Guanabacoa Museum: Cult to the Orishas

Reina Magdariaga Larduet writes about the beauty of the Guanabacoa Museum (Cuba) and its ongoing exhibition on religious syncretism. Among the many related activities this summer, those interested in Yoruba culture can expand their knowledge on the original Guanabacoa settlement or villa. The capital municipality is included in this year’s “Rutas y Andares” (Routes and Walks) project organized by the Havana City Historian’s Office. The visit begins at the Potosí Hermitage and includes an Abakuá temple, the workshop of visual artist Arturo Montoto, the recently inaugurated Artists Casa, and the Municipal Museum, where visitors can watch a folkloric performance. Magdariaga Larduet writes:

An attractive exhibition on popular religious syncretism, profoundly rooted in the Cuban population, is displayed in the Guanabacoa Municipal Museum, to the east of the capital. Popularly known as the land of the Babalaos (Santería priests), this locality, founded in 1554, was an important settlement, associated with the slave trade which began in the 16th century. Western Sub-Saharan Africa sustained the island’s slave population with mostly young men and women, as acknowledged by Cuban anthropologist Miguel Barnet in a written comment on display at the Museum. [. . .] One reflection of this reality is the permanent exhibition on the Regla de Ocha or Santería, and the cult to Ifá, the Reglas Congas, and Abakuá societies in the institution’s ethnological salons.

Of the Museums seven salons, five are dedicated to religious syncretism, museologist Grisel Martínez informed Prensa Latina in an exclusive interview. Visitors can see what has aroused the greatest interest, given its significance: Regla de Ocha or Santería, the religion brought by Africans from western Nigeria and fused with the Catholicism imposed by the Spanish in that period, Martínez noted. This manifestation is known as Catholic syncretism; in other words the resemblance the Africans found between what are known as Orishas and the Catholic saints, although Santería does not have images, those who practice it worship stones or objects, she explained.


The cult of the Abakuá Secret Society, exhibited in another salon, arrived from southern Nigeria, from the former Calabar, and is a mutual aid fraternity confined to men. Belonging to the society means being ruled by a code, which establishes that they must be proven good sons, good parents, good brothers, but above all, must defend the secret of their religion to the death, if necessary, Martínez continued. This cult is the only one originating in Africa to have temples and worship outside the home. Its only practice outside of the African continent is in Cuba, specifically in Matanzas province and in five Havana municipalities (Regla, Marianao, San Miguel, Arroyo Naranjo and Guanabacoa).


This is the most primitive religion of all, Bantu African in origin, developed by slaves from the Congo and linked to nature and all its elements, and uses an iron recipient, the Nganga. Three branches of this cult are practiced in Cuba: the Briyumba, Kimbisa and Mayombe, the Museum’s information poster notes, and its initiates receive the name of palero or palera. Its highest leader is Tata Nganga.

For full article (in English), see

For photos and more information on Guanabacoa, see

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s