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Cuban Lukum Bt:  Ajb to Oba Ilu
Dr. Ivor Miller, Gainsville, FL: 4/7/2023 - free part of Afro Roots Fest

Miller on Bata

In the 1830’s in Cuba, a Lukum bt drummer’s guild was founded based upon corresponding practices of the Yorb-speaking peoples of the present Republic of Benin and Nigeria, especially the city of ̣ỵ. The historical Alfin (‘divine king’) of ̣ỵ named Ṣng was thought to have reigned in the 1400s, indicating that the bt tradition is at least five centuries old (Thompson 1993: 169).

In the colonial period, Yorb-speakers forcibly migrated to Cuba were known as Lukum (from Olukumi, ‘my friend’). Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz reported that the Lukum bt guild was established in Havana in the 1830s by named African-born specialists, while other lineages were later established in Matanzas (Ortiz 1954 v. 4: 316). The bt initiation club developed exclusively in these two port cities until the 1960s, when it expanded to other parts of Cuba and the Caribbean, primarily through the concert tours and teaching of Jess Prez-Puentes “Oba Ilu.”

In Nigeria during FESTAC ’77, Prez was part of the Cuban ensemble, making him the first person to bring the Lukum bt drums to West Africa. According to eyewitnesses,he was able to interact with the Alfin of ̣ỵ through Bt playing and speaking Lukum. By the late 1940s, anthropologist William Bascom found that many Lukum chants were still easily interpretable by modern speakers of Yorb (Garcia 2013: 10).

Since Prez’s death in 1985, and as I argue largely through his legacy, ceremonial Cuban bt ensembles are currently found on every continent (Miller 2003). -- Ivor Miller


Jess Prez and the transculturation of the Cuban bat drum.” Dialago. n. 7. Center for Latino Research. DePaul University. Spring, 2003

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