The Many Roads of Babalú-Ayé: Agrónika
The sign Irete-Otura recounts the birth of a little known road of Babalú-Ayé called Agrónika. The story goes like this:
There was a Potter named Omó Bitasa who was the favorite son of Asojano, and he was famous for making beautiful plates, a skill he had learned from his father. When he was small, his father had also initiated him with a partridge and dressed in the skins of his favorite animals, and this protected him from much suffering. In those days, the Iyesá declared war on the Arará. They surprised Omó Bitasa working on his plates and carried him away as a slave. One day there was a terrible epidemic in the land of the Iyesá, many people were dying, and no one could stop it. Egunmoko, the king of Iyesá, went for divination, and Irete-Otura came out. The diviner said in the kingdom was a man initiated in Arará and only he could end the epidemic. Reviewing the prisoners, Egunmoko found one dressed like Shakuaná with his purple cape and his necklace. The king asked what his name was, and he responded, “Omá Bitasa and I am the son of Asojano.”
The king answered, “You are the one I seek. I will give whatever you ask if you help me end the epidemic.”
“I must consecrate an Arará já to end the epidemic,” said Omó Bitasa, and he closed himself up in a cave in the forest for days to make it. When he came out, he was wrapped in the skin of a leopard, the skin of a goat, and the skin of a guinea hen. With the já in his hand, he went before Egunmoko and called for help to consecrate it. After singing and feeding it a goat, Omó Bitasa dressed Egunmoko and the people in the skins and thus saved them. From that day on Omó Bitasa received the name Agrónika.
I have heard of this road of Babalú-Ayé. Willie Ramos—Ilarí-Obá mentions him in his tratado on the Old Man, but I must confess I have never met anyone with this road. Ernesto Pichardo—Obá Irawó tells me that his oyugbona, Romelio Pérez—Talabí, often gave this road. Pérez was from Perico in Matanzas Province; William Bascom found it very common in Jovellanos in 1948; and Pedro Abreu—Asonyanye says it is often mentioned in the town of Pedro Betancourt, so perhaps it is a Matanzas thing. Pichardo says Agrónika is also called Mobitansa and takes the brown beads called matipó with black beads. Abreu claims it is not actually a road but rather the name for Asojano in Iyesá language.
I love the image of Agrónika dressed in skins. This initiation from Asojano somehow provides him with an intimacy—a close connection—to the instinctual powers of these animals, and this in turn protects him from suffering. It reminds me of the fact that we dress the já and the cazuela of Babalú-Ayé with guinea feathers, so that we are never forget the influence of this all-important bird. The leopard and his spots appear throughout Lucumí religion as a strong sign of independence, power, and authority. In fact, new initiates are painted with spots, and chiefs and kings in West Africa often use leopard skins in their regalia. The goat´s strength, tenacity, and indomitability help anyone, and part of the Arará awán “transferring” these qualities to a person.
Close to our animal nature, Agrónika Mobitasa is clearly good for whatever ails us.