Sunday, January 23, 2011

Compassion of Babalú-Ayé

My wife received Babalú-Ayé a few years back, and she is devoted to him, truly loves him. So, last week I asked her what she wanted to know about Babá. She reflected for a moment and said in her inimitable way, "I want to know where his compassion comes from."

I don't know of any patakí that explains that, but I once had a dream which may speak to this question. In the dream, Babalú-Ayé and I stood together in a dark space. In the darkness, I heard his rough voice say, "I can feel all the pain in the world."

Maybe the Lucumí elders learned their laconic style from the orichas themselves. Here Babá seems to say it all in a single sentence: He feels my pain. He feels your pain. He feels every one's pain. This is a very different take on what it means to be the Lord of the World. I believe it is his own suffering that leads to his compassion. Because he knows all the suffering in the world, he does not shy away from suffering in us. Because he knows that every human being suffers sometimes, he is not surprised when we come before him crying in pain. Because he pushes on despite his own pain, he appreciates that tenacity in us. Having coped with his own brokenness, he is most understanding of our own limitations.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Secrets Again: Ajuangan, Companion to Babalú-Ayé

There is an interesting story in the odu Irete-Oyekun that speaks of powers buried in the Earth.

The King of Hebieque was called Disu, and he had a twin brother, Ajuangan, who was a sorcerer, a witch, and just terrible. He fed himself and his shrine objects with human blood. When the King found out about his twin brother’s evil deeds, he made a great hole in the Earth and placed Ajuangan there with every kind of food imaginable. He closed the hole and in that way consecrated Ajuangan as a fodún (oricha) so that he could do no more harm. When the King thought his brother had regenerated himself, he stood before the hole and said:

Vitse dokpo meyi Ajuangan kuko

No one can cut Ajuangan, I defend him.

The next morning, Ajuangan turned back into a man and more of a sorcerer than ever before, and he named himself Akpodjivodu-Kombo-Kumku-Mabo (meaning, “He who has no friends”). He continued to kill people, and so they made a great hole in the Earth, filled it with dry wood to make a big fire, and threw Ajuangan into the flames. The next morning Ajuangan was born again. Oni, the chief of the king’s warriors, cut the trunk of a palm tree, put Ajuangan inside, and buried it deep in the Earth. The next day, Ajuangan was born again and started to kill more people. The King called the diviner, who consulted the orichas and saw this sign. The diviner said that Ajuangan has three sorcerer spirits, and to transform him into a source of protection, the King should close him up inside a tinaja, and bury it. So that’s exactly what the King did, and he fed the pot with a goat, a rooster, a guinea, and palm oil. And over this tomb, he planted a cactus, so that they could always feed Ajuangan there singing:

Shatsha jesu zoguedebo soume deangho bejouse adan tomó depomafan sumuse Ajuangan bokon iwa sakpsone

The elders say that here a person must receive Babalú-Ayé and consecrate Ajuangan in the patio of the house. They say you must use caution when you work with it, because it is dangerous.

It is intriguing that the tinaja with the cactus over it closely mimics the form of the kiti described in Oyekun-Ojuani. The secrets are closed up in the vessel that is planted in the Earth, and a cactus marks the spot both for future visits and as a venue associated with Babalú-Ayé. In this case, unlike the case of the kiti, it is explicit that this is a fodún or oricha. In this way, it resembles the Dahomean Aizan in form and function.

In the story, the King buries his twin brother to turn him into a fodún. In the traditional ritual prescribed in the sign, Babalú-Ayé is received and lives in the house, while Ajuangan is buried in the patio. This is the same lay-out seen in the house of Armando Zulueta, where Babalú lives inside and the secret lives outside. In fact, I have heard elders wonder aloud if the fundamento at Armando´s could be used to cure disease, while the secret could be used to cause disease.

King : brother::
Babalú-Ayé : Ajuangan::
Curing : infecting

If these are all analogous, does that mean that Ajuangan is the destructive twin of Babalú-Ayé? Is that why he is thought to be so dangerous to work with?

(Sorry, but I have never seen Ajuangan, let alone photographed him.)