Nanú’s Stories

There are few specific stories about Nanú, but here are the ones I know. Among Yoruba- and Fon-speaking people in what is Benin, Nanú is thought of as the granddaughter of the Creator Goddess, Nana Burukú. In Arará-Sabalú communities in Cuba, Nana Burukú survives and is linked to the divinity known as Güeró. They in turn gave birth to the twins, Nanú and Dasoyí, the “father of the Babalú-Ayés.” These two met at the Agbogboji River in Benin and gave birth to the other roads of Babalú. (Below is a Sabalú vessel and já for Nana Burukú by Pedro Abreu.)

Similarities in the names and iconography of Nanú and Nana Burukú have created confusion, and some people see them as the same divinity with different names. However, careful attention to their iconography and the ceremonies used to honor them show that they are really very different. Nanú is very much of the earth, while Nana Burukú is an ancient water deity. In most houses where Nanú is known, people give her white wine like Babalú, while Nana Burukú usually takes water.
Another story locates Nanú in the crown of the ceiba, the huge silk-cotton tree. Because of their deep shade, these trees are thought to shelter the spirits of the dead. Similarly, because they are so tall, they are considered to be a meeting place between heaven and earth. It is also important to note that ceibas lose their leaves in the dry season and appear to be dead, only to spring to live again in the rainy season.

Perhaps most important is the fact that Lucumí and Arará elders agree that Nanú usually lives with her son, Babalú. She plays some of the more mysterious, if generative, role to his more active presence. While there were many people made to her in the 1940s, especially in Matanzas, I have never heard of a person being made to Nanú in any of the contemporary Lucumí lineages, and neither have my elders. (There are plenty people made to Nanú in Candomblé lineages.)


  1. In the last post you explained the meaning of the loop in Nanu's ja and it's purpose. But what of Nana? It is my understand that both she and Guero are snakes. In "Lucumi" lore the loop represents that she is a python, curling back on herself, showing her strength. Could the same be said here as well?

  2. Nana Burukú is certainly strongly associated with pythons and other snakes, but I have never heard that particular explanation of her já. Very interesting!

    Pedro Abreu says that Gueró is the Arará equivalent of Ochumaré, who is both the rainbow and a snake.

  3. What are the other explanations for Nana's ja?


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