An Audience with Asojano: An Arará Drumming

They had already fed the drums by the time I arrived. They stood in a line in the courtyard with their heads covered with the offerings.

Pedro Abreu—Asonyanye is conscious that he is renovating the Sabalú tradition. He talks about the fact that he has initiated more priests to Asojano than anyone else in history: to date he has initiated twenty-nine people. He has compiled traditions from all over Cuba and created an innovative and unique ceremony for giving Asojano. He has elaborated the initiation of priests in surprising ways. In his inimitable, charming, and understated way, he occasionally quotes of one his godchildren who said, “You have created something here.”

As part of his renovation, he has also gone to great efforts to build and consecrate his own set of Arará drums. Pilar Fresneda—Asonsiperaco had a set of drums at her cabildo, and they are now in Pogolotti (see below). Pedro wanted to play them, but in a repetition of history, the cabildo’s current leaders refused to let him play them (more on the repetition in another post). So he sent a drum-maker to the cabildo and had him create exact copies. It is these drums that filled the night with sound on Guanabacoa.

After the awán and the ebó, the drumming began. Everything was running late, and the drummers were no exception. By the time they arrived, it was already 10 PM. They started playing smooth rhythms on the clicky drums. This music is totally unlike the Lucumí drumming, and songs use a different musical scale. They started with Joto, as the Arará call Elegguá, and played a full series of songs—an oro—for Asojano.

I was hoping to speak with Asojano. I had thought through my questions. He has told me to get the word out about him and I was going to ask what he thought of this blog. I was going to ask him about the function of the secret of San Lázaro in Perico. I had other questions too: what to do for my son, whose hold on this world is always shaky? What else to do about my intense relationship with Asojano? How to work with the spirits of particular places? And what to do about the mounting environmental crisis?

By the time they finished the first round of songs for Asojano, it was 11:30, and they had to stop as the next day was Palm Sunday, and they did not want to offend anyone in the neighborhood.

No orichas showed up. No fodunces. No Asojano.

Then the drummers pulled out a set of unconsecrated batá drums. They played for Ochún and then for Asojano. We all danced a bit more. Then they switched to rumba, and Pedro sang a couple songs. Then everyone retired. The kids ate cake; the adults drank beer or rum. We talked into the night, sharing what Jim Wafer has called the taste of blood—the particular kind of intersubjective experience that comes from knowing people well and for a long time.

A couple days later, I sat in Pedro’s tiny living room. As we talked, he explained his ideology about drummings. He never pays people to dance his drummings: the fodunces come when they will, and when they don’t, people fake it. Lots of people take this line. He also said that when Asojano comes down at drummings and speaks, it is not really Asojano, because Asojano only speaks through Ifá.

We could have predicted this position, because it emphasizes the strength of his lineage’s way of working with Asojano. Still I was surprised. I have witnessed impressive and unforgettable possessions at drummings. Asojano comes first in his abject form: he foams at the mouth, and mucus flows from his nose as he writhes on the floor. Slowly he gains strength and rises to wobbly legs. Finally, as his sap continues to rise, he begins to dance with his já with ever-bolder gestures.

He has whispered in my ear truths that only he and I knew. At these drummings, I have seen Asojano greet other orichas and be received by them.

Were they just pretending too?


  1. One wonders why would Asojano only speak in mediated forums? Of course, even possession could be seen as mediation. But is mediation by another Orisha (Ifa) truly required? And how do we know this--especially of other forms of communication have been so effective?

    I have been long curious about the impact of humanity on earth-based religion. Is it that the Orisha are so regimented that these are their rules and our human role is clear? Is it that certain human issues (trust, power, vigilance against or orientation toward abuses of these) shape even our ability to hear and be witness to Orisha in their organic forms (us)? Which human form is deemed an acceptable translation for the Orisha? By whom, and why?

    And then I wonder how one reaches agreement around disagreements on these kinds of issues in the human worlds of Orisha religion. Even the revolutionary has a sense of order. That one who himself is transforming and challenging the human arena of Orisha is inclined to his own understanding of and adherence to tradition in this manner is an illumination of this problem.

    Always loving this blog and the conversations it raises (and answers).


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