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Old Oyo Influences on the Transformation of Lucumí Identity in Colonial Cuba


This study examines the correlation between the expansion and collapse of the Oyo Empire, the ethnolinguistic configuration of the migration from the Bight of Benin to Cuba and transformations in the conceptual meaning of Lucumí. Much of the historiography assumes the coherence of Lucumí culture was the result of the "transculturation" or "creolization" of Oyo-centric socio-cultural repertoires in the first third of the nineteenth century, but undervalues symbolic idioms which had already consolidated in Cuba from earlier migrations largely due to Oyo expansionism. The central argument is that a smaller, but more diverse mixture of ethnolinguistic groups - directly or indirectly victimized by Oyo imperialism - established basic Lucumí socio-cultural paradigms in the mid-to-late eighteenth century which were then reinforced and transformed with the massive influx of Yoruba-speakers during Oyo's collapse (c. 1817 - 1836). The two main objectives of this study are 1) to verify that an infusion of Oyo-centric cultural repertoires into pre-existing Lucumí socio-cultural paradigms coincided with Oyo's collapse and a dramatic increase of the Bight of Benin migration to Cuba; and 2) to demonstrate that by the early-1830s Lucumí cultures of resistance in the Atlantic World helped set in motion the ethnogenesis of a transnational "pan-Yoruba" identity. In order to demonstrate this significant transformation, which is at the root of modern-day practices and beliefs of the Afro-Cuban religion commonly known as Santería, this study incorporates theoretical approaches and methodologies deriving from a diverse array of academic disciplines, including: history, anthropology, sociology, ethnology, ethnomusicology and linguistics. Primary and secondary sources include a variety of published and unpublished written and oral data originating from West Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. In particular, documented African names of people from the Bight of Benin can be used to evaluate the likely ethnolinguistic composition of the migration to Cuba; as well as the conceptual meaning of Lucumí between 1826 and 1840. A database of nearly 4,000 names (and their interpretations) has been included with this thesis as a supplementary file.

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