Babalú and Caves

I have been thinking a lot about caves lately. In Cuba, Babalú-Ayé is thought to have lived in a cave at his nadir; in fact, the rare road of Babalú called Kujunú is said to always live in caves and emerge at night with a lantern: Babalú as the light in the darkness.

Many altars recreate this terrestrial abode. When giving Babalú, most lineages make a special, low-slung altar in a corner and cover the front with the climbing plant called cundeamor. Babalú and his family rest in this manmade cave during much of the ceremony, emerging only to work or eat. Many people keep their Babalú vessels tucked away and covered with plants or cloth, hidden from view. Some, like Rafael Linares and his widow, cover the vessels themselves in cundeamor.

Of course, there is more than one story about how it is the Babá came to live in a cave. There is the story of his exile that I have already told, and many people simply fill in the detail of the cave when they are trying to imagine or explain the desolate places. Having lived large and exalted his masculinity, Babalú is then thrown back into the dark, unknowable body of the Earth. Having indulged in his own hubris, he is reduced to utter humility. The story of his rehabilitation describes Changó finding him in a trash heap or a cave, depending on who tells it.

The cave itself is an interesting thing, linking the Earth where we live to the dark inner life of the Earth, like a bibijagua colony. In fact, some lineages use the earth from the entrance of a crab´s cave in the já. These crabs live by the water, come charging up on land and then disappear into the Earth. They move effortlessly from the water, to the world, and into the Earth.

(Special thanks to Erik Daugaard for the great Cuban crab photo.)


  1. very nice. found your blog today.
    always have enjoyed your work, as do my religion students!

  2. Might be interesting in the category of substances to write more on the significance and use of tierra de boca de cuevita de cangrejo. I believe it has been used to draw wealth, no?

  3. I believe it is used in some trabajos to draw wealth. If you follow the logic of the crab, it seems like it would also imply a warehousing and perhaps even hiding of wealth. Is tierra de boca de cuevita de congrejo the Lucumí equivalent of an off-shore bank account?

    This substance will come up again as it is also used by many in the carga for Echú Afrá.


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