Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Garabato for Oggún

Catalog Number: B024




Religion and Denomination: Santería (Cuba, Yoruba)
Transatlantic Family of Religion: Orisha
Ethnographic Origin: Cuban (Caribbean)
Materials: Beads
Usage: Ritual (used)
Detailed Description of Significance:

This hooked staff, a garabato, is symbolic of Oggún, one of the oldest orichas. God of minerals and tools, he is often depicted as  blacksmith, who also dominates the secrets of the forest and knows how to use them in enchantments. His physical strength allows him to personify the warrior and the irascible and strong man. In fact, Oggún is also often known as the intense and often violent Lucumí divinity of iron and war, who usually is imagined as a physically powerful and bulky man with dark skin. His children are the proper ones to sacrifice animals, because Oggún is the owner of kuanaldó (knife). He dresses himself as mariwó (skirt made of palm tree leaves) and with a ribbon around the head. Furthermore, in various sources including the documentary Oggún, he holds a machete which he uses to cut the thicket where he walks.      

The garabato, or sugarcane hook, is modeled on the tool used by sugarcane harvesters to grab the stalk without incurring the risk that the sharp leaves of the plant will cut the hands and arms of the harvester.  After the harvester uses the garabato in his/her left hand to secure the stalk, the harvester uses a machete in his or her right hand to sever the stalk from its base. 

Hence, the garabato invokes the idea of securing good things for its owner while circumventing the obstacles and the pain associated with the pursuit of these good things.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

The garabato is classically associated with the messenger god Elegguá, whose garabato is usually painted red and black or is beaded in alternatings sets of three beads in each color, as Elegguá’s sacred number is three.  This tool resembles the curved extension or hook on the head of Elegguá and his avatars in Brazil and West Africa.  When he possesses his priest, Elegguá typically dances with a red and black garabato in his hand. 

Like many “tools” (herramientas) that are typical of one god, this tool has entered the repertoire of other, usually related gods.  A person whose tutelary god is Oggún must have a garabato consecrated to this god. Oggún’s sacred color combination is green and black, and his sacred number is seven.  Hence, on this garabato, the decorative beads are arranged in alternating sets of seven beads in each color.  It sits in or next to Oggún’s cauldron altar.

The garabato also resembles the hooked sticks that are preferred in the cauldron altars of the spirits (inquices) of the Cuban Palo religion.