Saturday, June 25, 2011

Cuban Africans: The Arará

The people known in Cuba as the Arará came from Dahomey, what is today the Benin Republic. They included Fon, Popo and Ewe groups, as well as some conquered peoples to their north. Arará cabildos were founded in Cuba as far back as the 17th century, and their names reflect regional and ethnic differences - hence the denominations Arará Dajomé, Arará Sabalú and Arará Magino. The second is a reference to Savalu, a town in northern Dahomey that was conquered by the Fon. It was inhabited by the Mahi people, recalled in the cabildo name "Magino." Many members of the Mahi priesthood were sent into slavery in the Americas, and they had an especially strong impact on Haiti vodun.

The name Arará is derived from the Dahomean city of Allada, and is related to the term Rada found in Haiti and to Arrada on the tiny island of Carriacou in the Grenadines. In both cases the name refers to Dahomean styles of drumming. Other outposts of Dahomean culture in the Americas include houses in the Brazilian cities of Sáo Luis do Maranháo, Salvador, Recife and Porto Alegre. In Cuba the Arará were always a minority overshadowed by the Lucumí, and their distinctive cultural identity is now in danger of disappearing. Arará centers are still to be found in Ciudad de Matanzas, Jovellanos, Máximo Gomez and el Perico, all in Matanzas.

One characteristic of Arará music is the use of hand clapping and body percussion. (source:

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