Jorge Milanes Despaigne
HAVANA TIMES — “Dude, I gave him a good stabbing, ‘cause you can’t hit an Abakua member. The person who lays a finger on me is dead!” one of the young men on the bus said out loud.
His demeanor, like that of the entire group, was quite aggressive and vulgar, drawing the attention of all the other passengers. Sensing this, another person in the group said:
“What? You’ve never seen an Abakua before?”
“Sure I’ve seen one, but I’ve never seen so many idiots together before,” a gentleman next to me replied. During the trip, he explained several things about this fraternal society to me.
One should be careful to separate the founding principles of the Abakua society from the negative social tendency that is gaining ground among some groups of teenagers in Cuba these days. Suddenly, you can find yourself in the middle of a brawl and, without knowing the reasons, become involved, all in the name of the Abakua.
The Abakua secret society emerged in the first half of the 19th century as a response to the dangerous situation that blacks in Cuba were subjected to. It was a means of defense in the hostile environment that slaves and liberated blacks faced at the time.
While it is true that its members vowed not to renounce to African rites and customs and to help one another survive, their discretion earned them a recognition and respect that has survived to our day, even though some practitioners are no longer true to tradition. The same is true of many religions brought over from Africa.
Some young people have come to believe that being a member of the Abakua society is synonymous with strength, masculinity and manliness, and they evince negative attitudes based on false, racist stories that disparage and discredit this syncretic cultural tradition, one that has made important contributions to Cuban identity.
The former practices of the ñañigos, as its members are also known, is incompatible with today’s social context. The society has evolved and is a constant subject of study for multidisciplinary groups, owing to the fact that, in the past, complex gender and race considerations were applied to membership. Today, however, no society can remain secret.