The Yoruba in the construction of Cuban Revolutionary nationalism
This dissertation examines the role played by Afro-Cuban religious myths called patakíes in the Cuban imaginary, focusing on one in particular that appears frequently in Cuban popular culture, about the orichas or Yoruba deities Ogún and Ochún, who are male and female, respectively. The word patakí (or patakín) in Cuban Lucumí liturgical speech refers to an allegory or parable about the orichas that transmits a moral lesson, and is derived from the word pàtàkì, which means “[something] important” in the Yorùbá language of West Africa. Although versions of this patakí differ, the essential story remains the same: Ogún, the blacksmith oricha of Iron, War, and Work, exiles himself to the forest out of shame for a crime he has committed. Human society suffers in the absence of his technological knowledge, yet one by one other orichas fail to convince him to return. Only Ochún, goddess of Love and sweet waters, succeeds in coaxing him to return, using her “soft powers” of seduction, intelligence, and the sweetness of honey. Through exploring varied iterations of this singular myth in Cuban literature, film, popular culture, and scholarship, this dissertation will seek to demonstrate its resonance with the political and racial mythologies surrounding the idea of the Cuban nation, and interpret its deeper implications for Cuban Revolutionary thought through a Yoruba lens of duality and gender, wherein Ogún represents the masculine, and Ochún the feminine, forms of power and intelligence. The dissertation attempts to answer how and why this particular myth is “important” (pàtàkì) to the story of Cuba, and in so doing, argues for a re-centering and privileging of African-derived philosophical frameworks within Cuban Revolutionary thought and discourse.