Forms of Babalú-Ayé: Lucumí versus Arará

There are many forms of Babalú-Ayé found in Cuba. Some are common and some are unique. Perhaps the best known forms are Babalú-Lucumí and Babalú-Arará, who is sometimes called Asojano. On the surface the distinctions are quite simple. The Lucumí form has its roots in people of Yoruba descent. It is unsealed and speaks through cowry shells. The Arará form has its roots in people of Dahomean descent. It is sealed and speaks through Ifá divination.

If you look a little deeper, the distinctions become more complex. The Lucumí form is usually covered, but not always. It can have one stone or seven. It often carries a protective Osun, but not always. Sometimes it comes with the special Elegguá called Afrá, but not always. Sometimes it comes with Nanú, the mother of Babalú, but not always. In fact, there are a variety of ceremonies used to consecrate it. The most famous Lucumí lineage descends from Armando Zulueta—Omí Toké, but even that’s complicated. Armando’s favorite neice and goddaughter, Aurora Zulueta Soa , told me that Armando and his godmother, Ña Octavia Zulueta, always said they were Arará-Dajomé.

The Ifá-centric Babalú-Arará has its roots in the Cabildo del Espíritu Santo in Matanzas City. The famous Arará priestess Pilar Fresneda—Asonsiperaco carried their traditions to Havana in the late 1920s or early 1930s. These lineages identify themselves as Arará-Sabalú-Nonjó. Even within this one “group,” there are significant differences. Sometimes Asojano comes with Afrá and Nanú, but not always. Again, there is a good bit of variation in the ceremonies. As Pedro Abreu—Asonyanye says, “I do the ceremony as I see fit.”

There are two other widely recognized Arará groups: The Majino are located mostly in Jovellanos, Matanzas Province. The Cuatro Ojos (yes, that translates to the “Four Eyes”) have all but disappeared.

Still, if you mention Babalú-Lucumí or Babalú-Arará, everyone seems to think they know what you mean.