The Many Roads of Babalú-Ayé: Suvinengué
In both Cuba and Benin, the road of Babalú-Ayé known as Suvinengué is strongly associated with the vulture. His name can be translated as “vulture-child of Dasoyi.” The elders in Cuba say that Suvinengué is a vulture with the head of human being, and in Benin they also say he is bald and gray, like the vulture. Some Dahomean elders say Suvinengué flies from Earth up to Heaven carrying messages from human mouths to God´s ears. They say he indicates whether an offering has been accepted or not. When an offering is left outside and then disappears overnight, it is thought that Suvinengué has taken it to the deity it was intended for. Still others say simply, “He eats the dead.”This link between Babalú and the ancestors is quite profound, and other roads of the deity revolve around this link. Afimaye is said to seek out Arará priests at the hour of their deaths, but in Benin, he is seen as the overseer of a collective workforce made up of the spirits of the dead. Similarly, the kiti is a place where the spirits who are children of the deity gather to eat.
Obviously there is a strong link between the dead and vultures. As carrion-eaters, vultures circling in the sky are a sign of the impending death of some poor creature below. When vultures eat, they often end up covered with the blood and tissue of the dead animal. The vulture is the largest raptor in Cuba and as such is often seen as the dominant animal in the sky. So powerful is this association that generals and high-ranking state officials in Cuba are still called mayimbes, meaning “vultures” in the Congo language spoken on the island.In Cuba, the elders put boniato to Suvinengué, and often decorate it with five vulture feathers. Suvinengué takes white beads with blue stripes and jet beads as accents.
It is interesting to note that there is a road of Ochún called Ibú Ikolé that also takes the form of a vulture, and is famed for carrying messages from Earth to Olodumare in Heaven.(References on Benin can be found in Herskovits’ Dahomey, Volume 2, page 140.)