As for the negative stories associated with the society, he added that the Abakuá have been persecuted by almost every government in Cuba's history even though it has grown in strength to nearly 20,000 members belonging to 150 lodges in Matanzas and Havana today.
"As the Abakuá grew in membership, these governments tried to check our influence with disinformation campaigns. Those stories are false and many stem from drunken brawls during Abakuá parties during which brothers, many of whom were dockworkers or from the lower class, would get out of hand," Guerrero said.
Through November 28. Miami Dade College Centre Gallery, 300 NE 2nd Ave, Bldg 1, 3rd Fl, Miami; 305-237-7186, www.mdc.edu.Through November 30. Contemporánea Fine Art, 1555 SW 8th St, Miami; 305-642-3080.
Ekobio Mukarara — "white brother" — is a large round painting in which the ghostly outline of a man bleeds through a tarry black background scribbled over with the ritual symbols and identifying seals of the different Abakuá groups on the island.
It is Orbein's tribute to Andrés Petit, who convinced others in the secret society to allow white men into the brotherhood in 1863, becoming the first organization in Cuba to allow membership regardless of race.
Although membership comprised slaves early on, Guerrero said that when slave owners entered the brotherhood, their dues were used to help buy freedom for slave members later on.
"You have to understand that for plantation owners, a horse was worth more than a slave," Guerrero explained. "As the Abakuá rebelled against these conditions, we became a powerful force for change."
Orbein agreed, mentioning that Chano Pozo, a Cuban singer and conga drummer who played with Dizzy Gillespie; and Martin Dihigo, a ball player who is in Cuba's baseball hall of fame, were Abakuá initiates and that society members have influenced Cuba's music, art, dance, and history.
"What bothers me is that even though the Abakuá helped hide revolutionary Gen. Antonio Maceo from the Spanish during Cuba's War of Independence, you can't read about it in our history books, and that's what we have to address," Orbein said.
Despite its sometimes impenetrable nature, his exhibit still conveys with engaging forcefulness the enigmatic nature of this secretive brotherhood.