Abakua (11 videos)

The Abakua society in Cuba is a male secret society that functions very much as a mutual aid society in addition to its very powerful spiritual component. It was brought to Cuba from the Efik people of West Africa, who live near the Calabar River that runs between Nigeria and the Cameroon. Thus the descendents of those slaves are referred to as the “Karabali”. There are those that say that clave comes to Cuba directly from the music that the abakua drums play, as the “ekon” or bell always starts the music with a 12/8 clave pattern. There are four drums in this system:

  • The “obi-apa” which is the lowest,                                                                                              
  • The “kuchi-yerema” which is in the middle register                                                                     
  • The “biankome” which is the highest pitched drum                                                               
  • The “bonko enchemiya” which is the largest in size, but not in pitch. It plays the improvised solo passages.

The ekon and drums always have two rattles known as “erikundi” keeping time as well.

The songs of the Abakua are sung in a language known in Cuba as Bricamo, and many of words of that language have become part of Cuban everyday parlance and slang—“ocobio”, “acere”, “monina” for example are all words that even non-Abakuases use in their daily language in Cuba.

One of the Abakua’s distinguishing characteristics is the choreography of the “ireme”, or “diablitos”, which is danced in a costume that completely covers the dancer from head to toe, and which responds directly to the calls of the bonko enchemiya.