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Santeria: The Afro-Antillian Religion of the Lucumis

by 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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