The Light Inside: Abakuá Society Arts and Cuban Cultural History, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

The Light Inside

Abakuá Society Arts and Cuban Cultural History, 1st Edition

By David H. Brown


318 pages

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Hardback: 9780367246525
pub: 2019-04-30
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Originally published in 2003, The Light Inside is a ground-breaking study of an Afro-Cuban secret society, its sacred arts, and their role in modern Cuban cultural history. Enslaved Africans and creoles developed the Abakuá Society, a system of men’s fraternal lodges, in urban Cuba beginnings in 1836. Drawing on years of fieldwork in the country, the book’s novel approach builds on close readings of dazzling Abakuá altars, chalk-drawn signs, and hooded masquerades. It looks at the art history of Abakuá altars, not only tracing changing styles but also how they evolve through cycles of tradition and renovation. The Light Inside reflects the essence of the artists’ creativity and experience: through adornment, altars project the powerful spirituality of Abakuá practice, an aesthetic strategy. The book also traces a biography of Abakuá objects – their shifting forms and meanings – as they participated in successive periods of Cuban cultural history. The book constructs close rhetorical and visual analyses of changing representations of the Abakuá, spanning nineteenth-century arts and letters, modern ethnographic texts, museum displays, paintings, and late twentieth century commercial kitsch. This interdisciplinary work combines art history, African Diaspora, cultural studies and cultural anthropology with Latin American.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Part I: "The Light Inside": Abakuá Society Arts and Modern Cuban Cultural History

Introduction: Meanings, Methods, and the Cultural Biography of Things Abakuá

2. The Abakuá Society and the African Society Diaspora

3. Abakuá Altar Arts: Ekue, Representation, and the Banner of Regla’s Efori Eñongo

4. Cloth and Signs: West African Ukara and the Iconography of Regla’s Efori Eñongo

5. Altars, Offices, and Multiple Meanings

6. "Symbolic Drums:" Innovations and Inventions

7. The Íremes and Their Sacos

Part II: El Nañígo "Graduates"

8. Pictures, Performances, and the Police: Changing Contexts for Costumbrista Arts

9. Struggle over Possession of the Secret: The Museuming of the Nañígos’ "Most Sacred Effects"

10. From Atavism to Modern Primitivism

11. From Primitivism to Folklore

12. We were Teaching How to Ask the Black Man About Very Private Personal Things: Afrocubana, the Triumph of the Revolution, and Socialist Folklore

13: "The Ethnographic Museum" and the Cuban Revolution

14. Conclusion: The Abakuá Society and the National Narrative




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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / General