From Miami’s El Nuevo Herald
Associated Press
Translation by Willie Ramos with the help of Google’s translator

Thousands of Cubans prepare this week to go on their knees and dressed in varied tones of violet to pay tribute to an deity inherited from the fusion between Hispanic and African cultures, that some call San Lázaro and others Babalú Ayé.

On the 17th of December Cubans will go to the town of Rincón, in Havana province, to make promises, to request favors, to give thanks for miracles or simply to pray before the god.

“That day of every year, in the evening, I go to Rincón, because of [ a promise made on behalf of] my daughter,” said Enrique, a construction worker who did not want to give his last name.

Anthropologist Natalia Bolivar told AP that “the tradition to make promises to San Lazaro is very deep and is rooted in the island, they make offerings to him because he is miraculous, he cures diseases.”

According to the specialists, this syncretism is the best example of the religious and ethnic feeling of the island, because in him are synthesized the Hispanic and African influences that mark their religiosity.

Babalú/San Lázaro is considered the specific deity that consoles leprosy and smallpox patients, as well as the deity appealed to by those who suffer from venereal diseases and skin infections.

Historians think that this association results from the introduction of an icon of San Lázaro that was taken in the XVIth century to a zone of Havana where victims of these ailments had been confined.

“San Lázaro is a belief that comes from Spain: for the Catholic Church, the 17th of December is that saint’s day, the Lazarus of Saint Luke’s biblical parable, identified as the ragged man with the dogs that walk beside him licking his sores,” said the specialist.

In Cuba during the Spanish colonial era, African slaves ascribed to the catholic saints the attributes of their own idols: Our Lady of Charity is Ochún, the Virgin of Regla is Yemayá and Our Lady of Mercy is Obatalá, explained Bolivar.

It is believed that around 200,000 people make the pilgramage.

Alejandra Rivas, a 38 year-old office clerk who has an 8 year-old daughter recounted: “I have never have gone to Rincón, but someday I will have to go with my daughter, because my mother always said that she was going to her to fulfill a promise, but passed away before doing it.”

Sandra Villacampos, a 43 year-old civil employee said: “I have a neighbor that goes yearly to fulfill a promise made by her brother who has been in the United States since the 1980s.”

In other countries Babalú Ayé it is also a well-known deity: In Haiti he is known as Legba Pied Casse; in the Dominican Republic, Legba; in Trinidad and Tobago, Sakpana and in Brazil, Omolu, Shapanan, Sakpata, Obaluaie and Alapo.

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