The town of Jaruco features a traditional town square in front of its church, San Juan Bautista, Saint John the Baptist. The Catholic Church founded the church in the late 1700s in order to attend to the growing number of plantations in the area. Local historian Nelson Tapanes Castellaños indicated a number of items on the church grounds are from this time period (including the bell–made from European metals) and some marble items throughout. However, perhaps, even more valuable, the church has maintained records of the people in the parish since its founding.
Among these documents are notices about Tiburcia Sotolongo y Ugarte’s birth and baptism on San Miguel plantation. Also is an annotation of Josefa Sotolongo y Ugarte’s death only a few years later. There are a number of listings of a few other Afro-Cuban women with the surname Sotolongo in Havana in the early 1900s and possibly from the same plantation. Similarly, Jaruco’s church has records for the nearby Armenteros plantation, and, in Havana, Margarita Armenteros became Tiburcia’s godmother in La Regla de Ocha.
In 1861, Tiburcia Sotolongo (Ochun Miguá) was born on San Miguel Plantation in Jaruco Province, about 8 to 10 miles outside of the town of Jaruco. I had the opportunity, in April 2004, to travel out to the former plantation site. Although there is not a lot standing there, the farmer operating the site brought my research associate, Roberto Gómez Reyes, and I around to see the ruins that he has found.
View from the Parque Escaleras de Jaruco
The gallery above has images of a number of stone and brick foundation structures. These were likely the plantation house and possibly the barn. The enslaved workers held there prior to the 1880s and the labourers later brought to San Miguel probably lived in wood structures. However, this gallery also features images of a few of the standing nineteenth century structures, including the San Miguel train station depot (now converted into a contemporary domicile), and a smokestack from a sugar refinery that likely serviced the location.
The area of Jaruco was a tourist site through the 1970s and well-known for its views and lush tropical forested region. The artist Ana Mendieta carved one of her works, Jaruco Caves, in the popular park site in 1983. Along with local residents, however, we were unable to find the installation. It is possibly covered in vegetation, or, worse, has been removed. Notably, Mendieta intended for most of her installation work to be temporary and for the photographs to function as the intended output.
Near to the Callejón de Hamel, in Central Havana, Regla María Apezteguía has had a very steady business since the 1980s. She paints objects for Afro-Cuban religious practices, and she also conserves and repairs older objects. Below is a gallery of her paños (squares) painted on satin for different oricha.
Regla María Apezteguía, Painter/Conservator
As I researched my first book, I visited Regla a lot. I still visit her when I am in Havana, and she is a good friend. Because I was writing about one specific religious family and its history, however, her work did not exactly fit into that book. I say not exactly, because I did commission a number of celebratory paños from Regalia and presented these as presents for a few santeros that had been very supportive of the project.
I will feature some other galleries of Regla’s work here in this blog in the weeks ahead.
In the early stages of my first book project, I wanted to write about the incredible artistry of Afro-Atlantic temporary devotional offerings. Here are some of the better images from my collection depicting small, site-specific rituals:
For Chango, photograph by Jorge García Alonso, circa 2000
Jorge García Alonso, a photographer for the magazine Opus Habana, shared my interest, and gifted me two photographs from his collection at the start of this gallery.
Over time, as I researched my first book, I found that no matter how visually compelling, a longterm study of temporary devotional offerings wasn’t going to work. There are a whole lot reasons. Foremost among these, however, offerings are usually extremely personal. At the start of my work in 1999 to 2002, I did ask what items left at different sites were for. Most of the people I asked made it clear that I was invading their privacy. OF COURSE I WAS. I was a bit naive. I had a lot to learn.
An anonymous web gallery here is, hopefully, reasonably respectful. I ardently pursued the topic just enough to have these images. I wanted to address how offerings are made because audiences are so full of historical fears and prejudice, and devotional offerings are usually misunderstood. The vast majority of offerings are small tokens: a doll left at a cemetery to set a spirit free; a banana for Changó at the light switch–where the divinity’s electricity can be switched on; two dolls placed together to strengthen a relationship; and a sculpture of Eleguá left at a cemetery to mark a practitioner’s death.
Here, I would just note that most of the religious leaders I worked with insisted that offerings made to seek harm on others through religious arts could only be disastrous. Carmen Oramas Caballery (Oyadina) regularly advises that one should seek happiness for the people in your life who are difficult, “Maybe they’ll move away, maybe they’ll forget about you.” Back in 1998-1999, when noted art historian Richard Brilliant gave me a really hard time about my work (Looking back, I think he just was worried that I wouldn’t be able to justify that this was art and art history), she covered his name in honey and stuck it under her sopera (container) for the divinity Ochún. Not long thereafter he seemed to forget who I was, and started calling me by one of his preferred student’s names. Fabulous.
I spent months reading the documents submitted to Havana Province’s Registry of Associations available at the Archivo Nacional de Cuba. The Registry ran from 1881 until 1976, and organisations (religious or otherwise) that met regularly were supposed to submit paperwork to the government. This mostly meant that organisations run by men were supposed to do this. But, sometimes, women emerge in interesting leadership roles in the Registry.
The printed version of Cabildo Africano Lucumí’s documentation from 1901 is available through a few United States libraries. I will note that a colleague found this document from 1910 for me at the National Archives and photographed it for me, and when I went back to look for it, I never found it cited in the catalogues there. I wonder if there are other pages. It looks like there should be.
Reglamento de Cabildo Africano Lucumí, 1910
Hortensia Ferrer in the 1930s
As part of the blog, here, I’d like to put up galleries of images that I was unable to fit into the book Afro-Cuban Religious Arts due to size restrictions.
Among the outstanding images that I was given permission to share with audiences are a number of portraits and items related to Hortensia Ferrer (1907 – 1992). All of these photographs of Ferrer were taken in Havana, Cuba.