The Origins of Babalú-Ayé

Most knowledgeable people in Lucumí religion agree that Babalú-Ayé was born in the divination sign called Odí-Eyeunle. This fact fascinates me, because I have never heard the story of his birth recited when that sign comes out. Instead people just say, “This is the sign where the drum was born. This is the sign where Babalú-Ayé was born. This is the sign where smallpox was born.” Here is another example of Cuban laconics.

But there is an Arará story about the birth of Babalú-Ayé. Dasoyi, the father of all the Babalú-Ayés, met Nanú, the mother of all the Babalú-Ayés, at the river in Dassa, Dahomey. They conceived a child, but when the child was born, he looked horrible. They named him Ason, meaning "sickness." He soon met death. They buried the child at the foot of a yamao tree at the edge of the water. When they conceived another child and the time of the birth approached, a bright red bird—a scarlet ibis—roosted in the same yamao where they had buried Ason. Every time they had another child, the bird would land in the tree and announce the birth. This ibis was the spirit of Ason.