More Reflections on Güeró, Oshumaré the Rainbow in Arará
So why write about Güeró on Baba Who? Babalú!? Simply put, because the Arará-Sabalú consider him an important elder for Babalú-Ayé, or Asojano as they usually call him. Güeró is often thought to be married to Nana Burukú. For Pedro Abreu—Asonyanye, Nana is the mother of Ogún, Ochún, and Nanú, who in turn is the mother of Babalú-Ayé. By this logic, Güeró is the grandfather of Babalú, though we do not want to be too literal when discussing the paternity of the gods.
In fact, Pedro is fond of pointing out that it is Güeró—and not Asojano—who is the patron of the Cabildo Arará Sabalú Nonjó in Matanzas City where he was initiated. And Milagros Sequiera Palma, one of the oldest living members of the Cabildo, told me the same thing in 1998, comparing Güeró to Odudua rather than Oshumaré and describing how they used to celebrate his festival each year in June with Arará drumming and a procession through the streets of the city.
These days, Pedro decorates the white vessel for Güeró with small details in red for Changó and blue for Olocun, small visual gestures he uses to allude to a deep relationship. I just recently encountered a tratado that claims that Güeró is a servant to Changó, guarding his thunderstones in Heaven and later traveling to Earth as rain. Honestly, I have never heard that anywhere else, so take it with a grain of salt. The relationship to Olocun comes from a long story in which Güeró divines for Olocun, cures his children, and is rewarded with outrageous wealth in the form of money and rich blue fabrics. Again, I have only heard this once. Still, it is interesting that in one story, Güeró makes the ocean, and here the owner of the ocean blesses him with wealth.
Changó and Olocun do represent the heavenly and earthly poles of Güeró’s existence. This polarity also is expressed in his two forms, serpent and rainbow, and in a pair of vessels on the altar for a person initiated to Güeró. In 2001, I traveled to Matanzas City with Pedro, where he introduced me to his oyugbona, his second godmother. Her grandson had just made Güeró in the Cabildo, and the altar had two tinajas, one painted blue with a black snake and the other unpainted terra cotta. It is interesting to note that Herskovits says that in Dahomey, the rainbow serpent Dan was seated in two vessels, one for the masculine Dan and one for the feminine Dan, an expression of the dynamic polarity necessary for creation.
The Arará creation story in which Güeró gathers the waters so the world—ayé in Lucumí—can emerge from beneath it contrasts sharply with the traditional Yoruba story in which Odudua descends and sprinkles soil upon the waters to make the world. In the Arará story, the Earth apparently rises up, revealed when the water is gathered. Here Babalú-Ayé as the Earth was present and waiting to be revealed by Güeró’s actions. In the Yoruba story, often told in Lucumí communities, the solid Earth clearly descends from Heaven with Odudua. These fundamentally different notions about the origins of the world where we humans make our lives could represent deep cultural differences between the Arará and the Lucumí, or their antecedents in West Africa. They could point to very local understandings of creation in Cuban communities, recorded in different divination signs. Or they could reflect different groups seeking to create and assert different claims in the hotly contested religious field. It is true that only the Arará-Sabalú can give Güeró and generate the resulting benefits of cash, godchildren and aché. They are the only ones who have him to share.
(Thanks as always to Eguín Koladé for discussing these ideas with me. The vessel and the fly whisk for Güeró above are by Pedro Abreu.)