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Afro-Cuban Tales

Lydia Cabrera

Publication Year: 2005

As much a storyteller as an ethnographer, Lydia Cabrera was captivated by a strange and magical new world revealed to her by her Afro-Cuban friends in early twentieth-century Havana. In Afro-Cuban Tales this world comes to teeming life, introducing English-speaking readers to a realm of tenuous boundaries between the natural and the supernatural, deities and mortals, the spiritual and the seemingly inanimate.

Here readers will find a vibrant, imaginative record of African culture transplanted to Cuba and transformed over time, a passionate and subversive alternative to the dominant Western culture of the Americas. In this charmed realm of myth and legend, imaginative flights, and hard realities, Cabrera shows us a world turned upside down. In this domain guinea hens can make dour Asturians and the king of Spain dance; little fat cooking pots might prepare their own meals; the pope can send encyclicals about pumpkins; and officials can be defeated by the shrewdness of turtles. The first English translation of one of the most important writers on African culture in the Americas, the collection provides a fascinating view of how African traditions, myths, stories, and religions traveled to the New World—of how, in their tales, Africans in the Americas created a New World all their own.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Introduction to the English Edition

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pp. vii-xii

On June 6, 1930, Lydia Cabrera paid her first visit to the home of Calixta Morales, better known in the Ocha Rite by her saint’s name “Oddeddei.” Teresa Muñoz, an old seamstress in her household who was also an ancient priestess in the religion of the orishas, took her there. That meeting left its permanent stamp on her. One might say that there, in Calixta’s ...

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Introduction to the Spanish Edition

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pp. xiii-xvii

This is the first book written by a Havana-born woman. She began studying Afro-Cuban folklore with me years ago. Simple curiosity first led Lydia Cabrera to delve into the forests of Havana’s black legends, and she found them truly delightful. She began transcribing and collecting those stories, and has gathered a large number. When she read some of ...

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Bregantino Bregantín

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pp. 1-19

Now Dingadingá almost never opened her mouth. She was timid, obedient, and well brought up, and this was the first time in her life that she had ever dared to say what she really wanted. The very first time. The king was fond of his daughter because she never pestered him. He was quick to realize that her request was reasonable, for in spite of the day’s heat he ...

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pp. 20-21

“Hold your arrow! This is a time when we are not allowed to hunt. For just as we celebrate the holidays by having fun in the village, the animals have the right to celebrate in the forest.” They went back down to the village. No one was hunting or spilling the blood of any animal. All the men were staying ...

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pp. 22-24

Once there was a fisherman. It had been a long time since any fish had wanted to bite on his hook. They would just steal his bait and make fun of him. Whenever he pulled his nets in, nothing! Just trash. So he put aside his gear and stopped fishing. ...

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pp. 25-28

There were two sisters: Walo-Wila and Ayere Kénde (sometimes called Kénde Ayere). Walo-Wila never went out in public. No one had ever seen her. Ayere Kénde would sit on the balcony. Leaning on the railing, Ayere Kénde would enjoy the cool of the evening sea ...

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Two Queens

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pp. 29

Once there were two queens. Two Lucumí queens.1 They lived across from each other. One's name was Eléren Güedde, and the other Oloya Gúanna. ...

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Papa Turtle and Papa Tiger

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pp. 30-56

Back in the days when the world was young, the frog had hair and put it up in curlers. In the beginning, everything was green. Not only the leaves and the grass and everything else that’s still green today, like the lime and the grasshopper, but also all the rocks, the animals, and man, whom Oba-Ogó1 created by blowing on his doodoo. ...

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Los Compadres

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pp. 57-83

All of us are children of saints, and all of our meanness and the pleasure we take in sinning comes directly from them. Following some run-ins with women, the most saintly saint of all had to flee Tácua country and ended up in the Ochún region. Changó was his name, or St. Bárbara, who also goes by Obakoso, Alafi, Agadgu,1 Dádda, Obaiyé, and Lubbeo ...

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Mambiala Hill

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pp. 84-96

He always had some pretext or another, reasons he called “vocational.” And since he was witty and loved to talk, and since he could play the guitar so well, it was really hard for anyone to refuse him whatever he asked. Especially since it seemed like he hardly ever asked for anything at all, just a few pennies for a cheap cigar and some rum, leftovers from a ...

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The Easy Life

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pp. 97-102

They had a child without really trying. They lived happily, doing nothing, nothing at all that required any effort. Sleeping like logs, singing and dancing, that’s how they spent their time. Everybody else was heading slowly toward the end of their lives weighted down with work and fatigue, but these lazy people had everything they needed and always had ...

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Apopoito Miamá

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pp. 103-111

She had bright eyes and straight hair, did the mulatto woman. She was sensuous and festive, even more seductive than Oyá (the Candlemas virgin), quite a husband snatcher and still single. She made men crazy for love, and they left their wives for her. ...

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pp. 112-117

Early in the morning the women would go to work the fields. They would sow peanuts, sesame, rice, manioc, and okra. The men would go deep into the virgin forest to hunt. ...

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Arere Marekén

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pp. 118-121

The king's wife was a very beautiful, young-looking woman. The king wanted her always to stay close to him, but she used to go to the market every morning. While the king was getting dressed, he would tell his wife: ...

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The Green Mud of the Almendares

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pp. 122-126

Billillo, a carriage driver, loved Soyán Dekín, but he had never told her so because he was afraid she’d reject him. No doubt she was pretty, conceited, and cantankerous, but he knew that he was no small potato. ...

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pp. 127-131

He was jealous. Asleep or awake, that octopus in his heart gnawed away at him. So he took his wife and left the village. She was young. ...

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pp. 132-134

Sparrow was a real braggart. He brought together all the people of his race. Then he called Ox, with whom he was always bickering and quarreling, and announced: “I’m going to cut all your heads off. And then I'll show you that I can put them back on.” ...

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pp. 135-140

In Mr. Tiger’s house, there’s no cook. Nobody’d look for a job there. Who would be a cook in a tiger’s house? Who would dare? They eat whatever the cook brings them in big pots. And then they eat up the cook! That’s what they’ve always done. It’s their custom. ...

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Hicotea’s Horse

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pp. 141-143

Br'er Horse stopped in his tracks, hardly knowing what to say. In the heat of the moment, caught off guard like that, nothing came to mind. But later in the evening when he came back to the stream, he shouted to the tortoise, chopping his words off one by one too:

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pp. 144-149

That’s what Hicotea said to the Creator, thinking that he was safe in his cozy home, when he saw the roof of his den lift off and the walls begin to whirl around him. The Negress had picked the largest yam, the nicest and the most worthy of her appetite. Hicotea recognized the shadow of a hand – that beast of prey – and began to cry out like an offended ...

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The Amazing Guinea

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pp. 150-158

One morning, Br’er Rooster was tormented by hunger. He hopped over the branch fence and walked and walked and walked and walked. Br’er Rooster walked for miles and miles. Just as he was about to give up all hope, he found – oh, what a miracle! – a lovely property covered with grain. ...

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The Letter of Emancipation

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pp. 159-162

Back in the days when animals could speak, when they were all good friends and when men and animals got along fine, the dog was a slave. Even then he loved men more than anything else. ...

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The Mutes

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pp. 163-165

On the first night, the moon looked like a thin strand of hair. On the next, like the edge of a transparent sickle. Next it looked like a slice of juicy honeydew melon, and then like a round millstone. Finally it dropped off into the night’s deep mouth, where the Eternally Hidden, the person whom no one has ever seen and who lives at the bottom of the bottomless, ...

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The Watchful Toad

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pp. 166-169

There was a pair of twins who wandered alone all through the world. They were no bigger than a grain of millet. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780803204362
E-ISBN-10: 0803204361

Page Count: 169
Publication Year: 2005