"To live without faith is to live a sad, disillusioned life." -- Beneranda, Age 97
Alabbá opens a window into the world of Santeria - a uniquely Cuban religious tradition into which one must be initiated by a "godmother" or "godfather" -- and introduces us to practitioners of the religion ranging in age from their 40s to their late 90s.
The participants in the film describe the moment in which they became initiates - often as a result of an illness, or a desire to heal someone close to them who was suffering. One devotee who grew up in a deeply Catholic family says he was shocked after first being introduced to Santeria by the man who would become his godfather. Considering the religion to be backward, he fled the home and didn't return for five years.
Possession by deities - or orishas - is one of the key practices of Santeria, and followers of the religion discuss their experience of being "mounted" by the orishas, and of their relationships with them. They speak of them as close friends who have accompanied them on their journey through life.
In addition to first-hand accounts, the documentary also includes the histories of three women who were key in the founding of Santeria: Efuche, Latua, and Obba di Meyi. All three were born in Africa and came to Cuba as slaves, congregating in the 19th century at a small wooden building in Havana. The film traces their personal histories - or what is known of them, since Santeria is primarily an oral tradition - and the spread of the religion from the capital to rural Cuba.
Santeria was suppressed and its practitioners persecuted for many years - but oppression seems to have only strengthened the religion. The believers we meet in the film are impassioned and deeply devoted to the orishas that guide them. Interspersed with their testimony is rare footage of religious practices and ritual items.
Alabbá is a fascinating documentary about a little-understood religious tradition. It offers insights that help deepen an understanding of the beliefs and practices of Santeria, and is best viewed by audiences who already have an overview of the basics of the religion.
"The film is evidence of how important faith is for believers and how they can believe that it has never let them down, despite their difficult and impoverished living conditions" - Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database