Babalú-Ayé in Perico: The Arará-Dajomé
When Ña Octavia Zulueta—Jundesi gave Babalú-Ayé to the nine-year-old Armando Zulueta, she taught him that they were Arará-Dajomé, and he in turn passed this idea down to his family and godchildren. This is interesting because in common parlance today, Armando’s Babalú is commonly referred to as Lucumí. While the Lucumí label may have come from the fact that Armando made santo much later in a Lucumí house, it also provides a short-hand description of differences in form and practice that matter a lot to some people.
But I want to explore the idea that the Babalú-Ayé and the people who work him in Perico really are Arará-Dajomé. Aurora Zulueta-Omí Saidé was Armando’s favorite niece and goddaughter, and before she joined the ancestors in 2002, she told me that she had always known they were Arará-Dajomé. She reminded me that the Arará had their own language, and she explained that they did not “mojuba” the same way as the Lucumí. Instead of repeating “mo juba” to invoke each of the ancestors and gods, she had learned to say “sofalú.” After the names of each of the ancestors, they did not say “ibaye ibaye tonu.” Instead they said “jundeko” to pay their respects to the dead. Even the founder of their lineage carried the Arará name “Jundesi.”
In fact, Romelio Pérez—Talabí also told Ernesto Pichardo—Obá Irawó that Armando’s lineage had a strong Arará link, and Pichardo remembers that Pérez always sang to Changó with an Arará song for Hevioso, the Arará fodun of thunder.
Nanú, the mother of Asojano, is another strong Arará element. There are whole lineages in Cuba that work with Babalú without ever mentioning, working, or giving Nanú. For the Arará, Nanú is an essential part of the family of Asojano, a strong and mysterious presence who is usually given with Afrá and Asojano. In Armando’s lineage, even when Nanú is not given in an initiation, she is always remembered and honored along with Afrá and Babalú.
Armando’s house routinely uses Arará drums to honor Babalú-Ayé. After Armando made Yemayá with oro for Inlé in a Lucumí house in 1948, the Arará drums were used to honor Octavia—Jundesi’s Asojano, before a batá drums honored Armando’s oricha. In 2003, at the honras ceremony a year after Aurora joined the ancestors, they played Arará drums, and the young woman akpon sang in Arará for close to four hours without so much as a break. The same year Armando made ocha, William Bascom visited his house for a drumming for Babalú-Ayé. Bascom said there were freshly painted Arará drums. Even more interesting is that Bascom said that in an inner room of the house there was an Arará altar (Bascom Papers, Carton 26, Folder 1, pages 101-103).
All these facts suggest that Ña Octavia—Jundesi and Armando—Omí Toké were grounded in the Arará tradition, one they referred to as Dajomé. This name could refer to the royal traditions of Dahomey as an important source for their practices or their ancestors, but it is just as likely that it allowed them to differentiate themselves from the Arará-Sabalú in Matanzas City, the Arará-Majino in Jovellanos, and the fabled Cuatro Ojos.(The dark photo shows Armando's altar as it was in 2001.)