Armando Zulueta, Founder of the Babalú-Ayé Lucumí

Perico, Matanzas Province

In 1932 when Armando Zulueta was nine, he began to pass Babalú-Ayé. Again and again the oricha would take his body in possession, and so one day the African-born Ña Octavia Zulueta initiated him into the mysteries of Babalú-Ayé. Known as Jundesi in the religion, Ña Octavia said she was Arará-Dajomé, meaning her ancestors came from Dahomey in West Africa.

In the ceremony, Ña Octavia gave Armando the spokesman and guardian, Afrá. She gave him an Osun with a rooster on top. She gave him a deep low-fired water pot with the sacred stones of Nanú, the mother of Babalú. “Nanú is the mother of Babalú-Aye,” they say in Perico, “and she lives at this side.” And she gave him a covered dish with the stones of Babalú-Ayé-Afrimaye, a specific manifestation of the oricha. She also gave him Babalú’s ritual broom—the já—with three times sixteen cowry shells on it. After that, Armando became famous for his knowledge of Babalú and his aché in possession: they say he could read your past like book. They say he could tell the future. They say he could heal almost anyone.

On April 29, 1948, Armando made his oricha in Matanzas City with Adela Alfonso—Odú Alá, a daughter of Obatalá. Despite his life-long devotion to Babalú, Adela insisted on making him to Yemayá in the name of Inle. It was a complicated ceremony where Inle was called down to Earth, but Yemayá was placed on the head. However, even after the ceremony, Babalú-Ayé continued to take Armando in possession, and the oricha continued to impress people with his power. “I tell you Armando was a legitimate child of Babalú-Ayé. When he made his oricha he got the divination sign Odí-Ojuani in his head. He was a legitimate child of Babalú-Ayé.”

Armando traveled all over Cuba, but he ended up sharing a house in Sancti Spiritus in Santa Clara with his lover. “They had no life here,” Armando’s favorite niece Aurora told me in Perico in 2000. He made twelve priests of Babalú-Ayés before he died on October 30, 1990: Catalino de Batabanó, Rigoberto Rodríguez, Joselito Arondo, Victor Casanova, and Juan Jimagua from Perico to name a few.

He also gave more than seventy Babalús out. Many people said Armando invented the ceremony, where Afrá and Nanú accompanied Babalú, and they all spoke through the cowry shells. Other priests in Perico gave only one stone for Babalú. In Matanzas City, the Arará-Sabalú gave Babalú in a sealed container, and he spoke through Ifá. When people wanted to make clear that they were talking about Armando’s Babalú-Ayé, they would call it Lucumí.

Armando’s Babalú-Ayé returned to the family house in Perico, where the oricha still presides over the same annual ceremony that Armando used to observe.


  1. Muy buenos tus post. Estoy casi seguro que el apellido de Adela era Alonso y no Alfonso. Ella era la madrina de mi abuelo Rigo y de Armando también.


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