Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Nigerian Origins & Cuban Meanings Of The Word "Lukumi"

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides excerpts of selected online articles and discussion forum comments about the word "lukumi". Additional excerpts are from online introductions from Lukumi dictionaries/glossaries.

The content of this post is presented for etymological, historical, and cultural purposes.

Note: I compile hyperlinked excerpts of online articles/discussion threads to make pancocojams visitors aware of these resources and to help increase the likelihood that those online articles/discussion threads will be preserved for the historical and cultural record.

I encourage pancocojams readers to click on those links and read the full articles, discussion threads, and dictionaries/glossaries.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

These excerpts are given in no particular order. I've numbered them for referencing purposes only.

Article Excerpt #1:
From THE INCOMPLETE YORÙBÁ GUIDE TO LUKUMÍ [retrieved Feb. 23, 2017]


Like many “aleyos” I first came into contact with Orisha worship while travelling to Cuba. I went there to study popular Latin percussion and ended up taking folkloric batá drum lessons. Years later I was learning songs and prayers of the Lukumí-people, as the Yorùbá descendants call themselves there - from my Padrino. I always wanted to know their exact meaning and recognized that interpretation varies a lot. As I was enrolled in African language studies as a student at first I thought it should not be too difficult deciphering the Yorùbá. I started taking private Yorùbá classes with a Nigerian teacher and got into the “retranslation-issue”. I wanted to share some of my personal experience in this post.

The term “Yorùbá” itself has its roots in the Hausa people and their language in the northern parts of Nigeria. They call their neighbours in the south today still “Bàyarabé”. This name was adopted by the colonists and over the centuries became “Yorùbá”. The Yorùbá people in the past would have defined themselves as the subgroup and dialect group they belonged to, linked to different kingdoms, not as a single ”nation”. Also in Cuba various “cabildos de nación” existed, with names like Oyo, Egguado, Ibada, Iyechá, Ketu, Ife etc. This shows that Yorùbá slaves once sticked to their local identities even in the diaspora of slavery. In their own language Yorùbá would call themselves “ọmọ Odùduwà”, childs of Oduduwa. Nowadays the term “Yorùbá” is of course widely in use and many Lukumí in Cuba also use it to describe their culture.

Slave-trade grouped African people together into different categories. Loose ethnic or local descriptions were used for people of the same origin, like Ewe/Fon-speaking slaves from the area of the city Alada in today's Republic of Benin became registered as “Arara” at the port in Havana, or ”Rada” in Haiti. The term ”Lukumí” comes from a name that was given to a certain region in Yorùbá-land called "Ulkami, Ulcumi, Ulkuma, Lucamee" and can be found in historic maps from colonial times in West Africa. In Cuba this became the name for Yorùbá speaking people to refer to their own “nation”.

For this article I differ between Yorùbá, the spoken language in Nigeria, and Lukumí, the remains of this language as used by the Spanish-speaking people in Cuba for reciting prayers and songs of their ancestors. The language Yorùbá had no written form up to 1850, when Samuel A.Crowther, a freed Yorùbá-slave, translated the bible into Yorùbá. He was educated and raised by Christian missionaries in Sierra Leone, where many captured slaveships where unloaded by the British. He developed the first standard of written Yorùbá, using the English alphabet based on Oyo and Ibadan dialects...

There is also a general tendency to mark Yorùbá-words in Lukumí with a diacritic mark on the end of the word, as a kind of general sign for any Yorùbá-word. In my experience it is often pronounced correctly in speech, but when it comes to writing, Lukumí often does not correlate to the spoken language. Like the Yorùbá-term “Òsùn” (Ifá-staff, known as “Oricha guerrero” in Cuba). Although written “Osún” or “Ozún” in Lukumí it is always pronounced with an emphasis on the first syllable. It seems like the diacritic marks often are just used for decorating a word of African origin....

Yor. Èṣù = Luk. Echú (name of Orisha)
Yor. Ọya = Luk. Oyá (name of Orisha)
Yor. bàtà (shoes), bàtá (name of a drum) = Luk. batá (shoes, name of a drum)
Yor. Ọbàtálá = Luk. Obatalá (name of Orisha)
Yor. ìlù (drum), ilú (city) = Luk. ilú (drum or city)
Yor. ọ̀tá (enemy), ọta (stone) = Luk. otá (enemy or stone)
Yor. ara (body), ará (people), àrá (thunder) = Luk. ará (body, people, thunder)….

Yor. Ṣ = Luk. CH

The Yorùbá “ṣ” sound, depending on the dialect, is more or less like the English “sh” in “shoulder“ and does not exist in Spanish. Instead it became a strong and sharp sounding “ch” sound (pronounced like in English ”etching”), almost without any exception. Wande Abimbola said in the book “Ifá will mend the broken world” there are also Yorùbá dialects which pronounce the “ṣ” in this strong way and maybe this is also due to the influence of slaves from the Kétu or Ònkò region. Although it is obvious that it has to do a lot with Spanish influence as well.

Yor. àṣẹ = Luk. aché (universal energy)
Yor. Òrìṣà = Luk. Oricha (spiritual entity)
Yor. Ọ̀ṣun = Luk. Ochún (name of Orisha)
Yor. aṣọ = Luk. achó (piece of clothes)
Yor. ṣaworo (jingling bells) = Luk. chaworó (bells on bàtá-drums)
Yor. double vowels = Luk. one vowel"

Article Excerpt #2:
From ttps:// [translated from Spanish to English]

01/11/2007 History
Voice of Yoruba African origin, belonging to Afrocuban cultural and religious lexicon, and, more specifically, Santeria, Afro-Cuban popular religion, often used as a synonym for Yoruba, especially in religious contexts related to the Santera religion.

In any case, the origins and the evolution of the term are very confusing, since it was introduced massively mainly in the XVIII and XIX centuries, with the development of the sugar industry. Some specialists have argued that it is related to Ulkumy, a region situated to the east of the kingdom of Dahomey, in present-day southern Nigeria, which, beginning in 1734, began to appear in documentary sources under a different name, Ayo or Oyó. It was one of the regions where thousands of Yoruba slaves, kidnapped by the traffickers of European and American men, went to the islands of the Caribbean and many other American ports. Scholars like Heriberto Feraudy have pointed out, however, that the Lucumí voice comes from the term yoruba olùkumi "I am a good man", that would have been repeated by the slaves, by way of protection or protest of innocence, when they were deported.


BARNET, Miguel. Afro-Cuban Cults: The Rule of Ocha. The Rule of Palo Monte (Havana, 1995).
FERNÁNDEZ MARTÍNEZ, Mirta and PORRAS POTTS, Valentina. The ashé is in Cuba (La Habana, 1998).


Source: Britannica"

Article Excerpt #3:
"Of all the New World societies, Cuba received captives from the greatest mix of African origins. They came from all parts of the coast and interior of western Africa, their numbers dwarfing all reliable estimates of the number of captives brought to the entire United States. Between 500,000 and 700,000 Africans reached Cuba, the majority arriving in the nineteenth century. The size, diversity, and continual replenishment of this population allowed a rich array of African-inspired religions to flourish there, even beyond the end of the slave trade.

The gods of West Africa are called orisha in Yoruba, oricha in Spanish. Yoruba people also speak of a supreme being, Olorun or Olodumare, whose power or life-energy, called ashe, becomes manifest through both ancestral spirits and the orisha. In Cuba, as in Haiti, West African gods became paired with Roman Catholic saints in syncretistic relationships. In Cuba, the ruler of lightning, called Shango in Yoruba and Chango in Spanish, is identified with St. Barbara. Ogun, the lord of iron and technology, is identified with St. George, Babalu Aye is identified with St. Lazarus, and Yemaya, goddess of the sea, with Our Lady of Regla, the patroness of a Havana suburb.

It has long been common to call Cuban oricha-worship “Santería” because of the identification of the orichas with the saints. However the term is now being rejected by those who think it overemphasizes the Catholic and syncretistic elements. Increasingly, many within the Afro-Caribbean tradition prefer to call it La Regla Lucumi, “the order of Lucumi,” or La Regla de Ocha, “the order of the orichas.” The term Lucumi is said to derive from a Yoruba greeting meaning, “my friend.”

In the past few decades, Santería, or La Regla Lucumi, has come to the United States with Cuban immigrants: in New York, for instance, some believe the Statue of Liberty embodies the presence of Yemaya. Botanicas selling the religious articles, herbs, candles, and images of the tradition proliferate in Miami, Seattle, and New York. It is estimated that between 250,000 and one million practice Santería in the United States. However there is no visible infrastructure, and most practitioners, if asked, would publicly identify themselves as Catholic.”...

Article Excerpt [Discussion Forum] #4:
Re: Yoruba Language Is The Most Influential Nigerian Language Outside Nigeria. by Ptolomeus(m): 9:31pm On Feb 03, 2012Re: Yoruba Language Is The Most Influential Nigerian Language Outside Nigeria. by Ptolomeus(m): 9:31pm On Feb 03, 2012
"Dear friend amor4ce
Reading his interesting presentation, I noticed that you separate the Yoruba language of the "Lucumi" languaje. The term "Lucumi" is widely used on the island of Cuba to refer to both the Yoruba language as them. In my work as a researcher, some documents refer to the term "Lucumi" became so used to calling the Yoruba, under which they (the Yoruba) very often used the phrase "Lukumí" that mean something in Yoruba as "my friend"...

Re: Yoruba Language Is The Most Influential Nigerian Language Outside Nigeria. by amor4ce(m): 1:03am On Feb 06, 2012
"The Yoruba-speaking people of Cuba who are called Lucumi just might be the descendants of their fellow Yoruba speakers in Delta state of Nigeria who call themselves and their Yoruba dialect Ulukwumi. Note that some Igbo people on this forum have been trying to claim the Ulukwumi as Igbo."

Article #5 & #6
#5: From
"Ulukwumi is a small Yoruba language spoken among the Edoid languages of Delta State, Nigeria."

A language of Nigeria
L1 users: 10,000 (Crozier and Blench 1992).
Edo state: Esan South East LGA, west of Niger river."
From “The Joshua Project” indicates that there are 18,000 Ulukwumi in Nigeria. “Ulukwumi” on that page refers to the ethnic group-a subset of Yoruba- and to the language that they speak.

Article Excerpt #7 & #8
"The Lucumí people are an Afro-Cuban ethnic group[1] of Yoruba ancestry[2] that practice La Regla Lucumí.[3][4]"

"Lucumí is a Yoruba dialect and the liturgical language of Santería in Cuba.[3][4] It is sometimes known as Yorùbá.[5] It is the language of the Yoruba people, brought to the New World by African slaves, and preserved in Santería, Candomblé, and other transplanted African religions. The Yoruba descendents in these communities, as well as non-descendents that have adopted one of the Yoruba-based religions in the diaspora, no longer speak any of the Yoruba dialects with any level of fluency. And the liturgical usage also reflects the compromise of the language whereby there isn't an understand of correct grammar nor proper intonation. Spirit possession by the Yoruba deities in Cuba shows that the deity manifested in the devotee at a Cuban orisa ceremony delivers messages to the faithful in Bozal, a type of Spanish-based creole with some words of Yoruba language as well as those of Bantu origin with an inflection similar to the way Africans would speak as they were learning Spanish during enslavement."

Article Excerpt [Dictionary List] #9
"Lucumí Vocabulary

Lucumí or Lacumí is the Yoruba language as it is spoken in Cuba and the United States. Yoruba is a tonal language like Chinese...

I should note here that Lacumí is an oral tradition and that the written versions were meant to be more "cheat sheets" than anything else and should not be used as "proof" of the decomposition of the language. Lakumí speakers in Matanzas and other areas speak very much as any Yoruba speaker would. I have spoken with Nigerian born Yoruba speakers in Lacumí without any difficulty whatsoever. In fact, on one occasion I was greeted with a very surprised "you speak Yoruba!!!" from the astonished Yoruba man I was speaking with.”...

Article Excerpt #10
"Santería, also known as Regla de Ochá , La Regla de Ifá,[1][2] or Lucumi is a syncretic religion of Caribbean origin that developed in the Spanish Empire among West African descendants. Santeria is also a Spanish word that means the worship of saints. Santería is influenced by and syncretized with Roman Catholicism. Its liturgical language, a dialect of Yoruba, is also known as Lucumí."

Article Excerpt [Glossary] #11
"A Glossary of Lucumi Words and Ideas

This glossary of English, Spanish and Lucumí terms aims at illuminating aspects of How to Greet Strangers, not at providing a full description of the Lucumí religious tradition also known as Santería. For further information, see: Santería: African Spirits in America by Joseph M. Murphy; Santería Enthroned: Art Ritual and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion by David M. Brown; and The Diloggun: The Orishas, Proverbs, Sacrifices, and Prohibitions of Cuban Santeria by Ocha’ni Lele.

Unless a word is noted as English, this glossary follows Spanish rules for accent. If an accent is marked, the stress of the word falls on the marked syllable. Words with unmarked accents are to be pronounced according to normal Spanish rules: on the next to last syllable if the word ends in a vowel, n or s; in all other cases on the last syllable. Modern Yoruba, sister language to Lucumí, has its own system of accent and other diacritical marks. The Spanish accent system is more accurate to the pronunciation of these words in the Yoruban diaspora in both Cuba and the United States."...

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