Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Sherry Johnson

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Leslie Northup

Third Advisor's Name

María del Mar Logroño

Fourth Advisor's Name

Noble David Cook


Lucumi religion, Yoruba religion, Afro-Cuban religion, Fernando Ortiz, Cuba and De-Africanization, Cuba, Afro-Cuba, Orisha religion, Santeria, Congo peoples in Cuba, Carabali peoples in Cuba, Lucumi peoples in Cuba, Abakuá society, Ñañigos, Anti-witchcraft campaigns Cuba

Date of Defense



The status, roles, and interactions of three dominant African ethnic groups and their descendants in Cuba significantly influenced the island’s cubanidad (national identity): the Lucumís (Yoruba), the Congos (Bantú speakers from Central West Africa), and the Carabalís (from the region of Calabar). These three groups, enslaved on the island, coexisted, each group confronting obstacles that threatened their way of life and cultural identities. Through covert resistance, cultural appropriation, and accommodation, all three, but especially the Lucumís, laid deep roots in the nineteenth century that came to fruition in the twentieth.

During the early 1900s, Cuba confronted numerous pressures, internal and external. Under the pretense of a quest for national identity and modernity, Afro-Cubans and African cultures and religion came under political, social, and intellectual attack. Race was an undeniable element in these conflicts. While all three groups were oppressed equally, only the Lucumís fought back, contesting accusations of backwardness, human sacrifice, cannibalism, and brujería (witchcraft), exaggerated by the sensationalistic media, often with the police’s and legal system’s complicity. Unlike the covert character of earlier epochs’ responses to oppression, in the twentieth century Lucumí resistance was overt and outspoken, publically refuting the accusations levied against African religions.

Although these struggles had unintended consequences for the Lucumís, they gave birth to cubanidad’s African component. With the help of Fernando Ortiz, the Lucumí were situated at the pinnacle of a hierarchical pyramid, stratifying African religious complexes based on civilizational advancement, but at a costly price. Social ascent denigrated Lucumí religion to the status of folklore, depriving it of its status as a bona fide religious complex. To the present, Lucumí religious descendants, in Cuba and, after 1959, in many other areas of the world, are still contesting this contradiction in terms: an elevated downgrade.





Rights Statement

Rights Statement

In Copyright. URI:
This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).