Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brujeria: A remembrance of witchcraft from pre-Castro Cuba by Freddy Fuentes

Martha note: I e-met Freddy Fuentes when he submitted a short, short story to the WMRA Short, Short Story contest. His story didn't win, but I thought it rich and quite wonderful. Freddy, whose father fled the Castro Revolution in Cuba, recently sent me the piece below, which I read with interest and enjoyment and thought you might, as well.

The Dark Women

witches brewing a storm (from a Brujeria website)

Brujeria (witchcraft) followed my father from Cuba. There, he grew up in the family farm, a large farm, about 2,000 acres. According to my father, you entered the property on a driveway that was about ¾ of a mile long and was flanked by sugarcane fields on either side all the way to the house, the house where my father and his eight siblings lived with my grandparents. It was a large home with a rust red terracotta roof; well maintained but not fancy. The furniture, the woodwork, the house itself was built to last; good quality wood and workmanship, but, unlike many more image conscious families, the wood they used, as well as the terracotta on the roof and the tiles on the floor, was indigenous to Cuba. The craftsmanship was also Cuban.

In the front as you approached the house there was a big courtyard followed by an outdoor terrace where locally made rocking chairs were lined up. The house was surrounded by trees that produced the family’s favorite fruits: avocado, mango, orange, guava, lime, papaya, banana, plantain and other fruits less known in the U.S. like guanabana.

Beyond the house and the stables was a sea of tobacco, perhaps 700 to 1,000 acres of tobacco and a couple of smoke houses for drying tobacco, one of which had an attached cigar rolling stable. There, cigars were made by him and his siblings, as well as by the old, Afro-Cuban farm manager who taught them the craft. According to my father those cigars were better than any cigar he’s had since.

There were also a couple of hundred acres of sugarcane, including the cane flanking the driveway in the front. The rest of the land was part grazing land for the animals and part everything you could imagine: rice, beans, onions, peppers, yucca, yams, potatoes, squash, malanga, coffee, a multitude of herbs and other things…. The family/farm was completely self-sufficient – the only thing they bought at the bodega was salt.

Behind this placid beauty, however, a darkness brewed. There were generally accepted practices in what we call Santeria – this was basically a fusion of Catholic beliefs and those brought to the islands by African slaves. Many Cubans, not just Afro-Cubans, practice Santeria, and it’s mostly focused on creating good fortune for oneself and protecting oneself from curses.

On some nights in the farm there were despojos (closest translation would be cleansings) performed by some of the staff, out near the smokehouses. These were sometimes headed by Doña Julia, (She was the wife of the fore-mentioned Afro-Cuban farm manager and cigar maker. (They had six children of their own, had their own house on the property and they were like family.)

These despojos were sometimes attended by my father and his brother. His sisters (my aunts) never attended. Although older than my father, they were honorable young ladies – they were not allowed to leave the house. At the despojo the santeros always dressed in white and wore beads necklaces that showed their rank within Santeria. Drums were played and, among other things, the Babalao, the head priest(ess), would, in tribute to the saints, smoke cigars and drink rum (which he/she would sometimes spray out) in quantities that would render most unconscious. A trance-like state was entered by many in the ceremony, the drums reached crescendos, a chicken would be sacrificed, its blood would mix with rum and sweat, the whole thing reached its climax, at the end the saints are content, and everyone goes home protected.

For harvesting season, seasonal workers came in to help some from Jamaica, many from Haiti. These were the people who introduced my father to brujeria, he witnessed some of their rituals and their ways of cursing those who deserved being cursed. He worried that the curses would be directed at him and his family. There, I believe, were planted the seeds of his paranoia about what an American might call voodoo. He, however, knew that Doña Julia was powerful, and she protected his family.

Thirty-five years later, now in Santo Domingo, my father has 5 kids of his own, we have the “dark” women living in our house. They were our domestic staff. They, like the harvest workers in Cuba 35-years earlier, were also of Haitian descent, and, as we would later find out, were (at least one of them) brujas. My father after a series of suspicious occurrences, decided to bring someone in to sweep the house, and he found the typical curse objects. Among them were dried fish heads wrapped in cloth belonging to my mother, hidden at the top of a linen closet; bloody razorblades with little pieces of paper with our names on them tied to them, in the storage room at the back of the house.

Now, however, we had no Doña Julia to protect us.

Freddy Fuentes celebrating his 2002  Columbia University graduation with his father and mother.
Martha note #2: Freddy Fuentes described himself to me in an e-mail this way:
I’m young[ish] my father is Cuban, my mother was Dominican. My aunt and seven cousins live in Mexico, my sister, niece and nephews live in Spain. My wife is Irish, Scottish, German American. 
My daughters call me papi, they love Cuban black beans and rice as well as Dominican red beans and rice, chimichangas and mac&cheese. We visit friends in Buenos Aires as well as London, dance salsa, listen to NPR, vote, speak English, Spanish and French. 
I dig Jay-Z; I also dig Orquesta Aragon, Mariachi music, and Chopin. Born in the Barrio: 110th and Amsterdam Ave– NYC . . .Returned to the Barrio: Columbia University. I’m the first to get a college degree in my family.
I now live in Lexington, VA with my wife and two daughters and I, along with a partner in NYC, own and run (website is a work in progress)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is such a great story... sometimes an unimaginable things but after reading the happenings you will know it is true.
    Thanks for sharing this story of yours.