Shakuaná’s Secret Place to Eat

People know that Jundesi planted the secret of San Lázaro at Armando Zulueta’s house, but no one really knows what the secret is or why Jundesi planted it there. Many new compendia of religious information are being published these days, and in one of them, I found the following mythic narrative in the divination sign or odu called Oyekun-Ojuani:

In this road of the odu, Shakuaná—another name for Babalú-Ayé—did not stay in any single house, but when he arrived at the house of a priest called Oyekún for divination, the sign Oyekún Ojuani came out. The priest marked the following sacrifice: two pigs, sixteen fish, two pots of palm oil, and a hat. Shakuaná made the sacrifice, and since he had no secret place to eat, the priest sent him to leave the offering exposed at the entrance to the town. When Shakuaná arrived to leave the sacrifice on the Earth, he heard the voice of Elegba, the messenger of the orichas, from behind him: “The sacrifice that you placed on the Earth will be separated from you if you do find it here. You, seated in this place, will leave all your evil children here and you will call them each time you need them. You will do the following: open a hole, sacrifice a pig and a rooster, which you throw in there. You put earth from the ocean, the river, the lagoon, the forest, the plaza, the street, the house, the foot of a ceiba tree, and Asojano. You add herbs from all the orichas and divination powder marked with the sixteen major odus, making a little hill at a crossroads. On top, you plant a cactus and you place a pocked stone on top. Then you consecrate the stone by feeding it with a speckled rooster. You hang red, black, and white cloth around it. Cook the rooster and eat it. This was the birth of the first kiti of Asojano, destined to guard the evil children of Shakuaná.

Could this be the origin of the secret of San Lázaro that Jundesi planted? Did she want to give Armando access to the evil children of Shakuaná? Did she know this story and understand her actions as an extension of the godly precedent?

Or is this an invention by priests who gather information indiscriminately and package it for sale?

A very similar description for the kiti appears in Bernard Maupoil’s book La geomancie a la Côte des Esclaves on pages 357 to 360. This book was originally published in 1936, and it seems pretty clear that the description for how to make the kiti comes from here. If the “recipe” for the kiti story comes from this ethnography, how did the priest decide to place it in Oyekun-Ojuani and not one of the other 256 divination signs? Did he divine to find out where it went?

To my eye, this looks like a story about Shakuaná making sacrifice with a separate recipe tacked on the end. Why else would there be two similar but different sacrifices described? And who knit them together? When and why?

So the secret—its meaning, its internal form, its function—remains a secret.


  1. So, here's a question. All of the reference to kiti I have read were exclusively in connection to Dahomey. I know Maupoil's primary informant came from that region, so I'm assuming this recipe, too, is Dahomean? Do you know of any comparable installation to the kiti among the Yoruba? For Babaluaye in specific or the orisha more generally?

  2. So here is the beginning of an answer. If you click on the “secret” tag, you will find several posts about similar installations around the Oricha Atlantic. There are some other references to altars on the edge of towns for Babalú in Yoruba communities, but nothing like the richness here or in Maupoil, so it is hard to know if they are really the same thing or not.

    I recently came across notes from an interview I did years ago with a master of ceremonies in Havana, and he listed “Akitikatá” as a road of Babalú. I have not been able to reconnect with him to follow up on this. Robert Farris Thompson cites three songs from various places that all include the word “akitikata,” which he translates (roughly) as “Earth mound.” These appear in the section on Nana Buruku in Face of the Gods. The songs all come from Verger’s Notes sur le culte des orisa…

    A couple of other notes of interest: When I asked Pedro Abreu of the Arará Sabalú about this story, he did not know it or the kiti.
    I do think the secret at Armando Zulueta´s is likely to be a kiti. If the kiti turns out to be from Dahomey, then it will be another bit of evidence that substantiates the Zulueta family claim that they are Arará-Dajomé.

    I am sorry I cannot provide full citations with page numbers, but I am not at my desk.

  3. Oh, now that is very interesting, thank you for pointing toward Faces of the Gods--I hadn't picked up on that bit about the 'akitikata.'

    I think Robert Ferris Thompson may have the directionality (Yoruba to Akan regions) of Nana Buruku wrong--the very title, 'Nana,' is from Akan and shows up both among nobility and spirits, like Nana Tongo or Nana Bruku. Allman & Parker, in their book Tongnaab, note this somewhere...

    One thing I couldn't help but notice in the case of Tongnaab, is the importance the spirit acquired as an anti-witchcraft spirit (sounds not a little like Babaluaye), with people carrying away small portions of one Tongnaab mound to found others.

    The mound itself is a fairly popular form roundabout those parts--you find it among the Tallensi and LoDagaa (Dagara) people, too, all bound up with issues of fertility and the earth.

    It does make me wonder how old the ritual commerce Allman & Parker discuss really is.

    Wow, wouldn't that be something if Babaluaye and Nana trailed those ritual complexes behind them as they moved on down West Africa!

    Hmm, is "Sabalu" a reference to the region around Save/Sabe in what was Dahomey? If so, has anyone tried linking the mound to the worship of Oke and Ile among the Yoruban population there? That's one of the main centers of Nana Buruku's priesthood, too, right?

  4. I just spent two days working through William Bascom's field notes from his 1948 trip to Cuba. He spent most of his time in Jovellanos, Matanzas Province. There and then, many people associated Nana Burukú with the word Akitikatá, but Bascom never pressed them on what it meant, so it remains unclear to me if it is a common praise name, a more "secret" name used for invocation, or a road.

    The Arará Cubans identify with four different sub-groups, the largest being Sabalú, Majino, and Dajomé. These names clearly link back to regions in Dahomey.


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