Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Venture Inside Cuba's Secret Societies

Venture Inside Cuba's Secret Societies
From Masons to Santería priests, photographer Nicola Lo Calzo offers a
glimpse into the island's many subcultures
By Victoria Pope; Photographs by Nicola Lo Calzo
OCTOBER 24, 2016 3:47PM

Why is a man dancing barefoot in the street, a cone-shaped hood covering
his head? And what to make of strange yellow chalk markings or the blood
sacrifice of roosters and doves? These are rituals of a mystical
subculture in Cuba, formed during its years as a Spanish colony and
plantation economy, when West African slaves melded their pantheistic
worship of spirits with features of Catholicism. This blending of
cultures and beliefs gave birth to the country's unique religious
practices: Santería, as well as other mysterious associations and
smaller groupings.

The island's appetite for secret societies can seem boundless. Among
the early settlers were Freemasons, who established a robust membership
among the island's white elite. After the 1959 revolution, the Masons
faced pressure to become part of larger state-controlled associations;
indeed, there were calls by some of their communist members to dissolve.
But their lodges were never closed down, as they were in many communist
countries. Today there are an estimated 30,000 members in 316 lodges.

During the last couple of years, Italian photographer Nicola Lo Calzo
has photographed these mysterious byways, focusing his work in the
cities of Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, and Havana. His subjects include
Santería priests, members of the Abakuá fraternal order, Masons, and
rappers at odds with the authorities for refusing to join the state-run
music industry. All this is part of a larger project, started by Lo
Calzo in 2010, to chronicle the global history of the African diaspora.
In Cuba, his thematic focus is Regla, a reference to Regla de Ochá, the
formal name for Santería as well as the part of Havana where the first
Abakuá lodge was formed in 1836. In its most fluid sense, Regla, which
literally means "rule," also evokes a set of communal values that
sustains a group. Certainly for Cuba's slaves, brought to the country to
labor on sugar plantations, secret societies provided a sense of control
and power that allowed them an escape from the misery of bondage. And up
to the present day, Lo Calzo asserts, these subcultures are sanctuaries
of self-expression. "They open an otherwise firmly closed door to
individuality," he says. "Young Cubans live a unique kind of freedom
that is both personal and shared, far from the prying eyes of the state."

Source: Venture Inside Cuba's Secret Societies | Travel | Smithsonian -

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