In my quest to get to know the Arará world, last week I travelled three hours from Havana to the little town of Jovellanos, Matanzas Province. There, I spent the afternoon in conversation with Patricio Baró and his son Manuel. Patricio is the last surviving son of the famous Esteban Baró; his older and widely respected sister, Miguelina, died recently. Esteban’s parents were from Savalu and Atakpame, and he spoke both Yoruba and Fon-gbe, which he called Nago and Fono. Devoted to Dan Aïda Güeró, Esteban presided over the Sociedad San Manuel in Jovellanos, and his Güeró was impressive when it came down. He was also infamous for being irascible, refusing to share information outside of his family or the tiny Majino community.
Apparently these traits have been passed on. While Patricio at 81 years old was both coherent and cordial, neither he nor his 47-year-old son Manuel would share anything of substance. There were a few snippets of songs, including one for Oshumaré in Nago and one for Ajañajaña (Elegba) in Arará. They described their old annual tradition of playing for the fodunces from the night of December 31st through January 6th, a practice now lost because of lack of funds. Similarly, they still play on the 16th of August to commemorate Esteban Baró’s birthday. They also mentioned the set of four drums they maintain, including one with a serpent carved into to represent Dan Aïda Güeró.
Even when my godfather, Pedro Abreu—Asonyanye asked a few simple questions, the Barós held back. After they mentioned the need to start ceremonies with Arará-language prayers, Pedro suggested finding some kind of unity between the different Arará groups and recited an Arará prayer he uses to open his ceremonies. But the Barós were having none of it. “You would not understand,” explained Manuel, “Neither your parents nor your grandparents were Majino. You would not understand.” This claim to familial relationship with the tradition is not one frequently heard in Havana or beyond, but it has been paramount in Jovellanos for more than 60 years. Even Manuel said his father had never found the time to teach him the family's lore, and he was resigned to the fact that it was going to die with the old man.
In Matanzas City, we visited with Pedro’s godfather in Knife, Barbarito—Jevioso, who is active in the Cabildo Sabalú there. He was unsure if anyone in the Baró family had actually made oricha, explaining that until very recently most people in the countryside simply washed their heads and received a washed fundamento of the their head-oricha.
On the way back to Havana, Pedro reminded me of something Victor Quemafo had said to him as he prepared to be initiated. “Los arará somos muy pocos y muy mal llevados.” We Arará are very few and very badly behaved.