Historical Background of Diplo-santería1

Since the very first humanitarian flight that departed to Cuba in 1979 after negotiations with the Cuban government allowed Cuban exiles to return to the island to visit their families, Diasporan Cuban Olorishas and their multi-national religious descendants have made countless visits to the island for religious purposes. Today, many younger Olorishas from the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, and other areas of the Cuban-Lukumí Diaspora are traveling to Cuba, infected by the nostalgic virus that we, the earlier generations of Cuban exiles disseminated, that idealized or romanticized the religion in Cuba. Under this assumption, bitten by the Lukumí-Mecca-in-Cuba bug, they seek religious knowledge and orthodoxy in the island. In many, the virus spreads and becomes a malignant cancer that cannot be extirpated.

Before the 1980s, though, the only reliable communication between Olorishas from Cuba with those abroad came with the sporadic arrival of new exiled priests and priestesses. The return to the island in 1979 opened up channels of communication that before then had not been possible. After 1980, the Mariel boatlift brought a significant number of highly skilled Olorishas to the United States. This was a momentous migration, as amongst the many Olorishas that arrived, there were some that were genuinely devoted to Lukumí religion (a.k.a. santeríííía!!!), with many years of exposure and practical experience. Their contribution to the still growing religious community outside Cuba was of utmost importance. Consequently, the Diasporan religion still in its infancy benefited tremendously from their knowledge and heightened level of religious competence. Thereafter, the number of primarily Cuban Olorishas visiting the island for ritual purposes increased considerably. In addition, many non-Cubans, devotees and marginal believers, especially those who had married into Cuban exile families, began traveling to the island to bring back the orishas that many of their godparents, loved ones, or friends who came through Mariel had been forced to leave on the island. By the late 1980s, the networks were in place that linked the exiled religious community with its progenitor on the island.

As a nostalgic community that first thought that the sojourn outside the island was going to be brief, by the 1980s homesick Cuban exiles had a wholly romanticized picture of Cuba. Unfortunately, the Cuba that they had left behind no longer existed, at least not as they remembered it. Olorishas in particular, including those that came via Mariel, continued to idealize Cuba as the Mecca of the religion—which it well may have been—where everything was different in every respect; the key word that was repeated over and over again. They argued that the religion in Cuba enjoyed more respect from the practitioners and that the reservoir of knowledge that existed in Cuba was without equal. As a result, many Cubans and non-Cubans alike who had only experienced the religion abroad shared this perception as viewed through the rose-tinted glasses of our elders. Every exiled Olorisha that could visit the island without political repercussions was looking for an excuse to travel to Cuba and experience the extraordinary Lukumí Mecca. Many did.

The number of people who traveled to the island for ordination began to grow. The first to go were those who had lived abroad for many years and had waited for the possibility to return to Cuba for ordination. Many did so because they had their godparents or relatives there with whom they were committed. Others simply and sincerely believed that a proper ordination was only possible in Cuba. After 1988’s policy change allowing those who left Cuba before 1978 to return to the island, larger numbers of Olorishas went to Cuba for ceremonies. Increasingly, those who came via Mariel also began to take their family and eventually their non-Cuban omorisha to the island for ordination as well.

By 1990 and the onset of the periodo especial, there was a considerable system of trade in place with hundreds of devotees departing weekly from the U.S. to Cuba with duffle bags filled with beads, cowries, ashés, textiles and panels, and even jars and tureens. In exchange, they returned with ordinations, orishas, religious manuscripts and literature, and an increased level of romanticism about the religion in Cuba. Some even came back with empty suitcases because they were so stricken by the plight of the Cuban people—worsened by the sad-luck stories everyone always manages to comment in front of an extranjero—foreigner—that they chose to leave everything they had taken behind, including the clothes and shoes they wore during their stay on the island.

Back on the island, the networks connecting Lukumí devotees in Cuba with those living abroad had influenced the growth of social classes amongst Olorishas. Networking is not a strange concept for devotees, as in many instances, the members of an ilé—considered as members of an extended religious family—help each other in a multiplicity of ways. The new extension of the networks, the foreigner connections, were very important to those living on the island as they represented a very needed and desired revenue, both in terms of hard U.S. currency, as well as the material goods brought from abroad and/or purchased in the island’s diplo-tiendas. The relationship eventually grew into a dependency on the extended religious “family” that lived abroad; a relationship that had to be maintained by hook or by crook.

When an extranjero visited the home of an Olorisha with whom an affiliation had been established, the visit was typically a short one, as usually a weeklong trip was what most were able to afford. A trip to Cuba in the 1980s was a considerable expense for many. During that week, at least three to four days were spent in the company of the Orisha family. During said time, many treats were equally distributed. The extranjero brought gifts from abroad, and then made frequent visits to the diplo-tiendas to buy fans, radios, VCRs and other electronic goods, clothing, food, coffee, and many other things that Cuban people did not have access to. The Olorisha in turn, offered the gifts he or she had available—a patakí, the procedures to perform an ebó or ritual, and exposure to this romanticized Lukumí Mecca.

Once the extranjero returned home, filled with the euphoria of having been to Luku’Mecca, in Cuba the spoils of the sojourn were euphorically distributed amongst family members and other intimates. Like in a feudalist society, the extranjeros had contributed to the growth of a society of Lords, vassals and peasants. There was the Lord Olorisha with extranjeros, the vassal Olorisha that worked in the homes of Olorishas with extranjeros, and the “extranjero-less peasant Olorisha” without any access to extranjeros at all. The ones with an extranjero connection acquired material and economic advancement and flaunted it. The ones without had to get hold of an extranjero swiftly!

With the fall of the Soviet bloc and the loss of the subsidies that the extinct USSR provided to Cuba, the exile communities became an important source of income for many people on the island with connections abroad. Exiles that oppose all travel to Cuba have often argued that much of the island’s revenue is currently coming from family and friends living abroad who send money and goods to the Cuba. The religious community is by no means an exception. Many Olorishas survived the tense era of the periodo especial because of their foreign connections and the revenue they received from the religious family abroad. The periodo especial had many detrimental repercussions, but none more injurious to Lukumí religion than the birth of diplo-santería.

As the Cuban government opened its doors to tourism—a necessary evil that would make up for the lost Soviet subsidies—new opportunities in the form of new extranjeros arrived from Columbia, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Spain, Venezuela and elsewhere. As the government announced its austere measures to survive the crisis, Cubans sought to foster more contacts with anyone they could that lived abroad. This was a premeditated and necessary attempt to ensure some sort of revenue that would help to survive the approaching tempest. The orishas once again came to the rescue of their omó on the island in many respects. Many Olorishas today frankly declare that if it had not been for their extranjeros, they would not have been able to make it through the storm.

Nearing the mid 1990s the diplo-santería mechanisms were totally entrenched. By this time, there was not an Olorisha in Havana who had not had contact with an extranjero. Olorishas participated in rituals for extranjeros weekly, and eventually daily. Viene el mexicano, llegaron los boricuas, or mi ahijado el venezolano, all extranjeros, and all providing much needed support for their religious family on the island. This point also marks the beginning of another trend in which initially a very select group of Cuban diplo-santeros, at the expense of their extranjero networks began traveling abroad, primarily to Europe and Latin America, though a handful also visited the U.S. At present, there are Cuban Olorishas living abroad whose official residence continues to be in Cuba, though they may just return there for two weeks a year or to bring back extranjeros to ordain.

The diplo-orisha markets

In the past ten to fifteen years, there has been an incredible upsurge in the number of unknown orishas turning up in Cuba whose origins are extremely suspicious. These pseudo-orishas that I have chosen to call diplo-orishas were produced for the diplo-santería market. This is a market under the auspices of a particular group of unscrupulous and deceitful diplo-santeros that caters to the extranjeros who visit the island seeking an alleged and idealized religious Mecca. They then end up exploited and victimized by a corrupt and devious group of religious prostitutes that prey on other people’s sincere faith and unfortunate naiveté. The diplo-markets appeared circa 1990 and the era of the periodo especial. Though the 1980s were significant in terms of establishing connections, it is not until the 1990s that we see the concerted effort of the diplo-santeros to establish the abominable orisha diplo-markets.

There are various types of diplo-orishas. The first genre is the lost deity, primarily orishas that had representatives in Cuba and survived the cruelties of slavery, but were eventually lost. The loss may have resulted from many factors, but the deity itself, and the knowledge associated with its worship, were lost, surviving possibly only in sparse, sporadic mentions in literature or chants. Examples of these are Orí, Oshumaré, and Logún Edé or Laro. The second type is the cabildo deity.2 These are orishas that were worshiped in some of the cabildos, mostly in the interior of the island, whose worship was generally localized and never dispersed. Most of these cabildos practiced the santo parado tradition.

In the Cuban countryside, and especially in the plantations and sugar mills, the Lukumí religion was carried on in a manner similar to the more personal, family-oriented worship practiced commonly in Yoruba compounds. In this system, the orisha was consecrated for the entire compound or household. The oracles indicated a representative from the family to attend to the deity=s worship and certain ceremonies were performed to grant this individual the right to do so. After being so empowered, he or she could perform cleansing rituals, divination, offerings, and other rites for the compound or community typically performed by an ordained Olorisha. Upon the individual=s death, the deity was inherited by a relative previously chosen by the deceased or determined in divination. This person, although considered an Olorisha because he or she attended to the deity, was not duly ordained into the priesthood; that is, he or she was not crowned. This type of worship in Cuba was called santo parado (standing saint [orisha]), or santo de dotación (workgang=s saint).3

In the Havana-centric Lukumí tradition that eventually spread out to the rest of the island and the Cuban Diaspora, before an Olorisha consecrates a deity for another devotee, he or she must have gone through that consecration. In other words, the Olorisha must “have” the deity in questions before it may be prepared for another devotee. A specific part of the ritual for the consecration of an orisha is referred to as a “birthing,” as the “parent” deity symbolically and ritually gives birth—brings into existence—the new deity. This practice is foreign to the cabildos for the devotees who direct these temples do not consecrate orishas for anyone. They continue to pass down the worship of the original deities consecrated by the Africans who founded the cabildo. The orishas in the cabildos are those that were there when the first Lukumí worshiped there in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Therefore it is unrealistic for an Olorisha in Havana to claim that a questionable deity came from a cabildo de nación, as they often emphasize while seeking to impress others, because the cabildos traditionally do not consecrate orishas for anyone.

Then there are the patakí-become-orisha deities. These are characters from the mythological corpus or energies that are recognized as thus, often linked to other actual orishas, but that have never been consecrated or worshipped in any direct way. The most despicable genre of the diplo-orishas is the pseudo-orisha. This is a deity invented out of thin air and derived from some Olorisha’s unethical, immoral and deranged mind, as part of an inside conspiracy to prostitute the religion. In all cases, the person who consecrated this alleged deity for the diplo-santero¬ is either dead, in el campo, or an active player in the scheme and expecting compensation once the extranjero leaves.

There are also various types of extranjeros traveling to Cuba for a religious encounter that differ greatly from those who traveled to Cuba before the periodo especial. I will expound on some of these types, primarily: the ignorant foreigner, the naïve, the ego-maniacal, and the sinister. The ignorant foreigner who knows absolutely nothing about Lukumí religion travels to Cuba and comes upon the religion by accident and/or out of sheer curiosity. Members of this group are usually found wandering American and European cities with orishas, itá books, and every Lázaro Ros CD they can find in the tourist shops; not knowing what to do with them, and more often not even knowing why! In some cases, they also have a set of batá drums that they bought in the souvenir shop in some hotel and swear that they are the “real thing!”

When these individuals fall into unscrupulous hands in Cuba, they believe whatever they are told as they will deposit their faith and trust in their Olorisha who is supposed to guide them through life like a parent steers a child. The ignorant extranjero is made more gullible because he/she typically has no knowledge whatsoever of the religion. When and if they do have some basic understanding of the religion, this knowledge is in all probability derived from literature they have read or information on the Internet. Eventually, though, and what the diplos forget, is that this individual will—hopefully—learn and open up his or her eyes to the stark reality that they were deceived. At that junction, the religion pays. In the majority of the cases, these people end up distancing themselves from the religion and/or converting to other religions.

Then there is the naïve extranjero Olorisha who venerates Cuba as the Mecca of Lukumí religion and goes there on a pilgrimage hoping to establish a relationship with other Olorishas that leads to future exchanges of knowledge and religious secrets. The naïve presuppose that Cuba is the place—some feel its Africa too. This character is a romantic bohemian, typically as ignorant as the foreigner who is exposed to the religion for the first time, that often feels betrayed or rejected by his or her community at home, that accordingly refuses to acknowledge the person’s status as an Olorisha and will not “teach” them about the religion. In many cases, the naives have a good heart and are well intentioned, but these are not adequate tools to deal with the diplos. Little do they understand that the objective they seek—knowledge—is something that, throughout the Orisha world, has to be earned and warranted. It cannot be learned by osmosis, or in a library or bookstore, or by sitting behind a computer discussing Orisha theology on Internet discussion groups. It comes from active participation and exposure to the religion, and transmitted as a reward according to the devotee’s respect, devotion and level of commitment. Knowledge cannot, and should not, be given out freely or indiscriminately. An individual must earn this right with his or her actions.
The naïve Olorisha that falls into the hands of a diplo-santero will most definitely pay a steep price. The individual’s gullibility will result in a garbled version of Lukumí religion, as the diplo-santero will teach “long-lost and forgotten secrets” that only “he” knows because he comes from the “crib” of santeríííía! The diplo-santero will also provide any orisha this individual is seeking, those he has, and those he does not have as well. And, as long as there is a market, “hey, listen, abure, I have this santo that everyone here in Cuba is after but I refuse to give it to anyone because here—and these are the magic words—there is no respect any more for the religion. But I will give it to you to take with you!” “Want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge?” The naïve santero will receive this orisha, in very good faith, mind you, and then bring it back to his/her country as the “ultimate” secret that no one else has. Have I got news for you!

The sad thing about this particular issue is that in the future, this pseudo-orisha will eventually grow in popularity, as undoubtedly the individual who brought it back from Cuba will consecrate it for others who may not be able to travel to Cuba, and these in turn will continue to consecrate it for their omós as well. In a few generations, no one will remember that this pseudo-orisha has no fundamento! Nonetheless, a new pseudo-deity has been born. If another well-intentioned Olorisha questions the validity of a pseudo-orisha, this person’s opinion will be dismissed as either invidious or ignorant.

The naïve Olorisha also paints a very negative view of the religion outside Cuba. An individual who knows nothing at home undoubtedly cannot know anything abroad either. Nonetheless, they travel to Cuba and speak about the “atrocities” committed in the United States by Cuban and Cuban-American Olorishas and their offspring without having any knowledge or any reasonable level of understanding of the manners in which the religion operates. I have lost count of the times when I have had to clarify in Cuba that we do not offer our orishas pre-packaged goat’s, ram’s or chicken’s blood and that our iñales do not come in microwave-ready, vacuum sealed pouches! Absurd as the whole idea may sound, there are still Olorishas in Cuba who believe this.

There is the ego-maniacal Olorisha. This is the individual who wants to have the latest orisha “product” on the market to impress his or her omorisha, and attempt to cause envy to other Olorishas with whom they compete in this incongruous and sacrilegious game. This person’s eventual influence may be indifferent for possibly the individual’s mania will keep him or her from consecrating the orisha for someone else. Still, it will disseminate the knowledge of the supposed existence of this new deity and a posterior trip to Cuba to receive it.

Finally, there is the sinister extranjero that visits the island to exploit the present circumstances and necessity of some Cuban Olorishas and extract from them whatever knowledge they may want to share, or sell, even if this knowledge is questionable or invented. Theirs is a power trip, one that inevitably has a very bad destiny. Nonetheless, the sinister ones go to the island and flaunt dollars around, make null and empty promises to compensate those who cooperate with them, and attempt to buy their way into the homes of respectable and reproachable Olorishas. The former fall prey to their flaunting, or at least apparently so, as the temptation to benefit from this relationship is overwhelming. The latter invidiously covet what this individual flaunts, and care little about his/her level of hollow and pathetic vanity. It is a means to an end for all the players involved in this degenerate version of santería roulette.

The second part of the game involves the ordination of a relative or friend. This can come up on either end of the game board. The sinister extranjero uses a family member or friend as a bargaining chip, thinking that that move will strengthen the bonds. The diplo-santero uses the same strategy, believing that this new alliance will ensure the flow of currency or gifts from the compadre or comadre who lives abroad. To gain further leverage, deception, invention and downright treachery rule this hypocritical game in which no one truly wins and only the religion loses. Diplo-rituals such as the “liberation” of the iyawó from the throne after itá and presenting an iyawó to the igbodú before their year ends increase. Since the extranjero was only able to come for a week, the ordination must be performed in less time than what is normally required. Clearly, there will be fewer mouths to feed! The diplo-orishas eventually turn up, either an invented deity with no historical basis whatsoever, or a genuine orisha that was detailed in an anthropological book about Yoruba religion or Candomblé but that never survived the Middle Passage and therefore extinct or unknown in Cuba.

As in the other cases, the sinister brings the alleged orishas back home and begins to propagate it, but unlike the naïve extranjero, the sinister one is probably aware that the marketed product has no foundations or basis in truth. In addition, they now bring back the new diplo-rituals they learned in Cuba: iyawó in the throne for three days instead of seven; white attire for three months (if at all) instead of one year; and after the third month, the iyawó is presented to the room and becomes a full-fledged Olorisha! Regardless, they continue the farce. The well-intentioned Olorisha who questions the validity of a deity in the hands of a sinister extranjero will eventually be given one of two defensive responses: “Well, I was told in itá that I had to receive everything that exists, even if it was invented,” or “Anything that is washed and fed—referring to the birthing process—is sacred, so even if it is an invention, it is sacred now!” The well-intentioned Olorisha who questions the validity of a ritual or an ordination becomes a declared enemy!

The number of diplo-orishas that are coming out of Cuba today is incredible. It is so difficult to keep track of that some of the diplo-santeros are known to have small labels under their orishas and their pesudo-orishas to keep track of which is which. A diplo-santera that I interviewed in 1999, after telling me that she was faithful to orthodoxy and the old school and had not been polluted by the modern crazes, had the audacity to tell me that she had to be on the “play list” and sell what was on the market! Adam Smith and his theory of supply and demand could not find a better test ground.

The following is a transcription and translation of a section of that interview in which we discuss the diplo-orishas. I have struck out the names she mentions of other diplo-santeros, in spite of the fact that I do not feel totally convinced that I should afford them this courtesy that they truly do not deserve.

A: Yo no porque yo no cambio, oíste. Yo, el que se lo quiera hacer conmigo. . . .Porque ya yo no le quiero hacer na’ a mas nadie. Ya yo no quiero hacerle nada de santo a mas nadie. ¿Hacerle santo? ¡A Nadie! Si quieren un santico se lo doy. Si quieren que le dé Aganjú. Yewá que yo tengo. Dadá que yo tengo. Esos santicos [santicos is a diminutive term that implies that these orishas are inferior to the true ones] que yo tengo. Se lo doy, y ya tu sabes. Otín, Korikoto, Ayaó, que dicen que es heredero de Oyá. Eso sí. Pero, ¿montarle mi santo en la cabeza a la gente?

Not I, because I do not change, you hear. I, whoever wants to do it with me [be ordained]. . .because I no longer want to do anything for anyone. I no longer want to do any orisha rituals for anyone. Ordain someone? No one! If they want an orisha I give it to them. If they want me to give them Aganjú. Yewá that I have. Dadá that I have. Those orishas that I have. I give them and, you know. Otín, Korinkoto, Ayaó, the one they say inherits Oyá. That I will. But mount my orishas on someone’s head?

W: ¿Y de donde surgieron esos Orichas vieja?

And where did those orishas come from, old one? [In Cuba, referring to an elderly person as “old one” is considered endearing and not offensive.]

A: Bueno, esos Orichas son nuevos ahora, mi’jo. Esos Orichas son nuevos ahora.

Well, those orishas are new now, my son. Those orishas are new now.

W: ¿Pero en la época suya usted los conoció?

But did you know them in your era?

A: No. Yo en esa época no los conocí. Pero ahora, esos son los que están en el “pley.” Tu entiendes. Esos son los que están en el “pley” ahora. En casa de Fulano esos son los que están en el “pley.” ¿No es así?

No. I did not know them in my time. But now, those are the ones that are on the “playlist.” You understand. Those are the ones that are on the “playlist” now. In “so-and-so’s” house those are the ones that are on the “playlist.” Is it not that way?

W: Sí, mas o menos.

Yes, more or less.

A: Es así. Fulano & Sutano. Esos son [eso son los santeros] los que están en el “pley” ahora.

That is the way it is. So-and-so and so-and-so. Those are the ones [the olorishas] that are on the “playlist” now.

W: Si, pero toca la casualidad que están en el “pley” para los extranjeros nada mas.

Yes, but it just so happens that they are on the “playlist” for foreigners only.

A: Sí, para los extranjeros, si. Si, se lo hacen y se lo embarcan pa’lla también.

Yes, for foreigners, yes. Yes, they make them for them and send them over there too.

W: ¿Que da mucho que pensar, no?

Makes one wonder, no?

A: ¿Tu sabes lo que es eso? Pero bueno. . .hay que seguir. No queda mas remedio. Porque yo si, yo tengo mis santicos de eso. Si lo vienen a buscar, se lo tengo que dar. ¿No es así? ¡Porque si no ya tu sabes!

Can you imagine! But, well. . .we have to go on. There is no choice. Because I do, I have all my orishas of that type. If they come here for them, I have to give it to them. Is it not that way? If not, you know how it is!

At this point, I could no longer take any more of this farce. I turned off my recorder and said goodbye!

Regrettably, the religion is suffering tremendously at the expense of a few avaricious, unethical and depraved individuals. The only difference between the sinister extranjero and the diplo-santero is that the former have dollars and the latter do not! They are both heretical; they are both abominable; and worst of all, they are both affecting the stability and respectability of this legacy we call Lukumí religion.
Some of the pseudo-orishas that appear on this list were simply invented to sell to the extranjero. Other pseudo-orishas are actual orishas who may have at one time existed in Cuba, but were eventually lost. This is the case with Oshumaré, the orisha of the rainbow. In “La Laguna Sagrada de San Joaquín,” Lydia Cabrera discussed Oshumaré and said the orisha was known in the area of Jovellanos in the province of Matanzas, primarily among the cabildos directed by the Ijeshás (Yesás), one of the more prominent ethnic groups in that area. Cabrera worked in this area in the 1940s and 50s.

Though I should cite the source, I prefer not to as this Olorisha currently consecrates Oshumaré and caters to the diplo-orisha market in Cuba. Where he received or found Oshumaré is unclear to this day, though I suspect it was born from the notes I sent him from the United States when I received the orisha in Brazil in 1988. This individual has given so many different stories for the origin of his Oshumaré—including Jovellanos and Brazil— that there can be no other conclusion but that he created it out of the blue, a practice that seems to be habitual with this fellow.
In more recent times, I have had the pleasure of retracing Cabrera’s footsteps and interviewing many of her informant’s grandchildren in Jovellanos. Cabrera established very close ties with the people of Jovellanos who provided her with much information on their religious practices, including numerous recordings of orisha music that she eventually released on records and are now on CD. Oshumaré is no longer remembered by any of them, not even in name. In fact, the few Oshumaré chants that survive among us to this day have metamorphosed and are now sung to Oshún, basically because the similarity between the names Oshún and Oshúmaré which many pronounced Oshúnmaré. Neither do the Jovellanos’ Olorishas recognize the name of this Havana Olorisha who claims the town as one of the places of origin of his Oshumaré. If the grandchildren of those who may have worshipped or known the orisha do not remember it, it is quite probable that the information that Cabrera gathered were the final remnants of the collective memory of this orisha.

In part, I may share some responsibility in the surge of this pseudo-santería market. In the 1980s, I was one of a number of serious Olorishas from the U.S. who visited Cuba looking for orishas that we then considered “lost” or in danger of being lost. Under the erroneous assumption that the political situation of the island would not allow an opening of the sort that occurred in the 1990s, I personally brought to the United States a number of orishas that had not left the island or that were in the hands of a very small number of Olorishas before then. Among these, Dadá, Yemowó, Osayín, Irokó, Boromú, Oduá, Yewá, and many others. I personally dealt with a series of Olorishas on the island that I considered serious and most of all, religious. How erred I was!

As time passed and other extranjeros traveled to Cuba more frequently, many of these same Olorishas, along with a large list of other “respectable” elders, soon became ruthless orisha hawkers under the cheap pretext that justified their action based on their economic situation, financial stress, and the need to live—yo tengo que vivir, y si eso es lo que vienen a buscar, yo se lo vendo (I have to live and if that is what they come seeking, I sell it!)!

The most recent phenomenon revolves around the Arará. Many Lukumí Olorishas are now traveling to Cuba to receive Arará fodú (the Hispanicized term for vodú) to add to their collection of wares in the U.S. Historically, the Lukumí have always sought the Arará Babaluaiyé. This is not a new trend. Once they received it, though, they were not allowed to consecrate it for anyone else because simply, they were not Arará. The new trend now is to not only receiving Babaluaiyé with the Arará, but the other deities they have as well. So now, the Lukumí Olorisha has the option of worshiping the orisha or the fodú, or both.

What is more disturbing is that the Lukumí extranjero, and especially the sinister ones, are bringing back fodú and consecrating them for other Olorishas. What is wrong here? Simple. The Arará consecration ritual is not the same as the Lukumí, the process for Osayín is different, the chants are different, and the rituals for the sacrifice are different. In fact, Arará rituals are much more complex than the Lukumí rituals. The sinister Olorisha and now converted or adopted Arará Ajunsí has no time (or desire) to learn new and complex ceremonies. There’s no time to learn and produce. So what is the option? Consecrate Arará deities with Lukumí ceremonies, what else!
Currently, it is also trendy to have various roads of a fodú. Unlike the Lukumí orishas, many more of the Arará deities have roads or avatars. This is especially so with Hebiosso, Shangó’s Arará counterpart, but is becoming just as popular with other fodú as well.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list as I am sure that there are many more pseudo-orishas where these came from. It is very clear that in Cuba, there appears to be an active connection with the supernatural and the other world. Many Orishas are still descending from orún and manifesting themselves in Cuba so that extranjeros can go there and consecrate them and worship them when they return abroad. Our pantheon has not stopped growing and evolving! In this list, I will limit myself to the diplo-santeros¬, with a brief mention of the growth of this trend and its relationship with the Arará. I have opted to leave aside the diplo-babalaos and diplo-Ifá as this is not my territory. Hopefully, one of my Ifá counterparts will have the integrity to follow my footsteps and expose the Ifá diplo-market as well.

Orthodox Orishas that have appeared in Cuba whose origin is vague or doubtful


Oshumaré is the orisha of the rainbow. As already detailed above, this orisha was lost in Cuba, possibly during the first half of the twentieth century. The only remnants of this deity that survived were possibly in an Iyesá cabildo in Jovellanos. At present, no one from the cabildo claims to have ever heard the name, much less know the orisha.
In the course of various trips to Cuba in the 1980s, I discussed Oshumaré with a considerable number of Olorishas. A mere handful had ever heard of Oshumaré, and those that had, immediately linked him to Brazil, giving me the impression that they had had some exposure to some of the available anthropological literature. In 1988, one source mentioned a very old and long deceased Iyalorisha; Nicolasa Domenech who reputedly was the last Olorisha in Cuba who had Oshumaré. This person could not remember what happened with Domenech’s orishas when she died, but suspects that they were either confiscated by the government for a museum or improperly disposed of by her descendants. The point is, according to this source, that when she died, Oshumaré died with her.

The diplo-santeros selling Oshumaré claim three different origins. The first claim alleges that a group of Brazilians visited Cuba in the late 1980s or early 1990s and brought Oshumaré, which they consecrated for a group of Olorishas on the island.

The interesting thing here is that the supposed Brazilian Oshumaré does not conform to the Brazilian patterns. I traveled to Brazil in 1988 and received Oshumaré in Bahia, in the Casa de Oxumaré, with the late Iyá Nilzette de Yemojá. Since then, I have dealt with many Brazilian Olorishas, and though I am no expert on Brazilian Candomblé, have acquired sufficient understanding of their rituals to assert that the Cuban Oshumaré is not Brazilian.
The second place of origin is Puerto Rico. The diplo-santeros claim that one of three well-known Puerto Rican Olorishas—all personally known by me—brought it there and gave it to them. The problem with this story is that they cannot get their tale straight. One day they say “so-and-so” and the following week it is someone else altogether. This origin smells foul as well. The Puerto Rican connection denies any involvement.

The final place of origin is always and invariably el campo. “I received it with an old santero who had it in el campo and did not even know he had it!” Can you believe the luck of this individual! Oh, and let us not forget “Ferminita’s house.” It seems that everything from el campo originated in Fermina Gómez’s house in Matanzas. Subsequent visits to the house of the late renowned Iyalorisha reveal that that deity, and much less the diplo-santero¬, had never set foot in that house in their lifetime!

I do know for certain that when I received Oshumaré in Brazil, I sent some information on this orisha to an individual I thought was a respectful and religious Olorisha. How wrong I was! In all probability, my library and my research are responsible for the reappearance of this deity in Cuba.

I have recently learned of another Oshumaré that allegedly descends from Tomás Cruz Santana, Shangó Deí. Shangó Deí was a very well known Oní Shangó from Pogolotti, renowned as one of the major sources of Dadá in Cuba. In fact, he ordained one person to Dadá in the 1950s, Tato, still in Cuba today in the Playas section of Havana. The only problem with Shangó Deí’s Oshumaré is that according to all his living omorisha, he did not have this deity or anything like it! Oh, well, to coin the title of George Brandon’s book, it seems that the dead do sell memories!


Until 1984, Orí was not consecrated in Cuba. In this year, sources tell me that through Wande Abimbola’s intercession, a group of Yoruba Babalawós went to Cuba and consecrated Orí for a group of Babalawós on the island. This source seems to be reliable and as thus, it is safe to assume that the only orthodox Orí in Cuba is that given by this line. My sources tell me that this group of Cuban Babalawós is under the direction of a gentleman named Frank Ogbe’shé.

I am the other source of a legitimate Orí lineage in Cuba. After I received it in Brazil in 1998, on a subsequent trip to Cuba, I consecrated Orí for three Olorishas. I am now planning to consecrate another Orí, this time for an Obá Oriaté with whom I have developed a good friendship on the island.

Still, Orí has appeared on the diplo-orisha market. The reappearance among the wares of the diplo-santeros may possibly be linked with the beautiful sculpture in the Asociación Cultural Yoruba’s museum in Havana. There are various versions of Orí. Interestingly, like Oshumaré, the diplos also claim Brazil, Miami, and Puerto Rico as the places of origin of their Orí. One version consecrates a white stone with a hand of cowries. It is consecrated like Obatalá, in the traditional Lukumí fashion, and white-feathered animals are sacrificed to it.

The second version is a small, wooden sculpture of a head that is “charged” with mysterious substances. This is the one that allegedly comes from Brazil. Obviously, those who are familiar with the Brazilian Orí consecration recognize this is as a total farce from the onset. The Orí that allegedly has its origins in Puerto Rico consists of a white stone, a sun, a moon and 256 cowries. A she-goat or a he-goat—depending on availability—is offered when it is consecrated. Ingenious, really! It has one cowry for every odu. Alas, they forgot that Dilogún has 257 odu. They overlooked Opira! What makes it even more interesting is that in Puerto Rico, sources say that this Orí comes from Cuba.


Before diplo-santería, Ajalá was an obscure road of Obatalá, remembered by very few Obá Oriatés. This deity is the orisha that fashions the Orí that accompanies a human being to earth at birth.
The new diplo-Ajalá consists of two wooden heads, one black and the other painted white, that rest on a Roman scale, one on each side of the scale. It is ornamented with white feathers, and has a very close relationship with Oduduwá.


Iyamasé is well known in Brazil, and it may have been known in Havana as well. A popular Shangó chant refers to Iyamasé and asks if it was she who actually gave birth to Shangó:

Iyamasé lobí Shangó
Iyamasé lobí Shangó
Gbogbo araye oní kuelé
Iyamasé lobí Shangó

I imagine that the diplos met up with Iyamasé through the literature. In one line, Iyamasé consists of seven edún ará—lightning stones. In another lineage, it is a black stone and a porous stone. The consecration rituals are just as innovative, but I refuse to discuss any more of this heresy to avoid tempting the sinister ones that may read this. In both lineages, the Olorisha who consecrated Iyamasé for the diplo-santero was originally from el campo and dead.

Ayaó (Ajaó)

This orisha was known exclusively in el campo—in the town of Jovellanos. Lydia Cabrera spoke about Ayaó, Oyá’s younger sister, in her Laguna Sagrada de San Joaquín. This orisha has close ties with Oyá and Olokún.
In Havana, Ayaó was consecrated with Oyá solely when an omó of Oyá was ordained. It consisted of a bow like Oshosi’s with a snake as an arrow. This attribute has now become part of the paraphernalia of the new version of Ayaó, replete with one, two, and recently inflated to nine stones in New York by one of the sinister ones. The origin: el campo—the cabildo in Jovellanos. One catch, though. When one visits the cabildo, the members are adamant to affirm that the orishas in the cabildo have been there for countless generations and that unlike the Havana and Matanzas orisha traditions, the Iyesá do not consecrate these orishas for anyone. The Ayaó that is in the cabildo has never given birth to any other Ayaó.

The consecration of this orisha is also very beautiful. It takes place on a table that has been garnished with different colored textiles and plenty of hibiscus stems and flowers. The entire ceremony, including the sacrifice, takes place on the table! We must at least give some credit to the ingenuity and aesthetic potential of some diplo-santeros!

Bokún (Ibokún)

According to my sources in the 1980s, the last person in Cuba to have Bokún was Pedro “el picao” Medina, Oyé Yeí, who was ordained by Octavio Samá, Obadimejí, and María Magdalena “mama la de Vieja Linda” Crespo, Onikeyé. Allegedly, when Oyé Yeí died, Bokún was not dispatched in his etutú as the Oriaté—one of the most renowned in the history of the religion—claimed that it was necessary to keep it in case anyone ever needed it. Later sources confirmed that this was a myth and that this Oriaté never did any such thing. What is more, they insist that Oyé Yeí did not have this orisha.

What I do know is that it is now on the diplo-market. According to my sources, there are now two versions. There is the traditional Bokún—which was a man on horseback with an oshé or machete in one hand. This eré was seen in some cabildos in the interior of the island and may still be around. I have come across it a couple of times. The newer diplo-version is a black stone that lives with Shangó, and others say that it lives between Shangó and Dadá.


Borokoso was originally brought to the US by Josefina Beltrán, Oloshundé, in the 1960s. According to the information I have always heard, this was an orisha related with Oshosi, a brother. In all probability one of the many hunting deities that make up the Odé pantheon of deities. In the 1980s, I asked many Olorishas about this deity and no one knew who it was. Though I will never doubt Oloshundé’s integrity, she may well have been the last person to have this deity. To the best of my knowledge, she consecrated it for only two or three Olorishas in the states.

Borokoso, now back in Cuba, has been transformed. Now he is Shangó’s “witchdoctor.”

Energies, Attributes or Patakí that have become Orishas


Abomán is an entity that is supposed to live with Irokó in the crown of the Ceiba—silk cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra, L.). In reality, it is a deity that is revered but not consecrated. Well, at least it was not consecrated before the 1990s. Now I hear that it is.


Okoró, depending on the version, consists of 4 or 16 eggs painted white, red, blue and yellow. Now I hear that the diplos are becoming even more creative and beading the eggs. I hove they do not burst and foul up the room. Then again, that may be an ashé!

In reality, Okoró is another one of those entities that is worshiped but is not consecrated. It is an energy that has to do with Egún rituals and is manifested in a mask that is danced similar to the Geledé and Egún masquerades in Africa. In some lineages, Okoró is represented with a clay shingle that is placed standing in an Olorisha’s Egún shrine.


Laro is the “divine doctor of the heavens.” He is related with Erinle, or so they say. In all probability, this is the diplos version of Logún Edé, of whom they have heard stories, possibly enough to resuscitate him. In Cuba, the little memory that exists of Logún Edé is in a myth from the odu Odí Oturá that refers to Laro, a being who was male for six months of the year and female for the other six months. Still, until the 1990s, Laro only survived in a myth. Now he has become manifest and is placed in a tureen or jar.

Talabí & Salakó

This pair of diplo-Ibeji is one of my favorites. Talabí and Salakó are names that are given to specific children to describe circumstances surrounding their birth. These names are known as oruko amotoorunwá. Talabí is the name given to a girl that is born while still wrapped in the caul or membrane that surrounds the embryo in the mother’s womb. Salakó is the name given to the male child born under those same conditions. In Cuba, the Lukumí used these as names for the omó of Obatalá regardless of gender.

The Lukumí have always believed that twins should be ordained to Yemojá and Shangó. The first-born, considered the youngest of the twins, should be ordained to Shangó, and the second twin is ordained to Yemojá. In some instances, though, it may be impossible to follow suit with this tradition, especially if one of the twins acquires a physical defect in which case he or she must be automatically ordained to Obatalá. According to one source, in this particular situation, the iyawó is named either Talabí or Salakó.

According to the diplos, Talabí and Salakó are an orisha. It turns out that Obatalá had a pair of Ibejí: Talabí and Salakó. As if Taiwó and Kaindé were not enough, now we also have orisha fúnfún Ibejí


Maselobí, once a name for the omó of Yemojá, has now become an orisha. From what I have been told—and trust me I know because I fell for the nonsense and received it—it has to do with Shangó, Yemojá and Iyamasé. It is probably born from the chant I transcribed above. Among her attributes are seven silver mermaids.


Ananagú is the little girl that the odu Ofún was taking care of in his home. According to the myth, Ofún took in a goddaughter while her parents traveled. She was told not to peer into special areas of the house where Ofún kept some of the mysteries and beings that he harbored in his home. Nonetheless, the little girl was overcome by curiosity. One day she took a ladder and decided to climb up and peek over the separators. What she saw frightened her so much that she fell back, hit her head in the fall, and died. This little girl is Ananagú.
This orisha is consecrated for the person who has Ofún from itá. It guards the person’s doorway from untimely death—how many more of those do I need before I die! She is related with Olokún and the phases of the moon, and part of her attributes consist of metal replicas of these phases.


Oshé is a wooden image of a man with a double-headed axe blade encrusted in his head. In one hand he carries a small double headed axe and in the other, depending on the sculptor, an asheré—maraca—or a lightning bolt. This eré is undoubtedly related with Shangó and has historically been part of Shangó’s paraphernalia, but it has now evolved to the status of orisha, with cowries and itá.


Idobe is another amazing deity. The Yoruba call the male child born after a pair of twins Idowú (Ideú). The female child is Idogbé (Idobé in our Hispanicized Yoruba). Like the Ibejí, these children are considered sacred and endowed with special powers. Undoubtedly, Idowú has been known and worshiped in Cuba for many years. But, since one is not enough, especially in these days of equality and the like, we need to allow for his sister or female counterpart. It turns out that now we have both in Cuba, Idowú and Idobé.


Until the 1980s, the term Irawo was used as a name for an oní Shangó—Obá Irawo or simply Irawo. In the ordination ceremony, irawo—star or comet—is called during a specific part of the ritual as a celestial energy or presence that the iyawó will be exposed to in the future. One final version argued that irawo was related with Orishaoko, though the exact nature of the relationship was not clear. In fact Irawo is Orishaokó’s hometown, and one of his praise names still used in Cuba is afefé Irawo—breeze that passes over Irawo.

The diplo Irawo is a comet that guided Orishaokó as he was moving between towns—though we do not know the exact towns. Maybe it was the North Star that guided Orishaokó as it did the three kings who visited Jesus when he was born. Its main attribute is a metal plate of a star with a tailpiece that imitates the streaks left behind by a falling star. Once consecrated, the cowries are sewn into the sides of the plate and it is ornamented with beads.



Akoiré is another recent arrival. It is supposed to be an orisha that resides either at the foot of Olokún or Yemojá. One version says that it is a “slave” of Yemojá. Another says a slave of Olokún. A third and very creative version alleges that Akoiré is an orisha that is born in the odu Ogundá Odí and recounts a myth that claims that she is a daughter of Yemojá Ogunté with which Ogún fell in love. One day, in a fit of rage, he cut off her head. Feeling sorry for her, Ogún rushed out and found the body of a snake that he used to set her head back onto her body. Boy, Ogún sure likes to cut off a lot of heads!

Finally, there is a less popular version says that she is a deity from tierra mina¬—the land of Mina (in the vicinity of modern day Togo).


If the name is spelled Agoiré, then it is a different orisha. In this case, Agoiré is the patron deity of the red tail feathers of the African grey parrot. Wow! So, if this is the case, she should also be related with Elegbá or Oshún. What a complicated web we weave!

Obamolochún (Obamobolochún)

Obamolochún is Oba’s and Oshún’s long lost sister that suddenly turned up in Havana. Fortunately someone had the power to convince her and bring her to her senses so that she would turn up again because the pantheon really needed her!


Odemaro is Oshosi’s mother. It never ceases to amaze me how the relatives of some orishas just stay in hiding or lost for long periods of time and then decide to come out of hiding and let themselves be known.


Oloquito is Olokún’s assistant. It is a small, clay jar, with a special “charge” that lives beside Olokún!

Obá Lerí

Obá Leri—the king of the heads—is another diplo¬-orisha that has grown lately in popularity. We are still speculating as to what it is as the Divine Birth occurred so recently that the mythology is still in the evolutionary stage.

Yenye Labá (Yeyé Lambá)

This would be a great orisha for Emerrill the chef. Yenyé Labá is the orishaof the kitchen and patron deity of cooks. She was Yemojá’s gift to Oshún. Maybe Yemojá did not think this out too well. Was it not Oba who had a problem with cooking and cut off her ear to try and improve her cooking? Yenyé Labá is consecrated in a jar that must afterward reside in the Olorisha’s kitchen. Important in the consecration of this pseudo-orisha are a series of herbs: basil, parsley, cilantro, spearmint, oregano, and other aromatic culinary herbs. The irony is that this pseudo-orisha was born and bred right here in the good old U S of A, somewhere between Houston and Los Angeles.
Yenyé Laba’s jar wears an apron. In fact, those little dresses that are sold in some kitchenware outlets to place over the dishwashing liquid’s bottle may work as well. From the comments I have heard from a number of sources, the idea for inventing this orisha came from this little accoutrement.

Asaba Inlé

Asaba Inle is another of those long lost relatives that suddenly turned up. He is Babaluaiyé’s father, Nanú’s husband. The thing is that I always thought, or at least have been historically told by Olorishas and anthropologists, that Babaluaiyé’s father was Kohosú. If they had checked their sources in the library beforehand, they would have gotten the name right!


All I know about this deity is that it is supposed to be either Oshún’s daughter—I thought that was Poroyé—or Shangó’s son. The story says that it was also born in the US, in the San Francisco Bay area.


Aberikuto is some deity that is supposed to be related with Babaluaiyé, though the exact nature of the relationship is foggy.

Otán Bomí

Otán Bomí is Oba’s daughter (or son). My sources tell me that this is just a name for an omó of Oba. It is now an orisha. If Obamolochún is her long, lost sister, maybe Otán Bomí is in reality her long, lost sister’s illegitimate child that Oba raised as her own and has now only recently, since the reappearance of its Obamolochún, discovered its true mother.


Bodoké sounds like something out of Greek mythology. He is half human and half ram, and lives at the foot of Dadá.


A deity related with Olokún though the relationship is unclear.

Abasia y Amasia

These are two Yemojá or two Erinle. The story is yet in the process of evolving. Among its tools are ladders and flags.


Agamí is the daughter of Yemojá and Aganjú. She represents the horizon and lives where the sun (or the sky) meets the ocean! Her attributes are separated in a jar that is separated somehow and has two sections inside. The attributes on one side of the jar live in water while those on the other side are kept dry. Agamí is also from-do you want to take a stab at it? El campo!

Kokoyá or Koko Oyá

Allegedly this is Oyá’s “legitimate” father-all the others are illegitimate, of course! He lived in the palace with Obatalá and Yemojá, and fell in love with Yemojá. Of course Obatalá found out and was enfuriated. He banished Kokoyá from the palace. This is said to be the reason why Yemojá and Oyá do not get along! Huh?

Kokoyá causes earthquakes when he is annoyed or wants attention from humankind. I wonder if he caused one when Obatalá banished him. He had to have been upset, don’t you think? In any case, Kokoyá lives beside Oyá and Aganjú.


Until the other day, I honestly thought that the term Olorí meant “owner of a [good] head.” Recently, I have been taught better. Olorí is an Ibejí that is associated with Obatalá. Okay! This begs the question: what happened to the other one? Did it die? Then, where are the eré and the igba for this lost Ibejí? I am sure it is in the process.

Ologodu Lasho (or Lacho)

Offspring of a love affair between Babaluayé and Ajá, abandoned by Olosá’s lagoon. When Olosá discovered the baby, she decided to raise it as her own. As the child grew up, he became a renowned carver, so much so that he became the official carver for the Olokún masks.

Esí, Egbe and Ikoko

Three deities associated with the river, that are present when an abokú is taken to the river before the ordination ceremony. Esí is the deity that protects this divine trilogy; a sort of sentinel. He is Egbe’s offspring. Egbe is the deity in charge of purifying the river’s wáter. Boy, environmentalists would love this orisha! Ikoko, deity that lives atop of the ashibatá (Water lilly or Lotus), provides ashé to all the herbs that are found at the river’s edge, and especially to the “marine” plants that are found in the river.

Ela & Ule

The two orishas that accompanied Orunmilá when he descended to earth. As such, they are witnesses to the many wonders that deity performed after his descent from oréun. Actually, I thought Ela was something else, but of course, I now know better.

Afí & Aine

Ibejí and albino, the first kings of the town of Afi. I need a GPS to find that one!

Orisha Agana

A deity that lived with Orishaokó. One day she bécame upset with him—maybe they had a lover’s quarrel! As a result, she threw herself into the sea and subsequently took it upon herself to destroy the earth with massive tidal waves. Olofín bécame so enraged with her behavior that he punished her and she was condemned to live in the deepest regions on the sea, beyond Olokún’s realm. Eventually, she found a nice crater and took up residence there. I now have to revise my list of Yemojá’s roads. All along, I thought Aganá was the Yemojá of the aquifers! My mentors were clearly mistaken!

This list could continue endlessly. I am told that there are over three hundred new orishas. Abroad, in New York, Miami and Puerto Rico, Olorishas that have received these abominations in Cuba continue to propagate them, and boast about the number of deities that they have recently brought back from Cuba. In reality, they have brought back absolutely nothing! What they have done is ensured that when they return to the island, there will be a score of new diplo-orishas waiting for them, as these have become the Modus Vivendi for many in Cuba that would otherwise be forced to find a real job and work!

Eyá Akarandú

A fish that is deified and associated with Erinle. It turns out that every time someone takes an offering to Erinle and deposits it at the edge of the river, Eyá Akarandú gathers it in his mouth and swims to the bottom of the river to give to his master! Amazing, isn’t it?


It is my sincerest hope that this exposé will open some eyes. Too many sincere and good-hearted Olorishas are becoming increasingly disenchanted with this religion because of the actions of a small band of loathsome and irreligious ruffians. Sadly, the religion is the one that pays the price, and not the true culprits. I am quite certain that this exposé will not be well received by the diplo-santeros in Cuba and abroad. Undoubtedly they will censure me and deride my exposé as the position of a conservative and ignorant American Olorisha. After all, what do we know! Regrettably, these are people that I have been acquainted with in the past. Though I will definitely become the victim of their scorn, my clean conscience and sincere devotion for this religion will indisputably absolve me. That is my balsam. I conclude this exposé with the wise words of a very respectable elder from Matanzas who condemns diplo-santería: que daño han hecho esos kilitos de ustedes, compadre! [What damage those little pennies of yours have caused, my friend].

  1. I use the terms Santería and Santero in the most sarcastic way. I have fully expressed my rejection of these terms in the past as I consider them pejorative and offensive.
  2. See Ortiz, Fernando. Los Cabildos y la Fiesta Afrocubana del Dia de Reyes. In Revista Bimestre Cubana 16 (Jan-Feb. 1921); Howard, Philip A. Changing History. Afro-Cuban Cabildos and Societies of Color in the Nineteenth Century. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1998.
  3. Interview with Adelfa Teran, Igbín Koladé. Priestess of Obatalá and Obá Oriaté. Miami, Florida. December 26, 1999.

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