Lydia Cabrera

Photo courtesy of the Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida. Lydia Cabrera Papers, CHC0339.

Afro-Cuban Folklorist, Ethnologist, Writer, and Literary Activist

Lydia Cabrera


Lydia Cabrera was one of the first writers to recognize and make public the richness of Afro-Cuban culture. She made valuable contributions in the areas of anthropology and ethnology; she is considered a major figure in Cuban letters. She was born in Havana, Cuba, where at an early age she was exposed by her tatas (nannies) to spiritual practices, rituals, and African stories that awakened in her a special interest for the culture. Due to health issues, she was home tutored from an early age. She completed her studies on her own and earned a college degree, and then did her post-graduate work without attending classes. Her first passion, however, was painting. In 1914, she pursued formal studies at the San Alejandro National School of Fine Arts. Later, after her father’s death, she moved to Paris, France and studied painting for two years at L’Ecole du Louvre. During her stay in Paris, she also began to study eastern cultures and her interest in studying Black culture grew. Cabrera lived in Paris for 11 years, returned home in 1938, and left Cuba again as an exile in 1960. She lived in Spain and the United States, mostly in Miami, where she continued to work for the rest of her long life.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork, her writing integrates the folklore and folklife of Afro-Cubans into the broad context of Cuban identity and nationhood. She focused on storytelling, ritual, and speech in cultural context, aiming to honor and give voice to the stories narrated to her, as she recounted, by the “grandsons, great grandsons, and great great grandsons of the Lucumí people, [who] continue to hold on to their ancestral culture and they haven’t stopped speaking the language they learned during their childhoods, and the language they must use on daily basis to communicate with their divinities.”

In the late 1930s, Cabrera made several trips to Cuba. With the help of her former tatas, she was initiated into the black beliefs and won the confidence of the Afro-Cubans so that they eventually revealed secrets and details of their old culture. She received several honorary doctorate degrees, including one from the University of Miami in 1987. Among her acclaimed works are:

El Monte: Igbo Finda, Ewe Orisha, Vititinfinda (1954)

Los Animales en el Folklore y la Magia de Cuba (1988)

Afro-Cuban Tales – Cuentos Negros de Cuba, translated by Alberto Hernández-Chiroldes and Lauren Yoder (2004)

Olivia Cadaval

Cabrera, Lydia. 1954. El Monte: Igbo Finda, Ewe Orisha, Vititinfinda: Notas Sobre Las Religiones, La Magia, Las Supersticiones y el Folklore de los Negros Criollos y del Pueblo de Cuba. Ediciones C. R., 573 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1957. Musica de los cultos africanos en Cuba.  19 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1959. La sociedad secreta Abakuá: narrada por viejos adeptos. Ediciones C.R, 296 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1969. “Ritual y símbolos de la iniciación en la sociedad secreta Abakua.” Journal de la Société des américanistes. Published by Société des Américanistes. Vol. 58, LES AMÉRIQUES NOIRES (1969), pp. 139-171.

Cabrera, Lydia. 1970. Anagó : vocabulario lucumì  (el yoruga que se habla en Cuba).  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1970. Refranes de negros viejos. Miami: Ediciones C.R.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1970. Otán iyebiyá: las piedras preciosas. Miami [Fla.] Ediciones C.R.,113 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1971. Ayapá : cuentos de Jicotea. Miami, Fla. : Ediciones Universal; Zaragosa, Spain : Cometa, 269 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1972. Por qué …: cuentos negros de Cuba. Ramos, Art. Gráf, 253 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1974. A Mambiala dombja: kubai néger mesék. Európa, 167 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1975. Anaforuana: ritual y símbolos de la iniciación en la sociedad secreta Abakuá. Ediciones R, 498 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1975. Notas sobre Africa, la negritud y la actual poesía Yoruba.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1976. Francisco y Francisca: chascarrillos de negros viejos. C.R., 70 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1977. Itinerarios del insomnio, Trinidad de Cuba. C. R, 68 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1979. Reglas de Congo, Mayombe, Palo Monte. Peninsular Printing, 225 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1980. Koeko iyawó, aprende novicia: pequeño tratado de regla lucumí. Ediciones Universal, 231 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1980. Yemayá y Ochún. New York : CR ; Eastchester, N.Y. : distribución exclusiva E. Torres, 370 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1983. Cuentos para adultos niños y retrasados mentales. Miami, Fla., U.S.A. : Ultra Graphics Corp., 231 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1986. La Regla Kimbisa del Santo Cristo del Buen Viaje. Miami, Fla., U.S.A. : Ediciones Universal, 1986, ©1977, 85 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1987. Supersticiones y buenos consejos. Ediciones Universal, 62 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1988. La Lengua Sagrada De Los Nanigos. [Ediciones] CR, 530 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1988. Los Animales en el Folklore y la Magia de Cuba. Miami, Fla., U.S.A. : Ediciones Universal, 208 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia and Caroll Young. 1989. “Chéggue and Other Stories.” Afro-Hispanic Review. Vol. 8, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER 1989), pp. 17-19.  

Cabrera, Lydia and José Piedra. 1991. “Susundamba Does Not Show Herself by Day.” Latin American Literary Review. Vol. 19, No. 37, Scents of Wood and Silence: Short Stories by Latin American Women Writers (Jan. – Jun., 1991), pp. 54-66.  

Cabrera, Lydia. Lydia Cabrera Papers 1910-1991. Coral Gables, Fla. : University of Miami Libraries, Cuban Heritage Collection..  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1993. La laguna sagrada de San Joaquín. Ediciones Universal, 105 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1994. Páginas sueltas. Ediciones Universal, 579 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1997. “El sincretismo religioso en Cuba.” Guaraguao. M.C. Año 1, No. 3 (1997), pp. 58-76.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 1999. Arere Marekén.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 2001. Vocabulario congo: el bantú que se habla en Cuba : español-congo y congo-español. Ediciones Universal, 294 pages.  

Cabrera, Lydia. 2004. Afro-Cuban Tales – Cuentos Negros de Cuba. Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press. Translated by Alberto Hernández-Chiroldes and Lauren Yoder.  

Cabrera, Lydia, P. González Gómez-Cásseres, and Ivor L. Miller. 2016. “Sample Translation: The Sacred Language of the Abakuá.” Afro-Hispanic Review. Vol. 35, No. 2 (FALL 2016), pp. 124-141.  

Cabrera, Lydia. Grabados rituales Congos.  

Cabrera, Lydia. Musica de los cultos africanos en Cuba.  

Cabrera, Lydia. Bregantin Bregantino : conte nègre de Cuba. Deux contes étranges.  

Cabrera, Lydia. Dictionnaire lucumi-espagnol des Nègres de Cuba