Santeria in Cuba
Santeria began in Cuba as a mixture of the Western African Yoruba Religion and Iberian Catholicism. It is one of the numerous syncretic religions created by Africans brought to the Caribbean islands as slaves. It was developed out of need for the African slaves in order to carry on practicing their native religion in the New World. As in all nations where the African slaves were taken, Cuban slave masters dampened and sometimes banned the practice of their native religions. The slaves in Cuba were required to follow the practices of the Catholic Church, which went against the beliefs of their native religions. Noticing the similarities between their native religion and Catholicism, and in order to please their slave-masters and accomplish their own religious needs, they fashioned a secret religion. Santeria utilizes Catholic saints and personages as facades for their own god and Orishas or spiritual representatives. Consequently, when a slave prayed to an Orisha, it looked as if they were praying to a saint (Santeria, 2001).
Following the freedom of some slaves in Cuba, the free people of color created Santeria on the foundation of old Yoruba beliefs and practices. African religious customs were reinvented and merged with elements of the Spanish culture; an example of incorporation is the combination, both culturally and socially, of groups with distinguishing identities. In the 1880's the syncretism was further inflated by the addition of Kardecian Spiritist customs that were brought from France. These had a persuasion on Santeria by integrating the facet of spirit illumination in its practices. This course of seeking light has been included in worshiping the Orisha. Santeria spread rapidly in the New World among the slaves who came from Western Africa. When slave trade was eliminated, the practice of Santeria continued to carry on (Santeria, 2001).
There are a lot of different parts to Santeria. One thing that is very interesting about the beliefs is that they believe in one God, creator of the universe, but as humans they cannot communicate with God and thus have to connect with him through deities. Most of this religion has been handed down to later generations by way of oral traditions and hand written notes that have been passed on and/or copied. Most of it is taught through watching, listening, and ultimately participating in the rituals. As it has been passed down inside different families, dissimilar traditions have appeared. These are known as branches (Gray, 2011).
The Orishas or Saints represent all facets of nature and all aspects of human personality. Each saint stands for both positive and negative features. The ocean can be tranquil or brutal. Forcefulness in a person can be either for good or evil. Sacrifices are frequently a part of the worshipping. It can be straightforward items such as flowers or candles, but can frequently need animals. Only those qualified can sacrifice the animals and it is done so in the most compassionate way. People are normally initiated into Santeria in a three-step process. After they have finished the initiation they wear white for one entire year and eat meals off mats on the floor (Gray, 2011).
The beginning of Santeria took place in Cuba by the mixing of Yoruba customs conveyed by enslaved Africans from Nigeria and Benin with the Roman Catholic faith of the Spanish plantation owners. Efforts were made to convert the enslaved Africans, but while they acknowledged a great deal of the disciple teachings, they didn't find that these presented adequate religious fulfillment. They sustained to carry out their own customs, which they found to be helpful and effective, and which, most significantly, filled the religious space in lives removed from their original cultural fundamentals (Santeria, 2009).
Santeria rituals permit people to stay in contact with the Orishas. This is done by rituals that are made up of drumming, speaking, dancing and eating with the spirits. Santeria has hardly any buildings that are dedicated to the faith. Rituals frequently take place in halls rented for the function, or secretly in Santeria homes which are may contain altars for ritual purposes. Throughout suitable rituals the Orishas are able to meet supporters at these holy places. "One major ritual is a bembe. This ceremony invites the Orisha to join the community in drumming, singing and dancing. The Orisha may 'seize the head' of a person (or 'mount them' as if they were a horse), and cause that possessed person to perform 'spectacular dances', and to pass on various messages from the Orisha to community members" (Santeria, 2009).
Animals are sacrificed for food and not for any ambiguous spiritual reasons. Supporters of Orisha will present them food and sacrifice animals to them in order to construct and uphold a personal relationship with the spirit. The course not only makes the worshipper nearer to their Orisha, but makes them more aware of the attendance of the Orisha inside them. This is a shared process as the food is fundamental for the Orishas, who will die if they have no food, and in exchange the Orishas are able to aid the worshippers. Orishas are also supported by other types of reverence and praise (Santeria, 2009).
Sacrifices are carried out in celebration of events such as birth, marriage, and death. They are also utilized for healing. Without sacrifice the religion would cease to exist, as sacrifice is fundamental for initiation into the faith society and the ordination of priests. "The animals are killed by cutting the carotid arteries with a single knife stroke in a similar way to other religious methods of slaughter. Animals are cooked and eaten following all Santeria rituals (except healing and death rites, where the sickness is believed to pass into the dead animal). Eating the sacrificed animal is considered a sharing with the Orisha, who only consumes the animal's blood, while the worshippers eat the meat. Sacrificial animals include chickens (the most common), pigeons, doves, ducks, guinea pigs, goats, sheep, and turtles" (Santeria, 2009).
There is no innermost organisation in Santeria. A fundamental component of the Santeria society is the home known as a casa or ile. This is frequently the house of a senior Santeria priest, who heads a comprehensive family. The members of the ile interact with each other in much the same manner that members of a comprehensive biological family. There may be a complicated hierarchy-based partly on the stages of spiritual development that family members have attained. An ile may be big or small. Iles are self-governing but may link up for special events. Membership is taken sincerely, and members are anticipated to participate in the life of the ile. A lot of people are involved with Santeria to a smaller extent, without becoming members of an ile. Members mostly join as adults, typically after sensing that a particular Orisha has identified them to do so. Initiation is a somber and life-altering occasion for the follower and joins one with their Orisha, and with other supporters of that Orisha (Santeria, 2009).
Santeria has a priesthood that comprises both men and women. Priesthood entails education and initiation. "The priest may be a babalorisha (Father in the Spirit) or iyalorisha (Mother or Wife in the Spirit). The Spanish words for these priests are santero or santera" (Santeria, 2009). Priesthood is not an around the clock paid job, and is frequently shared with ordinary work. A priest is thought to have made the saint, which entails being reborn in the spirit and promising to serve a particular Orisha. Priests have extraordinary powers since they have been entered by an Orisha. These powers are thought to permit them to foresee the future. Divination is done by throwing palm nuts, inferring the fall of shells, or utilizing a separated coconut. "Santeria also includes the Yoruba divination system called Ifa, which can only be performed by a senior male priest called a babalawo. This ritual involves throwing an ekwele, a chain of 8 shaped pieces. The way in which these pieces fall is used to provide guidance. Santeria priests have a great knowledge of traditional medicine and herbalism, and often play an important role in the health of their community. Their healthcare draws on Catholicism as well as African tradition; holy water is an ingredient in many Santeria medicinal formulas. Santeria healthcare is often combined with conventional medicine" (Santeria, 2009).
Over the years the cult of Santeria has had to come to terms with the Catholic Church and Cuba's secular power. Slavery was eradicated in Cuba in 1886. However, the black part of the population did not getaway from suppression and humiliation and they had far fewer rights than the white population. Santeria has became connected with the black population as only a small number of white followers existed or wished to come forward (The History of Santeria, 2012).
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The power of the Orisha guides the santero. Alex told me that the attitude of the priests is very humble, because they don't believe that they are doing anything. All their actions are guided by the Orisha and all the credit belongs with the Orisha too. I asked Alex to expand on two aspects of Santeria that I was particularly interested in because of their uniqueness. First, I asked about
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10). Both religions are not technically held to be systems of belief by their adherents, but rather as systems of service or patronage to higher powers. The idea was present in African feudalism, but seems to be enhanced and highlighted in Creole religions by the slave experience. Seeking for a path away from the rule of cruel Europeans, African slaves turned to the rule of benevolent and helpful Orishas and Loas.
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