Research Guides

Lydia Cabrera



Lydia Cabrera
Introduction to the Lydia Cabrera Collection
Lydia Cabrera (1899-1991)was one of the 20th century's leading writers on Cuban folklore and an internationally known chronicler of Afro-Cuban culture and religion. Her papers, entrusted to the Cuban Heritage Collection, contain ethnographic field notes and artwork, manuscripts, photographs, objects, and correspondence with some of the leading ethnographers, writers, and artists of the time.

The Lydia Cabrera collections at the CHC offer outstanding cultural, educational, and research opportunities on a wealth of topics including Cuban and Afro-Cuban religion and culture, Caribbean, Latin American, Spanish and African literatures and ways of knowing, as well as art, gender, and sexuality.

Materials from the collection are being digitized and placed online with open access, including correspondence, research notes, manuscripts, and photographs. The photographs include portraits of Cabrera and her friends and family, including her partner María Teresa de Rojas, Afro-Chinese Artist Wifredo Lam, Amelia Pelaez, and Josefina Tarafa; photographs of locations throughout Cuba, including Havana, Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba; the restoration of her Havana home La Quinta San José and numerous photos of architectural features of buildings in Cuba, such as churches, houses, forts, and government facilities. Also included are photographs from France, Italy, and Nigeria, as well as photos from Miami, including freedom flights, stores, restaurants, schools, and theaters. 
A Brief Biography
Lydia Cabrera was born in Havana, Cuba on May 20, 1899. Her father, Raimundo Cabrera, was a lawyer. He was a member of the pro-independence intellectuals known as the “generation of 1868” and founder of the literary and political magazine Cuba y America. Lydia, an avid reader, was taught at home. She was strongly influenced by her father’s nationalist feelings and cultural background, her sister Emma’s love of art, and her nannies’ African and Afro-Cuban stories, language and traditions.

Lydia completed her secondary school without ever attending classes and started auditing college courses. Although she published her first articles in the Diario de la Marina at age eighteen, her first love was painting, and she attended the San Alejandro Academy of Arts for a brief period. In 1927, Cabrera moved to Paris to study painting and remained in France for eleven years.

Graduating from L'Ecole du Louvre in 1930, she subsequently studied with Russian exile artist Alexandra Exter. During this time, Lydia began to study Asian cultures and religions, and her research in this area lead to a renewed interest in Afro Cuban culture. Later in her life, Cabrera stated that she “discovered Cuba in the banks of the Seine”. During short trips to her native country, while living in Paris, Cabrera began to make preliminary contacts with the future informants of her ethnology research. Back in Paris, she wrote her first Cuentos Negros. The stories were read at literary gatherings and later published in several reviews such as Cahiers du Sud, Revue de Paris, and Les Nouvelles Littéraires. A French translation by literary critic Francis de Miomandre was published by Gallimard in 1936 as a collection entitled Contes Nègres de Cuba. Cabrera returned to Cuba in 1938 with the purpose of doing research on the subject of folklore, conscious of the need to preserve this vital element of Cuban culture for posterity. The first Spanish edition of Cuentos negros de Cuba was published in1940 in Havana; a second work of fiction, ¿Por Qué? Cuentos Negros de Cuba, Colección del Chicherekú, was published in 1948. Cabrera distinguished her work by writing with a new voice and style and positioned herself at the forefront by conducting field research, which required her to spend years gaining the trust of her informants. She traveled within the island conducting interviews, collecting oral histories, recording stories and music, documenting rituals and practices, and cataloging “Africanisms” of Cuban Spanish. The result was El Monte (The Forest or The Wilderness), published in 1954, a formative work on Afro Cuban religions and liturgy. Cabrera left Cuba as an exile in 1960 and she did not produce any writing for ten years. In 1970, Cabrera published Otán Iyebiyé, Las Piedras Preciosasand in 1971 the third volume of “cuentos negros” Ayapá: Cuentos de Jicotea, followed by other publications. She published one of her most well-known works, Anaforuana, about the secret Abakuá society, in 1975. Her writings in exile are considered by some critics to be among her best because of the intellectual and emotional maturity she had achieved. She had become internationally recognized and honored for her contributions to literature, ethnology and anthropology. She died in Miami on September 19th, 1991. During her long and prolific career Cabrera produced what is considered the most complete and important body of research on Afro Caribbean religions and folklore. She was one of the first to recognize the richness of African culture and its vital contributions to Cuban identity. Her work remains a leading authority of Afro Cuban culture. 
A Brief Biography
Lydia Cabrera was born in Havana, Cuba on May 20, 1899. Her father, Raimundo Cabrera, was a lawyer. He was a member of the pro-independence intellectuals known as the “generation of 1868” and founder of the literary and political magazine Cuba y America. Lydia, an avid reader, was taught at home. She was strongly influenced by her father’s nationalist feelings and cultural background, her sister Emma’s love of art, and her nannies’ African and Afro-Cuban stories, language and traditions.

Lydia completed her secondary school without ever attending classes and started auditing college courses. Although she published her first articles in the Diario de la Marina at age eighteen, her first love was painting, and she attended the San Alejandro Academy of Arts for a brief period. In 1927, Cabrera moved to Paris to study painting and remained in France for eleven years.

Graduating from L'Ecole du Louvre in 1930, she subsequently studied with Russian exile artist Alexandra Exter. During this time, Lydia began to study Asian cultures and religions, and her research in this area lead to a renewed interest in Afro Cuban culture. Later in her life, Cabrera stated that she “discovered Cuba in the banks of the Seine”. During short trips to her native country, while living in Paris, Cabrera began to make preliminary contacts with the future informants of her ethnology research. Back in Paris, she wrote her first Cuentos Negros. The stories were read at literary gatherings and later published in several reviews such as Cahiers du Sud, Revue de Paris, and Les Nouvelles Littéraires. A French translation by literary critic Francis de Miomandre was published by Gallimard in 1936 as a collection entitled Contes Nègres de Cuba. Cabrera returned to Cuba in 1938 with the purpose of doing research on the subject of folklore, conscious of the need to preserve this vital element of Cuban culture for posterity. The first Spanish edition of Cuentos negros de Cuba was published in1940 in Havana; a second work of fiction, ¿Por Qué? Cuentos Negros de Cuba, Colección del Chicherekú, was published in 1948. Cabrera distinguished her work by writing with a new voice and style and positioned herself at the forefront by conducting field research, which required her to spend years gaining the trust of her informants. She traveled within the island conducting interviews, collecting oral histories, recording stories and music, documenting rituals and practices, and cataloging “Africanisms” of Cuban Spanish. The result was El Monte (The Forest or The Wilderness), published in 1954, a formative work on Afro Cuban religions and liturgy. Cabrera left Cuba as an exile in 1960 and she did not produce any writing for ten years. In 1970, Cabrera published Otán Iyebiyé, Las Piedras Preciosasand in 1971 the third volume of “cuentos negros” Ayapá: Cuentos de Jicotea, followed by other publications. She published one of her most well-known works, Anaforuana, about the secret Abakuá society, in 1975. Her writings in exile are considered by some critics to be among her best because of the intellectual and emotional maturity she had achieved. She had become internationally recognized and honored for her contributions to literature, ethnology and anthropology. She died in Miami on September 19th, 1991. During her long and prolific career Cabrera produced what is considered the most complete and important body of research on Afro Caribbean religions and folklore. She was one of the first to recognize the richness of African culture and its vital contributions to Cuban identity. Her work remains a leading authority of Afro Cuban culture. 
Featured List
Biographies and Books about Lydia Cabrera
Cabrera, Lydia, and Isabel M. Castellanos Córdoba. 1994. Páginas sueltas. Miami, Florida: Ediciones Universal.

Marting, Diane E. 1990. Spanish American women writers: a bio-bibliographical sourcebook. New York: Greenwood Press. Pp 105-116.

Castellanos, Isabel; Inclán, Josefina (eds). En Torno a Lydia Cabrera: Cincuentenario de "Cuentos Negros de Cuba. 1987. Ediciones Universal.

Rodríguez-Mangual, Edna M. Lydia Cabrera and the Construction of an Afro-Cuban Cultural Identity 2004 U. of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, NC.

Quiroga, José. Queer Desires in Lydia Cabrera Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America 2000 New York UP New York, NY.

Gutiérrez, Mariela A. El Monte y las Aguas: Ensayos afrocubanos. Madrid: Editorial Hispano Cubana, 2003.

Moore, Robin D. "The Minorista Vanguard: Modernism and Afrocubanismo", Nationalizing Blackness: Afrocubansimo and Artistic Revolution in Havana, 1920–1940. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997: 195–200.

Cabrera, Lydia, Karen Marta, and Gabriela Rangel Lydia Cabrera: Between the Sum and the Parts. NY Americas Society London Koenig Books Köln Buchhandlung Walther König, 2019. 

Works by Lydia Cabrera


Años De Ofún: Recuerdos, Relatos Y Anotaciones
 (colección Caniqui) Mercedes Muriedas, Lydia Cabrera (Illustrator) / Published 1993    

Anagó/Vocabulario Lucumí: El Yoruba Que Se Habla En Cuba. Lydia Cabrera / Published, 1986. (Colección Del Chicherekú En El Exilio)

Consejos, Pensamientos Y Notas De Lydia E. Pinbán (Copiados Por P. Guayaba Para La Benemerita Amerika Villiarbinbin) Lydia Cabrera, Isabel Castellanos (Editor) / Published 1993          

Cuentos Negros De Cuba (Colección Del Chicherekú) Lydia Cabrera, Published 1993.  Also available as a PDF on AfroCubaWeb

Cuentos Para Adultos, Niños, Y Retrasados Mentales (Coleccion Chicherekú) Lydia Cabrera, Published 1996

El Monte Lydia Cabrera Published 1999, also available as Ebook 

Koeko Iyawó, Aprende Novicia: Pequeño Tratado De Regla Lucumí (Colección Chicherekú) Lydia Cabrera Published 1996   

La Laguna Sagrada De San Joaquín (Colección Chicherekú) Lydia Cabrera Published 1993   

La Lengua Sagrada De Los Ñañígos Lydia Cabrera, Published 1988   

La Medicina Popular En Cuba: Médicos De Antaño, Curanderos, Santeros Y Paleros De Hogaño (Colección Chicherekú) Lydia Cabrera, Published 1996 

La Regla Kimbisa Del Santo Cristo Del Buen Viaje (Colección Del Chicherekú En El Exilio) Lydia Cabrera Published 1986.

La Sociedad Secreta Abakuá : Narrada Por Viejos Adeptos. Cabrera, Lydia. Miami, Fla.: Ediciones Universal, Colección Del Chicherekú.  

Los Animales En El Folklore Y La Magia De Cuba (colección Del Chicherekú) Lydia Cabrera 1988

Otán Iyebiyé: Las Piedras Preciosas (Colección Del Chicherekú) Lydia Cabrera Published 1986   

Paginas Sueltas (colección Del Chichereku En El Exilio) Lydia Cabrera, Isabel Castellanos Published 1994          

Refranes de Negros Viejos: La sabiduría popular de los antiguos negros cubanos. (Ancient proverbs told by afro- Cuban elders and written down for posterity by Lydia Cabrera.) Cabrera, Lydia, and Ana Rosa Núñez. Revised ed. Miami, Florida: Ediciones C.R., 1970. Colección Del Chicherekú.

Reglas De Congo: Mayombe Palo Monte (colección Del Chicherekú En El Exilio) Lydia Cabrera  Published 1986 

Supersticiones Y Buenos Consejos (colección Del Chichereku) Lydia Cabrera Published 1988   

Yemayá Y Ochún: Kariocha, Iyalorichas Y Olorichas (colección Del Chichereku En El Exilio) Lydia Cabrera, Rosario Hiriart. 1996      
 
Theses and Dissertations
Bravo, Alex. 2015. The preservation of Afro-Cuban culture in the writings of Lydia Cabrera. Revista Surco Sur, Vol. 5: Iss. 8, 31-35. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5038/2157-5231.5.8.23

Fhunsu, Donato. The Kongo Rule: The Palo Monte Mayombe Wisdom Society. 2017. https://doi.org/10.17615/19j2-a212
Journal articles on Lydia Cabrera and her work
Seligmann, Katerina. Governing Readability, or How to Read Césaire's Cabrera. Inti: Revista de Literatura Hispánica 2012. 75-76 pp.210-222. 13

Dianteill, Erwan; Swearingen, Martha. From Hierography to Ethnography and Back: Lydia Cabrera's Texts and the Written Tradition in AfroCuban Religions. Journal of American Folklore 2003

Kornweibel, Karen Ruth. The Fecundity of Folkloric Space: Revising Hierarchies in Zora Neale Hurston's Mules and Men and Lydia Cabrera's Cuentos negros de Cuba. Comparative American Studies: An International Journal 2004: 2, 4. pp 403-420 18.

Maguire, Emily. Two Returns to the Native Land: Lydia Cabrera Translates Aimé Césaire. Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 2013. 42, 125-137 13.

Vazquez, Alexandra T. Learning to Live in Miami. American Quarterly 2014. 66:3, pp853-873 21.

Hoffman-Jeep, Lynda. Creating Ethnography: Zora Neale Hurston and Lydia Cabrera African American Review 2005. 39:3 pp337-353 17.

Fernandez, R. (2019). Cuba: A Cultural History, by Alan West-Durán, New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids, 93(1-2), 168-169.

de Varona, Esperanza B. and Kirby, Diana Gonzalez, "Documenting Cuban Exiles and the Cuban American Experience in South Florida," Provenance, Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists 17 no. 1 (1999).

Torres, Jonathan (2015) "Ethnographic Surrealism: Authorship and Initiation in the Works of Alejo Carpentier and Lydia Cabrera," Dissidences: Vol. 6 : Iss. 11, Article 1.

Shipp, Ella (2017) "The Study of Afro-Cuban Religions," The Student Researcher: A Phi Alpha Theta Publication: Vol. 2, Article 5

Dianteill, Erwan. "Kongo in Cuba: The Transformations of an African Religion", Archives de sciences sociales des religions, vol. 117, no. 1, 2002, pp. 59-80.

Watts, R. (2000). Translating Culture: Reading the Paratexts to Aimé Césaire’s Cahier d’un retour au pays natal. TTR, 13 (2), 29–45.

Sosa Cabanas, Alberto. Mito, literatura y nación: el mito de Sikán y la construcción del mundo Abakuá en Alejo Carpentier y Lydia Cabrera. Mitologías Hoy, [S.l.], v. 19, p. 101-108, jul. 2019.

 
Newspaper and Magazine Articles
The New York Times, Obituary, Sept. 25, 1991, Section B, Page 10, Lydia Cabrera Dies; Ethnologist, Writer And Artist Was 91.

Review of Lydia Cabrera’s Afro-Cuban Tales by Jaime Manrique, Bomb Magazine, Apr 1, 2005.


The Lydia Cabrera Papers (1910-1991)
The Lydia Cabrera Papers held at the Cuban Heritage Collection - CHC0339

The physical collection of papers, correspondence, field notes, photos, original manuscripts, and objects encompasses 76 archival boxes of material held at the Cuban Heritage Collection. A selection of these materials is digitized while the majority will require consulting in person. 
 
Lydia Cabrera was born in Havana, Cuba on May 20, 1899. Her father, Raimundo Cabrera, was a lawyer. He was a member of the pro-independence intellectuals known as the “generation of 1868” and founder of the literary and political magazine Cuba y America. Lydia, an avid reader, was taught at home. She was strongly influenced by her father’s nationalist feelings and cultural background, her sister Emma’s love of art, and her nannies’ African and Afro Cuban stories, language and traditions.

Lydia completed her secondary school without ever attending classes and started auditing college courses. Although she published her first articles in the Diario de la Marina at age eighteen, her first love was painting, and she attended the San Alejandro Academy of Arts for a brief period. In 1927, Cabrera moved to Paris to study painting and remained in France for eleven years. Graduating from L'Ecole du Louvre in 1930, she subsequently studied with Russian exile artist Alexandra Exter. During this time, Lydia began to study Asian cultures and religions, and her research in this area lead to a renewed interest in Afro Cuban culture. Later in her life, Cabrera stated that she “discovered Cuba in the banks of the Seine”. During short trips to her native country while living in Paris, Cabrera began to make preliminary contacts with the future informants of her ethnology research. Back in Paris, she wrote her first Cuentos Negros. The stories were read at literary gatherings and later published in several reviews such as Cahiers du Sud, Revue de Paris, and Les Nouvelles Littéraires. A French translation by literary critic Francis de Miomandre was published by Gallimard in 1936 as a collection entitled Contes Nègres de Cuba. Cabrera returned to Cuba in 1938 with the purpose of doing research on the subject of folklore, conscious of the need to preserve this vital element of Cuban culture for posterity. The first Spanish edition of Cuentos negros de Cubawas published in1940 in Havana; a second work of fiction, ¿Por Qué? Cuentos Negros de Cuba, Colección del Chicherekú, was published in 1948.

Cabrera distinguished her work by writing with a new voice and style and positioned herself at the forefront by conducting field research, which required her to spend years gaining the trust of her informants. She traveled within the island conducting interviews, collecting oral histories, recording stories and music, documenting rituals and practices, and cataloging “Africanisms” of Cuban Spanish. The result was El Monte (The Forest or The Wilderness), published in 1954, a formative work on Afro Cuban religions and liturgy. Cabrera left Cuba as an exile in 1960 and she did not produce any writing for ten years. In 1970, Cabrera published Otán Iyebiyé, Las Piedras Preciosasand in 1971 the third volume of “cuentos negros” Ayapá: Cuentos de Jicotea, followed by other publications. She published one of her most well known works, Anaforuana, about the secret Abakuá society, in 1975. Her writings in exile are considered by some critics to be among her best because of the intellectual and emotional maturity she had achieved. She had become internationally recognized and honored for her contributions to literature, ethnology and anthropology.

She died in Miami on September 19th, 1991. During her long and prolific career Cabrera produced what is considered the most complete and important body of research on Afro Caribbean religions and folklore. She was one of the first to recognize the richness of African culture and its vital contributions to Cuban identity. Her work remains a leading authority of Afro Cuban culture. https://atom.library.miami.edu/chc0339
 
​Audio Field Recordings
Cabrera, L. and Josefina, T., “Batá, Bembé, and Palo Songs: from the historic recordings of Lydia Cabrera and Josefina Tarafa”, Havana & Matanzas, Cuba, ca. 1957: compiled by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Traditional music for the orishas and ceremonial rhythms featuring batá drums.

Collection AFC 1959/013: "Música de los cultos Africanos en Cuba" compiled by Lydia Cabrera

Fourteen 12-inch discs entitled "Música de los cultos Africanos en Cuba" (Music of the African cults in Cuba), featuring instrumentals, prayers, salutes, and songs recorded in Agramonte, Jovellanos, Pedro Betancourt, and Perico, Matanzas Province, Cuba, by Josefina Tarafa, ca. 1955.  Though the majority of these recordings are of the Lucumí cult, the collection also includes liturgical songs of the Arará and several Congo cults.  The collection includes an article by Lydia Cabrera and one-half linear inch of descriptions and lists.  Unless stated otherwise all songs are accompanied by a combination of drums, metallic idiophones, and shakers. (2E6KP 2469-2767 Musica de los cultos africanos en Cuba)

 
Past Events
Lydia Cabrera Y La Afrocubanía De Su Universo Narrativo, Friday, October 4, 2019
"Regarded by some critics as the most valuable Cuban woman writer of the 20th century, Cabrera’s opus is wide-ranging. Her books Cuentos negros de Cuba (1940), ¿Por qué… (1948) y Ayapá: Cuentos de Jicotea (1971) constitute, together with Nicolas Guillén’s poetry, the most outstanding manifestations of Afro-Cuban literature, in addition to her ethnological chef-d’oeuvre, El Monte (1954), a monumental anthropological volume of close to six hundred pages. Her works touch on the folklore, religion, social sciences and literature of the Afro-Cuban universe. Prof. Gutiérrez will illustrate how Lydia Cabrera’s oeuvre has helped to better understand the particular synthesis of certain arresting elements that were extremely important in the making of the Cuban nation, in which the Afro-Cuban legacy has played a fundamental role. As Gutiérrez points out, without the scientific and literary works of Lydia Cabrera, Cuban history would be a history without metaphor, that transcendental metaphor that characterizes Cuba’s national soul/spirit. It is a primordial and necessary topic to fully understand the glory and pride of Cuba’s cultural legacy."
Past Exhibitions
Honoring Lydia Cabrera's Story: Altar, Performance, and the Living Archive, 2016


"This small exhibit from the Lydia Cabrera Papers housed at the University of Miami was not presented in a conventional museum format. Rather than attempt even a brief chronological, historical assessment of Lydia’s life and work, the relatively few photos and artifacts were arranged as objects on an altar. Altars are gateways for communication between the human and divine, the living and the dead.  As an entry point for getting to know Lydia, the altar symbolized both her important, career-long work on Cuban Santería and her personal commitment to exploring the interwoven meanings of art, folk religion, and spirit. The altar also served as a place of recognition, respect, and remembrance of Lydia Cabrera as an important elder in the Miami Cuban community. More broadly, the altar invited the beholder to experience an approach to archives based in feeling, intimacy, and revelation, what has been pioneered in LGBTQ studies as a “queering” of archives aimed at presenting alternative histories and her-stories apprehended in vernacular, idiosyncratic, interactive encounters with remains."
The American Folklore Society honored Cuban folklorist Lydia Cabrera (1899-1991), prolific scholar of Afro-Cuban religions, poet, artist, feminist, and lesbian on October 22, during the 2016 AFS/ISFNR Joint Meeting in Miami. In collaboration with the HistoryMiami Museum and the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami Libraries, an altar was constructed with materials from Cabrera's life on loan from The Lydia Cabrera Papers. The altar was at the heart of opening Cabrera’s archive as a living expression of her life as a folklorist who lived for many years in Miami.  The altar was curated by Solimar Otero (Louisiana State University), Kay Turner (New York University), Martin Tsang (University of Miami), and Eric Mayer-García (Louisiana State University).

Lydia Cabrera and Édouard Glissant: Trembling Thinking focuses on the ideas developed by the prominent Caribbean thinkers Lydia Cabrera (Havana, 1899–Miami, 1991) and Édouard Glissant (Sainte-Marie, Martinique, 1928–Paris, 2011) and an archipelago of modern and contemporary artists whose works respond to their notions of identity. On view: October 9, 2018–January 12, 2019

Where the Oceans Meet is an exhibition of modern and contemporary art that resonates with the pioneering thought of two Caribbean writers, Lydia Cabrera and Édouard Glissant. The show is comprised of an international group of artists and collectives consider notions of shifting and porous borders—and how crossing borders has shaped our world. They articulate various aspects of the two scholars’ thoughts on race, diaspora, colonialization, creolization, language, and territory, particularly with regards to Miami’s position in a world that never stops turning.  Where the Oceans Meet will be on view until January 12, 2020. Panel discussion with Guillermina De Ferrari, Erica Moiah James, and Alfredo Perez-Triff, moderated by Rina Carvajal.
 

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