History of Santería

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History of Santería

Post  joaquin on Thu Feb 10, 2011 9:25 pm

Santería is a system of beliefs that merge the Yoruba religion (brought to the New World by slaves imported to the Caribbean to work the sugar plantations) with Roman Catholic and Native Indian traditions. These slaves carried with them various religious traditions, including a trance for communicating with their ancestors and deities, animal sacrifice and sacred drumming.

In Cuba, this religious tradition has evolved into what we now recognize as Santería. In 2001, there were an estimated 22,000 practitioners in the US alone, but the number may be higher as some practitioners may be reluctant to disclose their religion on a government census or to an academic researcher. In Puerto Rico, the religion is extremely popular especially in the towns of Loiza and Carolina.

Of those living in the US, some are fully committed priests and priestesses, others are "godchildren" or members of a particular house-tradition, and many are clients seeking help with their everyday problems. Many are of Black Hispanic and Caribbean descent but as the religion moves out of the inner cities and into the suburbs, a growing number are of African-American and European-American heritage. As a religion from Africa was recreated in the Americas it was transformed.

"The colonial period from the standpoint of African slaves may be defined as a time of perseverance. Their world quickly changed. Tribal kings and families, politicians, business and community leaders all were enslaved in a foreign region of the world. Religious leaders, their descendants, and the faithful, were now slaves. Colonial laws criminalize their religion. They were forced to become baptized and worship a god their ancestors had not known who was surrounded by a pantheon of saints. The early concerns during this period seem to indicate a need for individual survival under harsh plantation conditions. A sense of hope was sustaining the internal essence of what today is called Santería, a misnomer for the indigenous religion of the Lukumi people of Nigeria.

"In the heart of their homeland, they had a complex political and social order. They were a sedentary hoe farming cultural group with specialized labor. Their religion based on the worship of nature was renamed and documented by their masters. Santería, a pejorative term that characterizes deviant Catholic forms of worshiping saints, has become a common name for the religion. The term santero(a) is used to describe a priest or priestess replacing the traditional term Olorisha as an extension of the deities. The orishas became known as the saints in image of the Catholic pantheon." (Ernesto Pichardo, CLBA, Santería in Contemporary Cuba: The individual life and condition of the priesthood)

As mentioned, in order to preserve their authentic ancestral and traditional beliefs, the Lukumi people had no choice but to disguise their orishas as Catholic saints. When the Roman Catholic slave owners observed Africans celebrating a Saint's Day, they were generally unaware that the slaves were actually worshiping their sacred orishas.in Cuba today, the terms "saint" and "orisha" are sometimes used interchangeably.

The term Santería was originally a derisive term applied by the Spanish to mock followers' seeming overdevotion to the saints and their perceived neglect of God. It was later applied to the religion by others. This "veil" characterization of the relationship between Catholic saints and Cuban orisha, however, is somewhat undermined by the fact that the vast majority of santeros in Cuba today also consider themselves to be Catholics, have been baptized, and often require initiates to be baptized. Many hold separate rituals to honor the saints and orisha respectively, even though the disguise of Catholicism is no longer needed.

The traditional Lukumi religion and its Santería counterpart can be found in many parts of the world today, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and even the United States, which was mainly the result of Puerto Rican migration. A very similar religion called Candomblé is practiced in Brazil, along with a rich variety of other Afro-American religions. This is now being referred to as "parallel religiosity" because some believers worship the African variant that has no notion of a devil and no baptism or marriage, yet they belong to Catholic or mainline Protestant churches, where these concepts exist.

Lukumi religiosity works toward a balance in life on earth (androcentric) while the Christian European religions work toward the hereafter. Some in Cuban Santería, Haitian Vodou or Puerto Rican spiritualism (Afro-Latin religions) do not view a difference between saints and orishas, the ancestor deities of the Lukumi people's Ifa religion.

There are now individuals who mix the Lukumí practices with traditional practices as they survived in Africa after the deleterious effects of colonialism. Although most of these mixes have not been at the hands of experienced or knowledgeable practitioners of either system, they have gained a certain popularity.

In 1974, the first Santería church in the US was incorporated as the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye
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joaquin
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