The translation and supplementary annotations are by Patricia González (Smith College) assisted by Ivor Miller (University of Calabar, Nigeria) and Victor Manfredi (Boston University). Recently we translated Cabrera's “The Sacred Language of the Abakuá” which compiles over 6000 phrases that she collected while writing “The Abakuá Secret Society”. The terms ‘secret’ and ‘sacred’ are used interchangeably in these titles, referring to the privileged information learned by initiates, and also the ‘sacred’ nature of African heritage as enacted in ritual performance.
Cabrera dedicated this book to Pierre ‘Fatumbi’ Verger (https://www.pierreverger.org/en/), pioneering French historian, ethnographer and photographer of Brazil and West Africa. Verger visited Cabrera in Havana in 1957, and she used many of his photographs as illustrations.
Another problematic expression referencing this culture is ‘ñáñigo’, used in the title of Cabrera’s Abakuá vocabulary "La Lengua Sagrada de los Ñáñigos". This was originally a Cuban ethnic term, probably derived from 'ñanya' a name for the Abakuá body mask (< Èfị̀k nyànyá). However in Cuban popular speech ‘ñáñigo’ came to refer vaguely to any person of the black working class or its ‘underworld’. Contemporary initiates reject this usage and prefer to be called Abakuá.
Considering the complex relationship of the Abakuá culture to its historical sources in the Calabar region of Nigeria and Cameroon, we will add an appendix of African etymologies (to the extent known) and further explanations from living Abakuá members. This supplementary information is clearly distinguished in the notes from the translation of Cabrera’s own words in the main text.
This project is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities through a Scholarly Editions and Translations Grant (2019-2022). Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this report do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.