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.