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

Liturgical Drums of the Abakuá Men’s Initiatic Society

Catalog Number: B347


Manuel Martínez Navarro (aka Manolo Escaparate) and his team, Calle Sexta #22 % Calle A y Calzada Bejucal, Arroyo Naranjo, Havana; +525 22216; +535 441 2991


Drums (Smallest to largest):

Diameter: 19.05cm / 7.5 inches
Height : 15.24cm / 6 inches
Height + Plumero : 68.58cm / 27 inches

Diameter: 21.59cm / 8.5 inches
Height : 15.24cm / 6 inches
Height + plumero: 78.74cm / 31inches

Diameter: 23.495cm / 9.25 inches
Height: 17.78cm / 7 inches
Height: 96.52cm / 38 inches 

Diameter: 20.32cm / 8 inches
Height : 29.21cm / 11.5 inches
Height + plumero : 105.41cm / 41.5 inches

Religion and Denomination: Ocha (Cuba, Yoruba)
Transatlantic Family of Religion: Ekpe
Country of Origin: Cuba
Ethnographic Origin: Caribbean
Materials: Glass
Usage: Ritual (used)
Detailed Description of Significance:

This family of drums was crafted in 2014 by Manuel Martínez Navarro (aka Manolo Escaparate) and his team for the Afro-Cuban Abakuá initiatic society, which is historically related to the Ekpe, or Leopard, initiatic society in what is now eastern Nigeria and western Cameroon.  It was brought to Cuba by Efik and Ibibio enslaved people.  These drums have been “baptized,” with the animal blood, which, in Afro-Atlantic religions, is understood to bring a whole range of previously inanimate objects to life. In Cuba, the members of the Abakwá society are also known as the “Leopard Men” (los hombres leopardos).  Hence the artificial leopard skin on the largest drum.  In their sacred performances the drums, the masquerades, and the leopard men who dance those masquerades are closely associated and are, in a sense, the same people.  Manuel, known by most as Manolo Escaparate, is a babalao diviner and the leader (Nasakó) of the Isún Efó chapter (plante) of this initiatic society in Havana.  The name of the chapter means “The Face of Abakwá Sorcery” (la Cara de la Brujería Abakwá.”  He and his assistant Elier Macías del Valle tell me, “Men speak of the drums as though they were people.  Yes, each drum is [corresponds to] a person who holds an office in the religion” (Hablan los hombres de los tambores como si fueran personas.  Sí, cada tambor es una persona que tiene cargo en la religion, p.c. 10 July 2014).  From left to right, in Illustration 41, the drums are called Encrícamo, Ekweñong, Empegó, and Eribó.  Eribó is also known as Seseribó, Sese Eribó, Sese, and Obong-Entuí (“the Mother of Abakuá”).  The Eribó drum is also associated with the African woman who is said to have founded this spiritual practice, Sikán, and it is credited with the power to “re-birth” men as members of Abakuá.  Each plumed rod (muñón) also corresponds to a founding ancestor of this initiatic society and to an office and a current office-holder in the lodge that owns the drum ensemble.  During processions, they are carried side-by-side in this order, with the largest drum on the right.  The two middle drums are normally turned a bit toward each other in order to “protect the secret” (guardar el secreto).  Like a bishop or the Pope, Eribó wears a crown, the cross at the top being a further reference to his apical authority in this religion.  Both the crown with its cross and the chalice-like shape of the Eribó mark its makers as members of a “white” chapter of the Abakuá society—that it, one whose lineage originated from the controversial but strategic, mid-19th-century admission of whites to this mutual-aid society.  Manolo told Matory during Matory’s 2/18/16 visit to Manolo in Arroyo Naranjo that these drums have been consecrated.  Ivor Miller’s history of the chalice-shaped drum of the white Abakuá lodges suggest that the Eribó drum of the Sacred Arts Collection contains efori, or “medicines,” associated with the Afro-Cuban but Kongo-inspired Kimbisa religion.  The founder of the earliest white lodges, mulatto Andrés Petit, began the practice of inserting these medicines in order to protect the white brothers (mukarará) of the Abakuá initiation society from the ill will of those black or mulatto brothers who objected to the admission of whites to the brotherhood.  Like the other paraphernalia of the white lodges, their Eribó drums imitate the forms and the material lavishness of Roman Catholic sacred objects, a practice that many black and mulatto brothers regarded as extraneous to their tradition, ritually useless, and ostentatious.  (Miller 2009: Chapter 4).  These drums are meant to go with the set of Abakuá staffs purchased two years later.  See item #B348.