Learn about the history of the Yoruba Cabildos in Cuba

During slavery in the Caribbean, it was the custom of white masters to separate Africans from the same nations to hinder communication between them.

However, from the first century of the Spanish colonization and the African slavery in Cuba the “cabildos de nación” were formed. The cabildos were slave organizations, or ex-slaves, that met according to their ethnic or national origin. These fraternities or societies, which were called cabildos, were allowed by the Spaniards in Latin America and consisted of a board or association of a religious nature. Its origin lies in Seville during the fourteenth century and since then these councils were used by the authorities, in addition to promoting the Catholic religion, to control the various ethnic and social groups in the community. The first cabildo of which one has evidence in Cuba was the Changó chapter created in 1568.

In the councils of African nation, the positions were established according to the class social pyramid of the time. Three heads of each sex were chosen and one of each gender exercised as the principal, which reflects the importance of the female presence in their ancestral customs. Members of both sexes were chosen for their social prestige within the group, for possessing certain religious hierarchies and for the respect of their relatives. In the same way, the office conferred a certain official recognition when accrediting him as representative of his original African nation before the colonial authorities.


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The membership of the nation councils was characterized by social and economic plurality. The unifying element was that all had been slaves at some point, which prompted them to fight for the emancipation of other slaves. The cabildos also collected money for times of need (hunger, disease, death). They also provided the slaves with the opportunity to consult their deities and ancestors, maintain their African idiosyncrasy in a new environment, their music, dances, songs and prayers, to the rhythm of their drums.

The Spanish colonial authorities allowed the councils to participate in the parade commemorating the Day of Kings. African organizations played their instruments and danced their traditional dances. Due to the neighbors’ complaints about the “unpleasant sounds” that came from the drums, the town councils were located on the outskirts of the city, which gave them greater autonomy in their actions when they were less watched. With the nineteenth century, and due to the constant slave revolts, the regulations were increasingly strict, until the councils were banned in 1888.

Initially, the cabildos of nation grouped to slaves born in Africa and of a same African origin, but with time cabildos with several nations and even, of criollo slaves were formed. With the turn of the century, the councils were transformed into cultural, political and mutual aid societies; Through them, Afro-Cubans defended their rights during the first half of the 20th century. Although in its origin, the cabildos were conceived as a strategy to control the slaves, they served as weapons of cultural resistance and, at the same time, propitiated transculturation in Cuban society.




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