Afro-Cuban Folkloric Dance: Lucumí
World Arts West Programs
The Middle Passage brought many Africans as slaves to the island of
Cuba, and while they belonged to various ethnic groups, a majority
were Yoruba, from the region which is now called Nigeria. The
traditions so vital to Yoruba life were carried on in Cuba, though
significant changes occurred in the music and dance between West
Africa and the continuation of this tradition in the Americas.
This was due in part to time, distance, and the arduous circumstances
of slavery imposed on the devotees.
in Cuba people have preserved more of the dance and music in these
rituals than anywhere else in the Americas, maintaining knowledge
of the largest number of rhythms, dances, and songs. The Cuban
version of the Yoruba language and cultural expression is called
Lucumí, and the religious system is often called Santería.
the dances, songs, and rhythms honor spiritual entities known
as "Orishas". Through a process often called
syncretism, the ingenious devotees related each "Orisha"
to a corresponding Catholic saint, in order to maintain their
own beliefs and traditions under the guise of Catholicism. Being
inclusive, the Yoruba practice did not lose much of its original
content in its new context in Spanish-ruled Cuba, but transformed
into something unique.
correspond to natural phenomena, such as the sweet river water
belonging to Oshun, Chango the virile owner of lightning, drums,
and fire, Yemaya the nurturing ocean mother, and Ogun the god
of war and hard work. They reflect not only earthly nature, but
human nature as well, and, it is easy to see a little of each
archetype inside of each one of us.
In the early
part of the 20th century, Cubans were forced to go underground,
hiding their ceremonial practices. However, in the late 1950's,
the music and dance associated with these traditions were hailed
as a national treasure, and promoted nationally and internationally
as Afro-Cuban folkloric dance. National dance troupes were formed
and well supported, schools for the arts began to train promising
young performers, and a whole new context for this material was
songs and dances in folkloric performances include interpretations
and choreographed versions of the ceremonial music and dance.
The staged dances often depict and present the characteristics
and personalities of the "Orishas", and tell tales,
or "patakin" describing their adventures.
In People Like Me
2001, the dance company directed by Susana Arenas, called Olorun,
presented a piece entitled "Wemilere." The word wemilere is another word for ceremony, and this piece brought an
interpretation of spiritual and mythic entities from Afro-Cuban
known as Orishas, to our stage. Each Orisha
attributes and personalities in their dance movements.
of such natural elements as the nurturing ocean mother, the
lightning and fire, and the sweet water of the river are danced
batá drum rhythms and a chorus of song, filling the stage with
powerful presence. In this piece, several Orishas
exhibited their characteristics and danced
both individually and
together. The drums played were the
set of three drums of varied sizes, each with two heads.
and hypnotic sounds of the batá along
with the songs that
accompany them, build from slow and sweet
to intense and forceful,
illustrating the diversity of expression
within this one dance and