2001 will undoubtedly be classified as one of the most difficult years in the history of humankind, especially its last four months. The odyssey was not in space but in our own back yard. Since September 11th, this entire country has undergone an incredible transformation brought on by the realization that we were not as safe, and neither were we exempt, from the onslaught of terrorism, the tormenting physical and psychological devastation that so many other countries in the world have been living with for decades. Our safe little corner of the planet was no longer as secure as we had once believed. In a matter of minutes, our world changed, and drastically so.

Nonetheless, though we experienced—and continue to do so— an excessive amount of pain, horror, and downright disgust, ironically we as a people also gained in many ways from these spineless attacks on New York and Washington D.C. If in no other way, we gained in terms of unity, in that we all came together as a people and joined forces to combat a common cause. The great majority of people residing in the U.S., who may have not felt patriotic before September 11th, now did so. In a matter of hours—once the culprits were identified, we all became patriotic Americans. We all flew the country’s flag and growingly began to feel more American than ever. The painful, stark realization that these attacks were against every single one of us who had any ties to American soil, regardless of our geographical origins, ethnicity, place of residence, political affiliation, or religious beliefs overcame us in every corner of the country. As Americans, we came together as two of our most important Orishas, Ogún and Oshosi, did when they allied forces in the myth of the odu Ogundá Osá, a myth whose proverb teaches us that there is strength in unity—en la union está la fuerza! Our Yoruba-Lukumí-Afro-Cuban-exiled Orishas had been suddenly granted citizenship and were now as American as we.

Miami’s Lukumí Orisha community also grew—maybe a more adequate word is matured— as we too realized that we were not exempt, and that we too were under attack. For many years, we as a community have been regarded as an ethnocentric and arrogant people, enclosed within the safety of our enclave in Miami, and detached from the rest of the country, especially when our exile politics and interests are not at stake. But after September 11th we too came to the fore. We wholeheartedly joined our country, the United States, not Cuba, in its pain. We too mourned and we too sobbed and we too prayed and we too questioned our Creator! Why!

One very positive consequence of September 11th for the Lukumí community in Miami was the birth of the Council of Miami’s Oriatés. In joining the rest of the country in its earth-shattering state of mourning, the Council came into being as an official organization that for the first time in history, amassed the strength of over twenty of Miami’s Oriatés who came together to discuss our religion’s role, our position on the cowardly attacks, and eventually join our country in prayer according to our traditions. It was our duty, our obligation, our debt to the first country in the world and in the history of this religion that officially recognized our creed as a valid form of religious expression, and did not reduce us to the level of a superstitious cult born out of ignorance, practiced by an undesirable sector of the society (the stigma that we had suffered from for so many years in our beloved Cuba) nor excoriated and labeled “satanic idolaters” and converted as our ancestors were in colonial Yorubaland.

The Council’s initial meeting on September 21st, the divination that was performed—a reading for the country, not for Miami—and the successful manner in that we effected ceremonies that our Orishas recommended as our contribution to the country’s prayers, were the strongest testament to our historical ability as a religious people to join forces in the face of adversity and overcome any obstacles that are thrown our way! The only difference now was that we did so as a group, and not on an individual basis, as has been the case in the past. Like Ogún and Oshosi, we too joined forces, one side shooting the arrow that paralyzes our target while the other side swung the machete that cleared the bush to lead us to our prey. Maferefún Ogún!

The rest is history. The Council performed an Oro to Egún to pray for the souls of the people who were killed on September 11th; we celebrated a wemilere for Ogún that under the threat of a hurricane and torrential thunderstorms over 500 people attended; we celebrated an agbán for Babaluaiyé with 400 or more people participating; and we performed an ebó prescribed by Yemojá for the well-being and stability of our religious community as well as that of our co-citizens. In less than three months, we have had many, many accomplishments. Modupé ó!

Still, the Council cannot, and will not, take all the credit. These accomplishments could not have been possible without the help of our fellow brothers and sisters. In fact, it was they who actually achieved these feats and we who merely joined them as masters of ceremony. A great many Oriatés, and an even greater number of Olorishas and Aborishas, from Miami and other areas of the country as well, contributed with the money and labor to make these achievements possible. Though I have stated this in a number of posts, I would like to once again reiterate their wonderful support and much appreciated participation.

The names are too many to mention without running the risk of accidentally forgetting someone, and the deeds were just as numerous, making the process of recognizing their contribution even more difficult. Still, I will attempt it. I will begin by asking to be pardoned should I fail to recognize everyone. Suffice it to say that if I forget, Egún and the Orishas most certainly will not, in fact, cannot!

The first name on this list needs to be that of my Om’orisha Cristina Hernandez, Osikán. As she has done so many times before, as soon as I said that I wanted to call a meeting of Miami’s elders to discuss the attacks, she said “Padrino, have the meeting at my house.” Little did she suspect at that time that not only were we to meet, but that we would also eventually end up divining with her dilogún of Elegbá, as destiny had it. It was her Elegbá, her tutelary orisha, that identified the path we had to take, and gave us the guidance to plot our course during this early and period of our voyage. As if that were not enough, we placed the extra burden on her shoulders of playing to her Ogún in appreciation, and recognition of, her orisha’s guidance.

Osikan’s contribution did not end there, though. She became one of the most important contributors for the agbán to Babaluaiyé. Though she drove me crazy over the phone, “Padrino this . . .” and “Padrino that . . .” she did a formidable job.

A special mention should also be made for the contribution made by Otto Tianga, Tinibú. From the onset, Tinibú took the activity to heart, almost as if he considered it his own wemilere and not the community’s. During the preparation, I had to travel for religious activities outside of the state and all this time Tinibú, together with my om’orisha Jeff Gonzalez, Olubanké, kept the affairs in march for me. They drove all over Miami seeking an adequate location for the wemilere—something that as many people may know is no easy task—he set up a toll free number where people could call to make pledges and obtain further information, he gathered donations, prepared, printed and distributed the flyer, and help in all the preparatory stages of the Oro and wemilere in so many capacities that I know I have not listed here.

Henry Pascual, Oshún Lainú also did a lot of the leg work, including taking on the task of gathering all the necessary people for a meeting in his home the week before the wemilere to coordinate the event. He also took charge of keeping an inventory and gathering all the necessary materials for the wemilere. Together with my om’orisha Betty Rodriguez, throughout the event, he was constantly in motion, attending to human and the divine needs. Much gratitude is also due to my om’orishas and other members of my ilé. Pablo Alvarez, Alaje Thomas, Lola Rodriguez, Alimayu Harris, Ester Amores, Erik Boone, Teresa Ramos, Olga Ramos.

My mother Olga Ramos, Oshún Keletí, together with Angel Riaño, Talabí, Isabel Urtiz, Omí Saidé, and Xiomara “Monga,” Oniyé, worked arduously for hours frying akará to give out to the people. Lola Rodriguez, Oloshundé cooked a wonderful chicken fricassee for lunch and Doris Martinez, Obá’ñikán cooked puddings and other sweets for dessert. Days before, Osikán and Lazaro Ramos, Okandenijé, cooked a basket full of akasá and ekó to place before Ogún, two of the adimú that he requested. Erik Boone, Jimaguas Corp., and Dorian Hernández and his ilé, all provided food and disposables, some of which was also used for the agbán for Babaluaiyé.

Norberto Fernández, Olomikuyá, and Willie Zapata, Oshún Funké, installed an incredibly beautiful throne for Ogún. Ezequiel Torres and his batá ensemble, Ifé Bí Añá, donated their services. Olympia Alfaro—may she rest in peace—Guillermo Monroig, Roque Duarte, Luis Gonzalez, Jr., and Andrew Iglesias, all contributed with their chants.

For Babaluaiyé’s agbán, many of the same people were also actively involved in all the many stages that preceded the ceremony. Additionally, many new faces joined the ranks and proved to be just as arduous and determined to make the event a success. Our first indebtedness is to the Church of the Lukumí and its patron orisha Babaluaiyé as it was the Church’s Babaluaiyé that was used for the agbán. Again my om’orisha Osikán came to the fore and also proved very helpful for the agbán. Popi Cioffi and Abelardo Hernandez lent us their homes for the meetings. Tony Pena, Maria Antonia and Mario Gutierrez, Isabel Urtiz, Pedro & Ana Alfaro, Cristina & Fabian Hernández, and Abelardo Hernandez all allowed the use of their homes as drop-off locations for the donations. A few people over excelled themselves and deserve a special mention here.

First, Jackie Ben, Oshún Funké, who together with her om’orisha Flor Decker, Olá Leké, and Osikán, took on the arduous task of going out to the stores and marketplace to purchase all the materials we needed for the ceremony. Additionally, Oshún Funké approached Valentín and Elizabeth Llorente of Francis Animal Farm so that they could contribute with a donation. They turned around and offered all the animals we needed for the ceremony—over $400.00 worth! Ileana Zambrano cautiously took notes at our meetings and transcribed them, keeping us abreast of the many tasks at hand. She also contributed in the preparatory stages and worked very attentively chopping tubers and preparing plates for the ceremony.

One of the most time consuming aspects of an agbán is the preparatory stage. Tubers, fruits, and all the foodstuff that is used for the cleansing ceremony must be chopped and placed on separate plates for their later use. For an event of this magnitude, this took hours and necessitated many, many volunteers. This group arrived very early that morning and began to chop and prepare for hours! Actually, theirs was one of the most important contributions for they provided us with the material we needed to function. José Esquía, Okán Tomí, Hector Pelaéz, Omí Tilé, Caridad “Cacha” Sanchez, Oló Oshún, Flor Decker, Olá Leké, Ileana Zambrano, Myriam Pichardo, Modesta Cruz, Doris Martinez, Obá’ñikán, David Hoft, Omí Lodé, all spent hours at Rancho Oddu Ara to make this event possible. May Babaluaiyé reciprocate their deeds with much health and happiness.

Pedro Alfaro and Ana Alfaro, Shangó Larí and Obá Nilú, contributed with much enthusiasm as well. Pedro spread the word throughout the city wherever he went and asked everyone he encountered for donations. He obtained a donation of a great deal of food items that were used for the agbán. Additionally, he arrived very early on the day of the ceremony and began to work alongside the Oloshas who had been there since early that morning preparing the foodstuffs we used that evening. Ana Alfaro was in charge of the most difficult part—the money! She had the eyes and weight of the city on her shoulders, as many of our religious brethren have a tendency to be suspicious about donating money for an activity for fear that it will be misused. Ana’s professionalism, integrity, and her excellent management and record keeping of the funds and donations were a large component of the eventual successful outcome.

Throughout this whole period, one name has come up numerous times: Roberto Berenger, Osha Lerí, owner of Rancho Oddu Ara, the place where all of this was made possible. Osha Lerí’s—and his staff’s—generosity and level of religious commitment have to earn him a multiplicity of blessings, as these ceremonies could not have possibly been held in anyone’s home. The sheer magnitude of the events required an ample place with proper facilities to accommodate the number of people we had anticipated would attend the event.

In the end, we had enough foodstuff left over to make a substantial donation on the following day to Camilus House, a Miami based organization that serves food and offers shelter to the homeless. Babaluaiyé spread his mercy to those in need by providing for everyone, whether a member of the religious community or not.

The following people contributed with donations. Many of these same people also contributed with their physical labor, and some contributed both money and work. They are the true heroes and the ones who truly made these accomplishments a reality. The Council is greatly indebted to every single person on this list.

Abelardo Hernández, Miami
Adolfo Rodriguez, Miami
Adrian Suarez, Spain
Aidéz Chichilla, Los Angeles
Alajé Thomas, Miami
Albaro Hernandez, Miami
Alberta & James Russell, New York
Alberto Quintero, Venezuela
Alimayu Harris, Miami
Alma Fernandez, Miami
Ana Alfaro, Miami
Andrew Iglesias, Miami
Angel Riaño, Miami
Antonio C. Sanchez, Miami
Antonio Pena & his ilé, Miami
Aramis Marquez, Miami
Asabi Thomas & her Ilé, Chicago
Beatríz Rodriguez, Miami
Cari Alfaro, Miami
Cari Falero & Fa., Miami
Caridad & Mayra Cotilla, Miami
Caridad “Cacha” Sanchez, Miami
Carlos “Machito” Bresó, Miami
Carlos Jesús Bresó, Miami
Carlos León, Miami
Carlos Torres, Miami
Carmen Plá, Miami
Carmen Santiago & Fa., Miami
Cary & Milton Martinez, Miami
Cary Barrera Otero, Miami
Clay Keck & his Ilé, Michigan
Consuelo España, Miami
Cristina and Fabian Hernández, Miami
Daina Moreno Chavez, Miami
Daisy Castellano, Miami
Dalia Fernandez, Miami
Damarys Figueroa, Miami
David Hoft, Miami
Dolores Rivera, Miami
Dorian Hernandez and his entire Ilé, Miami
Doris Martinez, Miami
Eduardo-ahijado de Maria A. Gutierrez, Miami
Elda Gonzalez, Miami
Elda Gonzalez, Miami
Elena Bombalier, Miami
Ellie Martinez, Miami
Erik Boone, Miami
Ernesto Pichardo, Miami
Evelio Manzana
Felipe Hernández, Los Angeles
Fernando Pichardo, Miami
Finita y Delgado, Miami
Flor Decker, Miami
Gerardo Durán, Miami
Gilberto & Karla López, Miami
Hector Pelaez, Miami
Henry Pascual, Miami
Hilda Ortiz, Los Angeles
Hilda Yeo, Miami
Ileana Zambrano, Miami
Irma Gutierrez, Los Angeles
Isabel Tamayo, Miami
Isaberl Urtiz, Miami
Jackie Ben & her entire Ilé, Miami
Jacquie Soler, Miami
Javier Díaz, Miami
Jimaguas Corp., Miami
Jorge Castillo, Miami
Jorge Ferreira, Miami
Jorge Ortega, Miami
Jose & Lyandis Castillo
José Esquía, Miami
José Gonzalez, Miami
Kerry Daniels, Michigan
Laura Morales, Miami
Lazaro & Jenny Bombalier, Miami
Lazaro Ramos, Miami
Lisa Quesania, Miami
Liza Rodriguez, Miami
Lori & Juan Paraño, Miami
Luis Gonzalez, Miami
Luis Mayorga, Los Angeles
Mannolie DiSantos, Hollywood, Fl.
Margaret Santo, Miami
Maria & Alberto Olivera, Miami
Maria Adela, Miami
Maria Portales, Miami
Marion Gonzalez, Miami
Marlene Lopez, Miami
Marta Mendoza, Los Angeles
Martin Tsang, England
Matín Bherviz, Miami
Miguel Jimenez, Miami
Miguel Sabina, Miami
Mileidi Viera, Miami
Minerva, Miami
Modesta Cruz, Miami
Myriam Pichardo, Miami
Nelson Hernández, Miami
Norberto Fernandez, Miami
Norma Torrado, Miami
Obdulia García, Miami
Olga Abreu, Miami
Olga Ramos, Miami
Olympia Alfaro, Miami
Otto Tianga, Miami
Pablo Salazar, Miami
Pedro Alfaro, Miami
Pedro Alonso, Venezuela
Pedro Bonetti, Miami
Peggy González and her ilé, New Jersey
Popi Cioffi, Miami
Pucha, Miami
Raquel Llanes, Miami
Raul reyes, Miami
Rita & Xiomara Guerra, Miami
Rita Guerra, Miami
Roberto and Michelle Abreu and their ilé, Miami
Roberto Berenger, Miami
Roque Duarte, Miami
Rosalba Palomares, Miami
Rosita Otero, Miami
Salomon Azaguery, Miami
Sara Gonzalez, Miami
Silvia Manzana, Miami
Stephanie Clark, Miami
Tania Vazquez, Miami
Teresa Polanes, Los Angeles
Valentín and Elizabeth Llorente, Miami
Valerie Forbes, Ft. Lauderdale
Vickie Santerzo, Miami
Willie Zapata, Miami
Xiomara “Monga”, Miami
Xiomara Guerra, Miami
Yeyita Pérez, Miami
Yomeli Rodriguez, Miami
Ysel Torres, Miami

In the process of writing this recognition, we were struck a very hard blow with the death of Olympia Alfaro, Omí Sanyá. Omí Sanyá was an institution for the Lukumí community as she was one of the pioneer apuóns—singers—in the United States. Ikú took our sister in a very unfortunate way—singing a wemilere—and inopportune manner as she was practically destitute. Many readers can sympathize with what it feels like to be old and penniless in this country, in this day and age. Omí Sanyá was a very proud woman, though, too proud to admit that she was going through a tempest, so the community continued to see her in her usual style: well-dressed, well-groomed, and looking like a million bucks. But reality was something else, a very bitter truth that we all encountered when it came time to deal with her funeral and burial. She did not have a penny to her name nor had she ever made any arrangements for her final rest.

The Council quickly came to the fore and set the wheels into motion. There had been some funds left over from the wemilere for Ogún and the agbán that we were in the process of donating as we had promised to do. Eshú may have been playing around with us, though. When we wanted to make donations to the funds established in New York for the victims of the September 11th attacks, the organizations had placed a hold on cash donations. The Red Cross had already done the same. We had finally agreed to donate this money to a local AIDS organization and were in the process of finalizing the transaction when Omí Sanyá had the hemorrhage. What more worthy cause than to use this money to give a final burial to one of our own, to a Lukumí institution? And so we did. The Church of the Lukumí and the Pichardo family donated the cemetery plot and the Council, with the help of other brothers and sisters, covered the expenses for the funeral.

A number of people stood out during this difficult process to which I am personally indebted. In an ironic twist of events, I was unable to be present to bid my dear friend farewell. Unfortunately, in my line of work it is very difficult to “call in sick.” I had to be in Puerto Rico performing the honras for the late Librada Quiles, Oshún Widé. Yet, though my presence may have been desirable, it was not necessary for there were other responsible aburos who said present and did right by Omi Sanyá. I am particularly appreciative of Fernando Pichardo’s pivotal role in dealing with the funeral home and running the initial legwork for the funeral arrangements. My om’orisha Jeff Gonzalez, Olubanké, and Otto Tianga, Tinibú took the initial steps in setting up for the etutú. In fact, Olubanké brought Omí Sanyá’s orishas to his home after she had the hemorrhage because she was in the process of moving and her belongings, including her orishas, were locked in the old house. Osikán once again came through and lent her home for the etutú.

Manolo Mederos, Eshú Onaré who literally “met” Omí Sanyá at the funeral, did her etutú with the help of Carlos Bresó Jr., Edubí. I express a complete and total indebtedness to these two priests—and Omí Sanyá’s family does as well— who proved their level of devotion and professionalism throughout the difficult roads that were traveled during this turbulent period. On a Saturday evening, after both men had returned home from working in Orisha ceremonies, they went to fulfill their duties to their sense of commitment and loyalty to Lukumí religion.

Gratitude is also due to Ezequiel Torres, Oshalashé, his son Aruan, and omó Añá David Font took his batá to the funeral and played the final oro for a lady who on so many previous occasions had been a friend and a mentor. Liz Balmaseda, renowned columnist with the Miami Herald, wrote a beautiful eulogy that immortalized Omí Sanyá. May Olorún always grant her prosperity and advancement so that she can continue to write and be one of Miami’s glories. Modupué ó Liz. It was quite clear that Omí Sanyá had touched a good many of us in many and varied ways.

A final word of praise is needed to thank the Lukumí community of Puerto Rico. On the third day of the honras, before the “calling” of Oshún, I asked all the Olorishas who were present there to observe a minute of silence in memory of our departed sister. This community, few of which had any ties with Omí Sanyá, came to an immediate halt, lowered their heads, and observed a minute of silence. The beauty of the moment, the composure of the Olorishas and earnestness of this miniscule period in time, is one minute in my life that I will remember for as long as I live.

Though I probably have left out some names, it is my sincerest intention to recognize everyone’s participation and to say modupué ó to all who contributed to our endeavors during the past five months. Had it not been for the support, both moral and financial, and the presence and physical labor of all these people, none of the accomplishments this Council has had in its short lifetime would have been possible. In reality, the Council has accomplished nothing: the accomplishments belong to Miami’s Lukumí Orisha community. Ki Olorún n’agbé wá!

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