Abakuá

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Abakua or Abakuá (various spellings are used) is an Afro-Cuban men's initiatory fraternity, or secret society, which originated from fraternal associations in the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon. Known generally as Ekpe, Ngbe, or Ugbe among the multi-lingual groups in the region, these closed groups all used the leopard as a symbol of masculine prowess in war and political authority in their various communities. The term Ñáñigo has also been used for the organization's members.

Origin[edit]

The creolized Cuban term Abakuá is thought to refer to the Abakpa area in southeast Nigeria, where the society was active. The first such societies were established by Africans in the town of Regla, Havana, in 1836.[1] This remains the main area of Abakuá implantation, especially the district of Guanabacoa in eastern Havana, and in Matanzas where Afro-Cuban culture is vibrant. While Abakuá eventually came to include members of European descent, this was not accomplished without conflict.

Abakuá members derive their belief systems and traditional practices from the Igbo, Efik, Efut, Ibibio, spirits that lived in the deity forest. Ekpe and synonymous terms like Egbo, Ngbe, and Ugbe were names of both a forest deity and a leopard related secret society.[2] Robert Farris Thompson, an art historian and African Diaspora scholar, detailed the transformation and reemergence of this fraternal order in his classic Flash of the Spirit.

Members/Loyalty[edit]

Members of this society came to be known as ñañigos, a word used to designate the street dancers of the society. The ñañigos, who were also called diablitos, were well known by the general population in Cuba through their participation in the carnival on the Day of the Three Kings, when they danced through the streets wearing their ceremonial outfit: a multicolored checkerboard dress, with a conical headpiece topped with tassels[3] Initially, the Abakua accepted only blacks as members; however, in the late nineteenth century the admission policies of the society were liberalized to include mulatos and whites.[4]

The oaths of loyalty to the Abakua society’s sacred objects, members, and secret knowledge taken by initiates are a lifelong pact which creates a sacred kinship among the members. The duties of an Abakua member to his ritual brothers at times surpass even the responsibilities of friendship; so the phrase, “Friendship is one thing, and the Abakua another” is often heard.[5] One of the oaths made during initiation is that one will not reveal the “secrets” of the Abakua to non-members which is why the Abakua have remained hermetic for over 160 years and is considered to be the most repressed and misunderstood Afro-Cuban religious practice.[6]

Culture and practices[edit]

Aside from its activities as a mutual-aid society, the Abakua performs rituals and ceremonies, also called plantes, full of theatricality and drama which consists of drumming, dancing, and chanting activities using the secret Abakua language. Knowledge of the chants are restricted to members of the Abakua but Cuban scholars have long thought that the Abakua expresses their cultural history through their ceremonies.[7] Other ceremonies such as initiations and funerals, are secret and take place in the sacred room of the Abakua temple, called the famba.[8]

Music[edit]

The rhythmic dance music of the Abakuá combined with Bantu traditions of the Congo contributed to the musical tradition the rumba. The Calle family of Efo origin supposedly invented the guaguanco, a type of rumba[citation needed].

Although hermetic and little known even within Cuba, an analysis of Cuban popular music recorded from the 1920s until the present reveals Abakua influence in nearly every genre of Cuban popular music. Cuban musicians who are members of the Abakua have continually documented key aspects of their society’s history in commercial recordings, usually in their secret Abakua language. Knowing that their language were for members only, the Abakua have commercially recorded actual chants of the society believing that outsiders wouldn’t be able to interpret them. Due to the Abakua representing a rebellious, even anti-colonial, aspect of Cuban culture, these secret recordings have been very popular.[9]

Practices[edit]

Ireme is the Cuban term for the masked Abakuá dancer known as Idem or Ndem in the Cross River region. The masquerade dancer is carefully covered in a tight-fitting suit and hood, and dances with both a broom and a staff. The broom serves to cleanse faithful members of the fraternity, while the stick chastises both enemies and traitors to the Abakuá traditions. Thus, during initiation ceremonies it is called the Erí nBan nDó, while during mournings and wakes it is called AlanManguín Besuá.

Disambiguation[edit]

Abacuá also describes a group of Afro-Cuban people of the carabalí as well as their style of music and their percussion instruments.

Luciano "Chano" Pozo, conga drummer for Dizzy Gillespie, was a member of the Abakwa secret society[citation needed].

Abakuá Afro-Latin Dance Company, a dance company based out of New York City, draws its namesake from this origin. The purpose for selecting this name, was in order to recognize the company's link to the origins of the type of music the company performs to. The company does not claim to be an authentic representation of the specific style native to Abakuá but rather, an amalgamation of movements native to Afro-Cuban/Caribbean culture and the development of the company's own unique style entitled Afro-Latin Funk. The selection of the name "Afro-Latin" was done in order to identify the company's presence within Latin and Hispanic culture as a whole. Frankie Martinez is the Artistic Director for the dance company.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Miller, Ivor. “A Secret Society Goes Public: The Relationship Between Abakua and Cuban Popular Culture.” African Studies Review 43.1 (2000): 161.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Velez, Teresa Maria. Drumming for the Gods: The Life and Times of Felipe Garcia Villamil, Santero, Palero, and Abakua. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000: 17.
  4. ^ Velez, Teresa Maria. Drumming for the Gods: The Life and Times of Felipe Garcia Villamil, Santero, Palero, and Abakua. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000: 17.
  5. ^ Miller, Ivor. “A Secret Society Goes Public: The Relationship Between Abakua and Cuban Popular Culture.” African Studies Review 43.1 (2000): 164.
  6. ^ Velez, Teresa Maria. Drumming for the Gods: The Life and Times of Felipe Garcia Villamil, Santero, Palero, and Abakua. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000: 23.
  7. ^ Miller, Ivor. “Cuban Abakuá Chants: Examining New Linguistic and Historical Evidence for the African Diaspora.” African Studies Review 48.1 (2005): 27.
  8. ^ Velez, Teresa Maria. Drumming for the Gods: The Life and Times of Felipe Garcia Villamil, Santero, Palero, and Abakua. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000: 18.
  9. ^ Miller, Ivor. “A Secret Society Goes Public: The Relationship Between Abakua and Cuban Popular Culture.” African Studies Review 43.1 (2000): 161.

Further reading[edit]

  • Aaron Myers (1999). "Abakuás". Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. Basic Books. p. 2.