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Belkis Ayon

February 11, 1991

Some time ago I studied some of the components of our culture, on the African side, the carabalíes and of them the Abakuá Secret Society, made up only of men, a mutual aid and relief society, self-financed by its members. It resurfaces in the 30s of the 19th century in Cuba under other conditions and objectives very different from those of its African ancestors.
There are people who feel and have the need to believe in something, which is inherent to human existence and one of those many examples is the following ... that even after so many years initiation ceremonies are held, promotion of obones or creation of new powers; crying or nlloro (funeral ceremony for the death of a member of society); that of refreshing the sacred pieces of the liturgy; as well as the assemblies of squares or the general assemblies; that are still carried out mainly in Havana and Matanzas, exclusively in Cuba.
"To be a man you do not have to be an Abakuá but, to be an Abakuá you have to be a man", society does not come to seek prestige but to give it prestige, the best of itself.
"There were women in Calabar who played like men in their power (...) and when the ceremonies began, in the mountains, in a cave on the banks of a lagoon, the men stole their secret ..." "Ekue hates women females. The secret is absolutely for MEN ... "(1)

By addressing this unknown and hermetic theme for many, not being popular as another component of the Cuban cultural heritage for dealing with certain aspects that have not yet been clarified, I intend above all to make my vision known from its interwoven overflowing sacred memories religious imagination, presenting them in a synthetic way the aesthetic, plastic and poetic aspect that I have discovered in Abakuá (...) "transferring a complex message that despite its conceptual dimension is never direct but allusive ..." (2), going back many times to its origins in Africa. The antecedents of this secret society must be looked for well past in time because they arose in very primitive economic-social formations where man faced the unknown countless times, always seeking a satisfactory answer to the natural and social phenomena that surrounded him. that in my engravings you will be able to observe an infinity of points that coincide with the cultural fact itself, verifiable both in the field of ideas and in visual references. The antecedents of the ñañigos were back in Africa the Secret Societies Ngbe and Ekpe whose names in ekoi and efik respectively mean leopard man. These associations, due to their cults and their great economic and ideological power, were spreading the leopard as a totemic animal whose ... "fraternity is established on a foot of perfect equality between a human group on one side and a group of things, generally animals and plants ..." from the other, as Frazer would deduce in Man, God, and Immortality, totemism, together with the other primitive religious forms (magic, fetishism, and animism) generally achieve sympathetic magic by law of similarity as a result, which they will permeate the life of primitive man, his thoughts and actions. These societies can be found in the area that was included in the so-called Oil Rivers, from the piers of the vast Niger Delta and the Cross River in present-day South Nigeria and part of Cameroon, in front of the Biafra Bay.

When I begin to investigate this interesting and mysterious brotherhood, unique in Cuba in its sacred memories -by the way very tangled-I can select characters that in my view are the most important to convey what I want and will be presented in all my works as : the leopard man, designated and identified with him by the different positions and hierarchies of society, to Sikán, a woman who discovers the secret and is sacrificed so that it passes to men and does not disappear. Sikán dies in vain, the secret fades more and more; This consisted of a voice, UYO UYO ANFONO sacred voice produced by a fish discovered by her when she returned from the river, the fish was the reincarnation of the old king called Obón Tanzé, King of Efigueremo who at the same moment was the reincarnation of Abasí, GOD SUPREME. Many were the efforts and attempts, for the transmission of the sacred voice because each time it faded more. The last transmission was on the hide of a goat; There yes! There yes! There was ... "that peculiar, frighteningly adorable sound ..." (3), the voice that vibrates on the sacred EKUE drum.

There are innumerable variations of popular imagery when recounting how the events that gave rise to this type of secret society happened and from them I show you my variations intertwining their signs with mine; I use colography turned into a medium with which I feel very identified since it adjusts to my way of doing and that for some years I have been working, offering very peculiar visual information with effects and results that in a certain way harmonize with the subject. In addition to the possibilities that it presents in its multiple nature, which as it is generally defined, is the printing of a collage with a wide variety of materials which are glued on a cardboard support.

Referring to the use of color there was a stage that I worked with a great variety of them and at that moment I was very satisfied, but over time I began to feel a certain nostalgia for black, I recognized that I was strongly united making me return to it. According to the materials that I use, he gives me a whole range of whites, grays and blacks, conceiving him as a great ally of the type of figuration I work with, with his composition ... all so hermetic, secret and mysterious in addition to the strength that he transmits to us.

I think that these engravings could be a spiritual testimony if you will, not lived in my own flesh, but imagined, where I placed in the foreground an equivalent of the human figure, on which my ideas ultimately and consequently turn, which are memories of the memory materialized as a kind of crush that when the light is turned off and on, new memories appear accompanied by a successful classmate, intuition.

I consider that there is a very close relationship between the vision that I offer you and that of the Abakuá Secret Society clearly transmitted in the work of Lydia Cabrera:

… "By the knowledge and power of the signs, it makes the past present, recreates the hill, the river, the palm tree, in the sacred places of Awána Bekúra Mendó."


Belkis Ayon / 91


(1) CABRERA, Lidia. The Abakuá Secret Society narrated by old followers. Havana, Editions CR, 1958
(2) MOSQUERA, Gerardo. Essay on America. Juan Francisco Elso. March 1986
(3) CABRERA, Lidia. The Abakuá Secret Society narrated by old followers. Havana, Editions CR, 1958

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