Efik cubans Performing at ENA convention Pratt Institute New York , 2001

Abakua Communities in Florida

Members of the Cuban Brotherhood in Exile

Prof . Ivor L. Miller

The Abakua mutual-aid society of Cuba, re-created in the 1830S from several local variants of the Ekpe leopard society of West Africa’s Cross River basin,is a richly detailed example of African cultural transmission to the Americas. Since the late nineteenth century, many Abakua members have lived in Florida As part of the larger Cuban exile community. While focusing on the Florida ex­perience, this essay discusses Abakua historically, since there exist structural relationships between its lodges, as well as spiritual connections among its membership that extend from West Africa to the Western Hemisphere.

Abakua leaders who migrated from Cuba have regrouped in exile and main­tained their identity as Abakua, but due to their strict protocol they did not sponsor lodges outside of Cuba. Therefore the Abakua communities in Florida gather for commemorative celebrations but do not perform initiations, which are performed only in their home lodges in Cuba. Due to renewed communi­cation with African counterparts through a series of meetings in the United States, Europe, and Africa since 2001, Abakua activities-including rumbas and commemorative social gatherings-have intensified in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Meanwhile, vibrant expressions of Abakua prac­tice have been produced by Cuban artists in Florida through representational paintings that depict Abakua as integral to a Cuban national identity.

Ekpe Migrations, Abakua Foundations

The Abakua mutual-aid society established by Africans in RegIa, Havana, in the
1830S was derived principally from the male “leopard societies” of the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon. Calabar, the main port city of this region, is the homeland of three distinct communi­ties, known as Abakpa (Qua-Ejagham), Efil.t, and Efik, who call their society.


Ekpe and Ngbe (or Mgbe), after the Efik and Ejagham terms for “leopard.”
Although Cross River peoples migrated to many parts of the Western Hemi­sphere during the transatlantic slave trade, it was only in Cuba that they suc­ceeded in re-creating Ekpe, as far as is currently known.Ekpe was established in Cuba because among the thousands of Cross River People there were included knowledgeable specialists instrumental in organizing their people through the transmission of traditional knowledge. Another important element was the conducive tropical environment with mangrove estuaries similar to that of Calabar. In Calabar, Chief Bassey Efiong Bassey explains,

If you want to plant an Ekpe in some place, there must be an Obong Ekpe [a titleholder] with authority, who is versed in the procedure. In colonial Cuba, it was possible, because some of the people who went were Obong Ekpes who were forcibly taken away. When they got there they knew exactly what to do to plant it. There is the belief that if you don’t have the authority, if you don’t know the procedure inside out, it will lead to death, or you will lose your senses. So people don’t want to do it.

The Cuban leaders have maintained their Ekpe (i.e., Abakua) in their home­ land, but they have never authorized any member to establish a lodge outside of Cuba. The same is true for contemporary Nigerian Ekpe leaders, who to date have not authorized any lodge to be created outside of Africa.

In West Africa, as in Cuba, the societies are organized through local lodges each with a hierarchy of grades having distinct functions . Because of the obvi­ous historic and conceptual links between Ekpe and Abakua, I refer to both as variants of an Ekpe-Abakua continuum that exists in the contemporary regions of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Cuba, all places where lodges are orga­nized, although some of their members live outside these regions, including the United States.

As a diaspora practice, Abakua maintains many facets of the Ekpe practice of West Africa from two centuries ago. Abakua leaders transmit inherited his­ torical information by performing it as “ritual-theater” during ceremonies. All of the roughly 150 lodges in Cuba have traditions of coded language and
ritual performance that refer back to West African origins. Cuban Abakua leaders look to the Calabar region with reverence as a historical source and a holy place. For example, Abakua have created many maps that indicate specific places and events in the foundation of their institution in Africa
Abakua phrases also refer to African foundations: “Echitube akarnbamba, Efik Obuton?” asks, “How was the first lodge created in Africa?”2 The Efik Obuton lodge of Cuba was named after Obutong, an Efik community in Calabar with a strong Ekpe tradition. This phrase evokes African founding principles in the present. Even with this orthodox sentiment, Abakua leaders acknowledge adaptive innovations in Cuba throughout their history.

Abakua intiations are performed exclusively in Cuba. Those members who live in Florida therefore look to Cuba as a source; their activities celebrate foundational moments in Abakua history, specifically the anniversaries of their particular lodges. This is because in Florida there are no lodges nor initia­tions. Throughout the Ekpe-Abakua continuum exists a generalized protocol
that new lodges may be established only with the sponsorship of a “mother” lodge, while initiations may only be conducted by specific titleholders working in concert. This protocol has led to the containment of lodges within the spe­cific geographical regions of Nigeria, Cameroon, and Cuba. Nigerian members
living in the United States have wanted to establish lodges there, but leaders in West Africa have not yet sanctioned it.Cuban members in Florida also have tried to establish lodges there, but leaders in Cuba have not sanctioned it. In an exceptional case, in the late 1990S several lodge leaders from Cameroon who migrated to the United States began the process of creating a lodge in the Washington, D.C., area in order to pass their authority on to their children also living in the United States. Because this project is ongoing, it will be dealt with in a future publication. The general reluctance to authorize lodges outside of Africa and Cuba is meant to protect the institution by preventing new lodges from acting autonomously outside the jurisdiction of the mother lodges. Though this strict protocol remains, modern communications (letters, telephones, websites, e-mail, and air travel) are being used to bring Ekpe and Abakua members into greater awareness of each other. This new development is reflected in recent cultural expressions ofAbakua in Florida by Abakua leaders, as well as by their allies working in the arts.

Abakuci Jurisprudence and Exile to Florida

Abakua members reached Florida from Cuba after their ancestors had initially
migrated from West Africa, where Ekpe was a “traditional police” under the authority of the council of chiefs of an autonomous community. Their decrees were announced publicly and their verdicts executed by specific Ekpe grades with representative body-masks (i.e., a uniform that covers the entire body to
mask the identity of the bearer). In colonial Cuba, Abakua leadership main­tained the prestige of Ekpe through the autonomy of each lodge and the rig­orous selection of its members. Because the primary allegiance of an Abakua member was to his lodge and its lineage, Abakua held jurisdiction over its
members, a position that conflicted with agendas of the Spanish government. As a result, Abakua has been demonized by various colonial and state adminis­trations through much ofits history.s But other narratives maintained by Aba­kua leaders represent Abakua as being “tan Cubano como moros y cristianos”

(as Cuban as black beans and rice). These Abakua narratives are persistent ad initially because they coincide with the widespread Cuban ideology that “A Cuban is er the more than mulatto, black, or white,” as famously articulated by Jose Marti, eirdecrees “the apostle of Cuban Independence,” in the late nineteenth century. The deep ties existing between Cuban creoles that transcended race and class were sustained in many cases through membership in Abakua, whose members by the 186os included eligible males of any heritage, making them the first Cu­ban institution whose leadership reflected the ethnic diversity of the island,long before the creation of the Cuban Republic. At the onset of the Cuban Wars of Independence (1868), those suspected by colonial authorities of being rebels were sent into exile in Spanish Africa (Chafarinas Islands, Ceuta, Fernando Po [today Bioko] , and other sites); among them were Abakua. To evade possible deportation, many Abakua members fled to Florida as part of a larger Cuban community, creating social networks and cultural imprints acting as that exist to the present.

Confronting Misconceptions

Misconceptions and misinformation of African-derived institutions-the rule during the slave trade and colonial period-persist into the present, and Abakua is no exception. Being a self-organized African-derived institution un­authorized by colonial authorities, Abakua was misconceived as a criminal or­ganization. Later reports about Abakua creating lodges in Florida were simply erroneous. Both errors were documented in twentieth-century literature to the extent that they became accepted as fact.

To outsiders, an African-derived traditions were “black culture,” without
awareness of distinctions between communities. Abakua were commonly re­ferred to as ndnigos (nyanyigos), a term likely derived from the nyanya raffiachest piece worn on many Ekpe and Abakua body-masks. Distinct African derived practices were lumped together as ndnigo by outsiders, but colonial authorities also associated ndnigos with crime. Abakua members have there­ fore since the early twentieth century rejected this term, using instead “Aba­kua,” a term likely derived from the Abakpa (Qua-Ejagham) people of Calabar. The general confusion about ndnigo persists in the literature about Abakua in Florida.

From the 1860s to the present, exiled Abakua members have regrouped in foreign lands. Because of this, some scholars have argued that new Aba­kua lodges were re-created in the Cuban diaspora, including Florida. There is little evidence for this. The collective and hierarchical nature of Ekpe in the Cross River region, a structure firmly reproduced in Cuban Abakua, prohibited
the informal foundation of new lodges.Certainly, exiled Abakua gathered to share their music, dance, and chanting, but initiations seem not to have been performed, nor were lodges created. Abanekues (initiates) who gathered in exile would not have the authority to form a lodge, nor could they perform ceremonies, since there would have been no sponsoring lodge or group of title­holders to direct the rites.

Abakua lore recounts how African ancestors designed a collective that could
act only in concert. This practice underscores the profundity of the transfer of Ekpe to Cuba, since this could only have been achieved through the collective action of authorized titleholders and their supporters. Even today, Abakua is the only African-derived institution in Cuba to maintain both a conective identity and a decision-making process affecting the entire membership.

The collective procedure required for the creation of the first Abakua group is repeated throughout the Cuban literature. This includes the payment of fees, the consecration by a sponsoring lodge, and the presence of other lodges acting as witnesses; these are basic to the transmission of Abakua authority.

Abakua members have been present in Florida since the late nineteenth century, yet to date there is little evidence ofAbakua ceremonies for establish­ing a chapter being performed there. The earliest known reference to Abakua in the United States was written by Raimundo Cabrera, who described the ar­rival of his passenger ship from Havana to Key West in ~892; “Just as the boat
came close to the shore, one saw the multitude that filled the wharf and heard the special whistles that came from it, to which were answered others of the same modulation from the passengers who occupied the prow. I realized the meaning of these whistles! They are tobacco rollers from Havana who recog­nized and greeted one another. This greeting of fuifiigo origin was imported to the yankee city.”ll Abakua greetings normally consist of coded handshakes and phrases, but on special occasions whistles were used. For example, a dignitary of the Havana lodge Biabanga was said to have “substituted his oral chant for the notes of the pito (reed flute) . . . in the beromo or procession.”


In 1886, with the foundation of the cigar-making company town of Ybor City outside Tampa, many Havana cigar workers migrated there, making it the larg­est Cuban settlement in the United States. Many male tobacco rollers, but cer­tainly not all, were Abakua members, as described by Gerardo Pazos “EI Chino Mokango,” a third-generation Abakua of Spanish descent. From Havana, he told me about his family members who escaped persecution by migrating to Key West and Tampa in the late nineteenth century;

My grandfather Juan Pazos (1864-1951) was born in the barrio of Jesus Maria, the son of a Spaniard. He was obonekue [initiate] of the lodge Ita Barako Efa [meaning “the first ceremony of Efa”].

Many Cuban tobacco rollers went to Tampa, Florida, and stayed there,including my grandfather’s brother, who was a member of the lodge Ekori Efa . They left during the persecution of the Abakua by the Span­iards, and later by the Cuban government. Many left in schooners to Florida, because those captured were sent to Fernando Pa, Ceuta and Chafarinas. I knew several elder men of color sent there who told me their stories. They were very tough prisons and many Abakua who were deported there died.

My grandfather’s brother lived in Tampa, and he never told me that they “planted” [initiated] in Florida. No Abakua elder ever told me that they “planted” there. While there are written histories of Cuban tobacco rollers in Florida, there is no history of Abakua in Florida, precisely because there has been no Aba­kua ritual activity in Florida. Likewise, many narratives of Abakua in Spanish West African penal colonies where Cubans were imprisoned have been lost because they were not tied to the foundation of new lodges; when the colonial wars were over,the populations dispersed, often returning to Cuba. Cubans have come to Florida since the late nineteenth century to the present due to political, economic, and personal reasons. The recollections of Cuban Abakua regarding Florida remain vivid because of that region’s proximity to Cuba and the continual communications between family members.

Confusion in the Published Literature

Abakua leaders report that even though Abakua leaders lived in Florida, they
could not conduct ceremonies, because there were no lodges there with the knowledgeable personnel and ritual objects. Nevertheless, a series of scholarly essays have claimed that Abakua lodges existed in Florida. For example, in 2001 Cuban scholar Enrique Sosa argued for the “certainty of the existence of fidfiigos” in Key West in the late nineteenth century among exiled tobacco workers.14 Sosa uncritically cited an earlier scholar who wrote: “Imported from Cuba, Nanigo appeared in Key West as a religious, fraternal and mutual-aid sect among blacks in the period 1880-90. The last Nanigo street dance occurred on the island in 1923.”For her evidence, this scholar cited Stetson Kennedy’s 1940 WPA report:

A Nanigo [sic] group was organized in Key West, and enjoyed its greatest
popularity between 1880 and 1890. They gave street dances from time to time, and dance-parties on New Year’s . . . . In 1923 the last Nanigo street dance to be held in Key West was performed “for fun” by Cuban young people,attired in make-shift costumes.

Leader of the Nanigos in Key West was a man named Ganda, a small “tough” Cuban
mulatto.. . . Ganda conceived the idea of making elabo­ rate Nanigo costumes, head-dresses, bongos (drums), and other equip­ment, teaching young Cubans in Key West the Nanigo dances, and then
joining his company with a carnival of some sort…. He finished the costumes and other equipment, but died in 1922

While Kennedy did not give evidence for the foundation of Abakua lodges
there-he merely described costumes and recreational dances-later authors cited his work as evidence. In Havana, Gerardo Pazos “El Chino Mokongo” explained that Kennedy’s description was not that of an Abakua rite: “It is not possible even that they left in beromo [procession], without planting [a cer­emony]. It is possible that comparsas [carnival troupes] paraded around with representations of Abakua with similar costumes and rhythms, but this is not Abakua ceremony.”l7 To perform an Abakua procession requires the authoriza­tion of lodge leaders as well as access to their ritual objects. Any expression
of Abakua in Florida would only be in remembrance of Cuban ceremonials, in themselves a remembrance of Cross River Ekpe events.

Kennedy reported to me that he spoke little Spanish at the time of research
and had no proof of the society existing in Key West. Instead, he gathered recollections among exiled Cubans about the society as it existed in Cuba. Nevertheless, Kennedy’s work inspired later scholars as well as an official Flor­ida guidebook that appears to be based upon his work:

From Cuba . . . the Latin-Americans of Ybor City and Tampa have im­ported their own customs and traditions which survive mostly in annual festivals. The Cubans found good political use for voodoo beliefs brought by slaves from Africa to the West Indies and there called Carabali Apapa
Abacua [voodoo being used generically for “African spirituality”J. Prior to the Spanish-American War [Cuban Wars of Independence], Cuban na­tionalists joined the cult in order to hold secret revolutionary meetings, and it then received the Spanish name, Nanigo [an Efik-derived termJ.In 1882, Los Criminales de Cuba , published in Havana by Trujillo Monaga, described Cuban Nanigo societies as fraternal orders engaged in petty politics. Initiation ceremonies were elaborate, with street dances of voo­doo origin. Under the concealment of the dances, political enemies were slain [a confused reference to carnival]; in time the dance came to sig­nify impending murder, and the societies were outlawed by the Cuban
Government [could be either a reference to Abakua, outlawed in 1875; to King’s Day processions, outlawed in 1884; or to carnival processions, outlawed in 1912. When the cigar workers migrated from Cuba to Key West and later to Tampa, societies of “notorious Nanigoes,” as they were branded by Latin opposition papers, were organized in these two cities . The Nanigo in Key West eventually became a social society that staged a Christmas street dance . . .. the last of the street dances was held in

Nanigo, like voodoo, is simply a buzzword for unassimilated black people. The
claim of “societies of ‘notorious Nanigoes'” was partially inspired by depictions of carnival dance with body-masks by Key West artist Mario Sanchez (b. 1908 in Key West) (fig. 16.3) . Such depictions were misconstrued as evidence for Abakua ritual activity,when in fact they merely represented popular dances like rumba and carnival groups. (Sanchez’s work will be discussed in a later section.)

Historian Louis A. Perez Jr.-coauthor of Tampa Cigar Workers and author
of several histories of Cubans in the United States- reported to me: “I have
not come across any Abakua references in Tampa during the late nineteenth­ and early twentieth-centuries.” Anthropologist Susan Greenbaum wrote More Than Black: Afro-Cubans in Tampa , a study involving the mutual-aid and
Cuban independence group the Club Marti-Maceo in Tampa. She wrote to me that during her fifteen years of research, “Nanigos were the subject of hushed and infrequent references. There could have been an active Abakua under­ ground here, but I never heard of it.”

Nevertheless, Cuban scholar Sosa argued for the existence of Abakua lodges in Florida by referring to an essay by Jose Marti (1893) titled “Una orden secreta de africanos” (A secret order of Africans) that described exile Tomas Suri in Key West. Sosa argued that Marti referred here to the Abakua (without mentioning them by name).23 Marti wrote that Suri belonged to “a tremendous secret order of Africans . .. a mysterious, dangerous, terrible se­cret order,” but described an order of Africans where members rejected use of a drum, wanting instead to create a school,24 This could not have been an Abakua lodge, however, because without the consecrated drums there can be no lodge.
Marti may have referred to a group akin to Masons whose members included Abakua, but his message is ambiguous.In turn, Sosa’s erroneous essay was cited uncritically by Ishemo, who wrote: “Jose Marti appreciated the patriotism and the financial contribution to the war effort made by the Abakua cigar workers in Key West, Florida. He relates his visit to a fuifligo famba (a sacred room in the temple) and described it as ‘a room which is decorated with the flag of the revolution.” None of the sources cited confirm this statement. The “secret society of Africans” as described by Marti required that the holder of the “third grade” be able to read. This cannot be Abakua; grades are not numbered, and there is no such requirement. Most recently, a scholar wrote that “Potencias [Abakua lodges] were also
established in the United States in the nineteenth century by Afro-Cuban mi­grant workers in Florida.”27 An attempt to verify the source of the citation proved that it too was a misquote.

Evoking Abakua in Miami

Among the significant cultural achievements related to Abakua in Miami were
the publications of Lydia Cabrera (1900-1991), who did extensive research in Havana and Matanzas from the 1930S to the 1950S. Her publications are the most relevant for the history of Abakua, as well as other African-derived in­ stitutions such as Lukumi and Palo Monte. Cabrera left Cuba in the 1960s to
settle in Miami, where she published a series of volumes documenting oral narratives of the African-derived traditions of Cuba, including monumen­ tal studies of Abakua drawn esoteric signs (1975) and language (1988), each about five hundred pages, without which the study of Abakua would be nearly
impossible. In 1994,in Miami, I met Luis Fernandez-Pel6n “EI Pel6n,” a titled Abakua member who was recommended by my teachers in Havana (fig. 16-4). Regard­ ing Abakua activities in Miami, he told me: “Here in Miami there are ceiba [kapok] and palm trees, but since the most important thing-the funda­
mento-ran object with ritual authority] is in Cuba, no Abakua group can be consecrated here. I have
met with all the Abakua who live here and we have had celebrations with my biankom6 [drum ensemble], but no consecrations.”Unlike the sacred objects of other Cuban religions of African descent, those of
Abakua are thought not to have left the island. Nevertheless,in 1998 the “birth” of the first Abakua group in the United States was announced in Miami. It was named Efi Kebliton Ekuente Mesoro,a reference to Efik Obliton, the first lodge established in Cuba in the 1830S,itself named after Oblitong, a community in Calabar. The event took place on January 6, considered the anniversary of Abakua’s foundation in Cuba.
The would-be Miami founders sent a letter to Abakua leaders in Havana, announcing their existence.
The Abakua leaders I spoke with in Havana
unanimously considered it a profanation: the “birthing” of an Abakua group without a sponsor is not valid. Additionally, they observed that many of these same Miami leaders had been previously suspended from their Cuban groups for disobedience, and hence had no authority to act. Gerardo Pazos “El Chino Mokongo,” who was also a babalawo (Yoruba Ifa diviner), told me: It is not possible that a lodge was created in Miami, because no Cuban there has the authority or knowledge to perform the required transmis­ sions. Whoever would create a lodge in Miami would have to come to Cuba and carry a fundamento [sacred objectl from there. It is not the same with the Yoruba religion [which does travel]. We cannot predict the future, but until now there is no Abakua in Miami or anywhere in the USA who has sufficient knowledge to create a new tierra [lodgel. In this
moment, September 27, 2001, there is no Abakua in the USA who knows enough of the [rituallianguage required to make the transmissions. Be­cause I, Gerardo Pazos, Mokongo of Kamaroro, do not know anyone with enough knowledge to create a lodge. According to Cuban lore, Abakua lodges were established in Havana and Matanzas by knowledgeable Cross River Ekpe leaders who had the authority to do so. Since Ekpe leaders could not return to Africa, they moved forward and created. But Abakua members living outside of Cuba can return to consult with their elders to seek possible authorization to establish new lodges. “EI Chino Mokongo” continued: Those Abakua who have migrated to the USA do not have the knowledge to create a Potency [lodge] there, because this process requires many men with knowledge and because these ceremonies are very profound. In addition, when a Potency is created, one must pay the derecho [fee] of one rooster to all the existing Potencies in order to be recognized by them. If a juego [lodge] is born in Havana, it must pay this fee to the other juegos in Havana. If it is born in Matanzas, then to the others in Matanzas. The juego they tried to create in Miami had no godfather
[sponsor], and furthermore, it did not have the knowledgeable men to found it. It cannot exist.
“El Chino Mokongo’s” statement reflects not only his personal views but the protocol followed by all Abakua leaders on the island.

Ifa in Cuban Miami

To appreciate the containment of Abakua lodges to particular port cities of
western Cuba-in spite of the global travels of its members as well as the kua group desire of some to establish lodges abroad-it is instructive to note a paral­ tyof these lel movement in the Yoruba-centered Cuban practice of Ifa, noting that its an groups reestablishment is a simpler process. Like Abakua, Ifa is thought to have been established in Cuba in the first half of the nineteenth cent~ry. 32 Before the {oruba Ifa 1959 Revolution, the estimated two hundred babalawos in Cuba all knew each
other. 33 By the 1990S, leading Cuban babalawos gave me estimates of ten thou­ Cuban sand to describe their numbers, and neophytes were arriving from throughout nsmis­ the Americas, Europe, and elsewhere to receive Ifa consecrations and travel [)IDe to home with them. lOt the In 1978, highly specialized Ifa ceremonies performed in Miami were geared lict the to reproduce there the foundation of Ifa in Cuba some 150 years earlier.34 The in the ceremonies were led by Nigerian babalawo Ifayemi ElebU.ibQn Awise (chief Ifa In this priest) of Osogbo, who traveled to Miami for the occasion.Two of the partici­
knows pating Cuban babalawo were also Abakua leaders, Luis Fernandez-Pelon, who IlS. Be­ 35
was initiated as a babalawo in Nigeria, and Jose-Miguel G6mez, both of whom Ie with are cited in this study.36 This Ifa reestablishment ceremony was led by one babalawo, while Abakua consecrations involve scores of initiated men acting in concert, in addition to the required tributes paid to the existing lodges in Cuba. Jose-Miguel Gomez was an Abakua leader who ran for the political office of councilman in Sweetwater, Florida, in 1991. Gomez was the Mokango of his lodge Ebian Efa from 1926 to 2003, Mokango being one of the four lead­ers of an Abakua lodge. Gomez lived to be the eldest holder of this title in his generationY He was also a babalawo, as well as a leader of Cuban-Kongo prac­tice: Padre Enkiza Plaza Lirio Mama Chola, Templo #12, Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje. Gomez left several unpublished essays about Abakua history in Cuba and Africa. He thus exemplified Abakua activity in Florida: he did not create a lodge or lead ceremonies, even though he was a master; instead, he studied the Cuban past and African mythology while passing it on to fellow initiates.

Abakuci Activity in Miami, Twenty-First Century

Abakua activities in Miami in the first decade of the twenty-first century have been ignited by recent face-to-face encounters between Abakua members and their Nigerian and Cameroonian counterparts in the United States. These encounters began in 2001 when an Abakua performance troupe participated in the Efik National Association of USA meeting in Brooklyn, New York. In 2003, two Abakua leaders traveled to Michigan to meet the Obong (Paramount Ruler) of Calabar during another Efik National Association meeting. In 2004, two Abakua musicians traveled to Calabar, Nigeria, to participate in the annual International Ekpe Festival. In 2007, an Ekpe troupe from Calabar and an Abakua troupe performed together onstage in Paris for five concerts celebrating their common raditions. Then in 2009, those Abakua living in the United States who went to Paris produced a CD recording that fused music and ritual phrases from both groups. Called Ecobio Enyenison, “Our Brothers from Africa,” it also included the participation of a Cuban artist named Jose Orbein, whose painting appears on the jacket (fig. 16.5), and an Abakua singer named Angel Guerrero, both based in Miami. All of this activity has energized Abakua communities in Miami, where Guerrero has also acted as an entrepreneur by sharing information about African Ekpe with his ritual brothers and organizing them in cultural events that have been advertised on the internet and recorded in video programs.

The first cultural event in Miami was billed as an “Abakua fiesta” (party or feast) to ensure that it was not misinterpreted as an initiation ritual (fig.16.6). It was held on February 8,2009, in a private home with a large patio to accommodate the drumming, dancing, and food preparations where hundreds gathered. A second party was held on August 2, 2009, to celebrate Guerrero’s birthday. After these general events for the entire community, members of particular Cuban lodges living in Miami began to celebrate the anniversary
of their lodge’s foundation. On February 24, 2010, the members of the lodge
Itia Mukanda Ef6 gathered with friends to celebrate the anniversary of their founding in 1947 in Havana.

On January 2 and 3, 2010 , in Miami, members of two Havana lodges from the same lineage, Efori Enkomon (founded 1840) and Ekue Munyanga Ef6 (founded
1871), celebrated a feast to adore the La Virgin de la Caridad (the Virgin of Charity), the patron saint of the Munyanga lodge and also of the Cuban
nation (fig. 16.7). This saint is popularly understood as a dimension of Ochun,the Lukumi/Yoruba goddess of fertility, who for Abakua also represents Sikan,
their Sacred Mother.This date was chosen for being a weekend near January 6, known as “Abakua day,” the anniversary of the colonial-era Three King’s
Day processions wherein African “nation-groups” would perform their traditional dances and greet the governor general in Havana. This day was chosen
to found the Abakua society in Cuba because they were able to use the mass celebration as a cover for their own activities. On September 14 and 15, 2010,
members of the Havana lodge Amiabon (founded in 1867) gathered, apparently for their own anniversary (fig. 16.7). The most recent feast was “Abakua
day” on January 8, 2011, in Miami at a private home (fig. 16.8).

These activities have been meaningful to Abakua on either side of the “Rum Curtain.” Angel Guerrero (2011) reported that Abakua had little opportunity to
communicate across the Gulf Stream from the 1960s to the 1980s: “Because of the rupture in communications between those who left and those who stayed,
many members willing to send money to help their lodges in Cuba were impeded. Also,many Abakua lodges performed ceremonies without knowing
that some of their brothers in exile had passed away.” In Cuba, as in West Africa, when a lodge member dies, all lodge activities are suspended until the
proper rites are enacted. In the United States since the first decade of the twenty-first century, Guerrero reports:

Now with mobile phones, faxes and internet we receive news instantly.Experience has taught me that the links between Abakua members obliges one to see the condition of exile in a specific way. Our solidarity makes us think about how we can help our brothers so that they have a more dignified life, because in essence this is part of the oath we made upon initiation in the society Ekoria Enyene Abakua [full name of the AbakuaJ. Through all the gatherings so far here in Miami our greatest achievement has been to gather and unite all those brothers who had been divorced from their lodges in Cuba, so that now they are actively supporting their lodges. Thanks to Abasi [Supreme BeingJ this achievement has already benefited many lodges in Havana and Matanzas. Today we are stronger than ever, because “In Unity, Strength!”

Abakua gatherings in Miami were inspired by the recent communication with African Ekpe members; contact with Africans confirmed that their inherited lore really did come from African masters. In other words, instead of simply assimilating into the values and systems of North America and forgetting their past, many Abakua have opted to accept responsibility for their oaths of solidarity, thus renewing ties with their Cuban lodge members. Instead of an abstract or nostalgic relationship to African Ekpe and Cuban lodges, Abakua in Miami are emerging as actors in an international movement within the Ekpe-Abakua continuum of exchanging ideas, and of reassessing the values of their inherited traditions for the identity of their communities.

Depictions of Abakua by Artists in Florida

From the late nineteenth century to the present in Cuba, there has existed anartistic tradition of using Abakua themes in music, theater, and painting as a symbol of the Cuban nation itself. This tradition has continued among Cuban artists living in Florida today.

Mario Sanchez (1908-2005) is an early example of an artist working in Key West who documented carnivalesque popular dances in the early twentieth century. Because he depicted various styles of body-mask performance, includingAbakua heme and Puerto Rican Vejigantes, some scholars interpreted this as evidence for Abakua rites occurring in Key West.Sanchez was more likely exploring issues of identity and cultural performance, as did other artists mentioned in this essay. Artists have been creating images of freme for numerous purposes, none of which provide evidence for Abakua ritual activity in Florida. Instead they are examples of artists honoring their Cuban traditions,their memories of Cuban identity, and so on. The next three artists (discussed below) are not Abakua members, yet as males from the western part of the island where Abakua is practiced, they understand its important role in Cuban history and identity and incorporate Abakua motifs in their work. Some have gone further to study the literature, especially that of Lydia Cabrera.

In addition to promoting Abakua events artistically, Jose Orbein (b. 1951) has painted many series depicting esoteric aspects ofAbakua tradition. Living in Miami, Orbein was born and raised in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood of Havana, a barrio named in homage to the exiled Cubans living in Key West who supported the independence movement against Spain in the nineteenth century. Orbein wrote: “Now living in Miami, I’m using influences of the Abakua in my canvases. I’m a strong believer of the society who was raised admiring and respecting all the Efori Enkomon ekobios [brothers] of my neighborhood Cayo Hueso in La Habana, that includes some of my family and close friends.My ancestors came from the Calabar region in Africa; I know this because my grandmother used to keep a log of the lineage of my family dating back to enslavement.”

The ties of Calabar and Abakua to Orbein’s family and community have generally inspired his creative process, but his collaborations in Miami with Abakua singer Angel Guerrero have led to a series of Abakua themes with specific imagery and titles based upon deep knowledge. For example, Orbein’s Obonekue

Arabensuao (fig. 16.9), painted in Miami in 2008, depicts an Obonekue neophyte undergoing initiation with the arabensuao mystic circle drawn on the head.

Another work, Enkiko Nasak6 Murina (2009), refers to the presence of the rooster during the initiation process (ekiko is “rooster” in the Efik language of Calabar). In southwest Cameroon, Nasak6 is remembered as a prophet from the region of Usaghade where Ekpe was legendarily founded centuries ago. The painting depicts five neophytes blindfolded during initiation, with a rooster, next to a sacred ceiba (kapok) tree with three dimensional thorns.The painting Iyamba Quifiongo (2010) represents the Iyamba (a lodge leader) and his signs of ritual authority. This work demonstrates that Orbein is also informed by the publications of Lydia Cabrera, in this case Anaforuana (1975), about the ritual signatures of the society. Whereas Iyamba is the title for a lodge leader in the Calabar region, Kinyongo is derived from the Efik phrase keenyong,meaning “in the sky,” which could be interpreted as “Iyamba has powers from the sky” or “Iyamba is the highest.”

Orbein was also a promoter of the Abakua feasts organized by Guerrero in Miami from 2009 to the present, through creating poster advertisements.His poster for the 2009 event presents the Abakua phrase “Akamanyere crucoro umbarain tete ayeripondo,” meaning “welcome all as a great family,” while
announcing “the First artistic gathering of Abakua in Florida” (fig. 16.6). The map identifying the location of the feast is a sign that these activities promote educationabout Abakua practice as a community-wide event, instead of being a “secret, hidden” one that in the past may have aroused suspicion among non-members. The process of communicating with West African counterparts is fueling desire for a wider public understanding, so that the ongoing public performances already mentioned will be popularized as relevant to all in the transatlantic African diaspora, as well as the Cuban diaspora. The 2010 poster displays the “Ireme Eribanganda,” a body-mask used to lead processions during initiation ceremonies, implying that “Abakua is moving forward” (fig. 16.7).The use of the colors and star of the Cuban flag are another statement that Abakua is “as Cuban as black beans and rice.” Participants have reported that in Cuba, the use of a Cuban flag on an Ireme could lead to conflicts with the authorities, a reminder that Abakua jurisprudence has acted independently from the colonial Spanish and Cuban state since its foundation. The 2011 poster celebrates the legacy of nineteenth-century Abakua leader Andres Petit through his portrait (fig. 16.8). In the 18sos-60s Petit lead the successful process of initiating the first white Abakua members, thus ensuring that Abakua would be open to all eligible males of any heritage.

Painter Elio Beltran (b. 1929) was born and raised in RegIa, a small industrial town on the Bay of Havana where Abakua was founded in the 1830s. Still a vital center for African-derived community traditions, RegIa is home to scores of active Abakua lodges. From his home in Florida, Beltran wrote: “I grew up registering dream-like images in my mind during my childhood years. Images that many years later would emerge as oil paintings to help me to ease my pain of separation from the very dear surroundings and people that I loved in Cuba.” A series of paintings reflect the impact of an Abakua heme (body­mask) performance on the young artist. Asustados Intrusos, or “Scared Intruders” (1981), depicts “three scared kids hiding and secretly watching an Abakua initiation in the early 1940’S behind the tall grass at the edge of a cliff in the night.I believe it was the Otan Efa brotherhood of the Abakua on the out­ skirts of my hometown Regla.I was one of the three boys overlooking the scene of the celebration on the site at the entrance to what was known then as El callej6n del Sapo.” A second painting, Ceremonia Secreta (1987), depicts the same event from 180 degrees (fig. 16.10). These paintings are remarkable for depicting how a hermetic club became famous among non-initiates who were awed by the communal rites.

A third painting, Memories del Carnaval (2010, not illustrated here), reconstructs the night scene of a Carnival celebration in an Old Havana neighbor­hood circa 1938-40. It shows how elements of African-derived traditions (an Abakua mask, a bata drum, a conga drummer with the camisa rumbera [fluffy 1
sleeves] of early rumba players) were fused in the citywide celebrations. In all of these works, one senses the profound impact of an Abakua mask performance on the young viewer, as well as the identification of Abakua as part of the national culture.

Beltran’s corpus recalls the reaction of Spanish poet Garda Lorca to an Abakua performance during his visit to Cuba in 1929-30. About it, Lydia Cabrera wrote,”I do not forget the terror that the ireme instilled in Federico Garda Lorca, nor the delirious poetic description he made for me the day after witnessing a plante [ceremony]. If a Diaghilev had been born on this island, surely he would have made the diablitos [iremel of the iidfiigos parade through the theaters of Europe.” While Beltran has worked primarily from his memories and in isolation, other painters have consulted with Abakua members during their creative process.


A multidisciplinary visual/installation and performance artist, Leandro Soto (b. 1956) was a leading figure in Cuban art in the 1980s and among the first artists in his generation to explore Afro-Cuban themes. Based in Miami since the 1990S, Soto began to work with Abakua imagery in the first decade of the twenty-first century after learning about the Kachina body-masks of Hopi people of the American Southwest. He created a series of video-installation­performance pieces with Abakua imagery that presented the artist as an Abakua mask-here a symbol of Cuba itself-who encounters a kindred tradition in North America.Soto’s Abakua series generally celebrates motion through Abakua body-masks and coded symbolism imagery (fig. 16.11; see detail in fig. 3.3). During this process, Soto conversed extensively with Angel Guerrero,studied Lydia Cabrera’s publications, and also reproduced nineteenth-century Abakua signatures for Miller’s book on Abakua history, The Voice ofthe Leopard (2009)


It is remarkable that the Abakua cultural movement has been able to expand from ritual secrecy in Havana and Matanzas onto the global stage of performance in the process of communicating meaningfully with African practitioners of Ekpe-the source tradition from which it was separated some two hundred years ago.

As with other cases of oral transmission across long time and space intervals, such as the Vedic and Homeric poems, the Abakua example combines intensive  artistic discipline with a ritualized guild framework. As the present moment of history is witnessing the reconnection of the two ends of this vast diasporal arc, the impact of this encounter on the local communities of practitioners is fascinating to observe. At the same time, the public nature of the new encounter is eliciting unprecedented openness to scholarly access,which promises to enrich the description of each of the local traditions that were heretofore so closely guarded from outside view. This chapter documents the participation ofAbakua members in Florida in this process, as well as their allies in the arts who honor and celebrate Abakua as part of an overall Cuban national identity. Eventually, the global Ekpe-Abakua network may develop its own organic scholarship from within, such has happened already to an extent with the Yoruba-Lukumi tradition.

Author’s Note

Thanks to Amanda B. Carlson and Robin Poynor for their support of this project as well as their fine editing. Thanks also to Norman Aberley (curator of the Key West Art and Historical Society), Nath Mayo Adediran (director of National Museums, Nigeria), Peter Appio, “Chief” (engineer) Bassey Efiong Bassey, Elio Beltran, George Brandon, Orlando Caballero, Osvaldo Caballero, Jill Cutler, Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, Luis Fernandez-Pelon, Liza Gadsby, Susan Greenbaum, Angel Guerrero, Stetson Kennedy, Chester King, Victor Manfredi, Jose Orbein, Louis A. Perez, Gerardo Pazos, Leandro Soto, Robert Farris Thompson, and Brian Willson. Thanks to the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board for a Fulbright Scholars Grant to Nigeria (2009-11) and to Professor James Epoke-the vice chancellor of the University of Calabar.

Thanks to the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA), Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., for a Senior Fellowship (2011-12).


1. The leopard society has many names depending on the local language, including Nyamkpe (in Cameroon), Banko (in Equatorial Guinea),Okanka (in Igbo), and Abakua (in Cuba). Most West African communities also recognize the term Ekpe, since the lifik influence in the region was widespread in the nineteenth century.
2 . Roche y Monteagudo, La policia y sus misterios en Cuba, 27. All translations from Spanish to English are by the author.
3. Since the first Ekpe-Abakua meeting in Brooklyn, New York, in 200~, I have discussed this issue with many Ekpe titleholders from the Calabar and Cameroon region now living in the United States.
4. The group who call themselves “Ekpe USA” is led by “Sisiku” E. Ojong Orok, “Sesekou” Joseph Mbu, “Sesekou” Solomon Egbe, and “Sisiku” Mbe Tazi, among others. Because of their authority as Ekpe leaders in their villages in Cameroon, they have been able to establish at least one lodge, cautiously following the protocols of this institution.
5. An 1882 publication on “The Criminals of Cuba” began a chapter on the “Nyanyigos” by stating: “The police have worked hard to eradicate the nyanyigos” (Trujillo, Loscriminales de Cuba, 360). A ~90~ publication on Spanish penal colonies stated: “Finally, the nyanyigo was conceived of as a dangerous being, shown clearly by the mass deportations during the last period of our dominion, that accumulated a large number of nyanyigos in Ceuta, in Cadiz,and in the Castle of Figueras” (Salillas, “Los fiafiigos en Ceuta,” 339).
In 1925 a study of the history of RegIa, the birthplace of Abakua in Cuba, had a chapter called “Criminality and Nyanyagismo in RegIa” (Duque, Historia de Regia, 125-27). A 1930 publication in Cuba asked rhetorically if Abakua was related to “abominable crimes”: “In Cuba, are witchcraft and nyanigism religious practices or black magic? … Is it true that they shelter organizations dedicated to the most abominable crimes?” (Martin, Ecue,chango y yemaya, 7). This contextualization of Abakua continues into the present. In 2011 in Havana a monograph was published with the title “The Abakua Society and the Stigma of Criminality” (Perez-Martinez y Torres-Zayas).
6. Marti, “Mi Raza”; Marti, Our America, 313 .
7. The Havana lodge Bakoko Efo, mentioned above, was specifically responsible for
organizing the entry of European descendants into the Abakua society (cf. I. Miller, Voice of the Leopard).
8. For details see I. Miller, Voice of the Leopard, 137-39.
9. In Calabar and nineteenth-century Cuba, Abanekpe was an Ekpe term for first-level initiate. Cuban Abakua use the variant terms abanekue and obonekue .
10. An 1881 source refers to the payment of fees to create Cuba’s first lodge, a process consistent with Cross River and later Cuban practice. Rodriguez, Resefia historica de los fidfiigo s de Cuba, 5-6.
11. R. Cabrera, Cartas a Govin, 3-4. R. Cabrera was the father of the eminent Cuban folklorist Lydia Cabrera.
12. F. Ortiz, Los instrumentos de la mrisica afrocubana, 5:301. Ortiz wrote that the reed “gave some notes in antiphonic form so that the multitude would respond in chorus with his chants.” Ibid., 309.
13. Kennedy reported: “Nanigo came to Florida for various reasons. There were naturally some Nanigos among the Cubans who immigrated first to Key West and later to Tampa, seeking employment in the cigar factories and other industries. Others were revolutionary patriots seeking refuge from the tyranny of Spain.” “Nafugos in Florida,” 154-55.
14. “Lo que extraemos de su lectura [de Kennedy y Wells] nos lleva a la certeza de la existencia de iaiiigos [en Key West].” Sosa, “Naiiigos en Key West,165.
15. Wells, Forgotten Legacy, 48.
16. Kennedy, “Naiiigos in Florida,” 155 .
17. Interviews with Gerardo “EI Chino” Pazos, in Havana.
18. Telephone conversation with Stetson Kennedy, April 2002. Kennedy referred to his lack of fluency in Spanish. Describing research among a Cuban family in Tampa, he wrote: “When the cooking is over and the meal placed on the table, there is a sudden burst of very rapid and excited Spanish which I am unable to understand” (“All He’s Living For,” 21). In a letter to the author, Kennedy (2002) wrote: “I do not know much about naniguismo beyond what I have read in Dr. Fernando Ortiz’s Los Negros Brujos … and my own article.” In his next letter, Kennedy (2002) wrote: “I do not now recall the contents of my nanigo article, or whether it even implied that there might have been nanigo organizations in Florida. I suspect that it would be difficult to prove either that there had been, or had not been.”
19. “Recent folklore recording expeditions conducted by the Florida Work Projects Administration of the Library of Congress located a number of people in Key West and Tampa, besides those already mentioned, who undoubtedly have an initiate’s knowledge of Nanigo, obtained both in Cuba and locally…. But because of their extreme poverty,they refuse absolutely to perform without some pecuniary remuneration-which unfortunately was unavailable to the WPA expeditions” Kennedy, “Naiiigos in Florida,” 155). If Abakua groups did exist in Florida, they would have performed ceremonies, aspects of them public, to which WPA researchers could have gone. Lacking such groups, there was only “fragmentary mention” of a masked dancer and a bongo. I did locate testimonies of Cubans and Spaniards who had lived in Cuba, Key West, and Tampa, conducted in Ybor City and Tampa in the late 1930S. The Federal Writers’ Project Papers housed in the University of North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill contain descriptions of cigar workers born in Havana and living in Florida; none of them refer to the Abakua.
20. Florida: A Guide, 133.
21. Historian Louis A. Perez Jr., letter to the author, 2004.
22. E-mail to the author from Professor Greenbaum, 2003.
23. Sosa, “Nafiigos en Key West,” 166-67.
24. Marti, “Una orden secreta de africanos,” 324; Muzio, Andres Quimbisa, 71-72; Sosa, “Nafiigos en Key West,” 167; Ishemo, “From Africa to Cuba,” 256. Jesus Cruz (personal communication, 2000), Ekuenyon of the Ordan Efi lodge in Matanzas told me that he had heard that Tomas Sur! was Abakua but that his lodge name was not known. After reading Sosa’s essay, Cruz responded that nothing in this article proves that Abakua conducted ceremonies in Florida, nor are such activities known about by Abakua leadership in Cuba.
25. In spite of the errors in this essay, Sosa should be praised for his support ofAbakua culture in Cuba in the early 1980S in the form of his book (Los afiigos), since it was an unpopular theme in the political sphere at the time.
26. Ishemo, “From Africa to Cuba,” 268. Ishemo falsely cited Muzio (Andres Quimbisa, 71) and Helg (Our Rightful Share, 87); there is no mention in either of Marti, a Famba, or a flag. Ishemo also cited Sosa (“Nafiigos en Key West,” 167-68), who in turn cites Marti (“Una orden secreta de africanos”), but Marti made no mention of Abakua. Marti wrote of a secret society of Cuban “Africans,” who had given up the drum in order to learn to read-a non sequitur-and whose reunions took place in a “bannered hall … the hall whose parties were adorned with the banner of the revolution” (“sala embanderada … la sala que adorna sus fiestas con la bandera de la revolucion”) (“Una orden secreta de africanos,”324). Sosa imagined that Marti wrote of an Abakua group in Key West. Ishemo’s
piece is riddled with the uncritical repetition of errors, and poor translations.
27. Ayorinde, “Ekpe in Cuba,” 141.
28. Ayorinde quoted Brandon (“The Dead Sell Memories,” 108). Brandon (2011 personal communication) confirmed that he made no such claim and that this was a misquote.
29. Luis “el Pelon” died in 1997 in Miami; his body was carried to Havana to receive Abakua ceremonies and burial. Ceiba (Kapok, or White Silk Cotton Trees) are “venerated and revered in forests zones of Nigeria. It is a fetish tree and sacrifices for the release of people captured and detained in the world of witches and wizards ready for the kill are performed at the base of this large tree” (“Nature Trail Tree List,” 3) .
30. Cf. 1. Miller, “Obras de fundacion: La Sociedad Abakua.”
31. I was shown a copy ofthis letter in the office of Mr. Angel Freyre “Chibiri,” president of the Abakua Bureau (la Organizacion para la Unidad Abakua), in RegIa in 2000.
32. Cf. D. H. Brown, Santeria Enthroned, 78; Ortiz reported the founding of Yoruba derived Bata drums in Havana in the 1830S (Los instrumentos de la musica afrocubana, 31516).
33. “There are said to be about two hundred true babalawo in Havana, and most of them have been drawn to the large cities where they can earn more money.” Bascom, “Two Forms of Afro-Cuban Divination,” 171.
34. The ceremony performed was the creation in Miami of the first Olofies, a ritual vessel possessed only by high-ranking babalawo. A 1978 Miami newspaper article reporting on the event stated that the first Olofies were made by Yoruba babalawos in Havana more than “200 years” before. Archives of Luis Fernandez-Pelon.
35. Thanks to Mr. Nath Mayo Adediran (2005 personal communication), for the cor­rect title and spelling. For a detailed report on this process see D. H. Brown, Santeria Enthroned, 93-95.
36. From a Miami newspaper article published in 1978, in the archives of Luis Fernandez-Pelon. There I saw and videotaped a photograph of Luis Fernandez and two other Cubans in O~ogbo, Nigeria, in 1978, taken during their initiation as babalawos there. I also saw a photograph of Ifayemi EI¢buibon dedicated “To my godson Jose-Miguel G6mez”(Caballero, 2005 personal communication).
37. David Brown reported that Gomez was initiated into the Lukumi Ocha system in 1929 (Santeria Enthroned, 160). This is consistent with the early Cuban tradition that eligible males should be initiated into Abakua and Palo Mayombe before entering the Lukumi tradition. One interpretation of this tradition is that the “Carabali” (from Calabar) and Central African “Kongo” people arrived to Cuba and other American regions before the Yoruba/Lukumi.
38. David Brown reports that Gomez was “the first Cuban-born babalawo to have made Ifa in the United States” (Santeria Enthroned, 325 n. 92). The Cuban-Kongo lineage called Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje was organized by Andres Petit in the mid-1800s (cf. Cabrera, La Regia Kimbisa del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje).
39. In this era in Cuba, February 24 was a national holiday-thus a day free from work-to celebrate the “El grito de Baire” (the Cry of Baire), the commencement of the final war of independence in 1895 by the Cuban rebels against Spain. Being a carnival day in the 1890S, this date was chosen to start a rebellion under the cover of a mass celebration.
40. See chapter 17 in this volume on Lucumi crowns.
41. Sanchez created “Manungo’s Diablito Dancers” in the 1930S to depict Sanchez’s memories of the “fidfiigo street dance” in 1919. Some scholars thought that this was an Abakua performance, but in fact the body-masks were Puerto Rican Vejigantes, not Abakua. The work represents a street jam session with a bongo player, a trumpet player, and two body-masquerades, in the context of carnival. 1. Miller, Voice of the Leopard .
42. Louis Perez (2006 personal communication); Orovio, EI carnaval babanera, 85. The name Key West is an English gloss upon the earlier Spanish name, Cayo Hueso. The Cuban communities of Cayo Hueso in Florida actively countered the Spanish regime. Le Roy y Galvez, A cien afios del 71, 58; Foner, Antonio Maceo,

120; Montejo-Arrechea, Sociedades negras en Cuba,104.
43. E-mail message from Jose Orbein to the author, September 2007 .
44. Cabrera documented a version of this term: “Biorasa: circulo que se dibuja en la cabeza del neofito para ser iniciado.” La Lengua Sagrada de los afiigos,112 .
45. The BoNasako family, meaning “the family of Nasako,” presently lives in Ngamoki within the Ekama community of Ngolo-speaking people of the Rumpi Hills in Cameroon.
Thanks to Mr. Nasako Besingi of Mundemba, as well as Mr. Kebulu Felix of Limbe and their extended families, Cameroon, the author attended BoNasako family reunions in Ngololand in February 2011 and March 2012.
46. For details see chapter 4 of 1. Miller, Voice of the Leopard, 103-18.
47. Chapter 2 of Beltran’s autobiography Back to Cuba tells this story.
48. Otan Ef6 was founded around 1909 in Regia. Lydia Cabrera wrote: “Otan Efor … of Regia. Ancient Potency.” La Lengua Sagrada de los Nafiigos, 465.
49. Cabrera, “La Ceiba y la sociedad secreta Abakua,” 35; Cabrera, El Monte, 217.
50. Cf. 1. Miller, “Abakua: The Signs of Power.” Soto titled these performance pieces Efi Visiting the Desert (after the Efik people of Calabar who helped create Cuban Abakua) and Kachireme, a fusion of the Hopi Katchina and the Cuban ireme body-mask. See the artist’s gallery at http://www.leandrosoto.comlkachireme-efi-visiting-the-desert.html.

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