Wednesday, July 8, 2009


The import of slaves first from the neighbouring island La Española (Santo Domingo) and then from Africa to Cuba began in 1515. The importation of slaves continued until the year 1873. Slavery represented various ethnic groups: Yoruba speaking cultures of the current Nigeria territory, Bantu speaking cultures from Congo River region and other ethnic groups including Arará and Carabalí cultures.

It might be that two enslaved Africans, Juan Garrido and Juan Cortes arrived in America and Cuba even before 1515. In 1522 300 African slaves were imported to Santiago de Cuba. African slaves were imported to Cuba to replace enslaved Aboriginals, who were virtually exterminated in the early days of colonization.

Periods African slaves brought to Cuba
1764-1790 33 400
1791-1820 281 600
1821-1827 39 900
1828-1841 179 900
1842-1861 137 000
1862-1873 84 000
(Guanche, J. 1983. Procesos etnoculturales de Cuba. Ciudad de la Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas.)

In some cases to the African slaves were allowed to play drums and also allowed the grouping of companies in the form of relief, so-called cabildos. Even within the barracón Africans were allowed to have their holidays, and apparently also have their saints.

The origin of the famous carnivals in Santiago de Cuba are in fiestas de cabildos known as fiestas de mamarrachos, Mamarrachos were held on June 24 (St. John’s [Midsummer] Day), June 29 (St. Peter’s Day), July 24 (St. Christine’s Day), July 25 (St. James the Apostle’s Day) and July 26 (St. Anne’s Day). The origin of carnival in Havana is Dia de los Reyes, or Epiphany (January 6).


The ethnic group of the greatest cultural dominance in Cuba is by the ethnic name Lucumí or Yoruba from west of the Niger river. Yoruba-speaking ethnic subgroups are Egguadó, Iyesá, Eyó or Oyó, Enquel, Epa, Iechas, Tacuá, Nagos, among others.

The Batá drums are the most important in the music of Afro-Cuban Santeria (Regla de Ocha) religion of Lucumí or Yoruba ethnic background, with some differences in the ways of implementation between Havana and Matanzas. The three Batá drums okónkolo, itótele and iyá, are religious in nature. In Cuba Batá drums are used in cults of all orichas or deities in Santería religion, even though it recognizes the vital relationship of those with Changó. Changó is deity of thunder, music, dance and entertainment. Video

Bembé is the name applied to a party to cheer the pantheon of gods or orichas on the Regla de Ocha. The instrumental ensemble of Bembé is currently characterized by its heterogeneity and the use of other drums like the tumbadora and the bocú. Video


Africans called Congos in Cuba were originated from the Bantu area extending from the mouth of the Congo River. Bantu-speaking Congo ethnic subgroups: Loango, Bafiote (Bavili) Bacongo, Mayombe, Mondongo. Angola, Angunga or Congo reales, Biringoyo, Bosongo, Bangame, Cubenda or Cabinda, Motembo, Mumboma, Musundi, Mumbala, Masinga, Banguela, Munyaca, Musungo, Mundamba, Musoso, Entótera, Embuyla, Loanda, Matumba, Mobanque, Mombasa, Musabela.

The Regla (norm or rule) Conga known in Cuba as Palo Monte comes from the Bantu area in West Africa. Palo Monte religion is based on the cult of the Nganga or container containing various minerals, plants and animals, which symbolized the forces of nature concentrated on an object.

The instrumental arsenal is diverse in Congo ethnic subgroups, which have enabled major changes in their uses and names.

During the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries Yuka was the best known music and dance of Bantu origin from central-western Cuba. The names of individual Yuka drums come both from the Bantu languages and the Spanish. The largest drum is known as caja or yuka. In a very small area of Pinar del Río they also use the name tajona. The medium drum is called mula, llamador or dos golpes and the smallest as cachimba, tumbador, llamador, tercero, repicador or un golpe. In the instrumental ensemble of Yuka the role of metallic sound comes from agricultural tools like guataca (hoe) or cowbell. They also have coco or guagua, which means the habit to play with two sticks on the wooden surface of one of the drums. Yuka drums accompany a dance also called Yuka. In Yuka dance man is chasing the woman to perform pelvic thrust with same kind of gesture as vacunao in guaguancó (rumba).

In the nineteenth century until the first half of the twentieth century Makuta drums abounded in the Centre-West region of Cuba. The Makuta instrumental ensemble consists two makuta drums, one idiophone of wood (guagua) (most often the players strike with one or two sticks on the surface of the Makuta drums) or metal (guataca) and a pair of small shaking idiophones. The biggest Makuta drum is called caja, ngoma or nsumbi. The other Makuta drum is called kimbandu, kimbanso, llamador, abridor or bombo.

In Cuba the presence of Kinfuiti spread throughout the western region of the island during the nineteenth and early decades of the twentieth century. The only actually active cult with Kinfuiti drum can be found in Quiebra Hacha, Mariel, Havana.

Along with ékue the kinfuiti is one of the two examples of friction percussion instruments in Cuban folkloric music. Kinfuiti means the drum, its music and dance venerating the image of San Antonio de Padua or Ta Makuende Yaya. Kinfuiti instrumental ensemble in Quiebra Hacha consists a kinfuiti drum, three ngoma drums, guataca and maracas.


Slaves of the Carabali ethnic group were imported from the eastern part of the Niger from the old Calabar. Carabalí ethnic subgroups: Efik, Ibó, Ibibio, Bibi, Apapá, Abalos, Abaya or Abad-ya, Acocuá, Berun, Brass, Bricamo, Briche, Elugo, Hatan, Isiegue, Suama or Isuama.

The members of cabildo Appapá Carabalí founded the first Abakuá potencia, juego or plante (generic name given to each society) Efik-Butón in 1836. It was composed of slaves and free blacks in the neighbourhood of Belén in Havana. The Abakuá potencia’s main purpose was the protection and mutual assistance of its members and the preservation of the cultural traditions of their areas of origin. From the first moment, the Abakuá potencies were secret, because they were persecuted by the colonial authorities. The Abakuá potencies membership was allowed for men only.

The instrumental ensemble biankomeko is the most important example of the Carabalí influence in Cuban folkloric music. This kind of instrumental ensembles of religious Abakuá potencies extended since the beginning of the nineteenth century to the port areas of Havana and Matanzas.

The drum in the biankomeko group is called enkomo which means little speaking drum in efik-language and is usually applied to the three smallest ones, while the largest is known as bonkó enchemiyá. The small enkomo drums are obi apá, kuchi yeremá and biankomé. The biankomeko instrumental ensemble consist also ekón or the cowbell, itones (the player strikes two sticks on the surface of the bonkó enchemiyá) and erikundi (two woven maracas). Video


Slaves of the Arará ethnic group were imported from the center and south of Benin (formerly Dahomey), from ethnic integration ewe-fon. In Cuba they were called Arará. Arará ethnic subgroups: Arará magino, cuévano, sabalú, dajome, agicón, neaeve.

The first Cabildo Arará magino was founded in Havana in the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century many Arará cabildos were formalized in major cities like in Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

In Cuba there is a great diversity in the names of the individual Arará drums. In common use are the names caja, mula and cachimbo, which are same as the names of Yuka drums. The major Arará drum is also called asojún, junga or ojún dajó. The smaller ones are called with diverse names like yonofó, aplintí, güegüe, klokló, akuebí, junguedde, juncito and jun. The Arará instrumental ensemble consist also ogán or guataca and acheré (cheré) rattles.


Slaves of the Mandé ethnic group (in Cuba Mandingo and Gangá) were imported from area what is today the Republics of Guinea and Sierra Leone. Gangá ethnic subgroups: Gangá arriero, fay, bombalit, ñadejuna, taveforú, gorá, bucheg, bromú, conó, cramo, longobá, maní, quisi o kissi, susu.

The original names of these Gangá drums have been lost. Actually they are called from lowest to highest as caja, salidor or mula and cachimbo or segundo. The Gangá instrumental ensemble consist also guataca or cowbell and two acheré rattles.


Slaves of the Ashanti (in Cuba Mina) ethnic group were imported from the former Gold Coast (now Ghana). Ashanti ethnic subgroups: Mina Popo and Mina Fanti.


Macuá ethnic group is the only indication of eastern Africa in Cuba. Slaves of the Macuá ethnic group were imported from the northern part of the Zambezi River, in the present Republic of Mozambique.

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