Antolín Plá, the first Babalú-Aye Made in the US
When Antolín Plá needed to make Babalú-Ayé in Miami in 1976, the community leaders turned to Josefina Beltrán and Romelio Pérez—Talabí. Beltrán had received Babalú-Ayé Arará and was one of the elders on the scene at the time. Pérez grew up across the street from the house of Armando Zulueta—Omí Toqué, and he had worked Babalú with Zulueta for many years. Beltrán maintained that there was no way to make Babalú-Ayé direct in the US at that point.
Direct meant Arará, and it was simply impossible from her point of view. First, there were not enough Arará people to make it direct. Arará tradition said there had to be at least seven people with Babalú direct who were also possessed by the Old Man. There was also concern around the language of the invocation and the songs. Again, Arará tradition dictated that from the first prayer to the last song, the whole ceremony had to be in Arará language. To make matters worse, there were no obaces in Miami who had officiated in a direct Babalú Arará. The Arará ceremony also required a visit to a cemetery, and Beltrán was also concerned about how to do that in Miami. Finally, she knew that the Arará Babalú spoke through Ifá, rather than the shells.
Beltrán and Pérez agreed that they could not make Plá in the Arara style, so they agreed that the only alternative was for him to make Obatalá with oro for Babalú. Plá received Babalú-Ayé a week before his ocha, and so he entered the room with Babalú. In the santo, he was crowned with Obatalá, who owns all heads.
Once made, Plá was a generous if idiosyncratic priest. His grandson, Ernesto Pichardo-Plá--Obá Irawó, tells stories about his grandfather sitting on the floor in front of his Babalú and having long conversations with him. Plá would craft spiritual works with seeds and other simple things, and although no one had ever heard of them, these works were always effective.
(Thanks to Ernesto Pichardo-Plá for the image.)