More Reflections of Echú Afrá

As with most things in the Lucumí tradition, there is a good deal of variation when it comes to Echú Afrá. In most houses, he is simply the guide, guardian, and spokesman of Babalú-Ayé, and most—but not all—lineages do give Afrá when they give Babalú. He is usually attended and fed with Babalú and not worked on his own. However, Afrá is also given separately in some houses, particularly as the Echú Elegguá associated with the divination sign Obara-Irozo or in preparation for receiving Babalú.

The stories give a sense of how this oricha works. In Oyeku-Ojuani, he speaks to Shakuaná, guiding him in the creation of secret place to feed his most difficult children. In Obara-Irozo, he shows Asojano to the herbs that would cure the Anai. Here you see his most fundamental qualities: Afrá is active, Afrá provides superior knowledge, and Afrá assists Babalú on his path to restitution and kingship.

As I said before, most houses give Afrá as a simple coral stone. Some add a mixture of “medicines” to empower and direct him, and some even do a separate ceremony at the crab’s cave. However, the coral stone is interesting in its own right. These “stones” are actually the skeletons of dead corals. Like the bones of a human skeleton, they last and last even after death, apparently indestructible. Their small, round openings resemble the sores created by smallpox, and so they evoke one of the original aspects of Babalú-Ayé. Once fed, Afrá becomes like an open wound that neither disappears nor heals.

Afrá reminds us of the insurmountable rawness that we all carry within us. It is painful, sore, secret, and unprocessed. That unfinished quality may be result of forward movement or intractable incompleteness. If we live with it and interact with it long enough, Afrá will provide us with valuable and hard-won wisdom. And if we listen carefully and push on, step by step, he will lead us to a new place where we may find healing and new sense of plenitude.

Still, the open sore may never go away completely.


  1. Alafia Baba,
    Thank you for this post. I'm really moved by your insight of how we all carry this insurmountable rawness and how the sore may never completely go away. I"m reminded of how some depth psychologists and healers speak of trauma/wounds that never really go away but one can learn to live with this mark so to speak, knowing it's always there but perservering anyway. Marferefun Babalu!

  2. The Jungian perspective suggests that we all carry certain conflicts within us that are never resolved. Instead, tenaciously living our lives and holding the tension of the opposites, we outgrow them.

  3. michael, my brother,
    to this day i've yet to post a comment because there is simply so much that is so precious in this blog that it always seemed to me that it would be unfair to pick one single statement or piece of information or conclusion or insight or whatever to comment on.... there is just so much that you offer - and i'm so grateful for it all! but your (description? rendition? explanation?) words on echu afrá are - to me - sheer poetry. congratulations for it all, and thanks again.

  4. Abure, your kind words mean much to me as I know of your own difficult journey and because they come from someone consecrated to Asojano. I give thanks for true companions on this long road.

  5. This has been such a blessed journey, I have really been moved to an inward conversation that has left me feeling less externally verbal. I want to thank you for putting energy and insight into this follow-up post. I learn from you in so many ways; this post is one of many gifts you have shared with me (and all of us).

    There are a number of concepts I take with me from this post on Eshu Afra:

    * Even exposed, we have our secrets; even wounded, we contain profound ashe. That Afra is represented by the skeleton of the coral, that when fed, he noticeably takes in and contains the ashe (visible in the "raw sores" left in the coral), these seem to be keys to understanding and living with Babalu-Aye (and with ourselves).

    * There is guidance on even the loneliest and most onerous journeys.

    * The burdens we carry build our bones and leave a lasting legacy, not unlike the everlasting coral stone. We can, depending on how we face our inner work, leave beautiful bones that can support those that come after us or a fearsome skeleton to come lurching out of our ancestral closet.

    * There is no healing without scars.

    * There is redemption and renewal awaiting us, if we remain active and willing to learn in our engagement of our paths.


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