Feast of Babalú-Ayé in the House of Armando Zulueta, December 17th

I am not sure that they have celebrated the Feast of Babalú-Ayé in this way since Armando Zulueta—Omí Toké joined the ancestors in 1990, but I have heard the descriptions again and again with little variation. The ceremony started on December 16th in the house of Octavia Zulueta—Jundesi with an Arará drumming. No one told me whose drums they were or who played. Perhaps they were from the next block over at the Sociedad Africana de Santa Bárbara. Perhaps they came from the Fernández house in Agromonte, though I did not see drums there. Perhaps they came from Jovellanos or Matanzas City. When orichas or fodunces, as the Arará sometimes call the deities, came down, they would leave Octavia’s house near the cemetery and walk to Armando’s, where they would salute his Babalú-Ayé.

After midnight, once it was in fact December 17th, the whole ceremony would move too. At Armando´s, they did the awán for Babalú-Ayé and then fed Afrá, Nanú, and the Old Man on the back patio, just outside the little house where the secret resides. After eating, the orichas would rest inside with the secret. Then they would start a Lucumí batá drumming that usually lasted till dawn.

By the time I first saw this ceremony in 2001, Armando´s niece and goddaughter Aurora Zulueta—Omí Saidé was in charge, though gravely ill. Money was very tight, and I spent much of the day searching for an appropriate pig for Nanú and black goat for Babalú. That evening, as we prepared for the awán and the feeding, there was a drumming in another house down the block, and various orichas who had come down at the drumming arrived at the house to salute Armando’s fundamento and clean Aurora. Later we placed Armando’s orichas in the open space in front of the secret. After we fed Afrá and Nanú, Babalú was given toasted corn, white wine, honey, and ekó, the corn tamales used throughout the religion. While he feasted on his goat, roosters, and guinea hens, someone caught some of the blood in a gourd with white wine and rum. This mixture was then poured lovingly over the secret. At the end of the sacrifice, the fundamentos all went inside to rest with the secret.

(Unfortunately the one time I had the temerity to ask to photograph Armando’s altar, the photos came out very strange.)