Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ofelia de Pogolotti--Alidémi

After Pilar Fresneda—Asonsiperaco joined the ancestors in the early 1960s, the Havana Arará cabildo passed to Ofelia Calixta Martínez Bonilla, who led the community from her home in the Pogolotti neighborhood of Havana. She had been made to Mase or Ochún by La Chata--Onojome and Matilde Sotomayor--Asoinque, who also gave her Asojano-Alua.  Although Ofelia--Alidémi had Ochún made, her elders had given her permission to give Asojano-Arará--a novelty to the Sabalú in Matanzas. She also received Nanú from both the Arará and Lucumí lineages. Although Ofelia's son, Octavio Hernández-Martínez--Ogunda Meyi has no explanation for this intriguing fact, her daughter-in-law Olga says she always attended to them differently and according to the way she had been taught.

Ofelia de Pogolotti maintained the traditions that Pilar had established. With her extended family, she "took out" the cabildo every year on December 16th, parading through the streets with its symbols: a white flag and a large white plaster dove. Ofelia also became the keeper of the cabildo´s drums that still live at her house.  The elders say that when they took out the cabildo, many people became possessed by Asojano.

When Ofelia joined the ancestors on February 26, 2004, she had lived 76 years. At her honras, the funeral performed a year after the death of priest or priestess, Andrés Chacón and his group played for the egun and then for Ochún. To this day, she is remembered as a knowledgeable and influential priestess.

Since then, Octavio and Olga maintain many of the traditions in their house in Repart Martí near Mazorra, where they give Asojano in Olga's style with three awáns, a tradition I have encountered nowhere else in Cuba or its diaspora.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pilar Fresneda—Asonsiperaco

In the early 20th century, the legendary Pilar Fresneda—Asonsiperaco carried the dynamic traditions from the Cabildo Arará Sabalú Nonjó in Matanzas to Havana City. The stories about Fresneda are many. Some say she was born in Africa, consecrated to Asojano-Alua, and came to Cuba at age seven. Others say her mother was freed from slavery in Africa, and still others claim it was her father who was African-born. Some say she went to Havana as a child, and others claim it was much later. Similarly, some say she was 80-something when she died, but her son El Bate said she was 102 or 103 when she died.

As Arará elder Milagros Sequiera Palma tells it, Fresneda left the Matanzas cabildo in a conflict over the emerging community in Havana. Fresneda wanted to carry the cabildo’s sacred drums to Havana to play at a drumming ceremony, but cabildo powerhouse Michaela Ruiz would not allow it. Fresneda then sponsored the creation of new set of sacred drums, and these were recognized by the Matanzas drums and drummers as legitimate.

A capable and charismatic priestess, Fresneda worked closely with her goddaughter Taurina Montalvo—Enujere, serving the babalawos of Havana and initiating hundreds into the secrets of Asojano Arará. In fact, her children Bartolo and Victor were both active babalawos in Havana.  Matilde Sotomayor—Asoinque sang when they played the Arará drums, which were played by Victor—Quemafo. Together they built a new Arará cabildo in Havana until Fresneda joined the ancestors in the early 1960s.

Matlide Sotomayor

(Thanks to David H. Brown for images of Pilar and Matilde, and for the info on Bartolo and Victor.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cabildo Arará Sabalú Nonjó

The Cabildo Arará Sabalú Nonjó played a key role in sustaining Arará traditions in Santería. Unlike most Santería traditions that have their roots in Yoruba culture in Nigeria, Arará traditions have their origins primarily in Fon speaking communities in what is now Benin. In fact, Sabalú comes from the Savalu in the Mahin area of central Benin. It is not entirely clear when the cabildo was established. Careful calculation by David H. Brown suggests sometime between 1880 and 1895 (Santería Enthroned, p.74), but current cabildo leader Oscarito Rodríguez claims it was founded in 1862.

Located in Matanzas City where many outlying communities also have Arará cabildos, the Sabalú cabildo—also known as the Cabildo del Santo Espíritu—forged a strong sense of identity and commitment to the knowledge of the oricha Asojano, Arará language, and Arará drumming. The cabildo continues to honor an enormously diverse set of fodunces, oricha-like deities with different names and some variable characteristics:

Jevioso resembles Changó, but he has many roads, whereas the Lucumí Changó does not.
Mase resembles Ochún.
Añoro is “a young Obatalá.”
Afrikete is Yemayá.
Sobó is like Aganyú.
Towosi is Yewá.
Alapalowosi is the ceiba, but he is not received.

However, other fodunces are unique to the Arará: Nadodó and Naejuno are river spirits that resemble Ochún. Güeró is the rainbow and a serpent, and while he resembles Ochumaré, he is sometimes referred to as a road of Obatalá. Asojano and Nanú remain themselves, as the Sabalú claim that they eminate from the Arará.

Cabildo-founder Ta Moises Arzuaga was born in Africa and founded the cabildo with María Merecedes-Domínguez, Rerico Arzuaga, Catalino Arzuaga, and “Cecé.” Ta Moises made the famous creole priestes Flora Heredia, who had Towosi with Jevioso as her second fodun, while Micaela Ruiz had Makeno with Mase.

The cabildo also gave birth to Pilar Fresneda—Asonsiperaco, who carried their traditions to Havana. More on her another day.