Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Many Roads of Babalú-Ayé: Aliprete

Because Babalú-Ayé spent many years living as wanderer on the road, many people consider him to be one of the owners of the road.

Within the Regla de Ocha, better known as Santería, most deities have different manifestations, which people call caminos or roads. Old priests and priestesses say that the messenger and trickster Elegguá has more roads than any other deity. Some say he has 101 roads, but others say he has 256. After Elegguá, Babalú probably has more roads than any other divinity. I have documented more than sixty, but I am sure that future travels will reveal more.

Different people imagine these roads in different ways. My teacher, Ernesto Pichardo—Obá Irawó of Miami, uses a family metaphor: “Babalú-Ayé is like the last name they all share, but the road is like the first name.” Others conceive of the roads as reflections of different stages or etapas in the lives of the divinities. And many people do speak of the youngest and oldest roads of different deities.

These roads matter because they have implications for how people treated the gods and for how the gods will behave. Different roads take different bead patterns and sometimes even different foods. Sometimes they have whole stories about them, but usually they have only a laconic description of their characteristics. They take various attributes on their altars, and they often dance differently when they come to Earth in possession.

Take the road of Babalú-Ayé Aliprete. The basic Babalú necklace is white beads with light blue stripes, but Aliprete’s necklace takes a repeating pattern of seven blue beads with white stripes and then seventeen caramel beads. Aliprete is said to be the one who measures the roads in Babalú-Ayé’s kingdom and guides people along them. He is thought to be the one who weighs the value of different pieces of land. He is also said to be the brother of Alino, who lives in all rotting things.

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