Lydia Cabrera–Afro-Cuban Tales

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In a sublime synthesis of traditional folklore and imagistic surrealism, Lydia Cabrera’s Afro-Cuban Tales questions the normative spaces occupied by bodies. Deriving from animist tradition, her characters exist in an impossible multiplicity of spaces, being at once animals and plants, humans and gods. Cabrera’s characters endure trials of biological identity and social co-existence, and through these problems they internalize authority, evince taboos, and create a social code. Cabrera’s trickster characters provoke, challenge, or otherwise disrupt the symbolic order of this code. In “Bregantino Bregantín,” a story that recalls Freud’s primal horde theory, as well as the work of more contemporary theorists such as Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler,  narcissist Bull kills all the males of his kingdom and takes all the women for himself.  The sadistic titular turtle of “Papa Turtle and Papa Tiger” uses the power of his dead friend’s antlers to shame, torment, and torture the other animals of his community. And in the magical realism of “Los Compadres,” Capinche seeks to put the horns on his best friend Evaristo by sleeping with his wife–a transgression that ends in necrophilia. This union of sex and death, creation and destruction is the norm in Cabrera’s green and fecund world; the trickster’s displacements of order invariably result in reanimation, transformation, and regeneration—the drawing, stepping-over, and re-drawing of boundaries. A couple of days, Bob hipped me to this really cool Run Wrake short film called Rabbit. While not directly related to Afro-Cuban Tales, this film nonetheless captures the book’s key themes and motifs of death and resurrection, transformation and language, and the trickster’s power to disrupt social and familial codes. Highly recommended.

2 thoughts on “Lydia Cabrera–Afro-Cuban Tales”

  1. I appreciated the cultural implications of Cabrera’s research of the Yorba traditions and religious figures. Her adaptation in fable-like stories can be interpreted at an academic level, yet children also appreciate the description narrative. A great cultural find! And just plain fun to read the short stories!

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