The empire beats on: Oyo, Batá drums and hegemony in nineteenth-century Cuba

Miguel Ramos, Florida International University


The Lukumí people of Cuba, currently known as Yoruba, are descendants of one of the mightiest West African kingdoms, the Oyo, Empire. The Oyo-Yoruba were important cultural contributors to certain areas of the New World such as Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad, and to some degree Haiti and the Lesser Antilles. Anthropologist William Bascom has said that “no African group has had greater influence on New World culture than the Yoruba.” After the devastation of the empire around 1825, two new Oyos resuscitated. The first, New Oyo, was established about 80 miles south of the ancient site around 1830. The second Oyo was instituted on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the city of Havana and its surrounding towns. Much of Oyo lie, as ancient Oyo is now called, was transported to the New World, reformed and adapted according to its new surroundings, and, it preserved its reign over its “subjects” through the retention and dissemination of its cultural and religious practices. Using an interdisciplinary approach, this investigation will argue that of all the African groups brought to Cuba, the Oyo-Yoruba were the most influential in shaping Afro-Cuban culture since their introduction in the nineteenth century. The existence of batá drums in Cuba and the cultural components of this musical genre will serve as one of many examples to illustrate the vitality of Oyo cultural hegemony over Afro-Cubans. It is arguable that these drums and the culture that surrounded them were very important instruments used by the Oyo to counter the acculturation of many Africans in Cuba. Likewise, this culture became acculturative in itself by imposing its religious world views on non-Oyo ethnics and their descendants. Oral histories and narratives collected among Lukumí practitioners on the island and abroad have been invaluable archives to supplement and/or complement primary and secondary sources of information.

Subject Area

Latin American history|African history|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Ramos, Miguel, "The empire beats on: Oyo, Batá drums and hegemony in nineteenth-century Cuba" (2000). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI1399164.