HAVANA TIMES — Eight years after creating the Tonga project, its members – who go by the African names bestowed on them during a religious initiation (Afibola Sifunola Umoja and Logbona Olukonee Umoje) – launched a bulletin “designed to promote and empower the voice of Afro-Cuban, non-heterosexual women in Havana.”
Well, folks, on May 22, this bulletin, named Tutututu, was launched by the project at the El Pilar, Atares community center located in Havana’s neighborhood of Cerro.
The authors hope to publish a free, printed and digital version of the bulletin independently and on a monthly basis, and to post it on Facebook and the following web address: http://negracubanateniaqueser.com/2015/05/25/un-boletin-para-la-mujer-lesbiana-afrocubana/
The publication in question includes poetry and other literary segments, as well as parts devoted to hair styling and health issues. It also includes a classifieds section and information about music get-togethers, concerts, visual art exhibitions and other cultural events.
The publication’s logo was designed by Las Krudas, a well-known Cuban hip-hop group made up of Vegan activists, poets, performers and designers who represent autonomous, feminist lesbian women of Afro-Caribbean descent.
The almost 50 people who attended – in show of their support for the launching of the bulletin – included the artists Africa Reina and Nieves Nivis (“La Torbellino”), Mirta Portillo, creator and founder of the Afropalabras Festival and other spoken word artists, narrators, story-tellers, rappers, performers, poets and lyrical artists, all of whom tell us of their own lives and defend, next to others, the past and new manifestations of “black culture” in Cuba.
Other artists such as Elier Antonio Alvarez Arcia, who organizes a spoken poetry festival in Cuba, also attended.
Words on the Side
The girls from Tonga – both of them Cuban – satisfied my curiosity regarding their African names. They told me about a common initiation ritual conducted by Africa’s Yoruba peoples, where the names of children are decided when these are believed to be ready for them, during the first two or three years of life, in accordance with their character and the energy they emanate.
Their initiation was carried out in Havana some years ago. Nehanda Abiodum, well-known former Black Panther, was their godmother.
Logbona Olukonee “means a person who is a wise teacher (…) many of the names we have in this country are linked to the process of colonization. If I am an Afro-descendant, why should I have a European name? (…) This is a personal search, the process of identifying more with my ancestors. I decided to hold my ceremony and I spoke with Nehanda.”
Afibola Sifunola: “we did it when we were already quite old. We were re-born together, as spiritual twins.”
Through the spoken word, this artist offers a feminist, emancipatory, black discourse, a contemporary way of writing poetry that will reach women, particularly black women. The poetry she makes has a lot of influence from hip hop music, having developed within this movement in Cuba.
Regarding the Tonga project, Logbona Olukonee says: “it is a place for liberation, a space for freedom, for searching, for stepping out of the colonial system.”
* Tonga: a settlement of run-away slaves (known as Palenque in Cuba and as kilombo o quilombo in Brazil and River Plate countries”
*Umoja: An African word meaning “unity.”