

Such fields could be Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. a spirit from a tradition other than that of the celebrants. However. On one hand. the spirit who responds to the community’s charity will change the nature of that work so that it is located in fields of greater spiritual strength.” that is. we were told that Cruzado Espiritismo excluded “material. Kardec’s book about Spiritism was proudly proclaimed as doctrinal justification for practices. Spaces Based on resources available to celebrants. Within the idea and processes of external and internal crossings of Cruzado. The geographies of sacrality are embedded with markers that indicate spiritual crossings and signify the practices and the tradition as indigenous to Cuba. A Cruzado celebrant’s first ritual responsibility is to call upon the “protector spirit” of their community of believers and to conduct the work as that spirit instructs. a representation of espiritismo 131 . we began to observe slippage in devotees’ verbalized position that there were religious distinctions between their practices and those of other traditions in Oriente. For example.and complexity of problems presented by individuals seeking charity—ritual work requested by gathered Cruzado adherents. or Regla de Ocha/Lucumí. but we could find nothing in Kardecian writings that referenced Cruzado inclusions. including those claimed to be negative. Respondents reported that in the changed circumstance. Vodú. too. something happens inside the spiritual work and the protector leaves us but makes an opening for work to go on with help from another current. More than a few celebrants and believers reported that if a problem is large and/or complex. This. not spiritual practice” but we observed ritual behaviors that structurally included material and spiritual activities of practices from other traditions. almost half of the celebrant respondents with whom we worked did verbally refer to a “doctrine” as the basis of the crossing beliefs. is understood as an internal crossing because a spirit has indicated the change to a non-Cruzado tradition during ritual activities. “But many times. None of our research produced a Cruzado doctrinal document that authorized such religious separations. The spiritual work of the tradition appears as a distinct Cuban phenomenon. the new spiritual current is an African one and clarification must be received from it if the original problem is to be resolved and the charity is to be completed. a sacred space of Espiritismo Cruzado is built by assembling material objects associated with supernatural powers as informed by the religion.

Such symbolic representations occupy designated places on Cruzado shelving. a despojo (cleansing or dispossession). these incorporations marking the tradition in Oriente appear to be indigenous to Cuba. some flowers are directly associated with individual spirits: the flor del sol (sunflower). among others. A light bulb is yet another aesthetic attribute often kept lit in Cruzado locations of sacrality. A white dove. and so on. and the assistants with the representation of the spirit are there to attend to this nature. a crucifix. and they are differentially employed in spiritual charity work to help obtain well-being for persons requesting assistance. cast in plaster. a consultation with spirits. the white lily to Las Mercedes.” and the perfume of flowers strengthens and nourishes the spirits. is consecrated to Santa Bárbara. although we are aware that this form of Espiritismo can be found in Puerto Rico and other locations. On the other hand.9 Elegguá is an externally crossed Cruzado spirit and was prominently placed in all sacred spaces of the tradition that we observed. However. or raise the religious aesthetic of the space to a level of magnificence. 132 Chapter 6 .Elegguá is placed in a corner or behind the main access door of assembled Cruzado sites: a common image is one made with the shell of a coconut and placed inside a small bowl with a special stone. and other included objects are known to assistant this divine spirit: offerings of sweets. or a portrait of the Christian Jesus also might hold a visible position on a shelf. and the radiante to the Virgin de la Caridad. embellish. However. vases. however. coins. of iconic Catholic saints. For example. whistles. These and other objects are used in many sacred spaces and for special rituals—for example.10 Sacred sites constructed for Cruzado spiritual work contain other diverse items: candles. transculturated with the Niño de Praga (Baby Jesus of Prague). there is a profusion of material objects presented in Cruzado sacred spaces. for example. depending on adherents’ understandings of the significance of a likeness presented and based on devotees’ experiences when working with the represented spirits. or for a rite of sacrifice. and pans. Many of these are small statues. the iconic presentations may also be photographs. a nearby candle in a small plate. Celebrants reported that some items are meant to decorate. Celebrants understand the spirit Elegguá to be a child. In general. cups and glasses of water. included in almost every space is a rack or shelf (sometimes laddered shelves) that holds depictions or external presentations of spirits. The bowl is known as Elegguá’s cabildo casita (little house). candy. vases with flowers are understood to give an entire assemblage a “picturesque look. boilers.

This spirit is referred to as “owner of the space” and practitioners see themselves as the genealogical offspring of the entity. This sustained one of our indicators of Cuban religions as indigenous. reflects participation of the original owners of the Cuba landscape. the most popular spirits/saints among Oriente followers of Cruzado are Shango/Santa Bárbara.Centrally positioned on shelving. the new rituals accepted and were accepted into the interred ancestral land space and spiritual orientation of the island’s autochthonous population. During a ritual of individualized consultation. spaces will always have the graphic image of a spirit that has demonstrated itself to be particularly important within a community of celebrants. These containers are a generalized signature or marker characteristic of the tradition and are usually made of crystal or of a material as close to crystal as practitioners can afford. Practitioners reported that the water will reflect what spirits wish to transmit. the iconic Catholic understandings and names associated with transculturated spirits are most prominently derived from the Yoruba-based Regla de Ocha. All of the Cruzado sacred spaces we observed had a great number of glasses and cups filled with water. Obatala/La Mercedes. and Elegguá/Baby Jesus. a glass of water is understood to be the element of transmission or communication. Generally. She does not carry a spirit/saint name and Cruzado adherents know her as an espiritismo 133 . Oggún/Santiago de Apostle.11 Another image that appears in Cruzado sacred assemblages is that of “Africana or the African Queen.” Similarly.” The depiction is a doll and is not crossed with spirits of any other religious tradition. and the spiritual work with them. Yemaya/Virgin de Regla. for example. We were told that the glasses of water function to assist spirits in their search for clarity when working with celebrants. bows. Babalú Ayé/San Lázaro. Spaces without an actual Amerindian image possessed such allegorical objects as arrows. and beads. Cruzado practitioners reported that the presence of representations of Amerindian spirits. celebrants reported that “all spirits are important in our religion and all of them have their miracle in the work. Although those in this listing of spirits transculturated with Catholic representations are known to be exceptionally popular. Like most sacred geographies of all varieties of indigenous religions in Oriente. feathered headbands. Cruzado celebrants pointed out that the appearance of Amerindian spirits during their rituals is an indication of particularly laborious and powerful spiritual work. spaces of Espiritismo Cruzado also contain the symbolic representation of an Amerindian. Christian or otherwise. Ochún/La Caridad.

speak with. his or her space must be transferred by “indication of the spirits” to an adherent who. Although these discussions about basic and fundamental understandings. Therefore. Yet others proposed that the sacred geography is an actual representation of the tradition and is in homage to spirits they revere. all agreed that the creation of sacred spaces is influenced and inspired by spirits and that spirits actually indicate how a site should be constructed and what is to be included. Despite these variations. At the same 134 Chapter 6 . Images from the space are conferred to this person who is supposed to know how to attend to them according to dictates of religious custom. or other colors. red. When a celebrant dies. On some occasions.12 Some celebrants claimed that they could do spiritual work without constructing a sacred space and that they could work with a desired spirit even if its image were not present in a space. We noted the African and other non-European phenotypical characteristics of objects and references in Cruzado and other indigenous religions. but we tried to accept the veracity and integrity of respondents’ clarification of their meaning without overly imposing a racialized judgment based on outward appearances. foreseeing death. they are not an exhaustive set of clarifications of what practitioners of the tradition believe or how they build sacred spaces.exceptionally powerful spirit force. spirits have indicated that all contents of a sacred assemblage should be collected and thrown into the sea. preferably. Some practitioners even contended that they could invoke. The doll and her name indicate that she and the spirit she represents are of African descent. prepared the designated person with the particulars about caring for the specialized contents. She is usually represented as a black-skinned doll dressed in white. Africana functions to keep “bad influences” from penetrating the entire arena and to protect the domestic house from intrusive dangers. Cruzado spaces have common characteristics but also carry a certain individuality. depending on religious particulars of the celebrant’s constructed site. We found that this transfer occurred when a celebrant. represent clarifications about the tradition that have not been readily available to readers of English. blue. This person should be someone with comparable spiritual abilities or “un hermano de obra” (a brother of the work). and work with spirits without the mediation of a celebrant. and about sacred spaces of Espiritismo Cruzado. is biologically related to the deceased.

commonalities of the two perspectives served as a type of conduit through which the recent entry of Spiritualism and Spiritism joined existing Africabased cultural streams to form a transculturated. and economic differences isolated the eastern region from Cuba’s center of governance in western areas of Havana.14 In Oriente’s nineteenth-century colonial environment. The cosmic orientation brought to Oriente by imported Africans during the fifteenth. Cordon’s characteristics and rituals also deeply incorporate understandings of national identity as lived in the region. a symbol used extensively in sacred spaces of indigenous religions as well as in Christian practices on the island.15 espiritismo 135 . political. Inhabitants employed their existing perspectives to construct original behaviors from the newly imported Euro–North American religious practices. Geographic. Espiritismo de Cordon Espiritismo de Cordon is an exceptional set of practices in the spectrum of popular indigenous religions. the overlap in orientation and practice characteristics is linked to the nineteenthcentury arrival of Spiritism and Spiritualism to the region. no matter their particular religious practices. Rather. Some customs reflect a relationship to Africabased cosmic orientation. It epitomizes Espiritismo’s rise to extreme popularity in Oriente in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and its strong association with Cubans’ struggles against Spanish colonialism. sixteenth.13 An example is that there is an overlap between both perspectives in their pantheonic approach to otherworld entities. We turn now to another tradition among the families of Espiritismo. Oriente inhabitants lived as a selfreferent society even though they were part of Cuba as a Spanish colony. and seventeenth centuries formed much of inhabitants’ spiritual core. social. new religious tradition. For more than three centuries. The two approaches also contain compatibility in attitudes and customs concerning the figurative use of the cross. Espiritismo. but this is not immediately recognizable since the tradition is not directly grounded in the island’s African heritage. such clarifications integrate well into our attempt to introduce the reader to sacred spaces of Espiritismo Cruzado.time. This was even true of regional Christian practices as local colonial Catholic customs that guided European descendants’ practices contained similarities with spiritual understandings of African descendants.

Those with European ancestry who rejected the Catholic clergy’s interventions into their spiritual lives were particularly attracted to Espiritismo. Some forms of enslavement were outlawed at that time. but the plantation economic system remained. Many of these insurgents gravitated toward the new religious practices as deemed compatible with their existing cosmic orientation and expressive of their anticolonial postures. and important elements within a matrix of a developing distinct Cuban identity. As ritual behaviors for the new tradition evolved. nationalism in Oriente. anticolonial Cuba. many became expressly anticolonial. indigenous religious mode of selfassertion that became the preference for many nineteenth. James uncovered reports of soldiers from various social classes who fought for the common goal of independence. and he located events within those struggles that reflected the cohesive role played by an emerging Espiritismo de Cordon. This was above all true in Oriente and many were displeased with the closure of the Ten Years’ War because these aspirations were not met in a treaty with Spain. The Cuban historian Joel James reviewed events related to the 1895 War of Independence and identified the incorporation of such ritual behaviors that became significant to Cordon rituals. Oriente inhabitants were again first to be involved in insurrection against Spain and participated enthusiastically in the 1895 movement.16 Civil populations of Oriente were the first to rise in insurrection for a second time at the close of the nineteenth century. the practices were not Spanish or Catholic and they were not linked to colonialism. We will summarize some of James’s historical breakthroughs because Cordon mirrors political. inhabitants were the initiating participants in the island’s first independence struggles against Spain and the Catholic clergy. as well as spiritual.and twentiethcentury Oriente patriots of all social classes. where there would be neither legal enslavement nor de facto bondage. 136 Chapter 6 . The new shapes of active sacrality were clearly indigenous to the island. Inhabitants had fought unsuccessfully in the 1868–1878 Ten Years’ War. as did the de facto enslavement of African descendants. Spirit communications and other ritual practices that became Espiritismo de Cordon were an active. These insurgent patriots preferred behaviors more reflective of their regional homeland experiences. anticolonialist. oriented toward gaining independence. but they had not lost their zeal for an independent.When Spiritism and Spiritualism arrived in Oriente during the nineteenth century.

for example. Frustration and insecurity reigned and black and white combatants often reached a level of collective hysteria. The Spanish had successfully exploited the issue of black leaders in the Ten Years’ War. the frightened freedom warriors petitioned spirits for guidance and success. In the context of his presentation of these historical events. particularly when their militarily armed troops were occupied in separated combat areas. one that eliminated the enslavement system. Nevertheless. Together. The ritual. The massacres created generalized intimidation and fear among Mambi and other freedom fighters. familiar to Oriente Cubans of African and European descent. like the earlier fighters. and attempted to do the same at the close of the nineteenth century. These dark-skinned rebels were also called Mambi. the Mambi were notoriously courageous fighters and created a reputation of legendary bravery and patriotism. Joel James proposes that the common struggle for independence and the use of transculturated Africa-based spiritual orientation in collective rituals permitted Espiritismo de Cordon to become a uniquely Cuban creation. James says.18 espiritismo 137 .17 There were normal internal contradictions and conflicts among the rebel ranks and race was just one. From his investigation of details about the activities of the 1895 war. was led by those of Kongo ethnic backgrounds as blacks and whites held hands and formed the human cord (cordon) that invoked spirits near and far. and again their intent was a “Cuba Libre” (free Cuba). and asked for the safety of their families and friends. At these times. Women and men came to fight though they had few military weapons except machetes used in agricultural work or armaments they could fashion from resources of the battlefield. I have proposed on more than one occasion that the Espiritismo de Cordon occurs precisely in Cuba and not in other parts of the world because of the very differentiated factors that occur here. great numbers of African descendants and their Chinese compatriots came down from Oriente mountains and palenques to join the 1895 insurgent army. A favorite divisionary tactic was to assassinate black military leaders and the Creciente de Valmaseda (Torments of Valmaseda) was one of the more horrific of such collective assassinations. celebration of the Cordon ritual dissipated emotional stresses and reconnected freedom fighters to their nationalistic goal.As those before them had done in 1868.

The transcendence is accomplished through possession or trance and must be done in a collective format. Cordon was constructed as a coherent set of religious practices through interaction with the abundance of existing nineteenth-century Oriente beliefs and practices. Belief Foundations An important foundational belief of Espiritismo de Cordon is that the religion is expressly intended to reconcile lives of the living through contact and work with spirits of those whose bodies have passed beyond the world of the living. that in each of the military events. They firmly believe in the doctrine of Allan Kardec. particularly mental illness. Problems are resolved through contacting spiritual currents. Contacting a commission. The purpose was to find out if such a person had left any unresolved affairs on earth. when they become a commission. that is. black and white Cubans shared common religious ideas and rituals. but they also believe their work can solve any human difficulty— issues of love. the Frenchman responsible for codifying Spiritism into a belief system. and that in Oriente. Mambi came out of Oriente mountains to fight for a free Cuba. is achieved by a trained individual transcending to the otherworld without any mediating force except that of the spirits. Dead relatives were also invoked to request that they help the deceased to take their first steps in the other world. employment. Member practitioners are called cordoneros. However. or even a spirit. and housing. or specific spirits. economics. They were invoked in a collective and circular form in order for the dead person to manifest himself. who have crossed over to the otherworld. The fundamental purpose of practitioners’ work is to cure diseases. commissions of spirits. generally by holding hands in a line that resembles a cord. beliefs that were part of 138 Chapter 6 .19 The Cordon tradition traces its exceptional long-lasting strength in Oriente to the fact that each war for independence began in the region. were for those who have just died. Cordon believers maintain that spiritual strength multiplies when many spirits join together.James is even more emphatic that it was the Kongo heritage that nineteenthcentury Cubans employed in the Cordon practice: The mechanics in the funeral rituals of the first Congo people [of Cuba]. finance.

The stress on “doing” appears to have evolved from earlier devotees’ search for sacred work that was antithetical to the doctrinaire colonial Catholicism. is the religion’s main feature. Each instance of the Cordon ritual in which we participated was always focused on specific conditions presented by participants that needed and/or wanted healing. Cordoneros reported that daily practice. not written doctrine. For oppressed people [including Cubans]. He says. The reports of healings and the healing rituals we observed were equally reminiscent of Charles Long’s consideration of the significance of religious work for oppressed people who are regularly excluded from other structural forms of attention. The tradition and its rituals have evolved espiritismo 139 . adherents acknowledged that many of their members had been unable to be helped by medical authorities but were now experiencing more healthy lifestyles through the work of the Cordon ritual.21 The latter part of this consideration is exceptionally pertinent to our exposure to Espiritismo de Cordon. Healing is a special concern of this religious tradition as devotees employ the Cordon ritual and events of ritual time within the cosmic perspective of their heritage to accomplish a healing of some sort. how one comes to terms with the ultimate significance of one’s place in the world. Neither has Espiritismo de Cordon codified the distinctiveness of its complex of principles into a world vision or articulations that serve as its documentary text(s). however. Cordoneros do not avoid other religious or nonreligious curative forms. that is. This emphasis on doing also reflects some of Charles H. “religion as orientation—orientation in the ultimate sense.popular African heritages and colonial Catholicism. We had no comparison information.”20 Cordon practitioners see their place in the world as one to “do” their sacred work. Long’s definitional understandings of religions. a religious tradition that focuses on healing is a mechanism that affirms their relation in the oppressive situation to which they were born while they are [simultaneously] re-creating a situation not of that oppression. even as practitioners consistently invoke Kardecian origins when explaining their beliefs. Cordon ritual behaviors do not draw extensively from Kardecian articulations. they merely believe that their spiritual healing processes must garner their attention. In one community. Often these were emotional and/or mental conditions and practitioners readily told us of how these individuals were improving.

regardless of gender. Simple or common mediums are the larger number of practitioners in the work of temples in Oriente. gather weekly and engage in the religion’s charity work. Mediums. or alternative models of time and ways of being human. They are systematic ritual practices concerning ultimate issues about the universe and divine relationships. Espiritismo de Cordon is open to all who wish to participate. Principal mediums (cabeceros) include the person in charge of the temple who leads the spiritual work. and simple. Espiritismo de Cordon belongs to Cubans from the heritage of this alternative creation of ritual behaviors. They express the creation of situational alternatives to the imposed oppression of colonial and neocolonial powers. Anyone can attend and partake freely in the Cordon ritual. not to the heritage of those who oppressed them. mediums. race. and there is no initiation ritual or process required to become an active member. or Vodú. This is not true of other traditions. Such communication occurs through mediums. along with general practitioners. or skin color. Responsibilities associated with mediums are defined and performed based on a temple house’s specificities. general roles and responsibilities of the tradition are carried out by principal mediums. They are Cordon obreros. For the most part. Space and Ritual Most temples of Espiritismo de Cordon have a dedicated entrance that opens to a larger space devoted to a focal table where rites and ceremonies unfold. cord workers who officiate in the specialized charity work of the alternative temporal modalities. strong mediums. people who guide the rituals and who are known to have physically received spirits in the past. activities of Espiritismo de Cordon occur in temple houses specifically designated for the religious work and where fundamental communication with spirits is most probable. or common. Each time our team attended activities. Mediums are essential to Cordon practice and these persons regularly arrive for ceremonies dressed in white. Cordoneros seemed to warmly welcome everyone to the charity work. This represents the specialized “protected entrance” of Cordon 140 Chapter 6 . social status. The entrance has a basin filled with water resting on a chair at its right side. He or she gives instructions. Strong mediums are persons who possess special gifts or whose spiritual guides have reached a high degree of development for self-revelation. However. such as Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe.

as well as a plaster image of an Amerindian accompanied by a sunflower. as well as offerings of flowers that are associated with specific spirits. practitioners reported that washing hands prohibits harmful and evil elements or substances from crossing the threshold. the holy sacrament of Christianity. photos of Catholic virgins and other saints. The sunflower symbolizes the commission itself. pictures of deceased family members or friends. In the middle of the shelf above the table is an electric light bulb that is perpetually on. and this combination is normally the principal axis of a sacred space. Also on the main platform of the focal table are symbolic representations of spirits and spiritual currents. The cordon ritual is conducted in the sacred space and starts with a preparatory or invocational phase of reading from the book Chosen Prayers by Allan Kardec. and glasses with clear water. In interviews. and that the espíritus (spirits of deceased persons depicted in pictures and other objects) unite in working with Cordon mediums in the religion’s characteristic ritual.sacred spaces and each person entering is required to wash her or his hands before coming into the temple. Cordoneros told us that the flowers provide strength. as the entire space was dedicated exclusively to the Cordon ritual. and a medium reported that the light bulb is “the light of San Hilarión.” Respondents reported that the table represents “El Santisimo. while the water gives clarity.” A metal cross may also be on the wall or sit above all the shelves. A white tablecloth covers the tabletop and a large goblet devoted to all spiritual guides is placed in the center.”22 espiritismo 141 . The focal table of Espiritismo de Cordon is obviously an important part of an assembled geography as it is where Cordoneros invoke spirits to participate with them in rituals of the earthly plane. The table has shelves above and at least one shelf below its main level. This was true for each Cordon community. In one space we observed that this type of table occupied all of the living and dining room areas of the owner’s house. Two glasses filled with water are placed on each side of the goblet and the Kardecian prayers that begin each session are read at the focal table. A Cordon leader also reported that members must be cautious about the harm other traditions can cause. and consisting of prayers of “love to the Celestial Father. and we were told that the plaster Amerindian recalls/re-members spirits of the Amerindian commission that works with the particular community. Other shelves of the Cordon focal table contain a variety of objects and images: bottles. A portrait of San Hilarión is underneath the bulb. chromolithographs.

members make guttural sounds that punctuate the chanting rhythm. and mediums 142 Chapter 6 . some mediums and members enter a trance. the cordon ritual actually begins when mediums.” Mediums proceed around the inside of the cord configuration and separate practitioners’ joined hands. they are instructed to separate their hands and elevate them to heaven in a “self-blessing” gesture. in communication with the spirits. first one foot then the next. With hands separated. Their feet slide in unison in a counterclockwise direction. and before repeating it. Occasionally the principal medium will ask all mediums to concentrate their thoughts “in” God. Participants then raise their hands above their heads and shake them upward. they move their arms— first up into the air then down toward the floor (see figure 16). This last act is executed as the deliverance. In their altered state of consciousness. On their upward motion. such persons are led to face the centralized focal table. Members respond to the chant with a rhythmic chorus repeated over and over. The membership concentrates its work on eliciting an “anointing of spiritual wellbeing” for all persons present but particularly for the seekers. The principal medium and guide begins to chant. stand and hold hands with each other and all others in the temple do likewise. During the process. A vigorous foot stomp completes each sideways slide. While continuing to hold hands. As the central work of this Espiritismo. including those seeking charity. Cordoneros now understand that spiritual communication has been established and the Celestial Father has granted consent to form the Cordon. to call forth spirits to join the membership in the work. At the end of each refrain. will have spirits come to them. At a designated time in the ritual. This forms a horseshoe configuration that is opened at the site of the focal table. Often the guiding medium will interrupt the Cordon obreros on the downward movement and instruct members to slightly touch the floor with their joined hands. or will be possessed. or cord. each person leans forward and slightly touches the floor with the tips of their fingers and turns in personal circles. This usually indicates that work of the Cordon is not going well or not strong enough and the concentration must precede additional rounds of sliding and chanting. the book is ritualistically closed with solemn and slow reverence.After prayers. At least one person comes to a Cordon charity work session seeking healing or “spiritual charity” from the group. Conclusion of the entire Cordon service is the “deliverance. these persons receive knowledge from the otherworld that is interpreted and shared with everyone present.

elaborate. The geographies of sacrality constructed by practitioners of the two lineages also contain internal differences. perform “dirty works to do evil. on the other hand. The Cordon is now finished. However. we propose that Cordoneros’ adamant objection to and dismissal of Cruzado’s Africa-based practices.instruct all participants to “unfold” in the same fashion to deliver themselves. Espiritismo de Cordon spaces. Cordoneros contend that practitioners of “cross-Spiritism. and efficaciousness of the Africa-based customs.” that is. Oftentimes the two religious varieties share attitudes about non-Espiritismo practices and they have differing ritual activities. present spirits’ images as associated with Catholic Christianity. affirm a perceived awareness of power. Figure 14 shows the compacted fullness espiritismo 143 . united through images and representations by way of Christian and Africa-based understandings. We propose this to be true as well of Cruzado practitioners who show similar disdain for Africa-based religions while including many of those practices in their spiritual work. Summary Thoughts Espiritismo Cruzado and Espiritismo de Cordon are each a set of coherent practices that are part of one lineage within a single indigenous religious tradition. At the same time. Cruzado. colorful.” These attitudes appear to indicate a struggle for moral superiority of one set of religious practices over another. Sacred spaces of the two sets of customs highlight the internal dissimilarities that can and do exist among Espiritismo practices just as the two traditions share arenas of contestation about other religions. mosaic-like assemblages of multiple objects: images. the two sets of sacred practices disagree about the nature and naming of images in sacred spaces. giving thanks to God and the spirits who have allowed the session to be successful. flowers. strength. and their apparent subconscious desire to show spiritual superiority. and other items. Internal distinctions between the two begin with basic understandings about divine spirits. Espiritismo Cruzado spaces are indoor. Cruzado spirits are presented as transculturated entities. There are then closing chants and a special song. not as transculturated sprits. Espiritismo de Cordon is intimately linked to nineteenth-century Cuban nationalism and many behaviors of Espiritismo Cruzado are similarly embedded within the nation’s cultural consciousness.

of an exemplary Cruzado space. objects and visual representations in the sacred site of Espiritismo de Cordon (figure 16) may seem less adorned. We offer the comparisons with care. Too often. comparisons across cultures and traditions lead to ethnocentric mendacity rather than human understanding. 144 Chapter 6 . as we believe definitions of the sacred belong to aesthetics of practitioners. By comparison. however.

Part III  .

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“Land of the Dead” Beginnings
Muertéra Bembé de Sao

Thus far we have outlined historical parameters of
the African presence in Oriente, discussed some conceptual roles of
sacred spaces, clarified important commonalities of an Africa-based cosmic orientation, and examined salient issues related to three of four indigenous religions that are popular in Oriente. Ordinarily, these full-blown
descriptions coupled with some analyses would be sufficient for a respectable volume on sacred spaces of Cuba’s eastern region. However, before we
finished our final phases of data collection, in one of our last research sites,
a highly reliable Oriente practitioner and colleague approached to ask if
we wanted to meet a renowned and powerful leader of “the oldest African
religion in Oriente.” Team members conferred and agreed that we couldn’t
afford not to accept even if it meant oversampling our population. After all,
he had said “the oldest” religion.
Not only did we meet this female leader, but she and other members of
her group agreed to our interviews. In the process, we were able to expand
our knowledge about Africa-based sacred lifestyles and include Muertéra
Bembé de Sao as the fourth religious tradition in the investigative project.
It also allows us to present this chapter as a distillation of experiences, a
report from the field, and as anecdotal information that corresponds with
documentary and other investigative results about the earliest African


presence in Oriente. That is to say, our best research knowledge tells us that
ritual behaviors that evolved into habitual patterns to become Muertéra
Bembé de Sao originated among the earliest enslaved colonial Africans,
more specifically those from Kongo ethnic groups.
Rituals distinct to Muertéra are extremely widespread in Cuba’s eastern
region, if for no other reason than that many of its behaviors have been incorporated into other religious practices. Therefore, if our summations about
origins are correct, this sacred tradition contains some of the island’s oldest
customs and this chapter connects those pre–nineteenth-century social and
sacred patterns even as it is a field report that needs further exploration. Our
late encounter with Muertéra, while not a coincidence, was a surprise.
Over the years, the research team had lived in local neighborhoods of
the region and garnered a strong reputation for the authentic and meticulous way we conducted our work, but no one had directed us to practitioner communities of Muertéra Bembé de Sao until one of our last visits. The
timing did not amaze us, but it was disconcerting that we had failed to recognize and connect earlier observations. We should have known, or at least
raised questions earlier, because respondents had consistently described the
spiritual character of Oriente as the “land of the dead” and when they did,
they used such wording as “Tierra de Muertéras” or “Tierra de Muertos.”
But neither descriptor jarred our thinking. We interpreted the words muertos or muertéra as types of creolized Cuban idiomatic Spanish terms that
referred to individuals who had died or to spirits of those who had died
in the Oriente landscape. We knew the region was a first landing site for
enslaved Africans and that the land held physical remains of hundred of
thousands of Amerindian and African ancestors who have been respectfully interred and revered for some five centuries. We therefore found it
logical that there would be a colloquial understanding about such Oriente
history. It was equally logical to assume that the region would be referred
to in a transculturated linguistic idiom such as Tierra de Muertéras and
that the taken-for-granted public language for regional spirits would be
muertos. Practitioners often linked some of these phrases, that is, “Tierra
de Muertéra or Bembé de Muertos,” and this further confused our ability
to depend on language to clarify cultural realities.
Again, that did not attract our attention, though it should have. In addition, we experientially understood the Cuban translation for bembé to be
“a drumming party for spirit(s),” which it is. So we assumed that Muertéra
Bembé de Sao referred to a drumming party either for spirits of the living

Chapter 7

dead or for specific divine spirits. We even asked island social scientists
about the possibility that Bembé de Sao might be a Portuguese derivative.
They were not sure about the Portuguese but proposed the words were
Cuban, though not of Spanish origins. We never considered that Muertéra
Bembé de Sao might be a religious tradition to be included in our investigation. We made an error. Even now, as we describe understandings assembled from practitioners of Muertéra, we are prepared for future research to
clarify our mistakes.
We surmise that Muertéra Bembé de Sao originated among colonial
enslaved Africans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and we turn
now to the briefest review of how these ancestors arrived in Oriente. We
remind readers that some of the details will sound familiar because the historical foundations and some of the behavioral practices overlap with the
tradition of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe discussed in chapter 4. We proceed
to examine the case study data of Muertéra Bembé de Sao, the research
anomaly or anecdotal ritual practices of our investigative project.

Oriente Relationship
As the Caribbean’s largest island, Cuba has historically been divided into
its western, Occidental region and that of the eastern, Oriente land spaces.
Indigenous Amerindians first encountered European conquistadores in the
east at the close of the fifteenth century. Spanish settlements were authorized for the region and Baracoa was one of the first in 1511. By 1515, Santiago
de Cuba was organized as an eastern settlement and became the capital city of the island’s colonial operations.1 Native Indians were enslaved,
massacred, and inbred with Spanish men until, by the middle of the sixteenth century, the Amerindian population possessed few if any distinct
cultural communities.2
Cuba’s widest land portion also is in Oriente, and in 1522 the island’s
first enslaved Africans were imported there.3 The Africans were the forced
labor substituted for a depleted Amerindian population and the Africans’
numbers included a variety of ethnic groups. However, the largest faction
was composed of persons from ethnic groups of the Kongo Kingdom now
known as areas of West Central Africa.4 The Kongo had been a vast and
powerful kingdom with fifteenth-century diplomatic and trade relations
with Portuguese maritime enterprises. These European traders dominated
the earliest years of the cross-Atlantic trade in captured Africans, and their
“land of the dead” beginnings


as all humans do.7 Kongo-based rituals were at the core of customs that gave birth to behavioral patterns associated with several contemporary traditions. and that Kongo presence continued in the region. Linguistic research suggests that essential elements of “languages were defined by the first generation of slave workers who [socialized] subsequent newcomers to the . persons from ethnic groups of the Kongo were the majority of those entering Oriente and best represented an ethnic collectivity during the first years and century. there is “an attitude. we propose that the region’s Kongo influence was marked and remains to such an extent that it characterizes the core of Oriente religious practices. and with those remaining Amerindians. the majority of those Africans were from Kongo ethnic groups. they used these as guides to establish their spiritual foundation in eastern Cuba. an orientation. The contacts were not as random as might be expected as Amerindians and Africans collaborated in joint campaigns to attack 150 Chapter 7 .”9 These Africans shared and exchanged their remembered homeland ideas and rituals with one another. They understood “that the individual and the community are dependent upon powers of being outside the human arena. and. we contend that “fundamentals of religious” ritual practices were set forth “with equal rapidity at the same time” by the first generations of enslaved workers in Oriente.consignments of human cargo came mostly from Kongo ethnic groups. including all sacred lifestyles. These Africans shared a generalized Kongo culture and language system. By the middle of the sixteenth century. Rather. a presence that stamped Kongo cultural markings on regional behavior. as with linguistic influences.6 Our proposition is built upon the fact that Oriente was the initial landing location for the earliest Africans of the the Spanish colony. and phenomenological principles about life in the universe. From 1501.5 These earliest historical realities circumscribed the context for Bantuspeakers of West Central Africa earliest arrival and presence in Oriente. . Encounters with colonial Indians were some of the first opportunities for Africa-based behaviors and ideas to be combined and become part of Cuba’s processes of transculturation. the initial deciphering of a way to be in the world.” Similarly. way of life. including Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe and Muertéra Bembé de Sao. . Spanish colonials in Cuba received royal authorization to substitute captive Africans for the island’s exhausted Amerindian labor force.”8 Even when words or postures can’t express it. common cosmic orientations. This is not to suggest that the cultural markings were definitive for all Oriente life.

13 Oriente palenques were just such outliers for enslaved colonial Africans and their descendants. and conducted defensive and offensive campaigns against colonial authorities. but also to those African “land of the dead” beginnings 151 .12 Outliers are created when individuals and collectives of individuals take actions outside boundaries of existent structures of exploitation. engaged in economic trade with local.11 Collaborative relations in the settlements and in rebellious attacks against Spanish colonialists provided the foundation for what Vincent Harding called “outlier” communities. They challenge the model(s) of normality but. and international contacts. though poor and rough. palenques were an important arena for the development of customs that became marker characteristics of their African heritage and of the region. The results became a body of regularized actions that embraced elements from several different ethnic groups but that retained the character of the larger group of Kongolese Africans. members’ activities were beyond the overt constraints of colonial control. Within the communities. but they. too. Understandings from these Oriente-constructed ritual practices were transmitted to new generations of regional residents not only in palenques. the settlements were liberated zones of alternative social arrangements and a model of freedom’s possibility—a model even for those who remained within the bondage system. and relationships between descendants of the two struggling groups shared time and space within palenques. the actions are radical enough to expand the vision of possibilities for freedom for others living under similar conditions. were part of the neo-African palenques that existed throughout the region. a trademark social pattern of Oriente.10 Oriente palenques were an alternative social living arrangement to colonial enslaved life. national. more importantly. In those separate arenas. palenque members retreated into forested areas to articulate remembered fragments of sacred behaviors that expressed their humanity. From within the neo-African settlements. Before their numbers were radically reduced. settlements of collective housing and living for African and remaining Amerindian descendants who escaped enslavement. They engaged in ritual behaviors recalled from African homelands and called upon known spirits from those realities. inhabitants cared for each other through the life cycle. Amerindians were particularly known to form mountain settlements near the northeastern town of Baracoa. Specific for our focus on Kongo foundations of contemporary sacred behaviors. For those who fled enslavement.Spanish settlements as early as 1530. They were vibrant.

within Muertéra practices we identified Africabased orientation as categorically part of this indigenous religious practice. the use of the “de Sao” portion of the name is also a prima facie reference to Portuguese contact with the homeland Kongo ethnic groups of many Oriente Africans. For example. adapted. also includes the central ritual practice of a “drumming party” (bembé).descendants not living in the liberated arrangements. there is a reasonable association between customs identified as Muertéra Bembé de Sao and the Portuguese relationship to Kongo ethnic groups of Africans brought to the region in the earliest years. For example. and participants expressed that many aspects of their practices were derived from the colonial history of their tradition. the name of the tradition combines the important Oriente idea of working with “the dead” (muertera) that is central to Kongo traditions. Likewise. and we assume that these and other practices of the tradition were inherited from colonial Africans of the Kongo Kingdom ethnic groups. as shared with us. We experienced this body of knowledge and our respondents articulated practices that represented it.”16 These do not comprise overwhelming evidence to link Muertéra Bembé de Sao as we propose. sociological. and we observed the use of Kongo if not Bakongo rules about natural phenomena. We have seen that many Muertéra customs contain Kongo-based elements. like they did in the forest. or religious fact. And lastly. this was particularly so for Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe practitioners and Muertéra Bembé de Sao devotees. We also are not sure to what extent local legends and one community’s customs can be relied upon as historical.15 The name of the tradition. Foundational Knowledge It is not possible for us to write about knowledge that is foundational to the practice of Muertéra Bembé de Sao as we have not seen sufficient verifiable reports on the tradition. and particularized behavioral patterns in the region.14 Respondents in our sample population regularly made statements like “We do our work in the old way. Together these were an important part of the body of knowledge upon which colonial Africans constructed. but we anticipate further investigations to identify what truly happened. At the same 152 Chapter 7 .” Such responses accompanied several observed rituals. The Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz researched Cuban transculturated linguistic creations and defined Sao as “a small savannah with some thickets of insulating groups of trees.

• Appreciate the sacrality of drum rhythms. songs. Characteristics Muertéra Bembé de Sao shares the Africa-based orientation that is a general underpinning of indigenous religions in Oriente. This means that unconsciously. and dance as mediums through which the historic atmosphere of humans is reconstructed to allow spirits’ predictable participation in rituals. We will discuss what we saw and what we heard as sacred characteristics of the tradition. “You must listen to what “land of the dead” beginnings 153 . not to mention adherents of other indigenous traditions. They said. • Know that spirits’ coming and the possession of human bodies is normal and can reveal wisdom. Muertéra practitioners: • Understand the nature of general and ritual time as multidimensional. then we must avoid that pathway. yet quite intentionally. This cosmic orientation gave rise to behavioral practices and customs that have been known since the island’s colonial periods and both have been transmitted to contemporary generations to form characteristic behaviors that minimally are part of Muertéra Bembé de Sao.” In discussing the need to respond to drums. they spoke repeatedly within the orientation.time. When we talked and interviewed Muertéra practitioners. • Recognize that spirits share space in the universal world with humans. • Comprehend that divine spirits and spirits of ancestors are available to assist human life if revered. we have not found adequate historical information that focuses on religions in Oriente or the differentiated African presence in the region for us to envision Muertéra as a cohesive body of foundational knowledge that undergirds its contemporary behaviors. and dynamic phenomenon. • Understand the existence of spirits. Similarly. we were regularly told. we have experiential occasions with but one community of practitioners and no additional observational data about the tradition and its practices. event-based. “Our ancestor spirits must be consulted so that we know how to live our lives.” and “If the spirits don’t agree with the things we want to do. but we cannot yet profess the experience to speak about the religion’s foundational knowledge.

actual or religious birth of new community members. cultural manifestation of bembé. The neo–African Cuban music. However. days of remembrance for deeds of special spirits (muertos). the bembé drum party was a predictable result. singing. “My grandmother was enslaved and taught my family how to sing and dance at bembé. dancing. a palenque’s bembé was a collective social arena wherein members from differing ethnic backgrounds gathered and combined particulars of their remembered behaviors with other articulations of cultural lexicons. The drums talk for the spirits and the songs remind of us of how our ancestors lived.18 Whenever such situations occurred in colonial Oriente and called for communal observance. As one respondent told us. coupled with observations of the content of sacred spaces kept us aware of the Africabased orientation that undergirds Muertéra Bembé de Sao and other indigenous religious of the region. and for the transition of the spirit of a physical body to the otherworld. Drumming.”17 in the sao where they could actively revere divine and other spirits. dance. while several indigenous religions employ such components of Kongolese marker characteristics from the colonialera bembé. Such exemplary behaviors happened in bembé—drum parties convened by palenque members in the “small savannahs with some thickets of insulating groups of trees. Kongo ethnic groups are known to have required such a collective response for victory in battles. a fuller array of such signature features became centralized into the Muertéra Bembé de Sao sacred lifestyle and was transmitted to contemporary practitioners. song. and the regularized. transculturated activity was transmitted to other generations and/or to new inhabitants.” These articulations. It was aligned with their cosmic orientation and was an aspect of the phenomenological principles of the West Central African people. neo-African behaviors. This was collective action that was part of the cultural imperative of Kongolese tradition. Minimally. and other exchanges among participants of the collective event evolved into a sacred and secular. and bembé itself became well known in Oriente and continues into the present day.” Research findings of investigators of Santiago’s Casa del Caribe and 154 Chapter 7 . Palenques of Oriente’s Sierra Maestra mountains were havens for Kongolese and others of their continent to transmit this orientation and construct their transculturated. chanting.the drums say and respond.19 Despite the predominance of Kongo influences.20 The happenings became regularized for African descendants in and out of palenque settlements.

chanted. colonial bembé altered the regular atmosphere of everyday life to such an extent that visitations and possessions from muertos—specific spirits—became a customary part of the sacred activity. it lives in past and present time and therefore carries much wisdom. The presence of these attributes heightened the Kongolese nature and consecrated disposition of the events. As with the contemporary Muertéra Bembé de Sao rituals we ob­­ served. It was an activity that altered the atmosphere and called upon spirits of the otherworld to visit with humans. colonial bembé held under a large tree or trees in a cleared forest area also possessed the marker characteristics of Kongolese drums and rhythms (see figure 1). singing. The ritual and celebratory events were repeated and recounted with such satisfaction and accuracy that contemporary elder respondents reported that older bembé was “more real and like it’s supposed to be. Successful visits and possession by spirits was an astonishing manifestation that divine forces were and continued to be with African descendants. and dancing. In addition to receiving increased sacrality from the location.other elder interview respondents reported that the older. We do however. and danced while moving counterclockwise: marker attributes of sacrality within Kongo tradition and a “land of the dead” beginnings 155 .” A large tree is phenomenologically important because an Africa-based orientation understands that this universal entity has a life span that is longer than most humans. as it is understood today. to be an activity that was part of humans’ responsibilities in the reciprocal revered relationship with the world of spirits. Bembé was then understood. Insurgents of the 1895 Independence War who encountered African descendants coming from the mountains to join the war observed the ritualized customs that stemmed from bembé.” At the same time. a supernatural companionship infinitely more powerful than colonial or present-day sociohistorical circumstances. chants. we do not see early bembé activities as a coherent set of religious practices. Reports state that these black rebels sang. although they were habitualized into interactive patterns of sacred behavior. drummed. Rituals conducted under such a tree contain enhanced sacrality and are felt to have special efficacious potential. contend that Muertéra Bembé de Sao became a coherent set of sacred customs because sufficient numbers of African descendants continued to engage in and extend colonial practices and to socialize others to ritualized particulars of the celebratory forest events. collective bembé was usually held under a large tree in a cleared forest area—the “Sao.

We were informed that this type of ritual instrument. 156 Chapter 7 . and the elaborated and accentuated performance of sacred behaviors. • Songs and/or parts of special songs that were known and intentionally remembered from colonial experiences because they actually spoke to otherworld spirits. In addition to our other hypotheses about Muertéra Bembé de Sao. Oriente households have maintained at least one such vessel to hold objects revered as part of practitioners’ spiritual lifestyle. However. However. • Spirits coming to and/or possession of practitioners’ bodies as a reciprocated response to adherents’ ritualized work. specialty rocks. We observed that one or more of these characteristics were part of several religious traditions in Oriente. • Spirit-communicating body movements that reflect the combining of Kongo Kingdom Bakongo. occasions designed to invoke spirits of the dead. including its abundance. The sacred apparatus is a large. for example. the characteristics were neither mutually exclusive nor exhaustive of Muertéra practices. skeletal remains of animals and humans.combination of activities aligned with ritual life of colonial forest bembé occasions. shallow. mixing foods. and so on. is an essential part of all sacred spaces. Several additional Kongo-influenced marker behaviors can be observed in Oriente religious practices and can signal Muertéra tradition as opposed to.22 The ritual cazuela holds special sticks of differing types of wood. Another characteristic of the tradition we experienced is the inclusion of a highly elaborated cazuela. Vodú or Espiritismo. Carabalí. rhythms. This was specifically true in their use of Kongo-style drums. we saw all of the characteristics within practices of the Muertéra Bembé de Sao community that we observed. Among these is the elaborated and accentuated performance of sacred behaviors coupled with the following additional markers of Muertéra Bembé de Sao: • The use of Kongo-type drum rhythms (figure 1). round earthen pan or bowl that serves several domestic purposes: washing clothes.21 At the same time. we contend that ritual use of the cazuela also evolved from colonial experiences. and Mandingo influences. including those of palenques where Africans were more self-determining in spiritual work. as each was part of the Oriente colonial experience. preparing meats.

practitioners understand contemporary spirit visits. just as such visits were understood in colonial times. We were told that “muertos who come to visit the world of humans stay asleep inside the cazuela until our work activates them. one spirit who held the body of the Muertéra leader where we participated informed us that the “writing you’re doing about this work will make you famous. and/ or directs practitioners about sacred work they are currently conducting. when a muerto mounts the body and/or comes to the head of a Muertéra devotee. Although we propose the cazuela as vital for palenque rituals. Respondent practitioners described the vessel’s contents as “things that are powerful and effective for use in helping us to bring spiritual well being” to them and their community members.” No matter the details in the messages. overflowing with such historical memory indicators of African descendants who lived one. The vessel holds memory objects as memories of the religion’s origins and its founding ancestors.23 As the container through which spirits of the dead are activated. It is a physical and symbolic representation. The cazuela is the requisite instrument in the invocational process of Muertéra Bembé de Sao reciprocity and sits central to the sacred space. it gives advice on activities of the community (see figure 18).earth from various geographic locations. three. even in a technological world. within the contemporary Muertéra Bembé de Sao community of our research the instrument was the absolute center or heart of ceremonial activities.” Like with other Oriente traditions we observed. pieces of iron and metal. the cazuela is also a vigorous participant in rituals and a device of memory and re-membering for practitioners. For example. and a host of other material objects that transform it from a mere physical container into a sacred instrument of religious usage. as affirmation of the reciprocal. We were also told that Muertéra spirits belong to three major categories: “land of the dead” beginnings 157 .” They understand the instrument as a dynamic and charismatic sacred object. Informants reported that “you can see the spirits coming from the cazuela and dancin’ with us. It is a salient marker characteristic of the tradition. sacred relationship between humans and spirits. or five centuries ago. if only temporarily. ritual interactions with the cazuela are dramatic and known to return ancient and more recent spirits to participate in the world with humans. gives instructions about specific individuals. In its central physical and spiritual position in sacred spaces.

has a particularized Muertéra variation. This cazuela was more than two feet high and at least three feet in diameter.” and we did see cazuelas in sacred geographies of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe and Espiritismo de Cruzado. nails. No matter the category or number of spirits that visit a Muertéra Bembé de Sao ceremony. • Generalized. chains. but. Ordinarily. In continuing to speak about this sacred instrument. We were tempted to speculate that our presence may have caused the special presence. No cazuela in sacred spaces of other religious traditions even came close in size or content to the one at our Muertéra observation. skeletal parts. we saw an especially massive example of the ritual instrument. one that we had never seen in any other ritual activity of any other tradition. • Divine spirits of ancient. However. the cazuela is central in the sacred space—at least that is our conclusion based on observations and listening to respondents. Muertéra respondents reported that during the ceremony of one of our data-gathering visits. However. though not necessarily a regular one. we can’t comment on why so many spirits can and do visit a ritual community at any one time. bones. • Designated spirits of the ancient dead who work with specific living individuals. 158 Chapter 7 . rocks. however. supernatural beings. The last of these three. remains of several sacrificial activities. without further research. spirits from all three categories participated in the ritual work and that. and so on. The divine and ancient supernatural ethereal beings do not normally make such visits. and designated spirits and/or spirits of the living dead are usually those that visit during special ritual ceremonies. This cazuela (see figure 17) was overflowing with sticks. in their tradition. visitations from all spiritual categories is a normal occurrence. respondents repeatedly reported that “other Cuban religious people use cazuela for work with muertos. These categories correlate with a shared Africa-based orientation and generalized understandings about spirits that is part of indigenous religious practices in Oriente. in our Muertéra experience. divine and ancient supernatural spirits are known to be a normal presence in the world of humans. nonspecific spirits of all those who have died. It was noteworthy for the central and elaborated place it held during the more than eight hours of spiritual work done by the community. axes.

and hypotheses about the logical nexus of what happened to produce relationships that gave birth to Muertéra Bembé de Sao. There are prima facia foundations to the hypotheses. that most practitioner observations and interviews correlated and vice versa. The integrity of the report is grounded in its linkage of Muertéra to Oriente historical origins. and to contemporary practices that local legends describe and that can be connected to the linkages. we are confident that reports from our respondents and field experience will prove instructional if not fully valid. We know that our educated guesses suffer from an absence of sufficient historical findings and for want of more research. The cazuela is just such an example. Indeed. speculations. We are intensely aware that much in these brief discussions are educated guesses. “land of the dead” beginnings 159 . but none of our contentions and propositions is made in a vacuum. field and otherwise. However. We eagerly await future research on Muertéra Bembé de Sao. rather than as data from systematic and fully verified research findings. to ritual characteristics that signal African Kongo beginnings of the region. Field research about this tradition in Oriente is also presented as a report from the field.Summary Thoughts This chapter presented descriptions from a limited amount of historical and other documentation on Muertéra Bembé de Sao. as well as other Oriente religious practices. we have speculated beyond what might ordinarily occur in reliable research and scholarship.

Long was writing and speaking about human orientation.”2 This proposition proved pertinent to our research of sacred spaces in Oriente because we took the charge seriously and attempted to construct and reconstruct an interpretation of socioreligious historical events relative to the creation of indigenous religions in the region. we tried to do this from the perspective of those colonial enslaved persons who first joined in ritual behaviors not grounded in the Spanish Christian model. knowledge. and much unhappiness. “It is by going through the misinterpretations that a new awareness of the problem will take shape. as part of the “promise” of cross-  160 . indignity. religion. —Remarks during “Living Room Conversations” of the African Atlantic Research Team Much before the opening of the twenty-first century. and related phenomena. the historian of religions. space. time. Charles H.1 One essential proposition of his work is that “it is the misinterpretations” of the promise of wealth and riches from the Americas that “constitute the problem of interpretation” regarding those who were exploited by that promise.8 Findings and Conclusions To be indifferent to the past is breaking faith with the people who had to tolerate oppression. Significantly. Long was likewise interested in how.

Atlantic European expansion and colonization. What We Learned Conceptually Defining Indigenous Our working definition of “indigenous” deepened after several years of living with and observing African-descendant devotees using ritual activities findings and conclusions 161 . In chapter 1 we put forth basic working parameters for these definitions. and several other arenas of knowledge about human religious life. At the same time. indigenous traditions of the island. but now we turn to fuller exploration of the key concepts as the research refined their applicability. but the interpretive of those not included in the promise. This concluding discussion is designed to reveal some of the salient conceptual findings from the research. for helping to explain the how’s and why’s of human activity. a symbolic reality that was also embedded within the material and political world of their oppressors. individuals from enslaved and oppressed groups survived their exploitive ordeals as they related to the European promise. the use and significance of sacred spaces. Knowledge contributions of this nature are even more noteworthy when surrounded by historical and social conditions that affected the descendants. We found Long’s propositions particularly appropriate as guides for our task of understanding Oriente indigenous practices. and we begin by discussing how our working definitions for key concepts were expanded through the field investigation. The naturalistic field research in which our team engaged is well suited to reveal meanings and motivations within and behind human behavior and that is engrained within the sociological enterprise. Field research and its methodological techniques are indispensable to an interpretive endeavor. He entreats scholars and researchers to report on oppressed communities as active and creative participants that built societies in the Americas while simultaneously creating a symbolic reality of their own vision. We believe that the preceding chapters represent the necessary sociohistorical background and so now turn to clarifying conceptual issues as these were revealed to our team as we proceeded through the Oriente investigation. this chapter will engage findings about some important meanings inherent in religious lifestyles and sacred space realities we encountered in Oriente. His emphasis is on the interpretive. Our work on Oriente’s sacred spaces fits well into this perspective and may make a few significant contributions to academic and general understandings about African descendants in Cuba.

and where new behavioral forms particular to the situation were created.3 In the shared physical reality of Oriente. as well as the presence and visitation of spirits in the historical world of humans. the earliest colonial Indians and Africans created combined ritual customs that included but were not limited to using tobacco. and they were proposed as distinctively characteristic of the region. where they struggled and grappled for social space within those power arrangements. importing material objects into sacred notations of spiritual work. This was a first important revelation or finding of our investigation. indigenous customs. reverence for ancestors. survival. Based on our experiences. These transculturated. where neither group could leave with ease.” The island and its regions were a colonial location where multiple cultural communities contacted and engaged each other within a social environment of dramatic power inequities. New joint behaviors also expressed their acknowledgment of spirits’ existence in the human world. when the dead are buried within these sacred comprehensions to create joint ancestors. respectful interment of their dead to become mutual ancestors. and deference for the materials of spiritual work. and when ancestors of the shared land space are respectfully revered. Our understanding is that indigenous religions evolve when there is respectful sharing of autochthonous understandings with migrant understandings. The new valued behaviors were adjusted to changing historical periods and transmitted to subsequent practitioners in the area. In chapter 2 we presented salient aspects of the corpus of sacred knowledge and that cosmic orientation. were reported as foundational to Oriente rituals we observed. when a blending of practices evolve. The outcome of this cultural interaction and exchange now became “indigenous” to the land. including the valued knowledge that undergirded their practice. and incorporating Africa-based drum rhythms into the work. 162 Chapter 8 . we have reconceptualized a definition that varies from that generally considered for indigenous religion. and human dignity within the cosmic universe. We observed that merged. Coherent sets of religions that evolved from these indigenous elements contain important knowledge about life. but a significant finding of the Oriente research was that there is an alternative understanding of the concept of indigenous. habitualized sacred behaviors had materialized within the region as part of colonial Cuba as a “contact zone.that contained behaviors influenced by their continental ancestry as well as influences from early autochthonous Cuban inhabitants. Contemporary Oriente sacred spaces reflect such understandings and employ indigenous ritual practices.

The customs and orientation are also important as these are used to enculturate. can scarcely be exaggerated.5 The relative isolation ensured that developing transculturated behaviors would be authenticated by Oriente influences rather than rely upon affirmation from populations in other parts of the island. This was made clear despite the fact that transculturated and other adjustments in practice have been made. would salute our emphasis on following the Africa-based cosmic orientation that undergirds contemporary behaviors. Emeritus professor of history and anthropology. findings and conclusions 163 . The club is no longer on the location and practitioners move freely in all areas near the water to retrieve sacred materials and to conduct sacred rites. . The ability to sustain. even when it was difficult to reach. the cosmic orientation of the tradition dictated water from that particular site. no matter the danger. had to be gathered because it was part of the religion’s understanding about the natural environment. including sacred spaces. and reinforce distinctive sacred reality is linked to the region’s geographic and sociopolitical isolation from authorized and other activities of Cuba’s locus of power. adapt.Orientation and Transculturation Another finding from our research relates to orientation and transculturation. We found that the Africa-based cosmic orientation continues to inform contemporary devotees in the selection of materials and activities to be included in their sacred performances. For example. on one occasion a religious leader took us to an outdoor site where water flows naturally into the Caribbean Sea and where particular rituals are regularly performed. . socialize. We were told that the use of areas on the specific site had changed through history because a private. We were also informed that water from that particular location. The region’s ritual practices were self-referring. Our findings from such an approach support his propositions about the importance of orientation for understanding the oral history of African-descendant people.”4 Interviews and observations in Oriente reveal that the ancestral cosmic orientation of African descendant practitioners continues to be foundational to the transculturated performances of their indigenous religions. That is to say. He examined the relationship between oral traditions and history among African groups and contended “the importance of orientation . racially segregated club stood on the site for many year and practitioners had to move with care around the buildings to gain access to the water. and acculturate new inhabitants to the sacred actions of local practitioners’ patterns. Jan Vansina.

6 These settlers and their progeny created public holidays and organized celebratory activities with little consideration or respect for Cuban Indian or African descendants’ ideas about sacred celebration. and celebration exemplify their Africa-based orientation as well as the historical.8 Nineteenth-century literary persons of African descent are even reported to have employed and inserted expressions from their sacred heritage into what appeared to be purely “Hispanic” written forms of artistic cultural representation. sang.7 The European elite and upper classes considered African involvement in social celebrations as exotic entertainment. For example. nonsacred behaviors were ordered to cease on such “holy” days.9 Although they held alternative conceptualizations about being human. but the descendants of “darker hue” soon appropriated the allocated times. some of the latter overlapped or paralleled Africa-based 164 Chapter 8 . and paraded in “African” ways and inserted their meanings of the celebrations into the Europeanstructured holiday events. our research found that practitioners’ consciousness of beauty. They publicly dressed.In this regard. reinterpreted and restructured them yet again into Africa-based occasions. They reconstructed organizations and institutional relations to support their idea/ ideal religious holidays as dictated by understandings of Christian and Cuban Catholic liturgical practices. On the one hand. Secular. danced. the mainstream holiday meant social space away from the laborious drudgery of their work and an opportunity to release some of their overwhelming frustrations. Contemporary devotees maintain daily lives within two time realities but prioritize the reality of their religious practices. they exist in a Cuban society guided by Eurocentric ideas and a linear approach to time. While on the other hand. For those excluded from decision-making power. regional self-referencing sacred life. The latter time concept has informed them about principles of natural phenomena and guided them on how and with what to celebrate sacred occasions. they actualize a significant portion of their lives within the event-based time of ritual practices and cosmic perspective that has been tested and handed down through generations. It was a temporary public celebration opportunity for the bonded and oppressed people of the island. colonial Europeans held the majority of political and social resources and wielded most power derived from those. African descendants lived within and acknowledged Spanish Catholic ideas in Cuba. drummed. models of time. as all colonial inhabitants were expected to take part in designated activities.

The image demonstrates that elements of the holiday celebrations were changed yet again to the African descendants’ orientation of veneration. In Oriente. sacred things. findings and conclusions 165 . Shango and Babalú Ayé are strong examples. However. As well. and merriment. All night drumming. express this distinct understanding when they ritualistically refer to island sites and when they return to the region for Shango and Babalú Ayé celebrations. The result was that African descendants’ participation in celebratory activities was within their own ideas about time as these supposedly powerless people changed the nature and character of Cuban holidays. our research found that many such new concepts about “holiness” and celebration were infused with Africa-based knowledge. the new thoughts served as labels within a Catholic veneer that gave the appearance of compliance with colonial and postcolonial power structures. Rather.10 Over centuries. ideas about the veneration of sacred entities and the shared understanding that spiritual forces/saints could be called upon for assistance were particularly compatible with Africa-based comprehensions about the universe. All became part of island tradition in purpose. For example. Figure 15 is a papier-mâché representation of the transculturated image of Babalú Ayé that symbolizes the spirit/saint in the religio-cultural commemoration. the appearance of the Eurocentric veneer curtailed some social repudiation and persecution of the Africa-based center and thereby brought a modicum of social space to these oppressed people. and those who share their perspective. animal sacrifice might be needed. while holding Africa-based ideas central. not the Catholic ones. even as celebrations for Santa Bárbara and San Lazaro were official Catholic holidays. activities associated with the festivities were stylistically altered and not wholly associated with European or African cultural ideas. and stylistic performance. focus. many such occasions became associated with and named for Africa-based commemorations. the recognized compatibility of cosmic ideas and some ritual practices did not erase or replace the Africa-based cosmic core.11 The historical processes of transculturation and the continuation of celebrations that are infused with cosmic orientation and ritual practice that distinguish Cuba’s indigenous religions was an impressive finding of our investigation of sacred spaces in Oriente. Within indigenous customs of Oriente. singing. and dancing also could be required and such new practices were grounded in an alternative temporal modality.notions. Contemporary Oriente inhabitants. For example.

From the perspective of practitioners’ alternative temporal modality. partial. participation.” a subversion of values. they construct different. if not conflict with the larger society’s prevailing time model about being human. lifestyles that for centuries provided their ancestors and them with a sense of ultimate meaning and purpose as well as a direct relationship to cosmic creation and power. is understood to transcend the human-constructed. but beginning and ending such rituals within indigenous religion’s time concepts.Temporal Modality We also found that Oriente practitioners’ sacred spaces reflect colonialinitiated processes of appropriating material. but as Fredrik Barth would say. demonstrated contestation. This power. ritual work is a constant. like most humans. This was true even across different religions where customs varied. universes of discourse. “a consciously cultivated style of subversion of values. We found that the symbolic universe created by Oriente devotees across religious traditions was not formed from a single source or from a solitary wellspring. space. Their devotion may be as David Brown sees the continuation of alternatives. Rather.”12 At the same time. Their national membership compels participation in the sociopolitical reality of Cuba and Oriente. sociopolitical world of inequities and oppression. and ideas from an Africa-based model of time. Devotees make daily adjustments to sustain the integrity and priority of Africa-based sacred lifestyles. We found that devotees communicated time frames of ritual activities as Eurocentric. we were not convinced that the contestation and conflict of temporalities is necessarily a negative one that has potential for social schism. too. more or less discrepant. practitioners “participate in multiple. We found that Oriente devotees maintain their societal responsibilities and functioning but conjointly do not abdicate sacred responsibilities and required activities. and departure from the work within the time definition parametered by Africa-based cosmic orientation. place. 166 Chapter 8 . time. their adherence to the alternative temporal modality is part of the core Africa-based cosmic orientation. their cultural construction of reality springs not from one source and is not of one piece. and simultaneous worlds in which they move. the sacred world was practitioners’ selfpresentation aimed at signifying their place in a socially constructed world that had left them out. This occurred within sociohistorical realities of regional religious practices and is exemplified by scheduling ritual activities according to modern world definitions of societal obligations. but made their arrival. As such.

14 Counter/Re-signification in Practice Like much of cross-cultural research conducted on issues of religion. and we waited hours for activities to convene.” Neither did anyone ever hint that. All incorporate a myriad of material articles that can appear almost anywhere on the globe. We were amazed to find all practitioners adhering to this model of time. with cross-cultural investigations. was explained as necessary to allow spirits to anoint the event. We found no one ready for our arrival. This was true for sacred spaces built by Oriente practitioners and it is true for images presented in this book. or. findings and conclusions 167 .and performance that is grounded in the spiritual temporality of indigenous practitioners’ cosmic and religious frame of reference.” that is. without notification. “we have to wait til the spirits are ready for us. In Oriente.13 This became clear when our team arrived at several ritual activities based on the clock hour that had been stated for sacred work. and too often what we think of as “superstitions” are merely behaviors labeled by those who do not understand and/or share comprehensions about the symbolic universe with those doing the actions. they are counter/re-signified from meanings not associated with the cosmic orientation of Cuban indigenous religions into sacred objects of ritual work. we were reminded that practitioners constantly counter/re-signify meanings in many of their actions in their world. when placed in Oriente sacred spaces. one finding of our work was that “what you get is not always what you saw. you didn’t get what you saw because you only thought you saw it. to those concerned about such matters. We also participated in ritual occurrences from early morning of one day until beyond midday the next. However. It was a taken-for-granted reality and everybody spoke about the fact that “things really depend on knowin’ how things are supposed to happen. none of those gathered were even slightly uncomfortable or distressed that things did not begin or end at some appointed hour of the clock. “clock time” for spiritual work was extended or adjusted to ritual event time. too often we bring unnecessary interpretive baggage for comprehending the investigative sites. cosmically oriented knowledge that is not the agenda of societal time. no others present for the event. The time alterations. not begin when we’re ready for them. In each example.” This reminds us that. temporal modality that exists outside of society’s overarching arrangements and is associated and performed from ritual time of their alternative cosmic orientation.

sacrality. and include objects and activities that continue to be antithetical to Eurocentric understandings of the sacred. are consciously cultivated styles of subversion and re-signification. demonic. and the practitioners who use them belong to religious realities whose meanings are far from Eurocentric core designations. if not confuses. the spaces. The situation usually arises from a plethora of negative significations that have been imposed upon religious traditions that differ from Eurocentric civilizations’ Christian core.15 It involves five centuries of dependency on enslaved and African labor for development. The spaces contain preserved dead animals. dirty. Consequently. Sacred spaces speak loudly of continued resistance to a world circumscribed by white hegemonic ideas of humanity. This signifying of a whole continent and its people is a product of European expansion and theft in the western hemisphere. such spaces and activities within them can be misunderstood and labeled as superstitions. In fact. they present a visual image that conflates and confounds. 168 Chapter 8 . At the same time. Oriente geographies of sacrality.For those who do not share practitioners’ understanding of the symbolic world. remains of sacred and ritualistic animal sacrifice. and religion. and other objects also from diverse settings. the spaces and actions are counter/re-significations of what the larger social reality might dictate. sticks. special rocks. They are intimate parts of a lifestyle wherein participants employ alternative definitions and interactional requirements for spiritual work even as that work must be performed within mainstream societal understandings not demarcated by their cosmic orientation. many of us who assume Eurocentric approaches regularly dismiss as superstition the content and behaviors that occur in Oriente spaces. the consistent creation and imposition of stereotypical rationales to justify the race-based exploitative relationships. their content. and much more. and activities are a consistent counter/re-signification to hegemonic imposition. and the implementation of formal and informal social structures that ensured permanence of white supremacy. are dark. and/or inferior. particularly religious ritual workings. They are active representations of an alternative understanding. experiences with spirit visitations and comings to human bodies. many such designations. water and earth from a variety of global spaces. these impositions have not been unilaterally accepted and neither have Oriente practitioners yielded to all such significations. Many who hold such a core automatically and unconsciously assume that most things African or Africa related. their contents.

continues with critical elements that have persisted beyond the lifetime of originators of any singular ritual arrangement. These differing activities can and do occur within any one community. and postmodern realities even as they were constructed and propagated as normative within the symbolic world of devotees. Equally. However. Contemporary ritual work.17 These alternative sets of customs are full lifestyles.19 We call this phenomenon “integrated religious plurality.” It is plural because there is more than one set of coherent religious practices within a given community. not mere temporary representations of individual idiosyncrasies. their customs. the traditions. or even several different religious traditions. modern. family. They are historical long-term patterns of generations of practitioners’ intentional collective behavior. postcolonial. the sacred customs are not exclusive to a particular Oriente town or city. spaces and work that are essential counter/re-significations of colonial. the plurality is not random or idiosyncratic in expression but is an intentional incorporation of select customs associated with efficacious findings and conclusions 169 . though not the same as that conducted by practitioners’ colonial foreparents. and spaces are counter/re-significations because they continue to be the lived reality for a significant number of nonpractitioners in that some 80 percent of all island inhabitants practice one or more of the religious lines. and/or they can occur with any one individual.18 Integrated Religious Plurality Another finding arising from the Oriente research is that a single practicing community can incorporate behavioral customs from two. and many have been shared beyond regional and national borders. In addition. within any one family. and/or individual. They are counter/re-significations because the cosmic core from which the understandings and behaviors are derived has been successful in helping new generations adjust and adapt behaviors while not fully yielding to alternative or imposed orientations. They are patterns of beliefs and behaviors that are daily and weekly put into practice by collectivities of members.16 Our research found that this was the case for Oriente sacred spaces constructed for ritual work.These counter/re-signified comprehensions are not individual or temporary but are found in each Oriente sacred space and within each set of regional practices of a religious tradition. Our research found that these observable patterns of counter/re-signification are intimately woven into lives of adherents.

“I keep this nganga space too because sometimes the work needs more power than I have. The integrated plurality finding held true as behaviors associated with any one religious tradition had historical experiences that proved mutually beneficial to other. different sets of practices. human and otherwise. the knowledge and rituals that undergird the customs incorporate answers to issues and questions about ultimate existence. it is difficult. for single individuals to maintain the religions. The ability of this integrated reality to survive and prosper begins with the fact that most Oriente practitioners of any one tradition have working familiarity with and can articulate. They appear to have little or no conflict with sharing or integrating such customs. Each home proudly displayed at least two—and sometimes as many as five—designated locations of sacrality and devotees informed us that each space was for distinct “spiritual work” of a specific tradition.” She also said she calls in a palero. This intentional in­­ corporation surely contributes to the sustainability of indigenous traditions in Oriente as the permeability of internal practice boundaries can make adjustments for sociohistorical intrusions without compromising the vital core of orientation. a Muertéra Bembé de Sao respondent was an active participant in a Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe “Memorial Feed” that we observed. The integrated plurality phenomenon is equally religious because. We found more than a few different types of sacred spaces in individual homes of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. but he also asked if we were coming to the ceremony of his community that was scheduled in two days. Not only did this young man warmly acknowledge our presence at the feed. Espiritismo Cruzado. and Muertéra Bembé de Sao practitioners. beliefs and values. the knowledge and rituals are systematic in their organization and are social occurrences. he registered disappointment 170 Chapter 8 . if not impossible. within the combination of customs employed from differing traditions.results from specific and different religious traditions. And in a similar fashion. an initiated member of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe on such occasions. if not demonstrate. In addition. We also observed the tata nganga of a Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe community actively participating in a special ceremony of an Espiritismo. the leader of a Cruzado community allowed us to videotape an interview as she reported. When we said we could not. one not part of our research work. For example. This means that coherent collections of sacred rituals live side by side and thrive on their continued interaction and exchanges. many customs of the other religions.

The saints are free.20 A strong example of Ocha’s integration into Oriente religiosity is the use of primary names for spirit forces when traditions have their own names for corresponding spirits—names like Elegguá. This was the Yoruba-based tradition of Regla de Ocha/Lucumí. However. We have no interview data to help explain this occurrence and will withhold speculation for the time being. he enthusiastically proceeded with his Palo activities. “It can cost thousands of pesos to ‘make saint’ in Ocha.” but they also indicated it was a religion into which most Oriente inhabitants were not initiated because of the prohibitive costs. We cannot avoid the fact that our investigation also found this regional phenomenon was influenced by a religion we did not study. discomfort. including mambo and hungán leaders. we found that respondents’ behaviors mitigated their spoken ideas and that was particularly true for each religion. Some practitioners did express a slight sense of conflict. Shango. Through systematic observations. From our outside position as Western-trained researchers. Again. Indeed. As one demonstrative respondent said. Regional practitioners consistently spoke of Ocha as a religion that offered “stability and tranquility. they also continued to conduct ritual behaviors that incorporated customs from other traditions. what ap­­ peared as practices of single individual religions were actually procedures drawn from several traditions integrated within a single set. consistently attended rituals in sacred spaces of other religious traditions.” We also found that Regla de Ocha/Lucumí arrived in the east much later than other indigenous religions and only took hold in the twentieth century. Babalú Ayé.but no sense of competition or animosity. This seems to be the Oriente way. even those they had disdained. and irregularity with some customs of the various regional religions. However. We found that Vodú practitioners. with the exception of Vodú. but they did not actively participate in central rituals as they remained engaged on the periphery of the spiritual work. Yemaya. They articulated a perception that their religious lifestyle was of a higher moral plane than some other tradition or traditions. the integrated plurality of religious practice was a strong finding from our research. Such substitution resembles the Catholic “veneering” findings and conclusions 171 . and so on. I prefer Muertéra. objects. including participation in time-honored chants and dances. and devotees of differing traditions. it seems clear that neither religious distinctions nor apparent cross-religious tensions deter even Vodú practitioners from maintaining and interacting with sacred spaces.

Regla de Ocha enjoys more visibility throughout Cuba and the world than do more popular traditions practiced in Oriente. An example of material that functions as spiritual capital within the integrated religious plurality is a figurine regularly purchased by tourists— that of Elegguá.of the region’s colonial periods. bilongo” of reglas congo. respectively the ritual content of Regla de Ocha and the “heterogeneous objects. Tourists purchase replicas of the figurines used by practitioners or those produced by government-operated factories. which are more valued than the peso currency of their country. Though tourists may not know what the event is or its religious significance. names like a bembé for Shango or Ochún. The use of familiar nomenclature and less well-known practices also helps Oriente devotees participate in the Cuban tourist economy where certain religious practices have developed valuable spiritual capital. This seems to suggest that. when employed for comparable spirits of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. Each author is concerned with interpreting the “spiritembodying and spirit-directing” materials of Cuban-derived religious expressions. and Muertéra Bembé de Sao provides an ease of translation for regional customs that are already integrated pluralities. This provides Oriente inhabitants with opportunities to garner dollars. like Catholicism in earlier periods. Ritual. The name recognition of Yoruba-based spirits. and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion and by Stephen Palmié in his volume Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition.21 Each shares a focus on how products of the indigenous customs are distinct expressions that incorporate but do not singularly represent either of the base cultures from which they were historically formed. they have heard the words as associated with Cuba’s indigenous religions and are interested in seeing them. At the same time. Espiritismo. The economic supplement enhances the survival of participating religious adherents. Practi­ tioners can encourage tourists to visit their sacred sites and/or take part in public ceremonies by using names familiar to foreign travelers. Vodú. the spirit force responsible for all crossroads and named within the lexicon of Regla de Ocha/Lucumí. The intersection with our idea about Oriente’s integrated religious plurality occurs because the various Cuban indigenous 172 Chapter 8 . such figurines are found behind doorways in homes of nearly all practitioners of our research. no matter the religious tradition they followed. Our finding on Oriente religious practice as integrated pluralities follows a trajectory set by David Brown in his book Santería Enthroned: Art.

strategically appropriate. He informed us that there are two major Christian streams in Cuban history: one of the Catholic Church and its relationship to colonial and neocolonial situations. are each products of the collective intentionality of cultural groups tossed into the historical and sociopolitical mixture of the island as a contact zone. that is. and integrated within regional pluralities.” Our distinction is that indigenous religions practiced in Oriente. and a second stream of Protestants’ reliance on United States’ policies. about religion in his country before we set our investigation in motion. adapted. appropriated. religions. These expressive behaviors. or forcefully wrest the cultural resources variously distributed in a given ecology of representations or continuum of discourse from their forebears. a Protestant pastor and Christian leader in Cuba. Christian Periphery One finding of our research began before our work with religious activities in the region. produced conflicts after the 1959 revolution and the post-1960s findings and conclusions 173 . within the process of transculturation. In the region’s resulting inequitable distribution of power and other resources of sociopolitical life. groups of actors constructed new behavioral expressions. Both streams.”22 That any one set of Oriente practices may appropriately incorporate practices from another religion is exactly what Palmié puts forth: The bridging of disparate universes of discourse and aesthetic traditions does not occur randomly. art. it is not surprising that our research found that Oriente ritual practices are distinct sacred customs adopted. though marked with Africa-based cultural origins. and so on. no longer belonged singularly to those beginnings and they definitely were not singularly part of European cultural or religious traditions.23 We concur with Palmié on the question of “agency of actors” if his emphasis is on the plural nature of “actors” rather than an academic individualized view of “agency. from similarly positioned contemporaries. Therefore. music. or from those who wield power over them.religions are part of “an ongoing process” whereby all are “working off each other. nor can it be divorced from the agency of actors whose historical positioning enables them to unproblematically adopt. he said. language. We spoke with Reverend Raúl Suárez. food.

Our research findings confirm Reverend Suárez’s contentions to be particularly true in Oriente. an entity or activity rarely belongs to a single representation. and their spiritual activities. This also is the Oriente space that the pope of the Roman Catholic Church visited.”26 174 Chapter 8 . towns. Interview respondents informed us of the Christian nature of these Oriente structures and simultaneously instructed us about the fixtures’ participation in their indigenous religious lifestyles. There are Catholic churches in most all regional cities. in the shade of a nearby Catholic church. Individuals are instructed to place the accumulated remains from their ritual acts in front or just to the side. he said. likely preferring to understand it only as representing the Christian tradition. For example. As with Reverend Suárez’s proposition. This cathedral is well populated with devotees and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. their sacred spaces. villages. but the number of Catholic practitioners seen in any of these is small given the size of the structures. and some smaller settlements. we found that Oriente inhabitants make and do things in “their Cuban way. is regularly deposited just outside of select churches. The indigenous religions. at any given moment in history. Material residue from cleansing rituals of several indigenous sacred procedures.24 At the same time.period of development. and practitioners of indigenous religions use the buildings within certain rituals and rites of their tradition. have permeated the entire country. But we do not view Oriente’s integrated relationships as associated with conventional notions of “syncretism or as a colloquially understood hybrid of originally separate elements. we found residuals of Catholicism to be a continuing element of life in Oriente.”25 As Fernando Ortiz advised. We found that in Oriente religious life. Suárez also acknowledged that only Africa-based religions of his country responded to citizens’ needs in their changing circumstances before and after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. for example. our research found Catholic churches to be peripheral to indigenous traditions. Local neighborhood communities maintain Catholic physical structures to the best of their ability and available resources. the Cathedral at Cobre in Oriente that is dedicated to the Catholic Virgin of Charity is known by most as an iconic sacred space of the Africa-based divine spirit of Ochún. The exception is among those churches where the patron saint corresponds with a spirit force of an indigenous tradition. but only in so far as it has been cojoined with indigenous ritual practices.

parameters. Indigenous religious practices of Oriente are no different. rules. and sacred spaces are always changing. academic knowledge has been accumulated almost exclusively from data and information gathered from practitioners of the western regions of Havana. rites. sociological. they change. and others. and their analysis when compared to the work we’ve completed. This endeavor was not meant to be all encompassing but does put forth a plausible historical narrative for which there is clear circumstantial evidence that can provide a starting point for future investigations. Our exploration of the sacred spaces of Cuba’s indigenous religious practices in the eastern region of Oriente was meant to open this area and its activities for inclusion into the larger academic arena of systematic research. they constantly change. Future researchers will need to adjust their tools. those who follow us to investigate Oriente will most likely find that sacred spaces and those who construct them will only include remnants of what we found. and over the five hundred years of their presence in the region. and other specifics of religiosity in Oriente. spirits. For the most part. are not static. the core of our explorations and findings will be substantiated. This is the inherent nature of the study of human phenomena. Matanzas. and sacred spaces. field. Trinidad. Those. religions. and historical documents is necessary. boundaries. and quantitative survey research.27 We await! findings and conclusions 175 . because we know that humans. However.Summation All religions are dynamic. economic. we were able to identify four sets of religious practices that have previously been underinvestigated yet are actively performed in the region and within which sacred spaces are constructed. rituals. material culture. Additional interrogation of colonial Oriente places. rather than on those of the west. with adjustments and corrections. we feel confident that. ceremonies. No matter the type of work that follows ours. too. By choosing to focus on Oriente locations of sacrality. the practice of traditions that equal a phenomenon live because of and within movements and changes of humans’ social. they have adjusted to particularities of their sociopolitical and historical circumstances. We have photographed these spaces as they appeared at the time of our visits. their concepts. objects. or the realities of human religious change. religion. ethnographic. anthropological. as well as other types of investigations. We plea for additional archaeological. political. No matter how much information we uncover about beliefs. and historical lives. Cienfuegos.

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Bolívar. 1998a. Ferrer. 2005. Palmié. Barnet. 1996. does begin considerations of Palo Mayombe but by way of its contributions to art. 2003: Preface. 4. 2002. 7. 1997:131. Brown. Cabrera. 10. 1998. Long. 11. 177 . Furé. 1999. Frazier. 13. 1993. 2003. 1997. Thompson. but all of their materials have not yet been translated into English. 1983. 1965. Barnet. Brandon. 1988. Simpson. Works by Bolívar Arostegui and Gonzalez Díaz. See. 14. 1983. 1941. Matibag. 1947:97–103. 1988. 1998. 5. 6. See Schwegler. Ortiz. 2001:88–97. 3. In Havana. 2004. 1983. 8. Herskovits. 1985. Ortiz. 2001. Pratt. are examples of full English volumes. there is an entire museum of Ortiz’s collections of artifacts. on the subject may have reached broader visibility. 1979. 12. 17. 2001. 16. Barnet. for example. 2004. and Brown 2003. Brown. 1957 [1949]:7–9. 1986. 2000. Castellanos.Notes introduction 1. and Cabrera. Bettelheim. 1978. Castellanos and Castellanos. 2. and Scott. Lachatañeré. Ortiz. 15. Ayorinde. 1996. 9. Ayorinde. 1947.

1996a. Hamilton. Thornton. Aimes.” 10. Our spelling of the religion will be as it is spelled in Oriente—Vodú—except when we refer to the Haitian practices. Bosch Ferrer. 2001:15–18. 18. 2007:9. Ibid. 1995:38–41. 2001:15. chapter 1 1. 2001. 1996. Timing and political issues interfered with us conducting interviews with the entire sample group. 1997:36. 4. Brown. 2003:140. Palmié. Colloquial gender usage has lost that fact. 1995. Andrews. 8. 1967:5–8. Duharte Jiménez. Turner. Turner. 25. Pérez. 2007. 5. 1995. 1997:36. 290–91. 20. 2. 2002. 20. 7. 2005. 3. I often resided in Oriente for two to three months and returned as many as three times a year during the nine consecutive years. and Franco. 22. Hall. 1997:288. 1996b. 11. 1990: 15–26. Hall. 2001:15. Thomas. Hall. 22. 1997:288. 2005:57–65 also develops this line of reasoning. Zaid. 14. 291. Spain became a single nation only after it was agreed that Isabella would be co-king with Ferdinand. Turner. 1997:13. 12. It is exceptionally difficult to get a long-term visa to work in Cuba and the US government’s continuing blockade of the island prohibits freedom to travel. 13. 1992:96–97. 2003. but specifically 171–98. 16. 1985. Pérez. Long. Duharte. 178 notes to pages 8–27 . Duharte Jiménez. Palmer. Thomas. 15. Thomas. Lopéz Valdes. Sued-Badillo. Heywood and Thornton. Price. 2000:42–43. Palmer. 19. 2001:15–16. 1999:259–91. 1993. 1511. 1997:289–90. 21. 27. 6. Millet. which we will spell Vodou. We’ve seen this spelling in academic and professional writings but have observed the Siboney spelling in Oriente. Palmié. 18. Mintz and Price. 1995:14–18. Duharte Jiménez. 2000:9. 1971:1511. 300–301. 2004:17. Duharte Jiménez. Díaz. 19. Millet and Alarcón. 23. 1976. 17. 1994. 1973. 26. Díaz. Pérez. Cremé Ramos and Duharte Jiménez. 1998. 1995:25–27. 9. 2005: 42–45 and chapter 3 wherein she fully discusses the “Clustering of African Ethnicities in the Americas. 21. 24. 1971:19. 1971:21–22. Palmer.

1998. The fight at Playa Gíron was the battle against US supported invaders of the island that was won by the Cubans. Desi Arnaz. 28. de la Fuente. 1995:9. 23. 35. See Franco (1973) for one of the first discussions of palenques after O’Kelly (1874) mentions them. 31. Pérez. Ayorinde. 2003. 32. 40. however. 1999:96. 41. these are activities and events we observed or in which we participated. 44. The more earnest efforts in this direction. 1997:288. La Rosa Corzo. Our research team visited the town of Palenque as just such a contemporary continuation. 45. 29–30. 25.” 30.” 46. Hall. occurred after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the removal of economic subsidies to the island. 26. Díaz. 1986:3. 47. Hall. 41. 38. 2000. Thomas. 1995. Our calculations are based on figures provided by Franco. whose father was mayor of Santiago de Cuba in early decades of the twentieth century. Arnaz’s father forbade him to visit bembé activities of the city. Also see Thomas. Ortiz. La Rosa Corzo. 1971:69. 1971:18. Duharte Jiménez. 1995:39–42. The pastor was Rev. 24. Respondents tell the story of the Cuban band leader. 43. 2003:60. 1990:56–57 for a discussion of Africans’ use of homeland languages in Haiti. Schwegler. 2005:34–37. 1999: chapter 6. María Elena Díaz’s report on descendants in El Cobre and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s discussions of African ethnic clusters. 29. 42. Martínez Furé. 1967:56–60. Also see Fick. 2004:17–19. Bosch Ferrer. For the most part. Hall (2005:57–65) also develops this line of reasoning. 27. 1993:346–47. Andrews. 1979. Pérez. 2004:14. 2003. 48. 37. 1996. 36. Raul Suarez. Andrews. Her statistics are drawn from Manuel Moreno Fraginals. 1986:5. 34. Duharte Jiménez. 2001:204–6. 39. Price. 1973. Pérez. 1977. Respondents told us that even the western city of Matanza has the reputation of being “the Athens of Cuba. Aimes. 1999. See Ayala. Ferrer. 2002. 2003. Turner. Wirth. The United States refers to the event as the battle at the “Bay of Pigs. Palmié. 2004. 2005:163. but the boy found a way to participate and later became well known for incorporating many rhythms from his clandestine activities into his US music career. Hall. 2005:67–68. notes to pages 27–38 179 . 1947. This action was an effort to consolidate state power and began when Cuban authorities observed the participation of “liberation theology” and its subscribers in struggles of Nicaragua. Dodson. Several contemporary Oriente villages and towns were palenque sites. 33.

we only have local legends and oral traditions that there were such twentiethcentury debarkations. 3. MacGaffey and Barnett. See Hall. McKenzie. and Matibag. 12. Walvin. 1999. Thompson. 2003. 2000. 1993. 1996:11. 10. Abimbola. 2002: chapter 2. 2003. Bockie. Parrinder. 9. 2. 1976.chapter 2 1. Matibag. See Thompson. 15. Ray. 161–64. Thomas. Dodson. Mbiti. 1989. Thompson. 21. 2003. Mintz and Price. 180 notes to pages 39–62 . We know that human beings begin the process of enculturating knowledge from birth forward but most of the information. Matibag. there were Cubans who had lived through that era. and Brown. chapter 3 1. 1971: Appendix iii. 16. 1969 and 1991. 11. 7. behaviors. 1969. 1992. as late as the 1960s. 23. 1996. 1976:38–41. 1973:49. 1977:18. Peel. 22. 1983 and 1993. 20. 25. 2006. As discussed in Gerth and Mills. 1983. 1992:238–40. Johnson. 2005:85. Several interview sources report the late nineteenth-century arrival to Cuba of new Africans born on the continent. See Barnet. It could be argued that cosmic orientation of a cultural community circumscribes rather than gives direction to interactive patterns that become part of daily living and the taken-for-granted. Hall. See Gerth and Mills (1946) for Max Weber’s classic exploration of charisma. 14. 24. See Hord and Lee. 13. See Cheal (1992) and Smith (1987) for examples on ritual. 19. Palmié. typified categories. 52) discusses the multilingual nature of captive Africans as well as European and other efforts to sever the internal ethnic ties among the various peoples. 1988. Mbiti. It must be remembered that legal enslavement in Cuba ended in 1886 and. 17. 1995. 1976. 3. Peel. 5. Schwegler. Tuan. 1996. 8. 1969:1–3. 1998a. However. 1946. Mintz and Price. 1991 also make these contentions. Thornton. See Wirtz. Harding. 1996. Equiáno. 1983. 2000:156. 2002b. Hall (2005:42. Thornton. and values of that process are foundations for consciousness and cognitive understanding that usually begin to form after ten years of age. 2. 1968. 4. 1996:15. 6. Mbiti. Dodson. 1973. 2005:34–36. 162. 1961. 2002. 1970. 18. Franco. Matory.

Although we spoke with young and old. our interviews cannot be categorized as survey or questionnaire data as the Cuban government does not permit foreigners to do those types of investigations. 11. 16. 12. Festival del Caribe. Tuan. cojelo con quien te va” (Choncholi [the name of a Cimarron. Havana. During each phase of the research. including some details. James. 15. no one in particular] will go to the mountains. 2003:151–59. We observed children as young as two years patiently integrated into ritual activities of more than one Cuban religious tradition. Santiago de Cuba. 2003:140. 23. 21. for example. 1974. Mbiti. “Choncholi se va pal monte. 1969. Howard. Activities of the children’s street festival are an annual part of Festival del Caribe. 22. 1991. Dodson. 19. Also see Zaid (2007) for an honors thesis that used extensive oral history field methods to gather data on this topic. 1977. July 13–29. 1995. cooks. 1996a. 2002. Religion Workshop. Interview conversation with Andriol Portuondo. Pérez. housewives. students. 8. 2002b. July 2002. Brown. 13. Santiago de Cuba. 2001:2–3. Nevertheless. he will take with him. and middlesized cities. 1996: chapters 2–3. Ayorinde. 1998:113. 9. We participated in no fewer than five of them. Pérez. whomever will go). Opoku. July 2003. We also participated in activities that were part of Cuba’s African heritage. Millet. Mosquera. This was said to us specifically at the Annual Conference of North American and Cuban Philosophers and Social Scientists. See Dodson. The song “Choncholi” is a good example of this. 24. 25. 2002b. 17. 1991. Cuba. or 2004. p’Bitek 1970. each person with whom we spoke told us what they knew about the traditions. 20. small. 2004. hotel workers. Bourdieu. 14. 4. 1996:228–29. 6. See Dodson and Gilkes. 1971: chapter VIII. hospital workers. teachers. 5. Price. 7. 26. It is still part of annual Carnival parades of Oriente and says. military personnel. members of our team conducted spontaneous informal interviews with random citizens of Oriente and asked what they knew about religious traditions practiced in their area. Our research team visited hundreds of Casas in large. 18. Lecture of Abelardo Larduet Luaces. Thomas. Morgan and Promey. 2003. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes and I discussed this idea in a 1995 article. 10. 1991. 1978. 1993. notes to pages 63–77 181 . and other categories of citizenry. Verter. taxi drivers.

See Price. MacGaffey. 1996: chapters 2 and 3. The historical guide reported that western palenque members used the sites as a stopover in their journey to eastern settlements. 12. There is some debate as to whether palenque members vacated their settlements in the 1870s or 1880s. 1967. Aimes. Schwegler. 1998. 1998. Our research team also visited palenque areas of western Cuba and found that they were structurally and functionally established for transitory inhabitants. 2003:283–86. 1995:3–14. and Pérez. See Heywood and Thornton. Pérez. 1995:39–48. Thornton. 15. 1995:40–41. 2000. 2003. It is one of the few images we’ve included that did not originate in Oriente. 1988. See Barnet. but the international significance of the artist led us to include them. 2003. Casa Cultura in Baracoa presents a historical pageant that reenacts the earliest encounter between autochthonous inhabitants and African descendants. 9. Bosch Ferrer. 24. Otherwise the spelling is as our research practitioners informed. Also see Price. 22. HuDehart. 1995:10–12. 19. 1996. Brown. Pérez. 1999:35. Ferrer. 2000. 6. 23. 1973. 3. 1995:9. 7. Walvin. 2. Thomas. 1996. 2003. 2003. 182 notes to pages 77–87 . See Franco. Pérez. 1999. 5. 10. 2007. 2007. In 2005 our research team visited the Oriente palenque region and the small town also named Palenque. 1996. 2007. Pérez. The spelling of Kongo with a “K” is used when referring to the African land spaces from which are derived a series of indigenous religions. In the Cuban ritual context. La Rosa Corzo. 2000. MacGaffey. not to cigarettes or other forms we associate it with in the United States. Bosch Ferrer. Sued-Badillo. 13. “tobacco” refers to cigars. 14. 20. Duharte. 18. See for example Bolívar Arostegui and Gonzalez Diaz de Villegas. 11. 17. Dodson. 16. These tiles were introduced and their sacred significance explained by a Cuban youth who was not a member of an indigenous religious community. chapter 4 1. 8. 1996. 1971. 4. 1998. 1968. Philalethes. The pageant includes indigenous inhabitants sharing the smoking of tobacco (cigars) to ensure messages are received in the spirit world. Pérez. 21. It also includes African descendants sharing their coded drum rhythms. Zaid. 27.

See Yai. 1998. 31. Personal interview with Louis “Fran” Figueredo. 1995:37. However. supervising coordinator for music and dance performance of Kokoyé. 1945. Bosch Ferrer. were passed to contemporary generations and are re-membered through rituals and Carnival celebrations. Abimbola. The panel was composed of José Millet. Thornton. this is not the exclusive relationship of the drumming parties and our investigation suggests that bembés were part of Oriente traditions before the large numbers of Yoruba arrived in western Cuba in the nineteenth century. 2002. 38. 34. La Rosa Corzo. and Natalia Bolívar Arostegui and Gonzalez Diaz de Villegas’s Spanish one (1998) to contain the best clarifications of the complexities of cosmograms in the reglas congo traditions. 40. chapter 5 1. 28. 39. Schwegler. we have found Robert Farris Thompson’s English volume (1983). Thornton. 35. So far. Oriente practitioners reported that events of one successful raid on a plantation. 2001:22–31. 1995. 25. 30. Dodson. For a fuller clarification of this concept. See Ferm. 1979. 33. See Larduet Luaces. and Vicente Portoundo Martin. Here we note that “bembé” is contemporarily associated with batá drumming of Yoruba ritual traditions. July 2004. Koslow. 26. Genovese. 2003. 1991. Santiago de Cuba. 2006. 1998. 116. Palmié. James. 2002. Interviews with Juan Batista. 1999. and August 2005 respectively. 1998. the premier folk performing troupe of Santiago de Cuba. Howard. MacGaffey. July 2006. 1997. 32. See also Larduet Luaces. 42. Long. July 2002. Andriol Martin. 43. August 2004. 2002. 27. 1999:108. see Thompson. 1996. Personal conversation with Abelardo Larduet Luaces and Andriol Martin in Santiago de Cuba. 36. 2001:147. 41. Santiago de Cuba. and Juan Martin. 2003. Also see Bettleheim. Batista is a senior research associate for Casa del Caribe of the same city. Abelardo Larduet Luaces. 44. This finding was reported at the Workshop on Religion of Casa del Caribe. notes to pages 87–104 183 . Asafo social structures of Ghana are in keeping with this idea also. Límon. 37. 29. July 2003 and July 2004 respectively. 2006. 1983. See Dodson. Interviews with Vicente Portoundo Martin. 2.

1998. 20. including Tumbas Francesas. O’Kelly. June 2002 and 2003. 21. translated by José Millet. 8. Thompson. 2001a:147. 2001. and also Bosch Ferrer. Howard. Havana. 1874. 1973. Millet and Brea (1989) for a similar discussion. Casa del Caribe’s leader of the research group on popular religions. 2001a. 2004:65–68. 1998. Annual conversations with Antonío Bandera. See Bettelheim. When we refer to Haitian practices of the tradition. 1971. professors of the University of Havana reported this to us. 1986. 12. Duharte Jiménez. 1998. 14. Franco. 18. 1999:84. 17. 13. Carpentier. Franco. Our team also had personal conversations with José Millet. 6. Early in the eighteenth century. Among African descendants. Personal interview with Vodú practitioner and dancer of Ciego de Avila (Dodson. A cabildo was the local Spanish governing unit by way of which community members through group participation were consulted and contributed to the civil make-up of a city/town. Dubois. Millet and Alarcon. when African descendants of Cuba could not have cabildos. 4. 184 notes to pages 105–12 . 2003. 16. 11. 172. 1970:19. 1993:166. The director of Foco Cultura Congo de Los Hoyos also reported details of the legend. See Howard. and as the century closed. 2001a:146–47. director of Foco Cultura Congo de Los Hoyos. See Bettelheim. 3. after the revolution in St. and 2005. Knight. Cuban authorities began to recognize the informal groupings as cofradias. 1996:39. 23. See Philip Howard (1998) for a full discussion of cabildos. 1944. and see Bettelheim. 1993:169. Domingue. Personal conversations with faculty members during the Annual Meeting of Cuban and North American Philosophers. Vodú. Cuba. Initially in the colonial periods. 7. 15. we will spell it Vodou. 1989). Dubois. 10. Korngold. Duharte Jiménez. they organized their social arrangements outside Spanish authority. 19. See Korngold (1944) and James (1963) for a solid discussion of how the various racial groups functioned during the Haitian Revolution. 2001a:144. 2001a. cofradía activities were acknowledged as cabildos. Thompson. Ferrer. these organizations were named after continental ethnicities and became formal arrangements of neo-African life and activity. Knight. 2004:51–52. Foco claims descendance from one of Santiago’s original cabildos de nación and maintains that Moncada organized their original comparsa as a Tumba Francesa and that it was later converted into the Conga de Los Hoyos. that is. 22. Thomas. July 2003. 2004. 43. On more than one occasion. See Bettelheim. 5. Again remember that our spelling of the Oriente religion will be as it is spelled in Oriente. Bettelheim. 9. 1997. 1974.

10. 4.” Washington. 1997. 1989. These family members also said that there were practitioners of Palo Monte/ Palo Mayombe within their family. Pérez. DC. 33. Espiritismo can be found in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Ramos. It should be remembered that in Catholic iconography the Baby Jesus of Prague. houmforts (Thompson. 1993:164. See Thomas. 1995:24–26. 9. We are using the Oriente spelling as put forth by Casa del Caribe. 7. Glazier. Thompson. 1996:37. 5. as respondents told us.). see Ayorinde. 36. Hamilton. 1983:181) and oufó (Hurbon. 34. 1998:10. 6. 26. This is not to deny or replace the fact. 29.d. 1971. 1994:2–5. Ramos. 8. 1995. Czechoslovakia. 32. 2004. 1983:169. for example. Harding. 2. and that the practices were definitely of Haitian origins. 1990. specifically the grandmother of the military brothers. They each confirmed that there were religious practitioners in their family history. 1998:7. that spirits can and do appear at nonritual times and in nonsacred spaces. 28. Román. 1989:22. Ramos. Dathorne. 2000:154–56. 1999. n. October 1998–January 1999. 2001. notes to pages 112–32 185 . The bibliographic citation lists 1875 as its publication date. Millet. 2004. for example. Dayan. 2007. See Thomas 1971:515–18. 37. 38. Thornton. Dodson. Thompson. 30. of two older generations. the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibition “Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou. See Ayorinde (2004:56–60) for a fuller discussion of Ortiz’s position. 2001. 27. A collection of these Haitian banners have traveled the United States on exhibition at various museums. 1989:22–23. chapter 6 1. 35. Matibag. For an ability to assume this position. We encountered several spellings for the structure. Howard. 25. is in the arms of a Virgin Mary whose skin color is black. 24. Ayala. Dodson. 31. Brea. though the original volume was first released in 1857 and translated in 1875. Andrews. Such usage is not incompatible with the Espiritismo understanding of doing charitable acts. see. and Vila. We are familiar with the use of this term to describe ritual cleansing or purification. 2004. 1999:166–74. for example. de la Fuente. We continue to probe this issue. We conducted no fewer than four interviews with different family members. 3.

It is equally important to note that women were among participants of the struggles and played significant roles. as well as Mintz and Price (1976). 1976. See Kardec. 11. 1999:7. Pérez. but we were not allowed to see their edition to verify publication data. This citation was brought to our attention by a Cuban who works on issues of the longevity of Haitian descendants in the country. 1983. 1996. 16. 1993. 1981. 19. Thornton. Harding. Thomas. Thomas. 22. 1996:126. 1874. 1970. 1995. Pérez. 1991. Long. Barnet. 9. Price. Ibid. 1970. Arabs. 17. 1997:13. 1991. James. De Groot. James. Ibid. 1968. 1994 for other writings on his concepts. Dodson. 18. See Brandon. 5. Christine Ayorinde (2004:21) contends that some images “reflect ethnic stereotypes. 2002. Palmer. Turner. 1976. 1989. James. 1996: chapters 1–3. 17. 1999:11. 15. 1991. See Díaz. 2003. Palmié. Jordán. 15.” 13. Bosch Ferrer. 1986. Thompson. Ibid. 12. indios. Ortiz. Long. 3. 10. as well as Mintz and Price. and Price. 1998:171. 1992. 1999. 1988. 1989. See MacGaffey. and negro bozales [newly imported Africans]. See MacGaffey. Michigan State University. Thornton 1998 for how Kongo ethnic groups’ members approached community activities and celebrations. 1971. 19. 20. Personal conversation with Charles Long. 2002. 18. Pérez de la Riva (1996) reminds us that palenque members were in contact with enslaved persons still living in bondage and that the runaways often returned to plantations themselves. 2001:15. chapter 7 1. 1999. 8. 1989. O’Kelly. 14. Duharte. 1971. 6. 2000. 1998. 4. 1995. Thomas. 186 notes to pages 133–54 . 1970. 12. James. La Rosa Corzo. 1971. In assessing the racial nature of Cuban religious practice. September 25. 2. 1997:288. 13. 11. Pérez. See MacGaffey. 1988. including gypsies. 14. 1981. See Thomas. 16. Reference to this book was made by practitioners. Harding. 1997:96. Ferrer. 1974:445. 7. This idea is held by Brandon (1993). Pérez de la Riva. 21.

1999. Argentina. 23. This was not an exclusive development of Oriente or of palenques. 1995:154. We are not oblivious to the signification of Africa and its descendants that was carried out by Islamic contact. and 2006. 15. Interviews with historical guides at Isabelica coffee plantation. Dodson. 1998. Also see the film The Last Supper for an excellent visual example of how this worked for enslaved Africans. chapter 8 1. See image of Africans participating in holiday parades in Ortiz. where African descendants and members from other cultural groups gathered to celebrate and/or recreate. 22. This resonates with Charles Long. We are indebted to Charles Long for our ability to articulate ideas based on his original conceptual thinking. 1995. See Thornton. See Brandon (1993) to understand that Cuban Catholicism was not a “replication” of religious practices in Europe. We have an academic colleague who consistently contacts our team to determine if we are “traveling to Santiago de Cuba for Shango or San Lazaro” because he will be doing so. but our focus is the Atlantic world. 1995. 7. 2004:4–6. 1988. 21. Vansina. See discussion and propositions about two well-known nineteenth-century Cuban poets. 1989:34–39. 10. the counter/re-signified alternatives. 1989:130. 1999. Pratt. various behavioral expressions were combined that became normal new island expressions in the island’s transculturation process. Brown. in Pettway. 2009. 5. Barth. 1995:45. re-member their religious affiliation and commitment. Pérez. 1989. James. Long. 1999. 6. 14. 16. 2. 18. See Lewis (1999) for a treatment of the Islamic issue. and France who carry out activities based on Oriente practices of indigenous religious alternatives about being human. 1985:126. We are familiar with communities in Venezuela. 8. Barnet. 9. 1993. Pérez. Our team shared Oriente ritual experiences with representatives from practice communities in these locations who had returned in 2005 to renew. 3. an archeological restoration guided by UNESCO. Ramos. 2005. 12. notes to pages 154–69 187 . See Long. See Bettelheim. Ferrer. Long. 1986. 11. the United States. 2004. 20. 2001a. 1999:34–35. 1995. We draw a parallel between this time perspective and well-known academic knowledge that US African-American Protestant congregations’ worship can and does extend far beyond worship times of their European-American brethren. 17. 1989:16. Spain. 13. Throughout Cuba. Placido and Mansano. 4. and Nunley and Bettelheim.

21. 2002:163. Zaid. 19. Mr. Palmié (2002:168) considers the objects in the bilongo category of Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe and other reglas congo. 2002:143. 27. coherent sets of indigenous religious traditions. if not three. 26. 2007. and Thompson (1983:117) also speaks of the materials in this manner. 23. 1947:99–100. 22. 1999. Brown (1989) is concerned with art and ritual content. 188 notes to pages 169–75 . licensed archaeologist of Casa del Caribe. 24. Reverend Suarez was the first religious believer elected to the National Assembly after the 1994 change in the Cuban constitution. Zaid is a member of our research team.:155. 25. Palmié. We have been preliminarily affirmed by an interview with Jorge Ulloa Hung. Ortiz. Ibid. 20. Dodson. 2003:140. See Zaid (2007) for an interesting presentation of one Oriente spiritual leader whose practice incorporated knowledge and customs from two. 1998b. Brown. Palmié.

The tree is generally found in the patio or an exterior location near the residence of the Vodú leader. bembé: A drumming party/celebration that in Oriente is used by a variety of religious traditions. 189 . organized by enslaved Africans from the Calabar and southern Nigeria regions. rectangular shaped houses for enslaved Africans and their descendants who worked Cuban sugar and other plantations. with many of the same rituals. 1996). Vodú. and purposes of their continental origins. instruments. Glosario mágico religioso cubano (Barquisimeto. beliefs. Abakuá: In Cuba. arbe reposua: The sacred tree where the Vodú Loa rest. for example for Muertéra Bembé de Sao. was transplanted to Cuba and persists vigorously today. bautizo: Vodú initiation. and/or Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. The society. the hungán. It can also indicate a ceremony or song. these social arrangements constitute a secret society for men that originated in Cuba around 1830. abobo: The exclamation in Vodú ceremonies that marks the end of singing or of songs. barracones: The long.Glossary of Select Terms Portions adapted and edited with permission from José Millet. Bon Dieu: God in Vodú. languages. music. songs. Venezuela: Ediciones Gaby. cabildo: The nineteenth-century designation given by Spanish colonial authorities to associations of Cuban African descendants when these were registered as formal organizational arrangements within their official localities.

mambo: The female leader of a Vodú community and family. fundamento: Secret ingredients of any of the religious initiations. and parading mark the celebration that is derived from ritual ceremonies of the tradition. This spirit is known in all Oriente religious practices. jícara: Half of a dried gourd used as a ritual vessel. Gaga: A festive cultural celebration closely associated with the Vodú of Oriente. In Cuba. malassaa: A major. some are enormous. The concept is understood across Oriente religious traditions. the name attached to Yoruba-based religious practices that evolved to be synonymous with the name Ocha. Leggba: Name used by Oriente Vodú practitioners for the Africa-based spirit responsible for all crossroads. in cash or in kind. not by any human practitioner. current. charity: The name given to spiritual work done in some varieties of Espiritismo. although names differ. hunfo or hounfort: A Vodú sanctuary that is usually built for ceremonial purposes and understood to be inhabited by the Loa. 190 glossary of select terms . a high priest. strong. a high priestess. Usually. disruptive. and horrific historical event in the lives of a society or culture that remains in the memory of its generations for years. These people were not necessarily from the same geographic or cultural ethnic communities but were labeled as if they were. cofradía: The first official title given by the eighteenth-century colonial Spanish government to the informal associations of enslaved and other African descendants of Cuba. Lucumí or Lukumí: The name associated with enslaved colonial Africans imported through the port city of Calabar. Lively singing. the structure is near the domestic dwelling of the hungán or mambo. The amount and/or type of derecho will fluctuate based on the strength and/or complexity of spirit work executed. hungán or houngán: Two spelling variations on the name for the principle male leader of a Vodú community. Kikongo: The ritual language of Palo Mayombe in Oriente. Loa: The major spirits of Vodú in Oriente. cimarrones: The name used for those enslaved persons who ran away from their bondage. madre nkisi: Ordained high female leader of Palo Mayombe. Elegua. or Eleguá: These are the various names and/or spellings for a religious “warrior spirit” who is responsible for opening all crossroads: spiritual.cascarilla: Powder obtained by crushing eggshells and used in many religious purification activities. commission: The term belongs to the religious tradition of Espiritismo de Cordon and refers to a group of similar spirits. and/or life. to be given to a spiritual leader as acknowledgment of work done with spirits. derecho: Ritual obligation. Elegbara. spiritual: The flow of energy from spirits of the otherworld that can be received and felt by humans. Elegguá. Commissions are numerable. dancing. community leaders. material. and powerful.

It is the dwelling place of the highest spirits or those with greatest power to resolve human problems. spiritual field: Designates the space in which spirits of Espiritismo move. Literally translated as “godfather. the boundary should not be misunderstood as a strict divide between the sacred and the secular. its connotations extend beyond the translation. and the dead. palenque: Liberated zones or communities of escaped persons who fled their en­­ slavement. divine spirits. muerto(s): The spirit(s) of special dead person(s). talanquera: The door to the munanso (sacred space) of Palo Mayombe. In the Kongo Kingdom. It may be one domestic room or a specially built room in a courtyard/patio. nganga referred to the person. palero: The name of an initiated practitioner of Palo Mayombe. However. and one who may possess a nganga. and they existed for more than two and a half centuries. This door marks the physical boundary between ritual activities of the religion and most socioeconomic activities of the society.munanso: The space designated for religious work of reglas conga. Yayi: Female coleader of a Palo Mayombe community. as well as a practitioner of Palo Mayombe of Oriente who has the power and ability to intercede with ancestral spirits. The largest numbers of palenques were in Oriente. padrino: The male who initiated an individual into a religious tradition and is responsible for their spiritual guidance. transmissions: Transmissions are messages sent to humans by spirits from the otherworld. The term also is used to collectively denote spirits of those who have recently died as in “the living dead. Transmissions generally take place in the context of a ritual activity in a sacred space when practitioners invoke the presence of spirits. based on the religious tradition. tata: Ordained highest male leader of Palo Mayombe. glossary of select terms 191 .” nganga: The iron caldron–like object in each Oriente sacred space.” but.

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Africans and. religion and. Abakuá. f15. 46–48. 3. migrations to Oriente from Haiti and. 48–49 205 . 27–32. 26. Hubert H. 43–44. 84–85. 117. concept of time and. Spanish Catholicism and. 106–7. Desi. 9 African Religions and Philosophy (Mbiti). Fredrik. Oriente and. cosmic orientations and. 183n26. nature of. Alexis.concept of power and. 43. natural phenomena and. 25. 7 Aimes. Kongo Kingdom African Atlantic Research Team.. 24 Alarcón. ritual and. 85 Barnet. nature of being and. 37. 39–40. 49–51. 22 Arnaz. Cuban social order and. 96. See also Africans. xi. The letter m following a page number refers to a map. 25. Vodú and.Index The letter f followed by a number refers to a figure in the Plates section. culture of. 165 Bakongo. 8 Amerindians. attack on. 28. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe tradition and. 24–25. The number following the n indicates the number of the note on that page. 48–49. 104 Arawak. 42–43. S. in Oriente. 164–65 Afro-Cuban Religious Experience (Matibag). revelation and possession and. 179n42 Ayorinde. cosmic orientation and. 53–54. 29 Baracoa. 15–16 Africa. 166 being. 43–44 Africans. cultural interactions and. 37. 164–65. epistemology and. 6. Cuban public holidays and. 6 Babalú Ayé. 130. 56–58. Christine. 8 Barth. The letter n following a page number refers to a note. 54–56. 112. shared foundational knowledge and. 84–85 Angola. 45–47. 121 Arará. Amerindians and. geo-circularity and. 1–2. 27 animal sacrifice: Espiritismo Cruzado and. Miguel.

44 Cathedral at Cobre. 140. 130. 112. 130. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe tradition and. 127 Espiritismo de Cordon. language and. 33–34. name derivation of. 163–65. 154. cazuela and. 44. 138–40. 182n14 Casas de Templo. women in. 109. 38. 27. See also Oriente Dathorne. 44–45. 132–33. 28–29. Espiritismo Cruzado and. 14–15. Indian images and. 7 Brown. 103. Jorge. 131. 22 Ciego de Avila. 126–28. 116 Díaz. 184n13 Cabrera. sacred spaces and. and the Gods. Pierre. 100. 131. 37. 172–73 Brujos de Limón. 13. 33. 14 Bourdieu. 132. 22–23. 172 Espiritismo. 22–36. Espiritismo de Cordon and. Fidel Ruiz. 154–55. Muertéra Bembé de Sao and. Africana and. María Elena. Muertéra Bembé de Sao and. 164–65 cazuela. charity work and. 126. 129–30. 174 Catholicism. 109–10 Columbus. 108 Casa del Caribe. 6 Canizares. f7. 141–42 Ciboney. belief foundations of. 148–49. 36–37. indigenous religions in. 31 Duharte Jiménez. O. 24–25 Elegguá. 24–25. George: Santeria from Africa to the New World. Judith. geography of. 6 Castro. Africans and. 156–58. 105 cofradias. transculturation. 179n42.. 36. 22–23 concepts: indigenous religion. belief foundations of. plurality and. in Baracoa. Ten Years’ War and. Spanish immigration and. 130. 133. 130. Regla de Ocha/Lucumí and. 132. western and eastern regions of. Lydia. 1–2. 87 Carpentier. 128. History. 133 Espiritismo de Caridad. 88 Casas de Cultura. economy of. 179n43. 87–88 Bettelheim. 135–43. celebrants and believers and. 137 creeds. Raul: Walking with the Night. United States and. f14. 45–47. 7 Carabalí. 66 Castellanos. 45–47. 102. 38 contact zones. doctrine and. 12 Espiritismo Cruzado. intentionality. 90–91. 23. 88–89. 133. families of. Africa and. Santería Enthroned. 174. 136. “Special Period” and. 129–31. See also specific traditions Cuba: 1959 Revolution and. 27. 15–16. 33–35. 130. 158. 158 Chosen Prayers (Kardec). 125. Price). 131–35. 117 Dayan. 110 Birth of African American Culture (Mintz. Muertéra Bembé de Sao tradition and. 187n18 Creciente de Valmaseda. 143–44. Christopher. 85. symbolic representations and. 43. religious legitimacy and. f17. 158. 170. 166–67. 7. Elegguá and. 128–35. 44–45. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe and. 41–42 Council of Baptist Workers and Students. 127. 3. 167–69. 34. 162 cosmic orientation. religion. 143–44. 24. R. 133–34. Isabel. 111–12 cabildo. Joan: Haiti. geographic and historic contours of. 69 Brandon. f17. animal sacrifice and. 29. David H. social order of. 8–9. Rafael. palenques and. 34–35 206 index counter/re-signification in practice. palenques and. Haitian immigrants and. spirit images and.. water and. 130. 152. 127. Africans and.bembé drum parties. 125–26. uniqueness of. 182n14. African customs and. 124–25. 22. 72–73. race and. 6 Castellanos. 122. 130. slavery and. Alejo. doctrine .

7 indigenous religions. immigration to Cuba and. 34 Four Yorúbá Rituals (Mason). 155–56. 32. 141 Espiritismo de Mesa o Científico. José.. nature of being and. 104. Joel. f5. 105–6 Festival del Caribe. definition of. 7 index 207 . revelation and possession and. Rómulo. Eugenio: Afro-Cuban Religious Experience. 86 Herskovits. Vincent. Rachel. Rogelio. healing and. 76–77. 141. 31. otherworld importance and. 108 Mandingo. 15. 72–73 Flash of the Spirit (Thompson). 109. 26m. 154–55. ritual and. 6 gender. 61 Haiti (St. f13 festivals. 55–56. Wilfredo. 82 Mackandal. 8 Lam. “Toward a Paradigm for African Diaspora Studies”. 127 Espiritismo (Millet). 27. 8–9 ethnogensis. ritual and. 40–45. Oriente and. 141–42. Spiritualist Philosophy. concept of time and. 40–41. nature of space and the spirit world and. 112 Folklórico Nacional. 25. 141–43. 169–73 Isabelica Plantation. f12. 114 Maceo Grajales. 53–54. Chosen Prayers. 140–41. 160– 61. typifications and. 29. 187n15 James. 161–62. 14 Harding. symbolic representations and. water and. rituals of. Espiritismo Cruzado and. f16. 88–89. William. Revolution of 1791 and. 7 Greene. 110 Islam. E. 73–74 integrated religious plurality. 32–33. See also women González-Whippler. Allan. possession and. 8. Muertéra Bembé de Sao and. 152–53. 112. 114 MacGaffety. focal table and. f16. Sandra: Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter. José. 27–28. Franklin. 89–90 Ewé Fon/Adja people: African interactions and. Muertéra practices and. 31. reglas congo and. B Los Olmos. 143–44. 140–43. as uniquely Cuban. 51–53. 14 Los Hoyos. 139. nature of power and. 6 Furé. 128. 64–66. 91. 31 Hamilton. 7 Foco Cultura Congo de Los Hoyos. 33 Maceo Grajales. 6 Hispaniola. 87. 70 Long. 82 Lachatañeré. Oriente and. 152. Ewé Fon/Adja Haitians and. 149– 50. 48–49. 3. 73. 124–25. 28. Beatriz. human interaction and. Cuba and. Gwendolyn Midlo. 115–16 knowledge. 54–56. 151 Havana. Melville. Haitian Africans and. 56. Domingue). 138. Kardec and. 138–39. 115–16 Harding. sugar and. 22–23 Ífa traditions. 7 Frazier. 29–30. vevé and. Cuban social order and. 108–9. habitualized activities and. Charles H. 49–51. 136 Kardec. Ruth Simms. 124 Kimpa Vita. 3. 124. 7 Matibag. 42–43. palenques and. religious practice and. Kardecian Spiritism. mediums and. 56–58 initiation. 112. 139. 64 Lucumí/Yoruba. 140. sacred spaces. 141. Significations. 135–38. 32–36. 29. 139. Haiti and. sacred spaces and. protected entrance and. 138–39. Migene: Santería. national identity and. 41 Kongo Kingdom. 118–19. John: Four Yorúbá Rituals. Vodou and.and. Antonio. 156 Martí. 76–77 Mason. 137–38. 91 Hall. 12.

34. 75 Playa Gíron. 101. 15. 106–7. 152. 127. 119–20. 82. 44–45. José: El vodú en Cuba. nganga and. 93–94. La. Henry. Guillermón. women and. 7 Navidad. 96–97. population of. 103. 151–52 palenques (de cimarrones). 27–28. 172–73 Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. 9. 29. 89 Nsambe (Sambia-Mpungo). Mandingo in. 33–34. 12–13. 3. 29. Bakongo in. 94–95. 41. 86–87. 29–30. 12. 91–92. cosmograms and. 155–56. 27–28. Birth of African American Culture. palenques and. Haitian migrations and. 31. 45. Kongo Kingdom and. 158. 23m.Mbiti. Oriente origins of. characteristics of. 90. 96. 87. 86. 156–58. 98. 88. on Cuban cultural customs. cosmic orientation. 31–32. 97–98. 94–95 nkisi. Sally H. bembé and. 98. Haitian Vodou and. 61. Richard. 45 Promey. 83. 151–52. 152. 86–92. 155 Murphy. 14 Moncada. Oriente relationship and. 149–50. 75. 95–96. 92. coherence of. 6. cazuela and. 32. 81. 152–53. 107–8. 3 Price. 8–9 Mintz. 63 Morgan. on “folk practices”. human family and. 208 index map of. slave economy and. illicit trade and. time and space understandings and. 153–58. 27. David: Visual Culture of American Religions. 43–44 Millet. 179n45 poteau-mitan. 98–99. Working the Spirit. 97 Oggún Fai/Santiago. foundational knowledge of. plurality and. prevalence of. 16. Wizards and Scientists. Kongo Kingdom and.. 29–31. 92. 89. Spiritism and Spiritualism in. 82. social organization and. 155–56. indigenous religions and. 136. 93–94. foundational knowledge of. 153–54. 82. on transculturation. f17. 6 outlier communities. spirits and. spirits and. 102. f1. 25. 111–12. 38. f8. 154–55. 103. Africans in. 29 Muertéra Bembé de Sao. 63 . Spanish authorities and. economy of. animal sacrifice and. 98 phenomenological principles. 136 Ortiz. 170–71. family and. Philip John: Way of the Orisa. 8. cazuela and. as isolated backwater. Sidney. communication with. 30–31. 101. Espiritismo. 59. race and. as “land of the dead”. report from the field and. 3. 92–99. 47–60 pilon. f6. 12–13. Stephan. f18. 122 Pratt. 7. 22–23 neighborhoods. El Portillo. 174. tata nganga and. 83. 64–66 Neimark. tata and. integrated religious plurality and. 86–92. 7 nganga. 28–29. Mary Louise. 81. Espiritismo and. 12. colonial forces and. 14. 83. 9. 61. 94. pilon and nganga and. Yayi and. 3. 89–90. 163. Espiritismo Cruzado and. 84–86. 85–86. 76–77. 4–5. f9. John: African Religions and Philosophy. 111–12 Morgan. 87–88. f7. naturalistic and scripting focus of. Haiti and. 100–101. 114–15 Oriente. 75–76. 153–54. Joseph: Santería. Portuguese traders and. Fernando. 149–52. 130. 152. Haitian immigrants and. prenda and. 128. modern adaptations in. 90–91 Palmié. Kikongo language and. 152–53. trees and. race and. 99–102. sacred spaces and. Haitians and. 44–45. 30–31. 155. 96. 8. sacred spaces and. drums/ drumming. 41–42. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe tradition and. 65. 157–58. 8. 147–49. 106. chanting or singing battles and. 27. Carabalí in.

warrior: Vodú and. as ritual memory devices. 168–69. 11–12. 51–53 spirits. 65. 94–95. 171–72 Regla Ifá. 155. 141 Santería. 49. nature of. 114–15 spiritual capital. Espiritismo Cruzado and. 67. 1. procedures. 33–35. Arwin. as family meeting places. 27. 24–25. sugar and. 56–57. 12–13 reality. 56. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe and. Ferdinand and Isabella and. 70 ritual practices. time flexibility and. 62–63. 115–17. 173–74 sugar: Haiti and. 166–67 terminology. 1. 49. 157–58. re-member-ing and. 91 superstition. 54–55. Raúl. 51–54. 57. 84. 55 reverence. 73. communication and communion and. 82. meaning and. 57. identity and. 67. 58. 32. 67. roles of. 71–74 research methods. 111 Schwegler. 44–45. 51. 72–73. 23. Africans and. healing and. 35.race. 25. 46–47 spirits. spellings of. re-member-ing and. Cuba and. f11. 140–43. re-member-ing and. communication and communion with. See also Africans. 130–31. 112. 16 reglas congo. 27. 133. past-time values and. tourism and. Muertéra Bembé de Sao and. f11 Templo San Benito de Palermo. Portuguese traders and. 53. 91. 31–32. See also specific traditions spirits. 27. See Regla de Ocha/Lucumí Santería Enthroned (Brown). 106. 46–47. Nsambe as. boundary categories and. Oriente and. 91. runaways and. social construction of. Regla Ifá and. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe tradition and. 69 study methods. 74–76. costs and. Vodú and. 61 sacred spaces. f14. 62. 25. f4. 65–66 temporal modality. 15–16 Regla de Ocha/Lucumí. 69. 54–55. 7 Santiago de Cuba. socioeconomic class status and. Eurocentricity and. 77–78. 18 index 209 . 138–40. 53. 68–70. 178n6. Cuban collective memory and. 71 spirits. 52. 67–68. openness to. 8–9. spirit names and. suppression of. 76–77. material objects and. 56–58. 14 slavery. 171. 63–66. 70–71 Sacred Sites and the Colonial Encounter (Greene). 64–66. 172–73 Santeria from Africa to the New World (Brandon). 9–14. 167–68 Supreme Creator. f4. sources and. slavery and. 71–72 spirits. drums and. Vodú and. ancestral. divine. definition of. 181n20 revelation. 53. everyday life and. 7. Francisco. context and boundary setting and. 178n21. 25 San Hilarión. 48. 16. 7. 71–74. nonmaterial. 117–22 Sanchez de Moya. neighborhoods and. 84. 56. 74–76. 131–34. forms of. 70. Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe tradition and. memory and. 7. 46–47. 9. Oriente and. Antón. 24–25. 16. 130. living dead. 27 Regla Arará. 83 Significations (Long). Espiritismo de Cordon and. Carnival parades in. 71 spirits. 67–71. Espiritismo Cruzado and. aesthetic and creative acts and. research questions and. 92 Tajona/Tumba Francesa. 82 re-member-ing. 40–45 Recio. 33. 13 Suárez. 23–24. 58–60. 99–102. Espiritismo Cruzado and. 83. charisma and. 13–14. 7 Santería (González). 183n26. possession by. 58. 67–71. Espiritismo de Cordon and. palenques (de cimarrones) space and the spirit world. 7 Santería (Murphy). 58. art and.

106 Vodú. hunfo and. 117–23. 120–21. ritual practices and. as lifestyle. concept of. Petro class of. 172–73 women: in Espiritismo. 31–32 Thompson. sacred spaces and. 35. Max. race and. f15. 171. 167. 163 Verter. 121–22. 43–44 Vansina. 12 Working the Spirit (Murphy). Yi-Fu. possession and revelation and. 61 Tumba Francesas (Tajones). Bon Dieu/Grand Met 210 index and. 114–15. Haiti and. 121. warrior spirits and. 12. 165. Damballa and. 113. 119. f10. 6 Tuan. Ortiz on. animal sacrifice and. 12 vodú en Cuba. 12. 178n18. 117. 13. Bradford. 2. 113. 119–20. Flash of the Spirit. Hugh. John. 117. 14 transculturation. 150–51. 113–14. 107. ritual practice and. 113. Robert Farris. 110–11 Turner. sacred work and. El (Alarcón. domestic settings and. belief foundations of. 7 Way of the Orisa (Neimark). See Lucumí/Yoruba . 69 Visual Culture of American Religions (Morgan. Loa and. 122–23. 25. women in. 187n14 tobacco. 117. 172 “Toward a Paradigm for African Diaspora Studies” (Hamilton). 118. 54. 7 Thornton. Leggba and. 117–18. 114–15. fire and. 118. ritual and sanguine families and. Mary. 61. plurality and. 85 tourism. 122. Oriente and. 82 time. 21–22 typifications: organizations and.Thomas. 7 Yoruba. 69. 98–99. 113. 41. Jan. 106. 7 Weber. 8. 105–9. 9. 8 Walking with the Night (Canizares). 86. 113. vevé and. material objects and. 3. forests and. 113–17. 115– 17. in Palo Monte/Palo Mayombe. 49–51. 53 Wizards and Scientists (Palmié). Millet). Haitian cultural identity and. 104–5. spirits. 63 Vodou: African origins of. in Vodú. Promey).