Out of the Shadows
Santeria: The Afro-Antillian Religion of the Lucumisby JSR:.
On the history of Santeria... It was in the days of the conquest...manpower was needed to cultivate the land and to work hard, very hard. The native inhabitants of this newly discovered land enslaved by the conquerors were dying by the hundreds every day. The solution, to bring slaves from Africa...it was the XVI century. Slaves were brought by the thousands during the XVI-XIX centuries to the new world, to what is today Central and south America, the Caribbean and the southern portion of North America. These slaves came mainly from the south western coastal region of Africa, region in were the nations of the Yorubas, Arara and Lucumi dwelled. These Africans were strong, clever, highly independent hard working beings who were also very religious. Among the many brought to the new world there were artisans, musicians and most important: priests, doctors and sorcerers who were three independent classes often confused as being the same thing. Priests were in charge of the religious life of the members of his nation or tribe; doctors took care of the physical health and sorcerers were a kind of "outlaw priests" who almost invariably lived outside of the villages. Doctors and priests worked in common accord: the doctor took care of the physical while the priest took care of the spiritual. Many times however, both functions were performed by the priest but not the other way around. The sorcerer offered his services for any purpose; that is, to perform good or evil, being to perform evil that his services were most often sought. Secret societies or Brotherhoods formed a very important part of the communal life. Men formed artisans brotherhoods, hunting and fishing brotherhoods in were the art of each was taught. Women also had their own "Sisterhoods" in were the arts and skills of becoming a good wife were taught. There were also religion oriented brotherhoods whose members had to belong to the "clergy". Even the sorcerers belonged and promoted their own versions of these brotherhoods. These nations lived very close to the coast, for fishing and hunting game was ample and also because they felt protected from the attacks of several other warrior nations that lived inland. As a matter of fact many of the slaves who were eventually brought to the new world were prisoners of war belonging to defeated tribes on wars with other African nations who sold them to the slave traders. But their security was short lived...because the white men came. The Africans who were brought to (what is now) the Caribbean, Central and South America were in a sense, lucky. Here they found almost an identical weather, flora and similar fauna that enabled them to quickly adapt to their own ways of "thinking" and to some extent, of living. And it is at this point that the history of modern day "Cult of the Orichas" (cult of the saints) begins... Customs and traditions of the white men were forced on the new inhabitants; particularly, religious ones: Catholicism. They had no choice, it was submission or to face certain death...so they yielded...aparently, for the similarities among the catholic way of worship and their own became quite obvious. When the catholic priest spoke of Jesus they saw "Olofin"; when they spoke of God they saw "Olordumare"; when they spoke of the Holy Spirit they saw "Baba Nkua" and so it was with the rest of the Catholic Saints... So it was that under a disguise of conversion they were able to sustain and even promote their ancestral religion:"The religion of the Orichas (Saints)". Another factor that contributed to the proliferation of their religious practise was that of "sympathetic" masters. These usually were slaves masters who owned their health (or the health of any other family member) to a "local" Santeria priest (they were expert herbalists). On other occasions, African sorcerers helped some of these owners get out of embarrassing situations with the help of their "magic" (namely, manufacturing of potions for poisoning, for inducing sleep, as stimulants, for inducing abortions, etc. etc.). These particular type of help was only given when the sorcerer was certain that the master who requested his services (Thru the intervention of a friendly slave who was the link between the sorcerer and the master) could be trusted; sorcerers didn't dare to take the initiative of using their magic against any of the white men, for the price if known was severely high: Death by torture; sometimes, "Blanching", that is, taking the skin off the live slave exposing the white portion underneath. In any case it was complete annihilation of his family, himself and any other slaves suspected of helping him. In Cuba and some portions of the Caribbean this religion is known as "Santeria" or The religion of the Saints. In Haiti it is known as "VooDoo", in Brazil is "Macumba" and in some portions of the lesser antilles "Candomble". The differences in naming this religion has its roots in history itself... Spain, Portugal and France were the commanding colonizing nations of these portions of the new world. Spain colonized Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Cuba, Mexico and some other countries The "slave hunting grounds" for Spanish, french and Portuguese slave traders as mentioned before was the south western coast of Africa. However, they avoided as much as possible each other, so they not only "captured" African slaves who belonged to different African nations, but after their capture and in order to survive the slaves learned and adapted the languages and cultures of their captors. Spanish colonies slaves came mostly from the Yoruba and Lucumi nations, as well as the slaves of Portuguese colonies. French colonies received a high influx of slaves belonging to the Arara nation; however, these groups were not culturally or linguistically entirely homogeneous. Yoruba was the name of a language spoken by many small kingdoms who collectively then were referred as the Yoruba nation. Lucumi is a compound word of the Bantu dialect: luku- many, mi- a suffix to indicate a town, people together, so "Lucumi" means many people. Arara was also a language spoken by many kingdoms and those kingdoms were referred to as the Arara nation. Slaves learned the languages and dialects of other slaves and of course, the language of their captors. Thru this interaction the different names for the religion of the Orichas developed, and also many of the ritualistic and dogmatic differences of this religious system of today has its roots in that same inter-cultural exchange. Santeria, VooDoo, Macumba and Candomble are just different names for the "same" religious practice, that is, "the cult of the Saints" which is also called "The Lucumi Religion" or "Yoruba religion". There is also another name by which Santeria is referred to: "The Society of Ocha" (the society of the saint) but this name is not widely used. While developing in the grounds of the new world, the Lucumi religion acquired the "flavors" imparted by their mixed African practitioners of each particular area. In Cuba it developed as Santeria, in Haiti as VooDoo and in Brazil as Macumba. Not only the names are different; but some of the ceremonials, rituals and general religious practices differ. Santeria is a word in Spanish which means "the religion of the Saints", and saints in Yoruba is "Orichas" or "Ocha"; Voo-Doo is accepted as meaning Voo- "introspection", Doo- "into the unknown". Although Catholicism influence can be strongly felt in todays Afro- antillian religions, they still conserve, to a high degree, their original African ritualistic and ceremonial practices. This is particularly true when speaking on the rituals of VooDoo. Today, Nigeria occupies the original territory of the Lucumis and Yorubas, and there is the sacred city of Ife, the holy city of all practitioners of the religion of the Orichas (Saints). Ife is considered by the adepts as the original dwelling of the saints of the religion; there they can not only find several holy places but also trace descendants of great Babalochas (High priests) and even descendants of Ochas (saints). *** On the "Theology" of the Lucumi Religion. The Lucumi religion has dozens of entities called "Saints", and are these saints the deities of the religion. Each saint has a domain of power and spheres of influence, which the santero shares thru his interaction with them. In the Yoruba religion "saints" have a more diverse and broader meaning than the Christian use of the term. Orichas are treated and considered "gods" by the adepts of Santeria. In Santeria orichas "work" to cure the sick, to foretell the future, solve conflicts, remedy tough situation, join marriages and to reconcile enemies; that is, to establish harmony and provide advise. They perform "miracles" which are very hard to explain but whose effects are undeniable. So the true Santero "works" only for good...but what about those who call themselves Santeros and perform evil?...Well, lets go back to history... Among the slaves brought to the new world there were some African sorcerers who found an excellent ground amidst the thousands of slaves in the colonies in were to exploit their abilities and recruit adepts. They were feared in their homeland and they also became feared in the new world. It was very easy for them to find followers and recruit pupils among these oppressed people. These "Kimbiambus-Sua Musu" and "Kimbiambu-Sua Kai" (male and female sorcerers) formed secret societies or brotherhoods who evolved parallel to Santeria and eventually some of these societies "blended", giving birth to a perverted, desecrated version of "Santeria". Regretfully many of todays' so called "Santeros" belong to this variation of the Lucumi religion... Some of the Orichas in Santeria were the souls of those who died who by their merits were granted "power" to become "Saints". However, the majority of them have become such by their direct blood link with the original or first orichas created by Olordumare (God). Africans believed in immortality; but in a very peculiar way...According to Lucumi tradition, when a man died, he first went to see Olofin (Jesus) who after weighting his acts on earth rewarded him with eternal life in the following way: 1- He was transformed into rain, and in this way he returned to earth looking for a river and then flowing to the bottom he transformed himself into a "rock". 2- After a period of time (usually three months) his family went to the river accompanied by the Babalocha. His closest relative and the Babalocha get into the river (all this forming part of a sacred ceremony). 3- Once in the water (all dressed in white) and with the permission of Babalocha who assists him, his relative closing his eyes, introduced his right hand into it until he touch a "rock"; his relative had to "feel" the "spirit" living in it. 4- This rock was immediately covered with a piece of cloth of the favorite color of the deceased, and after returning, it was received with great enthusiasm by those present. 5- They carried it back to their house and with great reverence it was deposited in a container. This container represented the "room" or "body" in where the spirit lived. These "rocks" where called "Otanes". And it is because of this that the saints are not worshiped in the form of statues, they are worshiped in the form of "rocks". A variation exists in Voodoo in where saints can live in trees, and such are highly respected and worshiped. The trees that serve for this purpose are called "Arbresrepoisors", and there is usually a pedestal or basin encircling the foot of the tree. Square or triangular niches are recessed into the pedestal and in them lighted candles are often placed, surrounded by consecrated food offered in sacrifice. These trees are decorated and even painted with the favorite colors of the gods to whom they belong. These Otanes were the property of the family of the deceased, and they took care and worshiped them by bringing offerings and food to them. It was the belief that they could help and sometimes intercede with the Orichas in favor of the family. Sometimes it happened that "miracles" began to occur, and then these Otanes became "famous" and highly esteemed by the people. With time myths began to surround the properties of these Otanes, and from those myths legends developed. In Voodoo, the belief is somewhat different. According to its tradition, the soul of the death reascends to heaven and then becomes a star. If, for whatever reason, the soul of the death becomes canonized, he becomes a "Saint", thus eventually becoming part of the "Pantheon of the Saints". In Haitian VooDoo saint is "Loa" and in Brasil is "Macun". The interaction of the Adept with the Ocha (or Loa) is the basic unit of Santeria. It is thru this interaction that the santero is able to work. As a general rule, the "Illaguao" (or novice, apprentice) only "makes" one Ocha as his principal deity of action during the initiatory ritual. This happens after the Orichas are consulted by the "Babalao" (High priest) as to whom is the Ocha that this Illaguao is entitled to. Later, after the Illaguao becomes a santero he may request permission from his Ocha to "make" more Orichas. The personal power a Santero develops (thru his ritual work) is known as "Ache" and in order to develop it he must follow all ceremonial and ritualistic rules and guidelines belonging to his Ocha, and of any other Oricha he may be working with. Every Ocha has its rules; rules and attributes that touches almost every aspect of life. He has his own colors, foods, beverages, animals, utensils, etc.. Also, when performing ritualistic work, close attention has to be paid for following the hierarchical order of the orichas; that is, the santero, or Omoricha (priest) has to begin any work by doing those rituals belonging to the most important of the orichas he is working with and proceeded following their hierarchy as related to one another. In VooDoo the religious leader or priest is called "Houn'gan" if male or "Mam'bo" if female and in santeria "Omoricha" or "Olouboricha". To give you an idea lets see this hierarchical diagram of a yoruba pantheon: Olordumare (Supreme God) ^ . . . . . . . . Obatala Oduduwa (The most pure creator) ( First king of the earth, . Ile Ife) Yemaya Argayu (Mother of 16 Orichas) ( Husband of Yemaya) . . Orumila Chango (Fortuneteller son of ( Fourth king of the Yoruba Yemaya) . Nation, master of fire, . son of Yemaya) . . Ogun Osun (master of iron, laborious ( Guardian, son of Yemaya) son of Yemaya) . . Oshosi Ochun (Hunter son of Yemaya) ( Master of the river and . of money, Daughter of . Yemaya) . . Oya Olokun (Master of storm) ( Goddess of the sea, . Daughter of Yemaya) . . . . . . . . Iku (Death) Note: The above chart is not a fixed one; it will vary depending on the ritual of santeria practised. "Olordumare Nzame" is the principal deity of santeria, which represents God; in Voodoo, is called "Legba Ati-Bon" which means "wood of justice" and is represented in the "Oum'phor" (Voodoo temple) as a wooden center-post, "Poteau-mitan". The potaeu-mitan is located exactly in the middle of the "peristyle" (inside area of the temple) whose entire length is decorated by a spiral design representing two serpent-gods: "Danbhalah Wedo" (representing perfection) and "Aida Wedo" (representing all the knowledge of the gods). Also inside the oum'phor (temple) we could find the "Pe" or stone-altar and on the floor of the temple the "Veves", which are designs traced upon the ground whose purpose are to attract the loas to descend to earth. The orichas use various methods for manifesting themselves to the santero. The most important being by "riding" him during the ceremonials and rituals. Other methods at hand are the use of sea shells and four pieces of coconut. The "riding" method is one in which the Loa (in VooDoo) or Ocha (in santeria) takes possession of the adept. The personality of the host changes to that of the Ocha "riding" him; the orichas all have their own personality and particular traits which becomes manifested thru the Santero during the periods were the ocha is possessing him. The other methods of communication are the use of shells, "Medilogun" and four pieces of coconut, "Obi". After complying with the necessary rituals the Santero rolls the shells and their resulting positions are "interpreted". The four pieces of coconut are used in the same way as the shells. These methods can be used for divination as another one rather unknown: the use of dominoes. In Africa they had a game which played a lot like dominoes called "Quenken", and the numbered pieces were used for divination by interpreting the numbers that came up with the meaning attributed to each one. For effective oral communication the santero must speak to the Ocha in his vernacular: Yoruba or Lucumi. He can speak to the Ocha in another language if he doesn't know well yoruba or lucumi, but this will diminish the Ache (power) in the work. The adept of santeria has also to pay close attention to some particular details such as the way he dresses and the food he eats. For example the santero may be called to refrain from eating certain types of food belonging to the orichas; this is to show respect and to demonstrate his devotion for them Also clothing becomes affected; the santero should dress according to the rules of his principal ocha or the orichas he may be working with. In addition, the santero must take good care of his ritualistic necklaces or "Elekes", whose colored beads are representative of the colors of the ocha. Some of these elekes may be carried on all the time, while some others are to be worn only when performing ritualistic work. Thru all of this interaction the Ocha and the santero develops a Father-son type of relationship. When an "Illawao", apprentice in santeria or "Mam'bo Caille" in VooDoo is initiated, the one who has directed the ceremonial, usually the Omoricha (priest) or Babalocha (high priest) becomes the godfather of the new adept. That is if he doesn't already has a "sponsor" who has agreed beforehand to become his godfather. His duties are those of a counselor and guide helping him in his journey. Sometimes ceremonials calls for offerings of various kinds, including animal sacrifices. These offerings are just a demonstration of respect, recognition, and sometimes for payment (for a favor) to the orichas or Ocha in question. Drum music also plays a very important part on the ceremonials. These drums are consecrated and only played during ritual work; they may have different physical dimensions. In Santeria they are known as "akonko" (big drum) and "itole" (small drum), in Voodoo ritual thy are known as "Manman" (largest drum), "Grondez" (middle sized drum) and "Ka-Tha-Bou" (small drum). The large or small drums are played depending on the ceremony or ritual performed. When dogmatic differences or complaints happen between omorichas (priests), a "Cabildo" (meeting, gathering of a council) is called by the omorichas or Babalaos (high priests). These are presided by the older babalochas. All differences are settled there. All of the organized religions have some type of sacred writings, and the religion of the lucumis is no exception. Their tales or "Patakies" are writings that illustrate all of the different aspects of the Yoruba religion. The un-written compendium of this patakies is known as "Ifa". So this patakies are stories with a moral-spiritual message or lesson. Modern day santeria has its adepts spread all over north, central and south America. It is no longer an isolated religious phenomena of the Antilles. Florida, Cuba, Haiti, Brazil and to some extent Puerto Rico are, however, the most active posts of Santeria. But true Santeros are scarce; for santeria has not only suffered the fusion with such un-welcomed guests, "The societies of the sorcerers", but also it has suffered the influx of un- worthy people in its ranks. Santeria today is not only a religion; its a brotherhood with a rich legacy of myths and legends as the teaching media for its adepts. A legacy left from the slaves of yesterday to the free men of their tomorrow...
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