CongaDr+ Tony's Conga Adventures: Abakua

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

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Among all the incredible traditions brought to the Cuba from mother Africa, the Abakua are, to me, the most fascinating.

It is said, that there was a system of governance and nation expanding mechanism in the area of Nigeria that developed highly a ritualized process, in order to control and serve large populations of people spread over a large area.

From what I understand, when a new village was added to the kingdom, a house of Efik was built - housing the local chief, the medicine man, and the local priest. Basically a local government. The traditions of this governance tied all the houses of Efik together in a functional kingdom.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and the tradition and its nearly bizarre practice made its way to Cuba, becoming what we now know as Abakua.

here is a clip of the Ekpe people of Nigeria today, note the hooded dancer.. very similar to the Ireme, or the Cuban Abakua dancer above:

What is amazing to me, is that the goal and utility of this tradition, ie nation expanding, was not possible in the new world, as it was in Africa, yet the traditions defined in the African houses of Efik continue to thrive today as a system of social support and spiritual expression.

There is a region of Nigeria called Abakpa, and the word Abakua may have come from referring to the poeple from this region who practiced this unusual tradition in Cuba.

In Cuba, it is said that the traditions were nurtured and developed by the Cuban masons of African decent, creating a 'secret' society of Abakua that was hidden from the Colonial rulers of the island. I assume, to keep it unperturbed... as opposed to having to incorporate Catholicism, as in the practice of Santeria.

Here is an example of the practice in Cuba by my teacher Sandy Perez's family troupe, AfroCuba de Matanzas:

Only men are Abakua, and there are Abakua ceremonies that can be viewed only only by those initiated into the tradition. This brotherhood is a strong social support network, lending benefits and obligation to those who belong. The 'wives' of Abakua have an important role as well, of course, but are excluded from certain rituals, from what I understand.

The musical aspect of the Abakua tradition significantly influenced what we all know as Cuban Rumba, with the 'language' of Rumba sounding like a distant dialect of Abakua.

Here is a picture of a fascinating meeting in Nigeria, of the 'heavies' of Abakua in Cuba and the leaders of the Nigerian Ekpe - two cultural descendants of the same tradition together again. There is supposed to be a film about the congress as well.

This picture is including Roman Diaz, a high priest of Abakua, and one of the heaviest of Rumberos with whom I have had the grand pleasure of playing once upon a time - with Pedrito Martinez, Sandy Perez, Chris Walker and Carlos Aldama - probably the highlight of my Rumba life so far.. (he is in the second row, third from the right), and Roman in performance (wearing sun glasses)

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