e p i lo g u e
Carnal Knowledge
Die ben waar, em ben mi Vleeschmeester, mar mi vleesch no kan
verdraag die. (This much is true, he is the master of my flesh, but
he cannot withstand [persevere against] my flesh.)—slave saying
in the eighteenth-century Danish Virgin Islands reported by the
Moravian missionary C. G. A. Oldendorp
In the summer of 1999, I returned to Regla, where I had last done
fieldwork in the winter of 1995–96. By then, the old ferry landing near
the sanctuary of the Virgin de Regla and patroness of the harbor of
Havana had undergone significant changes. The old embarcadero build-
ing had been closed since the summer of 1994, when young men carrying
crates of gasoline-filled beer bottles and a large frosted cake, from which
they pulled a revolver once the ferry had left Havana, tried to hijack the
ancient, pre-1959 vessel and steer it toward the Florida straits. It was in
the midst of the so-called balsero crisis of that summer that the revolu-
tionary Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (far) had, for the first time
since 1959, opened fire on citizens of the Cuban state. No trace of that
particular event remained by 1999, unless one wanted to count a large
sign posted at the Havana terminal prohibiting bringing beer bottles or
cakes onto the ferry as a memorial to recent bloodshed. However, tucked
away beside the sanctuary on the road leading away from any spot of
obvious tourist interest, one can now see a small marble-framed plaque
reading ‘‘Regla 1836–1996: to the Africans who in 1836 founded in this
town the secret African society.’’ The subtext ‘‘Buro Abacua 5.1.97’’
explains, not only what African society was founded there, but who is
doing the remembering. Currently directed by Ángel Fernández, head of
a revolutionary catering brigade and high-ranking titleholder in abakuá,
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