Ilarí Obá

On October 7, 2001, babalawos, olochas, and omo oricha gathered at 1354 Parkwood Road, N.W., Washington, D.C., to bring down Orunmila and consult him about appropriate responses to the tragedies of September 11 and the subsequent war, the beginning of which was announced during the ceremony. Eloi Hernández-Otura-Nico and Michael Atwood Mason-Ocán-Oñí called the gathering.

Through the ikin of Eloi Hernández-Otura-Niko in the hands of Orimoladé Ogúnjimi-Odi-Roso, Orula provided the following direction:

Odu: Oshé-Irete
1st Witness: Irete-Otura
2nd Witness: Irete Meyi

Through the ibo, Orula marked Iré with Irete Meyi.

The blessings were:

Iré arikú elese ocha Ochún cotoyale

Orula marked the following ebós:

  1. Adimú to Ochún: Everyone should make offerings of fruit, candles, honey, or her favorite foods.
  2. Altar for the ancestors: Everyone should create an altar for the ancestors with flowers, water, and a candle, and each person should pray for the peace of those killed in this conflict.
  3. Gifts to the garbage collectors and the police: Everyone should give between $1 and $5 to these people in their area, because they work with the ancestors all the time.
  4. Flag of Otura-Nico: Everyone should create a flag that is half white and half purple to hang behind the main door of the house.
  5. Individual ebó: Each olocha should make the ebó from itá or ask Elegguá to mark a new one. Each person with the hand of Orula or cofá should make the ebó from itá. When making ebó, everyone should pray for the peace and security of family and friends.
  6. Goat and drumming for Orunmila: The community needs to come together and offer a goat to Orunmila.

This will be followed by a drumming in his honor.

Those seeking more information or wishing to support the collective ebó can contact Michael Atwood Mason-Ocán-Oñí at

Those present were:

Eloi Hernández-Otura-Nico
Orimoladé Ogúnjimi-Odi-Roso
Eduardo Sierra-Ica-Koso
Ifá Biyii Sangode

Francisco Macías-Echu Bí
Michael Atwood Mason-Ocán-Oñí
David H. Brown-Eguín Coladé
Shango Yemí
Fani Trump-omo Ochún
Carmen Trujillo-omo Ochún

Apetebí, Awofaka ni Orula and Omo Oricha
Ariel Alexander
Pamela Alexander
Mercedes Frazier
Vincent Huckle
Ruth Jara
Jumal Lewis
Marian Lobred-Iyanifa Ifafunlayó
David Lounsbury
Juanita Minor
Marcelo Minor
María Minor
Nicolas Soria
Harold Snyder


Lazaro P. Alfaro Lazaro Ramos
Antonio Pena Abelardo Hernández
Angel Riana Jorge C. Cuadra
Juan Carlos “Yiyi” Ernesto Pichardo
Otto Tianga Esther Amores
Olga Ramos Henry Pascual
Beatriz Rodriguez Dolores Rivera
Rita Guerra Jeffrey Gonzalez
Fabian Hernández Cristina Hernández

The meeting took place at Olorisha Henry Pascual, Oñí Lainú’s home in Miami.

Donations and Preparations:
Ernesto Pichardo opened the meeting notifying the group that $ 1,800.00 had been donated thus far.


The group agreed that preparations would be made for 500 attendees.


A motion was made by Abelardo Hernández to eliminate cooking and food for drum. He
stated that it was “. . .a drum and not a dinner party!” After some discussion and objections, it was decided to only have akará (bean fritters), sweets, and bread to serve to the attendees.

For the Oro Christina and Lazaro volunteered to prepare and bring the adimús to be offered to Egún.

More canned sodas will be purchased in addition to the 75 sodas already donated.

Abelardo Hernández (2), Cristina Hernández(2), and Otto Tianga (2) will bring water coolers to be used for the refreshments.


There was some concern over this issue but it was finally decided that seven cars will take the fruits from the throne to seven religiously symbolic places.

The following people volunteered:

1-Fabian & Cristina Hernández: Southern point (Perine)
2-Isabel and Oscar Urtiz: Northern Point (Broward)
3-Otto Tianga: Western Point (Everglades/Krome Avenue)
4-Henry Pascual: River
5-Betty Rodriguez: Savannah
6- Pending volunteer: Ocean
7- Pending volunteer: Bush

Betty Rodriguez has a friend who volunteered to as a security guard. Cristina Hernández will also call Mario Yaques to ask for advice and/or a volunteer. Otto Tianga will call his uncle to ask for a 2nd volunteer.


1. Angelito Riana- will call “El Negro,” the drummer to ensure that he has been informed of the activities

2. Christina Hernández – will confer with Willie Ramos to investigate the status of the panels and head-wear pledge he obtained. She will also call Tony Pena about the outfit that has been donated for Ogun.

3. Everyone whom attended the meeting will bring a white towel and a gourd (jícara) to
the Oro for use at the Drum on Sunday.

4. Henry Pascual and Otto Tianga- will purchase bread, akará mix, and sodas.

5. Otto Tianga- will call Red Cross to get information on donating food that will
not be used. He will also call to rent portable toilets.

6. Cristina Hernández- will call Esequiel to organize when Abelardo Hernández, Angelito
Riana, and Cristina Hernández will go to take Aña its tributes.

Everything will be brought to the ranch on Friday the 2nd in order to prepare for the drum.


Otto Tianga will organize the volunteers. (Please contact him with any names at
305-505-2358 or

1. Isabel & Oscar Urtiz
2. Xiomara (Monga)
3. Maria Adela
4. Sini
5. Betty Rodriguez
6. Oneida Prado
7. Lola Rivera
8. Pablo Alvarez

By Biaggio Talent
Translated by W. Ramos

Salvador- The atabaques (drums) of Bahia’s Candomble terreiros (Orisha temples) will beat for world peace, to prevent a confrontation of great ratios between the United States and the Muslim peoples. Tomorrow, 40 olorishas, followers of the afro-Brazilian religions, representatives of the most important Candomble terreiros of Salvador, will congregate in the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Homens Pretos, in the Pelourinho district of Salvador, to ask the African deities for protection and world-wide peace.

One of the organizers of the gathering, Ozeas Santana, of the Terreiro Luan-Deua, situated in the Railroad Suburb of the Bahian capital explained that the leaderships of the Catholic Church, Judaism and Islam had congregated to defend the peace, but at no moment were representatives of the African religions invited. “We decided, then, to take this initiative, condemning the terrorist attacks and in solidarity with the families of victims, so that pacific solutions against terrorism are found,” he said. The Candomble clergy have chosen Oxala, the father of all orixas, as the deity to which the ceremony will be directed. He is the orixa called upon by all who seek peace.

As a temple where celebrations of Bahian syncretism are traditional, the Church Nossa Senhora do Rosario dos Homens Pretos was chosen for the meeting because it is considered a historical symbol of the social insertion of Africans and their descendants into Brazilian society. African slaves built the church, constructed in the 18th century, during their moments of rest from their long workdays. The expression “to rest carrying rocks,” originated during the period in which the church was constructed, accurately describing the endeavor, as in the evenings, slaves carried the rocks that were taken from a nearby quarry to the place where the temple was raised.

The 40 leaders of the Afro-Bahian religions already congregate regularly on Wednesdays, in the headquarters of the Bahian Anti-AIDS Center to discuss ways of preventing sexually transmitted diseases among the people affiliated with Bahian terreiros.

Copyright 2001 State agency. All rights reserved.

On Friday the 21st of September, in a gathering that I consider a historical milestone, Miami’s Oriatés came together to discuss the recent terrorist attacks and the upcoming war, and to determine a religious course of action for us as a religious community. We met in the house of an Olorisha of Elegbá, Cristina Hernandez, Osikán, my omó Orisha, who graciously offered me her house for the meeting.

Almost every Oriaté in Miami, as well as a varied group of Babalawos and senior Olorishas were invited, though not everyone was notified for various reasons, including lack of time as the meeting was called very abruptly, as would be imagined. Nonetheless, a considerable number of Miami’s Oriatés were present and those that could not attend expressed they would support whatever decision the majority arrived at. Unfortunately, the babalawo’s presence was lacking. Though a number of different babalawo were notified, only one came, and one other who was sick, sent his wife.

Due to the urgency of the matter at hand, it was determined by mutual consensus that we as Olorishas would effect our own divination and subsequently whatever ebó the oracle determined. If the babalawos later determined to gather and bring down Ifá as well, we would guarantee our participation in whatever ebó Ifá recommended.

We brought down the dilogún of Elegbá. It was agreed by all of us that Elegbá was the ideal orisha to consult since he is the voice of all the orishas. Likewise, since we were in the home of an Elegbá priestess, we determined that her Elegbá should be the one to consult. Roque “Jimagua” Duarte, the oldest Oriaté in the United States, sat on the mat to perform the divination.

Elegbá recommended the following course of action:

1. Adimú to Shangó- an offering of fruits to Shangó. The length of time and destiny of said offering is to be determined by the individual through obi. This adimú should be repeated as often as possible throughout the duration of this difficult period.

2. Ogún came to our defense and asked for a wemilere. Ogún requested that the community come together and play batá for him. He refused sacrifice and requested that on the day of the wemilere, everyone bring him fruits. At the close, the fruits are to be taken to seven different places of importance such as river, ocean, and so on.

3. Prayer to Oduduwá for peace with a cup of seltzer water with four pieces of orí inside. This should be renewed throughout the long and difficult period that awaits us. It is not necessary to have Oduduwá to perform this ebó. The cup may be placed beside Obatalá, Shangó, or simply in somewhere high, in a corner or shelf in the igbodú.

It was determined that the wemilere be given as soon possible. We are now in the process of gathering the funds to perform the wemilere, which will be held in two or three weeks.

The consensus among the Oriatés was that we would also spread the word about what transpired in Miami to Olorishas in other cities so that if possible, elders would call for a similar meeting in the different U.S. cities where there are Orisha communities. The elders in these cities should determine if they want to follow suit by performing the same ebó dictated by the oracle in Miami or if they choose to perform divination independently and determine their own course of action as per the indications of the oracle.

We are now in the process of transcribing the minutes from the meeting and will gladly make them available to those who would want to see them. Additionally, we are putting the machinery in motion to perform the ebó that were prescribed. When the date for the wemilere is set, I will follow up with an email and letters will be sent to as many members of the orisha community as possible asking for their collaboration and participation.

All donations for the Miami wemilere should be sent to Ernesto Pichardo and the Church of the Lukumí. We also need people who can contribute their time for the preparations. Whatever funds are left over from the money that is gathered for the wemilere will be donated to the NY Fireman’s fund to help the families of those courageous firemen that perished in New York.

Any questions may be directed to myself or to Ernesto Pichardo:

Ki Olorun n’agbé ‘wá!
Willie Ramos,
Ilarí Obá

September 21, 2001

Minutes from the meeting of Oloshas, Oriatés and Babalawos of Miami, Florida

On the 21 of September 2001, at 12635 SW 188 Terrace, Miami, Florida, here took place of priests of the Lukumí religion in order to decide what could be done religiously following the tragedies in New York and Washington DC on the 11th of September 2001.

The Oloshas were summoned by Willie Ramos. The meeting took place in the home of Cristina Hernandez, Omó Elegbá.

Those present were:

Raúl León

Roque Duarte, “El Jimagua”
Miguel “Willie” Ramos
Ernesto Pichardo
Pedro “Perico” Alfaro
Carlos “Machito” Bresó
Lázaro Ramos
Manolo Mederos
Tony Pena
Luis González
Carlos Jesús Bresó
Alberto Quintero

Mercedes Santana, wife of Babalawo Guillermo Santana
Beatrís Amores
Henry Pascual
Jeffrey González
Cristina Hernández
Fabián Hernández
Dolores Rivera
Ester Amores
Caesar Ramos

The following Oloshas and Oriatés could not attend the meeting, but they were aware of and approved that which was discussed and decided:

Abelardo Hernández
Ambiro Terán
Aníbal Guerrero
Gerado Durán
Danilo Corrón
Vicky Gómez
Popi Scioffi

Willie Ramos opened the meeting and explained the reasons why he called it and the urgency of the matter at hand.

El Jimagua expressed the necessity to divide the goal of the meeting in two parts. First, the massacre that had taken place, recognizing that among those killed or wounded were Oloshas and devotees of the religion; secondly, the possibility that godchildren, Oloshas, sons and daughters, and other family members would participate in the war and the fact that they would need the protection and help of the Orishas through our actions. It was
Also discussed that although many Babalawos have been made aware of and been invited to this meeting, with the exception of Mr. Leon, they had not come and it was necessary to take quick action.

Mr. Mederos agreed with El Jimagua when he proposed that since that Babalawos were not there to assist in the meeting, that the Oloshas would take their action and leave it to the Babalawos to deal with this situation if and when they saw fit.

Mr. Mederos expressed his belief that the tutelary Orisha of the oldest Olosha in Miami should be the one to speak in this situation. El Jimagua did not agree, saying “whatever Orisha of whatever Olosha had the faculty to speak and guide us,” and that, although the eldest priests were not present, it was necessary to take immediate action. Willie Ramos stated that if any Orisha were to be brought down, it would have to be Elegbá. This proposal was accepted by all who were present.

El Jimagua stated that since they had a good turnout, it would be ideal to do the divination immediately that night. This was accepted by all present, and it was decided that the Elegbá of the head of Cristina Hernandez (Osiká), the owner of the house in which the meeting was taking place, would be the Elegbá that would be brought down to the mat.

El Jimagua sat on the mat.

Obi to Elegbá asking if he wanted to be brought down to the mat: Alafia

Odu: 6-9 (Obara Osá) Iré Arikú Koto Yale, Shangó atí ishé odu oniré

Recommendations of Elegbá:

Adimú – prayers and offerings of fruit to Shangó (each person in their own house)

Añá to Ogún, in the countryside

Ogún asked for the following at the Añá:

Opolopo asogí (lots of fruit) from the hands of all the Oloshas who attend the drum. After the drum, the fruit should be taken to 7 different places.

Ogún should be dressed in white

It was asked whose Ogún would be in the throne, and Elegbá marked that it should be the Ogún of Cristina – Osiká

Offering to Oduduwá:

Everyone (in their own home) should put a cup of soda water (seltzer) with four pieces of cocoa butter in the glass.

All the people who come to the drum should dress in white.

Mr. Alfaro spoke of a godchild who has a farm where the drum can be held. He
will ask and have an answer by the beginning of next week.


Willie Ramos requested that, since a meeting of many of the elders and Oriatés of the Lukumí faith had finally taken place, although not in the best of circumstances, that a society of Oriatés and Oloshas be formed. Mr. Mederos seconded the motion, as did Mr. Lazaro Ramos, who added that the society would have to work under a pattern of respect between all the Oriatés.

Mr. Pichardo (and the Church of the Lukumí) was named treasurer for the drum, and
Mr. Ramos was named the administrator of this money for the activities of the drum.

He stated that this drum was a public event, opened to all the people, of all religions.
Willie Ramos suggested making a flier to invite the community, thus making sure that a great majority of the population of the city was notified and could participate in this event. A copy of the letter will be sent to each person who attended the meeting. They will then be in charge of making photocopies of the flier and passing them on to their godchildren and other acquaintances.

Mr. Pichardo suggested that those who, for reasons of age or physical disability could not actively participate in the preparatory stage of this event could, from their homes, help to notify Oloshas, their godchildren, and other acquaintances by telephone. They could also solicit help from those who are able to help in the preparations for the event.

Donation for the Añá is open to any person who can contribute. If, after the expenses of the drum are met, there is money left over, it will be donated to a charity that benefits the victims of the attacks and their families.

Additionally, Mr. Pichardo suggested that people who do not have the means to donate money, they may want to donate articles like refreshments, food, panels, or other elements that are necessary for the drum. A list of these items will be prepared.


Mr. Ernesto Pichardo
Email:, or

Mr. Willie Ramos:

Este artigo apareceu na revista “La Jiribilla
Reproduzido aqui com o consentimento da autora.

“Un Cake Para Obatalá”
Lázara Menéndez Vázquez
Professora. Universidade de La Habana.
Traduzido perto Ricardo Ferreira do Amaral, advogado, artista plástico e filho de Airá.

Na Primeira Oficina Internacional sobre os problemas da cultura ioruba em Cuba[1] organizada pela Asociación Cultural Yoruba de Cuba e a Academia de Ciências, em 1992, constatou-se a existência de uma tendência que coloquialmente se denominou “iorubização da Santeria”. Indaguei sobre a questão e explicaram-me que o que se pretendia era a recuperação do que se denominou “ortodoxia ritual”; o que significava um retorno à África, em especial à liturgia reconhecível no culto aos orixás praticada na Nigéria e implicava conceitualmente a re-apropriação do corpus de Ifá. Alguns iyalochás (iyalorixás), babalochás (babalorixás) e babalaos (babalawôs) [2] comentaram-me que lá estavam as nossas raízes e nossas verdades; que o culto aos orixás era anterior ao cristianismo e que por isso se fazia muito significativo o re-apropriar-se da historia e também da língua ioruba – da que ainda restam pessoas que podem falá-la em Cuba.

No dizer de outros religiosos, a Regla de Ocha-Ifá deveria reger-se pelos ditames do Ooni de Ifé. Um dos ganhos que se esperava obter com a recuperação da ortodoxia ritual era a eliminação do sincretismo; o retorno às origens suprimiria a mistura ou o que se considerava como tal. Desapareceria, no dizer dos religiosos, a errônea equiparação entre Changó (Xangô) e Santa Bárbara ou entre Ochún (Oxum) e a Virgem de la Caridad del Cobre. Aspirava-se também à criação e consolidação de uma hierarquia eclesiástica que regrasse institucionalmente o exercício santero e deste modo evitar as transgressões perversas e as modificações profanadoras à tradição.

O assunto interessou-me porque, tanto nos atos de criação -e a Santeria é um deles- como nas “ciências de realização”, aquelas nas que os fatos não podem repetir-se à vontade em um laboratório porque este é a própria vida, não há ocasião para desandar os caminhos que construíram as historias e chegar ao ponto de partida; primeiro, porque o princípio não é mais do que a metade de todas as coisas; segundo, porque como se afirma em um velho bolero “ontem não é hoje”, e terceiro, porque não é certo que qualquer tempo passado foi melhor.

As outras razões que despertaram meu interesse guardam relação com o fato de a África, no imaginário popular cubano, não se manifestar como terra de promissão e identidade; tampouco tem existido historicamente uma consciência de retorno e, por último, a Santeria mantém como norma, a re-interpretação de seus preceitos em prol da re-atualização do legado que assume como sendo tradicional.

Não é habitual que o cubano mediano -ou inclusive aquele que não o é – possa mencionar e localizar mais do que três rios africanos; conheça sobre impérios tão importantes como o de Ghana (700-1200), Mali (1200-1500), Kanen-Bornu (800-1200), Monomotapa (1450-1800), sobre as façanhas de Mansa Musa ou sobre uma cidade tão extraordinária como Tumbuctu. Entre 1886, ano da abolição total da escravidão em Cuba, e o início da colaboração entre Cuba e Angola, transcorreram anos de desconexão popular com o continente africano, ainda que não carecemos de uma pertinaz e distorcida garoa informativa que incentivou, também por anos, uma imagem da África ligada a Tarzã, Jane e à macaca Chita, transmitida principalmente através do radio, o cinema e as estórias em quadrinhos.

Na Regla de Ocha-Ifá, a imagem que se vislumbra da África também é fraca; praticamente se reduz a mencioná-la como lugar de uma remota origem. Muitos poucos religiosos conhecem os hábitos, costumes, normas éticas, educativas, filosóficas e o protocolo ritual pertencentes à cultura ioruba-nigeriana. Ao final de contas, existe um conhecimento muito reduzido e em não poucas ocasiões tergiversado da cultura da que aceitam descender. Historicamente não temos contado com uma abundante e acessível informação sobre a população ioruba e sua cultura. É oportuno recordar que há anos, para ir às bibliotecas tinha-se que saber ler, e a alguns menos, para se ter acesso a essa literatura, há que se poder ler em inglês. É óbvio que a reciclagem informativa tem dependido, nos últimos tempos, de estudos especializados que se escreveram sobre a Santeria e dos que se desenvolvem atualmente no país.

Na interioridade da prática santera não tenho detectado, dentre os indicadores empregados pelos religiosos para prestigiar o labor de um igboro (iniciado na religião), o conhecimento que sobre a África, a cultura e a religião ioruba, possa ter uma iyalochá, um babalochá ou um babalao. Importa a sua eficácia na solução de problemas diversos, porque se privilegia o caráter instrumental do exercício religioso; prioriza-se o saber ativo ligado ao conhecimento e ao domínio de “tratados” – fórmulas mágicas ou não – empregados para conseguir a solução buscada. É significativo o valor da “decência”, entendida como a ausência de intenção lucrativa no exercício religioso, a observância de certas normas de convivência e o cumprimento de preceitos éticos emanados da prática ritual, em virtude da função normativa e de regulamentação da projeção individual do sujeito.

A que causa poderia atribuir-se este empenho em iorubizar ou africanizar a Santeria? Pode-se considerá-la como o início de uma corrente de revitalização das culturas africanas por uma necessidade de legitimação sócio-cultural? São esses critérios a evidência de uma influência do exercício santero procedente de Porto Rico e dos Estados Unidos, lugares nos quais alguns omo-ocha (filhos-de-santo) têm voltado seus olhos para a Àfrica com a intenção de obter informação, legitimação e algumas coisinhas mais para as práticas que realizam? Pode ser este, por acaso, o tentáculo de um “polvinho” que adota um perfil religioso, mas que no fundo obedece a uma manifestação de natureza discriminatória? Era uma expressão de preocupação pelas mudanças que se avizinhavam em virtude da “despenalização” da consciência religiosa?

Alguns destes problemas reconhecem-se nos critérios que ainda hoje se expressam acerca deste assunto; mas, favorecer um deles não seria prudente pela falta de consenso nas posições e juízos emitidos pelos religiosos. No meu modo de ver, o eixo deste conflito é movido pela vontade de câmbio que articula a prática santera, que em ocasiões se manifesta como uma ação premeditada e em outras não; assim, o alcance desta, varia de acordo com os objetivos que se perseguem.

Ainda que a Santeria careça de um sistema de relações sócio-culturais verticalista a nível nacional, é possível reconhecer a existência de um discurso que, ao modo de um pano de fundo, unifica horizontalmente a prática santera em seus aspectos vertebrais. Isto permite estabelecer distinções entre o que o santero crê que se deveria fazer, o que crê que se faça na realidade e o que sucede realmente. O discurso da iorubização da Santeria inscreve-se dentro do que um segmento reduzido desta população opina que se deveria fazer, porque acreditam que o que realmente é feito favorece a distorsão e com ela, o descrédito do exercício santero.

As considerações de alguns santeros com os que mantive diálogos mais prolongados e a dinâmica que demanda o assunto, revelaram-me que o complicado não se baseava na expressão de uma vontade de câmbio, a não ser em sua direção e nas ações que isto implicasse. Por estas razões, decidi elaborar uma reflexão desde uma perspectiva teórico-metodológica plural que favorecesse uma re-leitura da história da tradição cultural ioruba sem privilegiar modelos de equilíbrio para a análise da Santeria e que ao mesmo tempo permitisse o reconhecimento e a presença do conflito nela contido.

A única intenção que persigo com este estudo é a de chamar a atenção a respeito do fato de a vontade de mudança, que tanto preocupa alguns religiosos, ser consubstancial à prática santera, eis que a transgressão dos limites constitui também um modo particular de se relacionar com o sagrado. A inovação e a transgressão não constituem uma exceção à norma, mas a articulação necessária para a re-definição dos limites. A ortodoxia funciona enquanto promove e garante a possibilidade da heterodoxia ritual que anula a existência de discursos autoritários. “Cada macaco no seu galho” ou “na minha casa mando eu” são enunciados de um discurso que se sustenta sobre um exercício individualizado, flexível, ativo, conversacional, da prática ritual, que inter-atúa sistematicamente com o cotidiano e que nem sempre resulta tão autoritário quanto parece.

Fazendo abstração da complexa tipologia que respalda os estudos de câmbio sócio-cultural, adscrevo-me ao que Raymond Firth chama de “câmbio na organização”[3] De acordo com as suas consideracões, estes são câmbios na maneira de fazer as coisas, as quais continuam se realizando, e “cambios na extensão”: aquelas variacões nos alcances de determinados complexos de relações sócio-culturais que permanecem formalmente inalteráveis.

Tenho dividido o estudo em três partes: a primeira, chama a atenção sobre a necessidade de observar o processo de transculturação na evolução dos elementos das culturas matrizes e as características daquelas culturas em seus contextos originários; a segunda reflexão aproxima-se à reconstrução do componente ioruba em Cuba e da criação de uma nova organização, que hoje conhecemos como Santeria ou Regla de Ocha-Ifá; a terceira se centra na análise de una “moyuba” (mo jubá) ou invocação destinada aos orixás e antepassados como um exemplo da dinâmica de câmbio, onde continuidade e discontinuidade formam parte da re-interpretação do legado e, ao mesmo tempo, são expoentes da confluência de heranças.

Uma pretensão ingênua

O discurso racionalista moderno trasladou-nos sua vocação por um absurdo e anti-histórico conceito de pureza e levou-nos a olhar para nossas mescladas e heterogêneas culturas como um signo de inferioridade, exclusivo dos povos latino-americanos e caribenhos. Com isto, tendeu-se a acentuar a exaltação da noção de raça (“voz de mau berço e de má vida”) e os preconceitos raciais, dos quais disse Fernando Ortiz que não eram “ciências de brancos, mas, superstições de barbárie que fazem sacrifícios humanos a ídolos de cores diversas” [4]. Não escapa destas considerações, a produção simbólica gerada nas culturas africanas e transplantadas a Cuba.

Fazer descansar a caracterização e o valor da Santeria somente na conservação de seus antecedentes africanos sem uma valorização histórica, sistemática e sistêmica daqueles, é uma pretensão ingênua. A tácita ou explícita negação do fenômeno transculturativo pode converter-se em um problema ontológico.

Se nada se houvesse modificado desde a introdução dos primeiros africanos em Cuba; se o meio sócio-cultural, criollo primeiro, cubano depois, não tivesse conseguido influenciar e capturar na sua órbita àqueles e a seus descendentes, -sobretudo a estes últimos-; se os descendentes das primeira e segunda gerações não tivessem sentido como seus os valores que foram se criando no novo contexto e não se tivessem definido como cubanos por consciência e vontade, como afirma Ortiz, haveria que se aceitar a imobilidade da história, negar a existência de nossa cultura, a concepção orticiana de transculturação e queimar numa pira os que subscrevem que a cultura é um fenômeno dinâmico.

A substantivação indiscriminada e acrítica do componente ioruba e sua pretensa demostração por cima dos mecanismos de descontinuidade que operaram nas transformações culturais, tende a bloquear a ação cognoscitiva e a negar a estratégica ação des-sacralizadora e revitalizadora, que propõem os mesmos padrões cristalizados dentro do universo santero.

A ênfase no eixo africano, por cima dos rasgos que qualificam o fenômeno como cubano, tende a aguçar o distanciamento, desde a perspectiva sócio-cultural, com o universo santero, a entorpecer a assunção intelectual de dito fenômeno além das relações modais e volitivas que individualmente se estabeleçam com ele, e a dificultar seu reconhecimento como expressão cultural autônoma, bem diferenciada de seus antecedentes e de outras práticas contemporâneas a ela.

A cosmovisão santera não depende na atualidade – assim como não dependeu na época em que Fernando Ortiz e Lydia Cabrera publicaram obras mestras como “Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar” e “El monte”, respectivamente- somente do núcleo africano, senão que esta peculiar cosmovisão participa -por direito legítimo- na órbita do cubano. Não se trata de negar ou de menoscabar o antecedente ioruba, mas sim de insistir no fato de que “um negro cubano típico se parece mais com um branco cubano típico do que a um negro da África”[5].

Um aparte necessário

A reconstrução do sistema de pensamento ioruba e a análise de suas práticas culturais entre os séculos XII e XIX, segundo os dados aportados pelos próprios especialistas nigerianos, põe de manifesto a interpenetração das funções religiosas, sociais, comunicativo-memoriais, educativas, ideológicas, cognoscitivas e estéticas entre os diversos ramos do saber, que não se manifestam como diferenciadas en suas concretizações específicas.

As estruturas sócio-econômicas e culturais as que se viu submetido o africano no novo contexto colonial cubano, o deslocamento de valores e mecanismos culturais autóctones, sua redução à condição de escravo, implicaram e determinaram mudanças nas ações e significados.

Sofreram modificações as relações econômicas, as instituições rituais, as formas de agrupação, as relações de parentesco, o intercâmbio de bens e serviços, as formas de vida doméstica, a instituição do matrimônio, o valor tradicional da hospitalidade, sustentada freqüentemente no matrimônio polígamo e nas descendências unilineais.

A identificação tradicional da riqueza baseada na consideração de que o mais rico também é o de maior poder simbólico representativo, viu-se modificada pela inserção do africano numa estrutura econômica definida pelo valor do dinheiro, pelo desenvolvimento do comércio, pela significação do mercado afastado da consideração tradicional; a ênfase na autonomia individual foi um dos fatores que entorpeceram, não só a recriação das estruturas autocráticas e patriarcais tradicionais, porém, também modificou a relação indivíduo-coletivo e indivíduo-sociedade.

Se o chegado à América como clandestino, somente por cruzar o Atlântico já deixava de ser o mísero camponês, o vilão pobretão, o criminal fugitivo, o pícaro aventureiro, o clérigo vagante ou o fidalgo sem algo, para se converter ipso facto em um “branco”, com privilégios leucocráticos sobre grandes massas de gente de “cor”; o negro trazido à força como escravo, só por entrar no barco negreiro e logo após no barracão, já não era um típico negro mandinga, guinéu ou congo tal como os seus co-nacionais, senão um “negro” mutilado pelo profundo trauma psíquico do violento arranque e um oprimido pela servidão que o deformava, quando não o destruía [...] E uns e outros, brancos e negros, submersos em um ambiente estranho para todos e dissociador, com leis que se acatavam, mas não se cumpriam, com ordenanças para o proveito exclusivo daqueles que as acordavam, com morais escorregadias, próprias das sociedades improvisadas com elementos heterogêneos e todos exóticos, com posições interinas, convivências provisionais, tensões constantes, codícias sem freio, frustrações desesperadas; todos “de passo”, em fricção, em ódio, em medo e em desleixo [6].

É óbvio que a estruturação qualificadora de um novo produto não pressupõe o desaparecimento dos componentes originários, mas sim a diferenciação daquele com respeito aos que lhe são coetâneos e a conseqüente negação dialética de seus antecessores; ainda que não englobe uma paralização do processo, uma vez aparecido o novo modelo.

Entre os iorubas, o pensamento religioso não se qualifica como um discurso autônomo até já bem entrado o século XX. Falar no século XIX, e nos que o precedem, da existência de uma manifestação de tal natureza é não compreender o transcendental caráter sincrético desta cultura e o profundo trauma que deveu representar, para o homem ioruba em particular e para o africano em geral, sua inserção em um contexto de valores econômicos, sociais, políticos e religiosos diferentes.

Em “Reinos africanos”, de Basil Davidson, e em “África negra” de Suret-Canale, os autores coincidem em destacar a lógica dos sistemas de crenças tradicionais apoiados em uma imagem de totalidade cambiante, mutável e viva. Não reconhecem una dicotomia entre o sagrado e o profano, entre normas e prescrições morais, sociais, filosóficas e o caráter sobrenatural de certos fenômenos. Estes se misturam em um todo sincrético[7]. Um exemplo disto se observa na interação entre iwápèlé, orí/eledá e Eshu/Ajogún, contidos todos no corpus de Ifá, núcleo dos princípios éticos, filosóficos, morais e literários que referendam a tradição oficial em Ifé, cidade santa e sede dos deuses criadores e das famílias fundadoras.

Davidson considera que as religiões nas sociedades tradicionais davam uma visão total do mundo, incluídos o sensorial e o supra-sensorial, dirigida tanto à explicação quanto à prescrição. Obatalá foi enviado para criar o homem, embebedou-se e criou corcundas e albinos; desta ação deriva a proibição de beber vinho de palma para todos aqueles que se consagram à adoração deste oricha (orixá) [8].

Berta Sharevskaya assegura não ter encontrado nas línguas africanas sequer uma palavra que corresponda às expressões Ser Supremo, Deus Todo-poderoso, Demiurgo, Primeira Causa, etc. Nyame, Nzambi no Congo, Leza na Rhodesia, Olorun entre os iorubas são, em sentido geral, divinizações de antepassados e forças da natureza. A adoração de um ser supremo não adota as características e atributos da adoração monoteísta. A autora considera que “o objeto de veneração nas religiões africanas era toda uma hierarquia de altos seres e espíritos sobrenaturais, mais do que só um ser supremo”, pois a “adoração não se satisfaz somente com um deus”[9]

Uma tese interessante e que nos parece conveniente inserir neste contexto é a de Pierre Verger em “Flux et reflux de la traite des nègres entre le Golfe de Benin et Bahia de Todos os Santos du XVIIe au XIXe Siècle”, onde assinala que:

[...] apesar da multiplicidade de deuses, tem-se a impressão de que não se trata de politeísmos, senão de monoteísmos múltiplos justapostos, onde cada crente não está consagrado mais do que a um só deus e não reverencia mais do que a este, guardando vis a vis para as divindades vizinhas, sentimentos que não vão além do simples respeito” [10].

A definição de oricha é uma noção importante na conceituação e operacionalidade da prática religiosa ioruba. O orixá, além de um ancestre divinizado, é, como afirma Pierre Verger em “Orixás”, “uma forma pura, axé imaterial que só se faz perceptível aos seres humanos incorporando-se a um deles”[11].

No etnos ioruba existe uma tradição oficial e autônoma; assim, certos orixás alcançam uma posição dominante em algumas cidades: Xangô em Oyó, Oxum em Ijexá e Oxogbo, Yemonjá em Egba, Olodumarê e Oduduwa em Ifé. O lugar ocupado na organização oficial pelo orixá pode ser muito diferente si se trata de uma cidade onde existe um palácio ocupado por um rei, ou si se trata das aldeias independentes onde o poder político permanece débil “em ausência do estado (autoritário) e são os chefes fetichistas os que garantem a coesão social” [12].

Os deuses da criação e a criação dos deuses são duas instâncias definidas na adoração ioruba e relativamente privilegiadas. Na primeira, reconhece-se a adoração que o povo da cidade de Ifé tem por Olodumarê como criador do céu e da terra e a convicção de que Orunmilá foi testigo deste ato e por isso sabe a história da origem [13].

A criação dos deuses, no dizer de Verger, é o resultado de uma contrariedade, de um momento de paixão. Oyá acompanha Xangô em uma fuga e quando ele desaparece, ela se enfia embaixo da terra. Xangô converte-se em orixá quando se sentiu abandonado e saiu de Oyó para Tapa. Oxum e Obá transformam-se em rios quando fogem atemorizadas pela ira do marido em comum.

A conservação dos recursos expressivos de origem africana em Cuba deveu-se, entre outros fatores, à ação estabilizadora da tradição com respeito às forças que atuavam sobre o indivíduo, à existência de uma coletividade que favoreceu a circulação da informação pelo tratamento de códigos similares e à relação dinâmica de intraduzibilidade e traduzibilidade destes, numa situação de contato cultural.

Em Cuba, temos nos deleitado em repetidas vezes com esses bailes dos velhos negros rememorativos de seus ancestrais gozos e tradições. Sobretudo contemplando as danças das velhinhas. [...] Nelas, o baile não é um trâmite de erotismo, senão gozosa expressão da euforia vital com que a personalidade se enlaça, não a outro sexo, mas a toda a sua agrupação social, na plenitude de sua solidária consciência; que é sexo, mas também é maternidade, família, tribo, religião, trabalho, guerra, felicidade e desgraça. [...] Somente uma negra na senectude, de rosto muito sulcado pelos anos vividos, de seios flácidos de tanto lactar, de pelve aberta pelos muitos partos e de ventre largo pela reiterada gravidez, pode dançar dignamente a dança alegórica da perpetuação da espécie, com o ritmo e o meneio da expressão inequívoca em um rito diolátrico evocativo da amorosa fecundidade da Grande Mãe, a Natureza {14}.

É certo que as culturas não se destroem, salvo que uma ação genocida elimine os homens e suas obras; também é certo que não se aprendem, pois “o portador de uma cultura não pode se introduzir em outra fazendo tábua rasa da sua própria. Percebe a outra cultura a partir daquela que leva consigo mesmo. E mais, percebe a outra porque justamente possui uma que é diferente”[15].

É uma verdade historicamente demonstrada, a que as nossas culturas são conjuntos distintos de “as culturas matrizes pré-colombianas, africanas, asiáticas e inclusive européias, já que resultam em práticas desconhecidas fora da América pré-colombiana”[16].

A utilização dos estereótipos e universos de valores individual-coletivos trazidos do lugar de origem, foram aplicados à nova vida cotidiana e também foram modificando-se à medida que essa vida cotidiana ia moldando a possibilidade do indivíduo numa sociedade onde a posse da terra era privada e não coletiva; onde o indivíduo definia-se essencialmente por sua posição sócio-econômica e não pelo status alcançado em virtude dos princípios hierárquicos tradicionais.

O recheio: “não com quem nasces, senão com quem pastas…”

A Santeria ou Regla de Ocha-Ifá manifesta-se no contexto cultural cubano como uma prática religiosa autônoma, diferenciada de outras modalidades religiosas. Em seu funcionamento interno, no espaço real-simbólico da casa templo, projeta-se como uma expressão sincrética na que se reconhece a imbricação de formas musicais, coreográficas, cantos, recitativos e a criação de artefatos que qualificam o universo visual.

Em sua autonomia expressa-se a ingerência dos agentes dinamizadores (aculturizadores ou não) que aceleram processos de mudança. Em sua natureza sincrética manifesta-se a marca da sociedade africana tradicional [17].

Enquanto construção cubana de matriz ioruba e natureza sócio-religiosa-cultural, é subdivisível en dois níveis: o da norma ideal, contida parcialmente nos sistemas divinatórios e no discurso individual dos santeros, e o da competência real como espaço concreto em que se inscrevem o sujeito, suas idéias e suas práticas.

Originalmente, o que hoje conhecemos por Santeria, esteve integrada por indivíduos que se viram forçados a se relacionar entre si de maneira horizontal e a se organizar em confrarias, irmandades, famílias rituais, relativamente independentes e escoradas internamente para uma co-participação não hierarquizada de postos, funções e esferas de ação, ante a violenta ruptura das estruturas de linhagem.

A informação circulou basicamente de modo horizontal e dessa forma herdaram-se e conservaram-se em estereótipos individuais e coletivos, amplos sistemas de conhecimentos pertencentes fundamentalmente, mas não exclusivamente, às culturas africanas.

Este saber, nas mãos de sucessivas gerações, foi enriquecido com a experiência prática e incrementado, sobretudo, pelas conexões inter-pessoais sócio-econômicas que favoreceram as inter-relações entre os elementos culturais de que eram portadoras e os que derivavam dos aparatos ideológicos herdados ou criados pela cultura hegemônica através da história.

A ação hemostática não exime de tensões nem de conflitos; estes podem se tornar críticos ante bruscos e radicais câmbios sociais, pois “a imposição de exigências sociais sobre os mesmos indivíduos pode, e em algumas ocasiões deve, conduzir à ruptura de algumas normas aceitas, antigas ou novas”[18].

A filosofia popular nunca foi tão proclive a conceitos absolutos quanto a teologia. No campo meramente folclórico e referindo-me ao intelectual, dizia o velho macarrônico refrão de Castela: quod Natura non dat Salmántica non prestat. Também para a conduta, outro refrão castelhano rezava: “gênio e figura, até a sepultura”, para indicar que no essencial, o caráter, bem como a forma do corpo, não mudam radicalmente na existência. Porém, o mesmo folclore soube dizer: “dize-me com quem andas e te direi quem és” e “não com quem nasces, senão com quem pastas”, provérbios para denotar que na vida humana, o trato faz mais do que a linhagem, a educação mais do que a progênie. Dizeres contraditórios do povo que refletem a visão dual do problema, olhando tanto para a herança quanto para a educação”[19].

Em Cuba, atualmente, a Regla de Ocha-Ifá não constitui um grupo organizado territorial, econômica, social ou etnicamente. Não conta com uma estrutura hierárquica de tipo piramidal e suprafamiliar, não constitui um projeto político-social sistematizado. Porém funciona com força institucional, em virtude da existência de eixos estáveis que garantem a relativa unidade da prática ritual. O conteúdo mais forte, como variante da definição do sagrado, é sem dúvida a adoração ao orixá, o respeito pelos maiores e pela família ritual. Não tão visíveis, porém não menos significativos, resultam o reconhecimento da condição de santero, a consciência de pertença e a natureza contingente, ecumênica e humanista da prática.

Esta estruturação do exercício santero tem possibilitado a supervivência do sentido totalizador da adoração ioruba. Sem embargo, o caráter localista ou regionalista típico da adoração politeísta em geral e da ioruba em particular, desaparece em Cuba.

Aqui se cria, de modo relativamente espontâneo, uma estrutura litúrgica supra-regional e se convencionam certos subsistemas no interior da prática, que a qualificam de maneira diferente à cultura matriz.

Deve-se pensar nos famosos e não menos controvertidos “guerreiros”, tetralogia composta por Eleguá (Elegba), Ogún (Ogun), Ochosi (Oxossi) e Osun, e os “santos de fundamento” que a pessoa recebe na cerimônia de iniciação, independentemente de seu “santo de cabeceira” ou de “coroa”. Estes dois conjuntos são um resultado do processo de transculturação. Eles são assumidos pelos religiosos como totalidades e não como partes, o que tende a desvanecer possíveis relações hierárquicas individuais.

A caracterização que faz Pierre Verger da noção de orixá é válida para Cuba, ainda que tenha perdido dois dos rasgos assinalados pelo investigador: não é exatamente um bem de família, nem se transmite pela linhagem paterna.

A criação, como ato transcendente, está muito temperada em Cuba e os religiosos não lhe concedem muita importância, ao menos externamente. A criação do mundo e dos orixás é um problema que pertence ao passado, e nas histórias da criação que aparecem nos documentos escritos pelos religiosos, observa-se influência de outras normas.

A mudança de posição, de hegemônicos a subalternos, dos elementos culturais precedentes ao etnos cultural ioruba, implicou em perdas em alguns casos e em outros reajustes. Oranmmiyan, co-fundador com Olokun do etnos ioruba, segundo uma versão recolhida por Frank Willet e reconhecida como o mundo presente convertido em passado, não se conhece em nosso meio; a temida Olokun é em Ifé uma divindade independente e não um caminho (qualidade) de Yemayá (Yemonjá) ou a mãe de Yemayá, como a identificam muitos dos nossos religiosos.

Convém recordar que Oyá deixou de ser a dona do rio Níger para se converter na porteira dos nossos cemitérios; Ochún (Oxum), em Cuba, simboliza o reino das águas doces e a feminilidade da cubana, mas não a sóbria fertilidade da deusa adorada em Iorubalândia. Em seu oriki se diz:

Ela é a sabedoria da selva, é a sabedoria do rio. Onde o médico fracassou, ela cura com água fresca. Onde a medicina é impotente, ela cura com água fria; ela cura a criança e não cobra do pai. Alimenta a mulher estéril com mel e o seu corpo seco incha-se como um suculento fruto da palma. Oh, quão doce é o roçar da mão de uma criança![20].

No processo de construção da identidade santera vêem-se comprometidas infinitas ações comunicativas. Quando se agrupam as motivações que, segundo os testemunhos, condicionam o ingresso à religião, resultam privilegiadas as seguintes: a adoção dos postulados santeros, o que pode significar continuar uma tradição de família; a solução de conflitos contingentes ligados à vida pessoal, social, profissional, etc.; uma maneira de obter o sustento que pode ou não implicar formas de lucro muito diversificadas; a busca de uma identidade cultural.

Os fatores mencionados não são restritivos nem excludentes; portanto, vários deles podem confluir e qualificar, conformar e modelar a rede de relações sócio-culturais nas que se insere o indivíduo comprometido com o exercício ritual.

Entre os elementos que explicam e servem de alicerce ao reconhecimento da condição de santero, não se detectam, como signos deles: a necessidade de violar as normas sociais estabelecidas e referendadas pela tradição sócio-familiar; um desejo premeditado de singularização ou a explícita proclamação do direito à diferença; reações de auto-defesa à agressão das normas tradicionais; manifestações de nacionalismo chauvinista, ódio, racismo, ou ressentimento frente a certas hostilidades sócio-familiares.

São outros os motivos que reconhecem os religiosos e que detectam os estudos. A Santeria brinda ao sujeito, a possibilidade de uma constante, flexível e dialogada interação com o sagrado; a nível individual ou no reduzido entorno da família ritual, a Regla de Ocha-Ifá permite ao indivíduo estar em estreita relação com a recriação e reconstrução do legado que se assume como tradicional, estar em contato com heranças culturais dissímis que co-existem e confluem na prática e favorecem a vontade de assumir premeditadamente uma mudança.

Por ignorância ou por um proceder tendencioso, as formas culturais que entronizam as hegemonias, têm desprezado o valor da tradição oral como meio de expressão de uma cultura. Também, durante anos, negou-se à Santería a condição de cultura e as funções que ela é capaz de desempenhar, tais como as de memorização, entendimento, normativização ética e expressão estética. A pouca instrução acadêmica atribuída a seus praticantes e a carência de um texto escrito semelhante à Bíblia, têm sido utilizados como indicadores de uma suposta falta de inteligência e saber.

Este enfoque tende a omitir que, sob o signo da oralidade, têm sobrevivido informações que “dão fé dos comportamentos passados dos indivíduos, noções filosóficas, concepções cosmológico-alegóricas, normas étnicas, sociais e estruturas discursivas abertas e flexíveis à novidade, mesmo quando conservaram núcleos mínimos irredutíveis”[21].

A oralidade implica numa atitude diante da realidade e nem todos os dados verbais constituem uma tradição, só aqueles que durante certo tempo são referendados pelo grupo. São mensagens transmitidas de uma geração a outra, influenciadas e condicionadas por formas cânones procedentes de diferentes estratos.

A cultura, a educação e a instrução nos marcos da prática santera, não são homogêneas e nem todos dispõem dos mesmos conhecimentos, hábitos, costumes e até normas rituais; heterogênea também é a integração do grupo desde o ponto de vista sócio-profissional. Desta maneira se favorece, e mais do que favorecer, se faz um requisito indispensável, o intercâmbio de informação e a dinâmica continuidade-câmbio na interpretação dos dados. As seguintes informações dão luz sobre isto.

Há casas-de-santo nas que não se utilizam “ferramentas” acompanhando os “otanes” (otás -pedras que simbolicamente representam as divindades), pois esses religiosos consideram que isso é supérfluo, já que os africanos não puderam trazer nenhum desses objetos e consideram que muitos deles foram incorporações que se fizeram no nosso contexto.

Os exemplos mais utilizados para argumentar o critério anterior são: o salva-vidas que integra o conjunto de ferramentas de Yemayá, as sereias de Olokun, os pregos de linha de ferrocarril que se dedicam a Ogún.

Outras modificações que podem se observar, competem à relação existente entre os iyalochas, babalochas e igboros, e os babalaos. Há casas onde nas cerimônias de iniciação não se prescinde da presença do servidor de Orula (Orunmilá), o deus da adivinhação, a que estão consagrados os babalaos. Em outras casas, todo o cerimonial desenvolve-se sem a presença daquele. Existem casas dedicadas ao culto de Ifá, nas que o ingresso à condição de babalao está precedida pela sua coroação como omo-ocha ou filho-de-santo; porém, em outras, o sujeito pode prescindir da iniciação no ocha (orixá) e consagrar-se diretamente como babalao.

No seio da comunidade santera advém como tradição tudo aquilo que se julga importante para o bom funcionamento e compreensão dos hábitos que marcam a evolução do fenômeno. Assim, encontramos que na prática santera se subscreve a necessidade do emprego da língua ioruba. Em alguns lugares e circunstâncias, repetir certas fórmulas dos remanescentes dessa e outras línguas que restam em Cuba, funciona como um signo de prestígio ritual e, ao mesmo tempo, como uma forma de não comunicação, porque é o castelhano e não o ioruba, o suporte e veículo do pensamento e do saber santero.

A massa: o saber depositado.

Em 1970 tive a extraordinária possibilidade de obter da boca de um babalao (Eusebio Hernández, de 86 anos de idade, 76 de iniciado omo-Changó (Omo Xangô) e 50 de babalao naquele então) uma moyuba (mojubá) que ele tinha empregado em certas circunstâncias rituais. Segundo contou-me, tinha-a aprendido do seu padrinho Saturnino de Cárdenas. Esta antiga reza tinha-se conservado em Cuba através do tempo, nos tradicionais ambientes santeros, nas profundas intimidades das casas-templos consagrados à adoração dos orixás. Através dela, faz-se possível, graças à língua, a presença daquelas civilizações africanas que ainda se reconhecem como o antecedente imediato da Regla de Ocha-Ifá.

Kinkamaché to gbogbo oricha Aché awó, aché babá ikú, aché Aché to gbogbo made lo ilé Yansa

Moyuba erí mi Moyuba babalao, olué Moyuba iyalocha, babalocha Moyuba igboro, aleyos, to gbogbo made lo ilé

Tote jun ko mo fi edde no Arayé jun ló Ikú jun ló Ofé jun ló

Kosi ikú Kose kofé anú Kosi ofo jun ló

Folé owó Folé ayé Folé ache [22].

Em 1990 pedi a vários santeros amigos meus, que me dessem exemplos de “moyuba”. Antes de me responder, quase todos me perguntaram a que, eu denominava “moyuba” e para que eu queria essa informação. Uma vez aprovado este exame, apareceram outros reparos. Se bem que compreendessem meus propósitos, a solicitação não deixava de lhes resultar estranha, basicamente porque com anterioridade, nenhuma outra pessoa lhes tinha reclamado tal informação.

Aos meus amigos não lhes era fácil dar-me os textos, porque as moyubas, denominadas também falas, rezas, invocações, formam parte da intimidade da prática e do religioso; resultavam muito pessoais e segundo todos eles “não são como o Pai Nosso, a Ave Maria, o Credo, que todo mundo aprende igual”[23]; não constituem segredos, mas, por estarem destinadas a só um interlocutor – os orixás -, tornam-se privadas; por último, conservam-se na memória.

Quando tive a informação em mãos, descobri – com alegria e surpresa – que um dos novos exemplos coincidia, em parte, com a que Eusebio Hernández tinha-me dado há 20 anos. Havia mais de um elemento em comum. As duas moyubas, em seus núcleos básicos, tinham sido ensinadas pelos respectivos padrinhos, depois da cerimônia de iniciação, eram empregadas para introduzir outros textos nas cerimônias privadas e como uma unidade fechada nas cerimônias públicas.

Kinkamaché … (nome do orixá a ser saudado). Moyuba to egun que estão no araonú … (nomes dos familiares defuntos de quem faz a invocação) Moyuba oluo, iyalocha, e babalocha que estão no araonú… (nomes dos defuntos religiosos integrados à família ritual). Aqui está seu filho … (nome de quem faz a invocação) que pede a sua benção. Kinkamaché … (nome do padrinho ritual). Kinkamaché … (nome do segundo padrinho ritual).

Moyuba o erí mi. Moyuba oluos, iyalochas e babalochas que coguan no ilé, moyuba igboro e aleyos que coguan no ilé. A benção da minha mãe me alcance, a benção dos meus filhos me alcance, a benção dos meus irmãos. Aqui está seu filho … que lhe pede: me livre de iña, arayé, tiya-tiya, achelú, acobú, fitibo, ikú, /anú. Que me livre de tudo o que é mau.

Toto jun ko me fi edeno Arayé jun ló Ikú jun ló Anú jun ló Ofó jun ló

Kosi ikú kosi kofé anú kosi ofé jun ló

Folé owó Folé ayé Folé aché Aqui está seu filho … que lhe pede a sua benção, saúde, forças e energia.

A velha foi transformando-se, sofreu um processo de mudança no qual manifestou-se o fator individual que resultava mais afim à medula estrutural do corpus santero. Outra diferença estriba em que o meu amigo havia reconstruído a moyuba, ensinada pelo seu padrinho, acrescentando-lhe um texto encontrado em um livro de Fernando Ortiz. Estava em presença do diálogo que, ao menos em nossa sociedade, se produz entre a oralidade, o documento escrito e a prática cotidiana. Não fortuitamente o professor Argeliers León referia-se à tradição oral-escrita como um binômio inseparável.

Não quero passar por alto que a primeira parte desta moyuba está dedicada à invocação dos antepassados. A seleção dos nomes que integram a lista fica à livre escolha do sujeito que os invoca. Os antepassados citados estão em relação direta ou indireta com o sujeito, através da sua própria experiência de vida, a dos seus padrinhos ou a que se assume como da família ritual. Deste modo podem aparecer na relação, nomes de pessoas não conhecidas pelo iniciado que faz a reza; neste sentido há exemplos paradigmáticos: Obadimelli, Fermina Gómez, Pepa e Susana Cantero.

Nestas duas variantes, dentre as múltiplas que podemos encontrar, encerram-se senhas que permitem uma aproximação ao sistema de pensamento santero e a alguns dos mecanismos internos que caracterizam e qualificam a prática ritual. Eles marcam diferenças com o antecedente e com a própria Santeria como referente. Cumpre-se aqui a consideração de Greimas quando afirma que “o mundo humano parece-nos definir-se essencialmente como o mundo da significação. O mundo somente pode ser chamado de ‘humano’ na medida em que significa algo” [24].

No sentir omni-abarcante que os religiosos imprimem à moyuba, expressa-se sua relação com a natureza, da que se infere sua totalizadora concepção do universo, deduzível do “kinkamaché to gbogbo oricha”.

O kinkamaché constitui o cumprimento jubiloso, de ventura e dita, ao conjunto de orixás, e leva implícita a solicitação de saúde e bem-estar psicofísico do indivíduo. Esse bem-estar abre as portas da harmonia como tendência universal e manifestação do equilíbrio cósmico e individual.

A invocação genérica de todos os orixás inclui – porém de modo temperado – suas particularidades individuais e evoca um fundamento tradicional que desanda a história e se inscreve na atemporalidade desconhecedora de fronteiras cronológicas; lá teve lugar a formação e a origem da vida. Referem os velhos santeros, e recolhe-se nos manuais de Santeria, que:

Na África, como em todas partes, têm suas crenças fundadas em algo original ou histórico; diz-se que antigamente, antes de Cristo andar neste mundo, não havia árvores, nem rios, nem mares, senão chamas, candela e fogaréus. Isto aconteceu por muitos séculos e como conseqüência deste vapor, produzido pelas chamas, acumularam-se muitos gases formando nuvens que não se mantinham no espaço, e tudo graças à vontade de Olofi. Então essas nuvens errantes carregadas d’água precipitaram-se sobre as chamas na parte onde mais intenso era o fogaréu e, como era tanto o peso dessas águas, a terra abriu-se, esta foi afundando formando grandes charcos que hoje são conhecidos por oceanos e é onde nascem as Yemayaes (Yemonjás), desde Olokun até Okuti. Depois, essas chamas foram acumulando-se ao redor até que se converteram no que hoje chamamos sol, nasce Aggayú (Aganju). Depois, as cinzas daquelas rochas e corpos sólidos foram acumulando-se e misturando-se com o vapor e a umidade, converteram-se em lodo e pestilência, segundo dizem, nasce São Lázaro. Mais tarde, a terra foi tornando-se mais fértil e úmida, dando origem às plantas e flores, nasce Osain (Ossain). Em conseqüência das massas de vapor e umidade que se derramavam sobre a terra, foram abrindo-se brechas e canais para afastar esse líquido, dando origem aos rios, nascem as Ochunes (Oxuns), desde Ikolé até Ibuindo. Não foram queimadas todas as rochas e mediante processos, tornaram-se montanhas e lombas, nasce Oke (Okê). Diz-se que o vulcão deu origem a Aggayú e por isso se diz que é Oroiña (Oranmiyan), o que quer dizer “filho da entranha da terra”. Obatalá foi criado por obra e graça do senhor Olofi” [25].

No inicio do trabalho comentava que não se reconhecem referências muito consolidadas ligadas ao antecedente africano. Àfrica perfila-se como algo afastado, onde está situada a origem. O homem, os princípios de autoridade, a família, o entorno social e o sobrenatural concretizados em ações específicas, localizam-se em um espaço indeterminado; podendo ser o mesmo a cidade que o campo, o céu ou a terra, o rio ou o mar, a planície ou a montanha, como se manifesta em outros “pataquines” (patakís). De fato, ficam involucrados todos os espaços aos que o sujeito tem ou crê ter acesso, física ou espiritualmente, e adquire categoria de sagrado em virtude da omnipresença das divindades.

Os orixás que segundo esta versão vão se conformando conjuntamente com a natureza, não constituem – segundo colocam de manifesto outros relatos- arquétipos morais, não são infalíveis diante das fraquezas humanas, não são dogmáticos, e o seu gosto pelo jogo, a anti-solenidade e certa provisionalidade de suas emoções e ações, flexibilizam o sentido transcendente emanado das histórias que explicam como o santo nasceu do morto ou – dito em termos ortodoxos – “ikú lovi ocha”.

A invocação do defunto, do antepassado, do que está “ibaé”, precede qualquer cerimônia; nela está implícita a solicitação de benção; assim, o “aché awó, aché baba ikú, aché / aché to gbogbo made lo ilé Yansa” é interpretado pelos religiosos como “bendiga-me, maior, Pai defunto. Bendigam-me todos os que habitam na casa de Yansa (Yansã)”.

O mistério do fraco, conjuntamente à força do suave, entremesclam-se com a ingenuidade e a temeridade, com a necessidade de perpetuar e perpetuar-se em palavras e objetos que simbolicamente representam forças universais. Esta sugestiva espiritualidade serve de suporte conceitual aos “otanes”, pedras representativas do poder dos orixás, como tenho mencionado antes. Elas são a continuidade do ser, são o princípio único que radica na natureza e que perdura através de todos os tempos, além das idades; com as luzes que conduzem as ações humanas e também as sombras.

O morto/antepassado e o santo/orixá estão associados à história do nascimento de Eleguá; o otá, ou pedra que serve para representar ao menino-príncipe depois que morre, se faz extensivo a todos os orixás. Tudo parece indicar que Eleguá, divindade polar, representativa da vida e da morte, da alegria e da tristeza, dos caminhos e das encruzilhadas, é o ponto de partida de una harmonia conseguida por contrastes, de um equilíbrio que descansa sobre tensões. Conta a história do nascimento de Eleguá:

Havia em uma tribo africana um obá que se chamava Ocubero e sua mulher Oñagui e estes tiveram um primeiro filho a quem chamaram Eleguá. Eleguá cresceu e como príncipe que era, nomearam-lhe seu séquito palaciano, ou seja, sua guarda. Um dia, já feito um rapagão, Eleguá saiu com sua guarda a passear e ao chegar a um lugar em que havia quatro caminhos, seu séquito, sem saber a causa, também parou; vários segundos depois Eleguá deu uns quantos passos e deteve-se outra vez. Eleguá repetiu esta operação por três vezes e seguiu até chegar ao lugar daquilo que ele viu e que o fez se deter. Era uma luz, como dois olhos iluminados, que estava no chão. Aquilo foi um assombro para o seu séquito, pois quando chegaram no lugar, viram que Eleguá se agachou e colheu um côco seco. Aquele rapaz era tão atrevido que em tudo se metia, já fosse mau ou bom, no temia a ninguém nem a nada; tão pronto era teu amigo como teu inimigo, envalentonava-se por ser príncipe e tinha temido aquele insignificante coquinho. Eleguá levou o côco para sua casa e contou aos seus pais o que tinha visto, mas ninguém acreditou. Eleguá jogou o côco por trás da porta e ali o deixou. Porém, um dia, estava reunida toda a casa real e o seu séquito em uma festa, quando todos viram com grande assombro as luzes do côco e todos se horrorizaram com aquilo. Aconteceu que três dias depois da festa, Eleguá morreu e durante todo o tempo do velório, aquele côco esteve iluminando. Foi respeitado e temido por todos. Passou muito tempo da morte do príncipe e o povo passava por uma situação desesperada. Os maiores, os awos, reuniram-se e concluíram que isso era conseqüência do estado de abandono daquele côco deixado pelo príncipe. Foram brindar-lhe holocausto, mas, ao aproximar-se dali, viram que o côco estava vazio, comido pelos bichos. Então, deliberaram acerca daquele objeto que tinha que perdurar através dos séculos e viram e pensaram que o côco não servia para venerá-lo, então pensaram na pedra, otá, e foi aceita e lavaram-na. Puseram o otá em um canto, que é o que fazemos hoje em dia [26].

Côco e pedra são representativos do efêmero e do perdurável, do transitório e do eterno, do mutável e do imutável, da encruzilhada, da perfeição. Associada a estes significados aparece a ética latente por trás de todas as ações. O relato do côco em sua condição de Obi nos aproxima desta problemática.

Olofi tinha muita estima por Obi. Obi era justo e puro de coração, modesto e simples como os justos. Olofi fez branco o coração de Obi, fez brancas as suas entranhas e pele e elevou-o a grande altura. Mas Obi envaideceu-se nas alturas. A serviço de Olofi estava Eleguá, criado também de Obi. Um dia Obi deu uma festa e mandou convidar a seus amigos com Eleguá, que conhecia todos os amigos de Obi. Todo o mundo considerava-se amigo de Obi e entre estes, junto aos grandes da terra, os Okokus, Olorogu, Tobi Tobi, Oriseso, Ogboni, Ayuyebalogué, encontravam-se os pobres, os aere, achini, oburegua, aimó, alaquisa elegbo, gente feia, miserável, suja, chagada, indigente. Os feios, os deformes e os formosos, os limpos e os sujos, todos queriam a Obi. Eleguá tinha observado mudanças em Obi, tinha surpreendido detalhes de arrogância e de orgulho que manchavam invisivelmente a sua imaculada brancura, e ao invés de convidar exclusivamente os ricos, como era a intenção de Obi, só convidou esmoleiros, esfarrapados e mal cheirosos, homens e mulheres defeituosos de feiúra repugnante. Quando Obi, no dia da festa, contemplou aquela turba feia e miserável de maltrapilhos e tolhidos, perguntou-lhes fora de si sobre quem os tinha convidado; responderam que tinha sido Eleguá em seu nome. Obi despediu-os, não sem tê-los repreendido duramente por terem se apresentado diante dele naquele estado de sujeira e abandono. E assim, os miseráveis da terra foram embora da casa de Obi envergonhados e Eleguá foi com eles.

Algum tempo após isto, Olofi enviou Eleguá à terra com um recado para Obi. Eleguá negou-se a levá-lo e contou-lhe da conduta inclemente de Obi. Olofi disfarçou-se de mendigo e foi buscá-lo. Obi, vendo àquele okure astroso que ameaçava contaminá-lo com seus farrapos hediondos, pediu-lhe que se afastasse e lhe increpou por não se ter banhado e vestido um acho (axó) limpo antes de se lhe apresentar. Deu-lhe as costas. Então, Olofi, sem fingir sua voz, pronunciou o nome de Obi com indignação e este virou, estranhado. Reconheceu Olofi e lançou-se aos seus pés. “Perdão”. E Olofi disse: “Obi, tu eras justo, por isso te fiz branco o coração y te dei um corpo que era digno do teu coração. Para castigar teu orgulho, ainda que conserves brancas as entranhas, baixarás das tuas alturas para rodar e sujarte na terra”. E o castigo consistiu em cair da rama e rodar pelo solo. Desde então, o côco serve para “quebrar enfermidades”. O que ofendeu aos tolhidos e chagados, negando-se a admití-los em sua festa, roda nas casas mais pobres onde há enfermos e limpa-os por Obatalá [27].

Este mesmo Obi é o que se emprega para a adivinhação e todos os orixás “falam” através dele. Em outra história, narra-se que Obatalá reuniu todos os orixás sob um coqueiro para repartir hierarquias e mandos e pôs aos pés de cada santo um côco partido; assim, todos os orixás têm direito a ele; desde então, nenhum rito pode se realizar sem a oferenda do côco a iku, eguns e orixás. Todos os caminhos conduzem à presença do morto, o antepassado defunto, e com isto, a manifestação de expressões mediúnicas e os nexos com o espiritismo em suas versões locais.

O oddun (odu) ou letra do sistema de predição interpretativo conhecido como caracol (búzios) ou dilogun (meridilogún), denominado “oché” (oxê), caracterizado pelo signo onde se fala de família e tragédia, em um de seus “ebbo” (ebó) [28] usa-se o que alguns italeros [29] chamam “chequeché”. Contam que assim se denominava a ação que deu fundamento ao santo em Cuba; afirma-se que alguns iorubas escravizados trouxeram no pescoço um fio branco com uma pena de papagaio e um fio preto com o axé do santo-obi, erú e kola. Estes traziam a autorização para se auto-coroar, pois esses objetos eram evidência de que o processo de iniciação não tinha concluído em seu lugar de origem.

Se a existência do “chequeché” corresponde ou não à realidade histórica, não estamos em condições de assegurá-lo; porém, é indiscutível que muitos religiosos, apegados teoricamente a posições ortodoxas, preservam um lugar especial para a origem ou assentamento cubano desta prática e o papel desempenhado pelos antepassados. Estes, servem para marcar diferenças com o antecedente africano. Depois de se solicitar a benção, pede-se licença:

Moyuba erí mi Moyuba babalao, oluo Moyuba iyalocha, babalocha Moyuba igboro aleyos to gbogbo made le ilé

Com este segmento penetramos no mundo presente, no cotidiano, no acontecer que, sobre o passado sedimento, atúa com força para se projetar sabiamente ao futuro. Com a permissão da cabeça, que todos sabem salva ou perde se não ouve conselhos; com a permissão dos babalao, oluos, iyalochas, babalochas, igboros e até os que ainda têm um incipiente ou nenhum compromisso com a prática, é que podemos então, intentar alcançar a harmonia.

È necessária a permissão de todos eles, porque segundo credita outra velha expressão – de origem ioruba- convertida em sentença: “Obedi ka ka obedi le le”, (Olofi repartiu o conhecimento entre todas as cabeças). Todas elas são portadoras de sabedoria e, portanto, dignas de respeito e consideração. A esta concepção articula-se outra não menos significativa, a da rejeição ao desprezo, ao envaidecimento, à falsa concepção de superioridade e a excessiva arrogância. Vale a pena recordar a história de Obi e a de Erí (Ori) e Oriolo.

A cabeça é que leva o corpo. Como Erí dizia que ele era Obá, o orifício disse, contudo, que o rei do corpo era ele e que o provaria. O que fez Oriolo? Fechou-se. Passou um dia, dois, a cabeça não sentiu nada. No quarto dia: a cabeça bem, acaso um pouco pesada, mas o estômago e o intestino estavam um pouco inquietos. No sexto dia, ilú, o ventre, estava gravíssimo, wowo, o fígado, odosú, duro como um pau, e Ori começou a sentir-se mal. Muito mal. Eluyó, a febre, fez a sua aparição. O purgante lerroá não se conhecia então e a situação piorou a partir do décimo dia, porque tudo funcionava mal e a cabeça, os braços, e as pernas não podiam se mover. O que entrava o purgante de guasasí não saía. A cabeça não pôde se levantar da esteira para levar o corpo. Ela e todos os órgãos tiveram que rogar ao Orifício para que se abrisse. Ele demonstrou o importante que é, mesmo que ninguém o considere aí onde está, na escuridão e desprezado por todos [30].

É freqüente ouvir a recomendação de babalochas e iyalochas de refrescar erí [31] para evitar ações que entorpeçam o presente e comprometam o futuro individual e familiar. À cabeça lhe é concedida especial importância e os religiosos afirmam que “a cabeça guia o corpo” e que “orelha não passa a ser cabeça”. Dela é dono Obatalá, símbolo da pureza, da tranqüilidade, da harmonia e da paz.

Em erí assenta-se o Anjo da Guarda, ou seja, o santo que atúa como pai ou mãe do indivíduo, ou aquele que possibilita que este seja recebido através de uma cerimônia especial denominada “oro”.

A permissão que se pede à cabeça é dirigida, em última instância, ao orixá. Este sói estar em todas partes acompanhando seu omó, mas especialmente encontra na casa, no “ilé” de seu filho. Sendo a casa a residência do orixá, esta advém em templo, transforma-se em um lugar sagrado.

A moyuba involucra a casa quando se diz: “to gbogbo made lo ilé”. Com isto, alude-se a todos os presentes na vivenda, os que vieram à cerimônia, os que estão de visita, os vizinhos que ocasionalmente entram e saem, os familiares que acreditam e os que não acreditam. É indubitável que este é, para o santero, um lugar sagrado, superprotetor e superprotegido. A casa é uma entidade de transcendência cósmica, cujas raízes afincam-se nos otanes de fundamento, aqueles que são representativos do poder do orixá.

Casa e universo fundem-se para preservar o homem. Nada há de insignificante, nada de minúsculo; tudo é eminente, superior. O valor particular da casa é dado pela presença, entre outros, dos guerreiros, o canastillero, os santos de adimú, plantas e animais consagrados ao orixá.

As divindades encarnam forças incomensuráveis destinadas, no particular e no geral, a orientar o destino dos homens; sopeiras, lebrillos, bateas (gamelas com tampa), receptáculos todos empregados para conter os otanes, não são prisões que ocultam o proibido, nem oprimem o sacrílego, mas espaços que guardam a intimidade do sagrado, a privacidade do ser.

Solicitar permissão ao erí e a todos os presentes, como se faz na moyuba, é pedir autorização para entrar em contato com a terra profunda, com a grandeza que transcende as idades.

Folé owó Folé ayé Folé aché

Esta petição vai acompanhada de um movimento circular de braços e na direção da pessoa que faz a invocação para atrair diferentes venturas. Aqui, põe-se de manifesto que o divino não exclui a o cotidiano, nem o metafísico o físico. O homem que através da cerimônia de iniciação tem buscado um espaço para viver em harmonia, ou ao menos tratar de encontrá-la, reclama proteção e amparo.

Da moyuba pode inferir-se que o homem santero centra sua atenção naqueles problemas que podem perturbar o desenvolvimento e consumação de aspirações e sonhos se não são devidamente controlados; por conseguinte, sempre que possível, há que se afastar a tragédia (arayé), a morte (ikú), as vicissitudes (ofo), as enfermidades (anú) e tudo aquilo que possa representar as forças do mal. Só assim pode-se solicitar bem-estar, saúde, força. En suma, “aché” (axé)..


O translado do africano ao Novo Mundo significou uma ruptura espacial e temporal e uma atomização de suas essências culturais. O escravo viu-se obrigado a aprender uma nova língua e a conhecer uma nova mentalidade. Teve que sobreviver em meio a desequilíbrios sociais, econômicos e políticos, aguçados pelos preconceitos que derivaram da sua condição de negro e escravo. Tudo isto favoreceu, sobre tudo em seus descendentes, como quase em todos os cubanos, uma assimilação flexível da realidade ajustada às contingências do “reino deste mundo”. Nisto influíram muitas das concepções que constituíam núcleos significativos nas culturas matrizes; sirva de exemplo, a noção de iwàpèlé contida no corpus de Ifá ioruba-nigeriano [32].

A Santeria – e isto pode fazer-se extensivo a outras manifestações da cultura popular tradicional – não aceita a impositiva extrapolação de etiquetas e rótulos classificatórios, criados para explicar fenômenos de outras latitudes que, fora de seus contextos e aplicados mecânicamente, tendem a imobilizar práticas culturais vivas ou interatuantes com o acontecer sócio-cultural do contexto em que estão inscritas.

Essa resistência a ajustar-se a cânones externos que se manifesta na Santeria, encontra, pelo nosso juízo, seu ponto de partida na confluência, praticamente simultânea, de heranças culturais dissímis em tempo e espaço, que se produz em terras de “aquém do Atlântico”, na imprescindível reconstrução espontânea de universos estruturados sobre remanescentes culturais das sociedades tradicionais africanas que facilitaram, no essencial, a articulação de todas aquelas normas que se fizeram funcionais para o sujeito inserido, por vontade própria ou de forma obrigada, em um novo contexto; na permanente recriação do legado que se assume como tradicional, e na vontade de assumir, premeditadamente, uma mudança.

A natureza inovadora do homem e o desenvolvimento científico-técnico agilizam as mudanças sócio-culturais, ainda quando as estruturas, às que o sujeito vincula significativas essências do seu ser, estão regidas por normas tradicionais, como ocorre para o sujeito santero.

Este homem não vive escravizado por essas normas. A dinâmica da vida social e sua ativa participação nela, condicionam o estabelecimento de vínculos com outros sistemas de regulações sócio-normativas e informacionais que condicionam câmbios nos valores, condutas e projeção social dos sujeitos.

Se o homem santero pode conseguir que o seu filho ingresse na universidade, fará tudo o possível para que isto se cumpra. Não subordinará o possível desenvolvimento científico de seu hijo ao processo religioso, senão que este, colocar-se-á em função de facilitar-lhe o acesso às aulas universitárias e à carreira preferida do jovem. Nesta, entre outras possíveis situações, insere-se o homem santero em Cuba.

A projeção do sentido de pertença ao grupo e o sentimento de identidade que se gera pela sua condição de santero, são o resultado de uma peculiar inter-relação entre a tradição familiar que se transmite de pais a filhos e afilhados, e a inserção, adequada ou não, do ideal hegemônico do sujeito no meio social em que vive.

A assunção da mudança, na ordem pessoal, inclui o desenvolvimento da capacidade de construir, arraigar, generalizar e defender por um lado, a apetência de independência, pelo que se faz essencial para o sujeito, saber que pode dispor de múltiplas opções. É também importante conhecer os mecanismos de contenção, pois a escolha não depende só da sua vontade, mas também da sugestão emitida pela divindade, através das variantes preditivo-interpretativas.

Salvo nos casos de iniciação de crianças, o restante das pessoas que se iniciam na Santeria, no momento da sua chegada à “coroação”, está formado ou deformado sócio-culturalmente. A prática ritual pode exercer certa influência sobre o indivíduo, se está em disposição de atender às sugestões de seus maiores no santo e, logicamente, dos orixás. Isto favorece seu enriquecimento espiritual e consolida, no dizer dos religiosos, sua vontade individual de mudança.

A inter-relação dos sujeitos com diferentes meios sociais e culturais, dentre os que se encontra a família ritual e com ela, a persistente e permanente circulação de bens culturais e idéias religiosas e extra-religiosas, contribuem à re-semantização dos estereótipos santeros.

A existência da família ritual é transcendente; primeiro, porque funciona como suporte do saber tradicional e constitui sua custódia principal; segundo, porque a informação convive no seio de várias gerações e ela enriquece seu caudal pela confrontação destas; terceiro, pela fluida relação entre transmissão oral e escrita do legado.

A projeção de estereótipos individuais e coletivos, forma parte de todo um sistema de valores e conhecimentos. Para o homem santero nada é mais importante que o homem.

Ao redor deste, constroem-se os princípios de autoridade sustentados pelo culto à prudência, ao respeito à experiência, à medida e à precaução; aqueles sustentam, ao menos teoricamente, à família, e esta é envolvida pelo entorno social.

A confrontação da identidade, no contexto santero, é um processo permanente em que se articulam momentos de ascensão e descenso da informação sócio-cultural aprendida, de reconhecimento, negação e superação dos juízos e valores com os que o sujeito opera.

A identidade cultural não se constrói exclusivamente dentro dos limites de certas esferas do saber previamente determinadas, nem elas devem ser erigíveis como áreas paradigmáticas de construção da identidade.

A Santeria, sem que seus portadores-membros sejam porta-vozes premeditados de certas variantes internas de identidade, é um suporte de fenômeno tão complexo.

Atos ou fatos culturais da natureza da Santeria, implicam na transmissão no tempo e propagação no espaço, de múltiplas informações, concepções e comportamentos que, aparecidos em certos estratos sociais, se deslocam para outros.

Hoje, quando olhamos ao nosso redor e constatamos que o “oché” (oxé) do nosso Changó tem homólogos na antiga civilização cretense; que os banhos de “mewa” propõem longínquas associações com a cultura do antigo Egito; que a divina Ochún tem na americana cabaça seu adorado cofre; que à valente Oyá, alguns religiosos lhe dedicam beringelas, cuja origem reconhece-se na Índia; que babalaos, babalochas e iyalochas recomendam pôr rosas e açucenas aos orixás e espíritos, é evidente que estamos na presença de mudanças, trasmutações e deslocamentos que involucram, em maior ou menor medida, muitas culturas do planeta.

A nosso Changó lhe são postas maçãs, sempre que se possa, e a Santa Bárbara, bananas, que não têm que ser índios e até podem ser plásticos. Todos nossos orichas gostam do tabaco; o mesmo que desfrutavam nossos aborígines e que, pela ação da conquista e da colonização, estendeu-se a todos os confins do globo terrestre. Em qualquer cerimônia encontramos cakes (bolos) colocados como oferendas aos pés dos “tronos” (pejis); muitos destes peculiares altares, são adornados com mantões de Manila, lenços de seda chinesa, sofisticados ornamentos e rendas que até não muito tempo nos chegavam da Europa do Leste.

Defender o direito de existência do cake para Obatalá é preservar o espaço para as mutações que se produzirão independentemente da nossa vontade, pelo papel que a vida cotidiana desempenha no funcionamento e regulamentação da cultura popular tradicional.

Todos os que defendem, aberta ou solapadamente, a iorubização da Santeria, devem meditar sobre isso e sobre a responsabilidade que contraem assumindo uma postura tendente à despersonalização de tão rico e complexo fenômeno, sub-valorizando outros dos seus rumos. Ainda que bons propósitos animem essa idéia, vale a pena recordar que, de boas intenções está empedrado o caminho do inferno.

Algo tranqüiliza, e é que em nossas culturas não tem havido muito espaço para o padre-mestre que pretende culturizar o “esperto”, pois sempre uma língua trífida, em tolerante e lascerante atitude soube dizer: “Não seja bobo compadre”. Ao que, contemporaneamente se acrescentaria: “Desencana. Confiemos!


1. Taller Internacional: Influencia yoruba y otras culturas africanas en Cuba. La Habana, Palacio de Convenciones, 25 a 30 de maio de 1992.

2. Os termos iyalocha e babalocha têm-se empregado em Cuba para designar a mãe e o pai-de-santo, de acordo com sua etimologia (iya = mãe; baba = pai; ocha = orixá). O primeiro, aparece consignado por Lydia Cabrera em Anagó (La Habana: Ediciones CR, 1957: 177), mas não assim o segundo, o que faz supor que, ao menos naquela época, não era um vocábulo de estrita origem ioruba, ainda quando as duas palavras que o conformam remetam a esse antecedente. Na atualidade, esses termos resultam mais em distinções técnicas do que vocábulos em uso. De cem entrevistas realizadas a santeros com mais de cinco anos de “iniciados” na Santeria ou Regla de Ocha, só quatro puderam dar o significado; o resto não o sabia ou deu significados errôneos. Estes termos têm sido substituídos pelos de “madrinha” e “padrinho”. O vocábulo babalao provém de baba, pai, e awo, segredo. Emprega-se para designar os homens consagrados à adoração de Orula (Orunmilá), deus da adivinhação na Santeria ou Regla de Ocha-Ifá e à interpretação do sistema de Ifá. Mantém atualidade e vigência.

3. Raymond Firth, Social change in Tikopia, Londres, 1959: 10.

4. Fernando Ortiz, El engaño de las razas, La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1974: 35.

5. Cintio Vitier, Lo cubano en la poesía, La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1970: 433.

6. Fernando Ortiz, Africanía de la música folklórica de Cuba, La Habana: Editorial Universitaria, 1965: 113.

7. Moisés Kagan, “Del sincretismo artístico al sistema de artes contemporáneo”, em: Problemas de la teoría del arte, La Habana: Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1989, t.4: 273.

8. Basil Davidson, Mère Afrique, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965: 23.

9. Berta J. Sharevskaya, “Las religiones del Africa tropical. Contribución a la crítica de las concepciones fideístas occidentales de los cultos africanos autóctonos”, em: Armando Entralgo, comp., Africa. Religión, La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1979: 51.

10. Pierre Verger, Flux et reflux de la traite des nègres entre le Golfe de Benin et Bahía de Todos os Santos du XVIIe au XIXe Siècle, Paris: Mouton, 1968:

11. _____, Orixás, Salvador: Corrupio, 1981: 72.

12. Ibid.: 78.

13. Wande Abimbola, “Iwápèlé: The concept of good character in Ifa Literary Corpus”, em: Yoruba Oral Tradition, Ife: University of Ife, 1975: 380.

14. Fernando Ortiz, Los bailes y el teatro de los negros en el folklore de Cuba, La Habana: Publicaciones del Ministerio de Educación, 1951: 146. 15. Jean Casimir, “Cultura oprimida y creación intelectual”, em: Pablo González Casanova, comp., Cultura y creación intelectual en América Latina, La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1978: 66.

16. Ibid.

17. Vil B. Mirimanov, Breve historia del arte, La Habana: Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1980.

18. John Beattie, Otras culturas, México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1972: 321.

19. Fernando Ortiz, El engaño de las razas, Op. cit.: 304. 20. Heriberto Feraudy, Yoruba, La Habana: Editora Política, 1993: 190.

21. Martin Lienhard, La voz y su huella, La Habana: Casa de las Américas, 1989: 153.

22. Os textos entregados diretamente pelos religiosos, ou tomados de livros ou outras fontes documentais, reproduzem-se fielmente no presente trabalho.

23. Rodolfo Poey, Entrevista realizada em El Cotorro, 1990. 24. A. J. Greimas, Semántica estructural, Madrid: Gredos, 1971: 7.

25. Pedro Arango, “Manual de Santería”, em: Lázara Menéndez, comp., Estudios afrocubanos, La Habana: Universidad de La Habana, 1990: 238-9.

26. Nicolás Angarica, “El ‘lucumí’ al alcance de todos”, Ibíd.: 100-1.

27. Pedro Arango, Op. cit.: 161-2.

28. Ebbo, em Cuba, é sinônimo de oferenda, purificação.

29. Também são denominados Obbas e Oriatés. É provável que o vocábulo derive de itá, palavra que designa em Cuba a “reunião de Iyalochas e Babalochas que se celebra às setenta e duas horas de ter-se feito um santo, para consultar (‘registrar’) o Dilogun sobre o destino de um iniciado”. (Lydia Cabrera, Anagó, Op. cit.: 174.)

30. Pedro Arango, Op. cit.: 152.

31. Erí, em Cuba, é sinônimo de cabeça.

32. Vide: Wande Abimbola, Op. cit.: 389. > (Tomado da Revista Temas, 1995)

La Jiribilla


Lázara Menéndez Vázquez

Profesora. Universidad de La Habana

En el Primer Taller Internacional sobre los problemas de la cultura yoruba en Cuba[1] organizado por la Asociación Cultural Yoruba de Cuba y la Academia de Ciencias, en 1992, se constató la existencia de una tendencia que coloquialmente se denominó “yorubización de la Santería”. Indagué sobre la cuestión y me explicaron que se pretendía la recuperación de lo que se denominó “ortodoxia ritual”; ello significaba una vuelta a África, en especial a la liturgia reconocible en el culto de los orichas practicada en Nigeria e implicaba conceptualmente la reapropiación del corpus de Ifá. Algunos iyalochas, babalochas y babalaos[2] me comentaron que allá estaban nuestras raíces y nuestras verdades; que el culto a los orichas era anterior al cristianismo y por ello se hacía muy significativo reapropiarse de la historia y también de la lengua yoruba -de la que aún quedan personas que pueden hablarla en Cuba.

Al decir de otros religiosos, la Regla de Ocha-Ifá debía regirse por los dictados del Ooni de Ife. Una de las ganancias que se esperaba obtener con la recuperación de la ortodoxia ritual era la eliminación del sincretismo; la vuelta al origen suprimiría la mezcla o lo que se consideraba como tal. Desaparecería, al decir de los religiosos, la errónea equiparación entre Changó y Santa Bárbara o entre Ochún y la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. Se aspiraba también a la creación y consolidación de una jerarquía eclesiástica que normara institucionalmente el ejercicio santero y de este modo evitar las transgresiones perversas y las modificaciones profanadoras de la tradición.

El asunto me interesó, porque tanto en los actos de creación -y la Santería es uno de ellos- como en las “ciencias de realización”, aquellas en las que los hechos no pueden repetirse a voluntad en un laboratorio porque este es la vida misma, no hay ocasión para desandar los caminos que construyeron las historias y llegar al punto de partida; primero, porque el principio no es más que la mitad de todas las cosas; segundo, porque como se afirma en un viejo bolero “ayer no es hoy”, y tercero, porque no es cierto que cualquier tiempo pasado fue mejor.

Las otras razones que despertaron mi interés guardan relación con el hecho de que Africa, en el imaginario popular cubano, no se manifiesta como tierra de promisión e identidad; tampoco ha existido históricamente una conciencia de retorno y, por último, la Santería mantiene como norma la reinterpretación de sus preceptos en aras de la reactualización del legado que se asume como tradicional.

No es usual que el cubano promedio -o incluso el que no lo es- pueda mencionar y ubicar más de tres ríos africanos, conozca de imperios tan importantes como el de Ghana (700-1200), Mali (1200-1500), Kanen-Bornu (800-1200), Monomotapa (1450-1800), de las hazañas de Mansa Musa o de una ciudad tan extraordinaria como Tumbuctú. Entre 1886, año de la total abolición de la esclavitud en Cuba, y el inicio de la colaboración entre Cuba y Angola transcurrieron años de desconexión popular con el continente africano, aunque no carecimos de una pertinaz y distorsionada llovizna informativa que incentivó, también por años, una imagen de Africa ligada a Tarzán, Juana y la mona Chita, transmitida principalmente a través de la radio, el cine y las tiras cómicas.

En la Regla de Ocha-Ifá la imagen de Africa que se transparenta es también débil; prácticamente se reduce a mencionarla como el lugar del origen remoto. Muy pocos religiosos conocen los hábitos, costumbres, normas éticas, educativas, filosóficas y el protocolo ritual pertenecientes a la cultura yoruba-nigeriana. En fin de cuentas, existe un conocimiento muy reducido, y en no pocas ocasiones tergiversado, de la cultura de la cual aceptan descender. Históricamente no hemos contado con una abundante y asequible información sobre la población yoruba y su cultura. Es oportuno recordar que hace años para ir a las bibliotecas había que saber leer, y hace menos, para tener acceso a esa literatura, hay que poder leer en inglés. Es obvio que el reciclaje informativo ha dependido, en los últimos tiempos, de estudios especializados que sobre la Santería se escribieron y de los que se desarrollan actualmente en el país.

En la interioridad de la práctica santera no he detectado, entre los indicadores empleados por los religiosos para prestigiar la labor de un igboro (iniciado en la religión), el conocimiento que sobre Africa, la cultura y la religión yoruba tenga una iyalocha, un babalocha o un babalao. Importa su eficacia en la solución de problemas diversos, porque se privilegia el carácter instrumental del ejercicio religioso; se prioriza el saber activo ligado al conocimiento y dominio de “tratados” -fórmulas mágicas o no- empleados para conseguir la solución buscada. Es significativo el valor de la “decencia”, entendida como la ausencia de intención lucrativa en el ejercicio religioso, la observancia de ciertas normas de convivencia y el cumplimiento de preceptos éticos emanados de la práctica ritual, en virtud de la función normativa y de regulación de la proyección individual del sujeto.

¿A qué causa podía deberse este empeño en yorubizar o africanizar la Santería? ¿Puede considerarse como el inicio de una corriente de revitalización de las culturas africanas por una necesidad de legitimación sociocultural? ¿Son esos criterios la evidencia de una influencia del ejercicio santero procedente de Puerto Rico y de los Estados Unidos, lugares en los que algunos omo-ocha (hijos de santo) han vuelto sus ojos hacia Africa con la intención de obtener información, legitimación y algunas cosillas más para las prácticas que realizan? ¿Puede ser este, acaso, el tentáculo de un “pulpito” que adopta un perfil religioso, pero que en el fondo obedece a una manifestación de naturaleza discriminatoria? ¿Era una expresión de preocupación por los cambios que se avecinaban en virtud de la “despenalización” de la conciencia religiosa?

Algunos de estos problemas se reconocen en los criterios que aún hoy se expresan acerca de este asunto; pero favorecer uno de ellos no sería prudente por la falta de consenso en las posiciones y juicios emitidos por los religiosos. A mi modo de ver, el eje de este conflicto está movido por la voluntad de cambio que articula la práctica santera, que en ocasiones se manifiesta como una acción premeditada y en otras no; así el alcance de esta varía de acuerdo con los objetivos que se persiguen.

Aunque la Santería carece de un sistema de relaciones socioculturales verticalista a nivel nacional, es posible reconocer la existencia de un discurso que, a manera de telón de fondo, unifica horizontalmente el quehacer santero en sus aspectos vertebrales. Esto permite establecer distinciones entre lo que el santero cree que debiera hacerse, lo que cree que en realidad se hace y lo que sucede realmente. El discurso de la yorubización de la Santería se inscribe en lo que un segmento reducido de esta población opina que debiera hacerse, porque lo que ellos creen que en realidad se hace es favorecer la distorsión y con ella el descrédito del ejercicio santero.

Las consideraciones de algunos santeros con los que sostuve diálogos más prolongados y la dinámica que demanda el asunto, me revelaron que lo complicado no estribaba en que se expresara una voluntad de cambio, sino en su dirección y las acciones que ello implicaba. Por estas razones, me decidí a elaborar una reflexión que, desde una perspectiva teórico-metodológica plural, favoreciera una relectura de la historia de la tradición cultural yoruba sin privilegiar modelos de equilibrio para el análisis de la Santería y que a la vez permitiera el reconocimiento y la presencia del conflicto contenido en ella.

La única intención que persigo con este estudio es llamar la atención acerca del hecho de que la voluntad de cambio, que tanto preocupa a algunos religiosos, es consustancial a la práctica santera, puesto que la transgresión de los límites constituye también un modo particular de relacionarse con lo sagrado. La innovación y la transgresión no constituyen una excepción de la norma, sino la articulación necesaria para la redefinición de los límites. La ortodoxia funciona en tanto promueve y garantiza la posibilidad de la heterodoxia ritual que anula la existencia de discursos autoritarios. “Cada maestro tiene su librito” o “en mi casa mando yo” son enunciados de un discurso que se sostiene sobre un ejercicio individualizado, flexible, activo, conversacional, de la práctica ritual, que interactúa sistemáticamente con la cotidianidad y que no siempre resulta tan autoritario como parece.

Haciendo abstracción de la compleja tipología que respalda los estudios de cambio sociocultural, me adscribo a lo que Raymond Firth llama “cambio en la organización”.3 De acuerdo con sus consideraciones, estos son cambios en la manera de hacer las cosas, las cuales continúan realizándose, y “cambios en la extensión”: aquellas variaciones en los alcances de determinados complejos de relaciones socioculturales que permanecen formalmente inalterables.

El estudio lo he dividido en tres partes: la primera, llama la atención sobre la necesidad de observar el proceso de transculturación en la evolución de los elementos de las culturas matrices y las características de aquellas culturas en sus contextos originarios; la segunda reflexión se aproxima a la reconstrucción del componente yoruba en Cuba y la creación de una nueva organización que hoy conocemos como Santería o Regla de Ocha-Ifá; la tercera se centra en el análisis de una “moyuba” o invocación destinada a los orichas y antepasados como un ejemplo de la dinámica de cambio, en la que continuidad y discontinuidad forman parte de la reinterpretación del legado y, a la vez, son exponentes de la confluencia de herencias.

Una pretensión ingenua

El discurso racionalista moderno nos trasladó su vocación por un absurdo y antihistórico concepto de pureza y nos llevó a mirar nuestras mezcladas y heterogéneas culturas como un signo de inferioridad, exclusivo de los pueblos latinoamericanos y caribeños. Con ello tendió a acentuar la exaltación de la noción de raza (“voz de mala cuna y mala vida”) y los prejuicios raciales, de los cuales dijo Fernando Ortiz que no eran “ciencias de blancos sino supersticiones de barbarie que hacen sacrificios humanos a ídolos de colores diversos”.4 No escapa a estas consideraciones la producción simbólica generada en las culturas africanas y trasplantadas a Cuba.

Hacer descansar la caracterización y valor de la Santería solo en la conservación de sus antecedentes africanos sin una valoración histórica, sistemática y sistémica de estos, es una pretensión ingenua. La tácita o explícita negación del fenómeno transculturativo puede convertirse en un problema ontológico.

Si nada se hubiera modificado desde la introducción de los primeros africanos en Cuba; si el medio sociocultural, criollo primero, cubano después, no hubiera logrado influir y atrapar en su órbita a aquellos y sus descendientes, -sobre todo a estos últimos-; si los descendientes en primera y segunda generación no hubieran sentido como suyos los valores que se fueron creando en el nuevo contexto y no se hubieran definido como cubanos por conciencia y voluntad, como afirma Ortiz, habría que aceptar la inmovilidad de la historia, negar la existencia de nuestra cultura, la concepción orticiana de transculturación y quemar en una pira a los que suscriben que la cultura es un fenómeno dinámico.

La sustantivación indiscriminada y acrítica del componente yoruba y su pretendida demostración por encima de los mecanismos de discontinuidad que operaron en las transformaciones culturales, tiende a bloquear la acción cognoscitiva y a negar la estratégica acción desacralizante y revitalizadora que proponen los mismos patrones cristalizados dentro del universo santero.

El énfasis en el eje africano, por encima de los rasgos que cualifican el fenómeno como cubano, tiende a agudizar el distanciamiento, desde la perspectiva sociocultural, con el universo santero, a entorpecer la asunción intelectual de dicho fenómeno más allá de las relaciones modales y volitivas que individualmente se establezcan con él, y a dificultar su reconocimiento como expresión cultural autónoma, bien diferenciada de sus antecedentes y de otras prácticas contemporáneas a ella.

La cosmovisión santera no depende en la actualidad -como no dependió en la época en que Fernando Ortiz y Lydia Cabrera publicaron obras cumbres como Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar y El monte, respectivamente- solo del núcleo africano, sino que esta peculiar cosmovisión participa -por legítimo derecho- en la órbita de lo cubano. No se trata de negar o menoscabar el antecedente yoruba, pero sí de insistir en el hecho de que “un negro cubano típico se parece más a un blanco cubano típico que a un negro de Africa”.5

Un aparte necesario

La reconstrucción del sistema de pensamiento yoruba y el análisis de sus prácticas culturales entre los siglos XII y XIX, según los datos aportados por los propios especialistas nigerianos, pone de manifiesto la interpenetración de las funciones religiosas, sociales, comunicativo-memoriales, educativas, ideológicas, cognoscitivas, y estéticas entre las diversas ramas del saber, que no se manifiestan como diferenciadas en sus concreciones específicas.

Las estructuras socioeconómicas y culturales a las que se vio sometido el africano en el nuevo contexto colonial cubano, la dislocación de valores y mecanismos culturales autóctonos, su reducción a la condición de esclavo, implicaron y determinaron cambios en las acciones y significados.

Sufrieron modificaciones las relaciones económicas, las instituciones rituales, las formas de agrupación, las relaciones de parentesco, el intercambio de bienes y servicios, las formas de vida doméstica, la institución matrimonio, el valor tradicional de la hospitalidad, sustentada frecuentemente en el matrimonio polígamo y las descendencias unilineales.

La identificación tradicional de la riqueza basada en la consideración de que el más rico es también el de mayor poder simbólico representativo, se vio modificada por la inserción del africano en una estructura económica definida por el valor del dinero, el desarrollo del comercio, la significación del mercado alejado de la consideración tradicional; el énfasis en la autonomía individual fue uno de los factores que entorpecieron no solo la recreación de las estructuras autocráticas y patriarcales tradicionales, sino también modificó la relación individuo-colectivo e individuo-sociedad.

Si el que llegaba a América como chapetón, ya por sólo cruzar el Atlántico dejaba de ser el campesino mísero, el villano pobrete, el criminal fugitivo, el pícaro aventurero, el clérigo vagante o el hidalgo sin algo, para convertirse ipso facto en un “blanco”, con privilegios leucocráticos sobre grandes masas de gentes de “color”; el negro traído a la fuerza como esclavo, por sólo entrar en el barco negrero y luego en el barracón, ya no era un típico negro mandinga, guineo o congo tal como sus connacionales, sino un “negro” mutilado por el profundo trauma psíquico del violento arranque y un oprimido por la servidumbre que lo deformaba si no lo destruía [...] Y unos y otros, blancos y negros, sumergidos en un ambiente extraño para todos y disociador, con leyes que se acataban pero no se cumplían, con ordenanzas para el provecho exclusivo de quienes las acordaban, con morales escurridizas propias de sociedades improvisadas con elementos heterogéneos y todos exóticos, con posiciones interinas, convivencias provisionales, tensiones constantes, codicias sin frenos, frustraciones desesperadas; todos “de paso”, en fricción, en odio, en miedo y en relajo.6

Es obvio que la estructuración cualificadora de un nuevo producto no presupone la desaparición de los componentes originarios, pero sí la diferenciación de aquel con respecto a los que le son coetáneos y la consecuente negación dialéctica de sus antecesores; aunque no entraña una paralización del proceso una vez aparecido el nuevo modelo.

Entre los yorubas el pensamiento religioso no se cualifica como un discurso autónomo hasta bien entrado el siglo XX. Hablar en el siglo XIX, y en los que le preceden, de la existencia de una manifestación de tal naturaleza es no comprender el trascendental carácter sincrético de esta cultura y el profundo trauma que debió representar, para el hombre yoruba en particular y para el africano en general, su inserción en un contexto de valores económicos, sociales, políticos y religiosos diferentes.

En Reinos africanos, de Basil Davidson, y en Africa negra de Suret-Canale, los autores coinciden en destacar la lógica de los sistemas de creencias tradicionales apoyados en una imagen de totalidad cambiante, mutable y viva. No reconocen una dicotomía entre lo sagrado y lo profano, entre normas y prescripciones morales, sociales, filosóficas, y el carácter sobrenatural de ciertos fenómenos. Estos se mezclan en un todo sincrético.7 Un ejemplo de ello se observa en la interacción entre iwápèlé, orí/eledá y Eshu/Ajogún, contenidos todos en el corpus de Ifá, núcleo de los principios éticos, filosóficos, morales y literarios que refrendan la tradición oficial en Ife, ciudad santa y sede de los dioses creadores y de las familias fundadoras.

Davidson considera que las religiones en las sociedades tradicionales daban una visión total del mundo, incluidos el sensorial y el suprasensorial, dirigida tanto a la explicación como a la prescripción. Obatalá fue enviado a crear el hombre, se emborrachó y creó a jorobados y albinos; se deriva de esta acción la prohibición de beber vino de palma para todos aquellos que se consagran a la adoración de este oricha.8

Asegura Berta Sharevskaya no haber encontrado en las lenguas africanas una sola palabra que corresponda a las expresiones de Ser Supremo, Dios Todopoderoso, Demiurgo, Primera Causa, etc. Nyame, Nzambi en el Congo, Leza en Rhodesia, Olorun entre los yorubas son, en sentido general, divinizaciones de antepasados y fuerzas de la naturaleza. La adoración de un ser supremo no adopta las características y atributos de la adoración monoteísta. La autora considera que “el objeto de veneración en las religiones africanas era toda una jerarquía de altos seres y espíritus sobrenaturales, más que un sólo ser supremo”, pues la “adoración no se satisface con un sólo dios”.9

Una tesis interesante y que nos parece conveniente insertar en este contexto es la de Pierre Verger en Flux et reflux de la traite des nègres entre le Golfe de Benin et Bahia de Todos os Santos du XVIIe au XIXe, donde señala que:

[...] a pesar de la multiplicidad de dioses, se tiene la impresión de que no se trata de politeísmos, sino de monoteísmos múltiples yuxtapuestos, donde cada creyente no está consagrado más que a un sólo dios y no reverencia más que a este, guardando vis a vis para las divinidades vecinas sentimientos que no van más allá del simple respeto”.10

La definición de oricha es una noción importante en la conceptualización y operatividad de la práctica religiosa yoruba. El oricha, además de un ancestro divinizado, es, como afirma Pierre Verger en Orixas, “una forma pura, ase inmaterial que sólo se hace perceptible a los seres humanos incorporándose a uno de ellos”.11

En el etnos yoruba existe una tradición oficial y autónoma; así, ciertos orichas alcanzan una posición dominante en algunas ciudades: Changó en Oyó, Ochún en Ijexa y Oxogbo, Yemayá en Egba, Olodumare y Oduduwa en Ife. El lugar ocupado en la organización oficial por el oricha puede ser muy diferente si se trata de una ciudad donde existe un palacio ocupado por un rey, o si se trata de las aldeas independientes donde el poder político permanece débil “en ausencia del estado (autoritario) y son los jefes fetichistas los que garantizan la cohesión social”.12

Los dioses de la creación y la creación de los dioses son dos instancias definidas en la adoración yoruba y relativamente privilegiadas. En la primera, se reconoce la adoración que el pueblo de la ciudad de Ife tiene por Olodumare como creador del cielo y la tierra y la convicción de que Orúmila fue testigo de este acto y por ello sabe la historia del origen.13

La creación de los dioses, al decir de Verger, es el resultado de una contrariedad, de un momento de pasión. Oyá acompaña a Changó en una fuga y cuando él desaparece, ella se mete debajo de la tierra. Changó se convierte en oricha cuando se sintió abandonado y salió de Oyó para Tapa. Ochún y Oba se transforman en ríos cuando huyen atemorizadas por la ira del marido común.

La conservación de los recursos expresivos de origen africano en Cuba se debió, entre otros factores, a la acción estabilizadora de la tradición con respecto a las fuerzas que actuaban sobre el individuo, a la existencia de una colectividad que favoreció la circulación de la información por el manejo de códigos similares y a la relación dinámica de intraducibilidad y traducibilidad de estos, en situación de contacto cultural.

En Cuba nos hemos deleitado repetidas veces con esos bailes de los viejos negros rememorativos de sus ancestrales goces y tradiciones. Sobre todo contemplando las danzas de las viejitas. [...] En ellas el baile no es un trámite de erotismo, sino gozosa expresión de la euforia vital con que la personalidad se enlaza, no a otro sexo sino a toda su agrupación social, en la plenitud de su solidaria conciencia; que es sexo, pero también es maternidad, familia, tribu, religión, trabajo, guerra, felicidad y desgracia. [...] Sólo una negra en la senectud, de rostro muy surcado por los años vividos, de senos flácidos por tanto lactar, de pelvis abierta por los muchos engendros y de vientre anchuroso por la reiterada preñez, puede danzar dignamente la danza alegórica de la perpetuación de la especie, con el ritmo y el meneo de la expresión inequívoca en un rito diolátrico evocativo de la amorosa fecundidad de la Madre Grande, la Naturaleza.14

Es cierto que las culturas no se destruyen, salvo que una acción genocida elimine a los hombres y a sus obras; también es cierto que no se aprenden, pues “el portador de una cultura no puede introducirse en otra haciendo tábula rasa de la suya propia. Percibe la otra cultura a partir de la que lleva consigo mismo. Hay más, percibe a la otra porque justamente posee una que es diferente”.15

Es una verdad históricamente demostrada que nuestras culturas son conjuntos distintos de “las culturas matrices precolombinas, africanas, asiáticas e incluso europeas ya que resultan prácticas desconocidas fuera de la América precolombina”.16

La utilización de los estereotipos y universos de valores individual-colectivos traídos del lugar de origen, fueron aplicados a la nueva vida cotidiana y también se fueron modificando en la medida que esa vida cotidiana iba moldeando la posibilidad del individuo en una sociedad donde la tenencia de la tierra era privada y no colectiva; donde el individuo se definía esencialmente por su posición socioeconómica y no por el status alcanzado en virtud de los principios jerárquicos tradicionales.

El relleno: “no con quien naces sino con quien paces…”

La Santería o Regla de Ocha-Ifá se manifiesta en el contexto cultural cubano como una práctica religiosa autónoma, diferenciada de otras modalidades religiosas. En su funcionamiento interno, en el espacio real-simbólico de la casa templo, se proyecta como una expresión sincrética en la que se reconoce la imbricación de formas musicales, coreográficas, cantos, recitativos y la creación de artefactos que cualifican el universo visual.

En su autonomía se expresa la injerencia de los agentes dinamizadores (aculturizadores o no) que aceleran procesos de cambio. En su naturaleza sincrética se manifiesta la huella de la sociedad tradicional africana.17

En tanto construcción cubana de matriz yoruba y naturaleza sociorreligiosa-cultural, es subdivisible en dos niveles: el de la norma ideal, contenida parcialmente en los sistemas adivinatorios y en el discurso individual de los santeros, y el de la competencia real como el espacio concreto en el que se inscribe el sujeto, sus ideas y sus prácticas.

Originalmente, lo que hoy conocemos por Santería estuvo integrado por individuos que se vieron forzados a relacionarse entre sí de manera horizontal y organizarse en cofradías, hermandades, familias rituales, relativamente independientes y escoradas internamente hacia una coparticipación no jerarquizada de rangos, funciones, esferas de acción, ante la violenta ruptura de las estructuras de linaje.

La información circuló básicamente de modo horizontal y de esa forma se heredaron y conservaron, en estereotipos individuales y colectivos, amplios sistemas de conocimientos pertenecientes fundamentalmente -pero no exclusivamente- a las culturas africanas.

Este saber, en manos de sucesivas generaciones, fue enriquecido con la experiencia práctica e incrementado sobre todo por las conexiones interpersonales socioeconómicas, que favorecieron las interrelaciones entre los elementos culturales de que eran portadores y los que se derivaban de los aparatos ideológicos heredados o creados por la cultura hegemónica a lo largo de la historia.

La acción homeostática no exime de tensiones ni de conflictos; estos pueden hacerse críticos ante bruscos y radicales cambios sociales, pues “la imposición de exigencias sociales sobre los mismos individuos puede, y en algunas ocasiones debe, conducir a quebrantamientos de algunas normas aceptadas, antiguas o nuevas”.18

La filosofía popular nunca fue tan dada a los conceptos absolutos como la teología. En el campo meramente folklórico y refiriéndome a lo intelectual, lo decía el viejo macarrónico refrán de Castilla: quod Natura non dat Salmántica non prestat. También para la conducta, otro refrán castellano rezaba: “genio y figura, hasta la sepultura”, para indicar que en lo esencial el carácter como la forma del cuerpo no se cambian radicalmente en la existencia. Pero el mismo folklore supo decir: “dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres” y “no con quién naces sino con quién paces”, proverbios para denotar que en la vida humana el trato hace más que el linaje, la educación más que la progenie. Decires contradictorios del pueblo que reflejan la dual visión del problema, mirando así para la herencia como para la educación”.19

En Cuba, en la actualidad, la Regla de Ocha-Ifá no constituye un grupo organizado territorial, económica, social o étnicamente. No cuenta con una estructura jerárquica de tipo piramidal y suprafamiliar, no constituye un proyecto político-social sistematizado. Pero funciona con fuerza institucional, en virtud de la existencia de ejes estables que garantizan la relativa unidad de la práctica ritual. El más fuerte contenido, como una variable de la definición de lo sagrado, es sin dudas la adoración al oricha, el respeto a los mayores y a la familia ritual. No tan visibles, pero no menos significativos, resultan el reconocimiento de la condición de santero, la conciencia de pertenencia, y la naturaleza contingente, ecuménica y humanista de la práctica.

Esta estructuración del ejercicio santero ha posibilitado la pervivencia del sentido omniabarcante de la adoración yoruba. Sin embargo, el carácter localista o regionalista típico de la adoración politeísta en general y de la yoruba en particular, desaparece en Cuba.

Aquí se crea, de modo relativamente espontáneo, una estructura litúrgica suprarregional y se convencionalizan ciertos subsistemas en el interior de la práctica, que la cualifica de manera diferente a la cultura matriz.

Debe pensarse en los famosos y no menos controvertidos “guerreros”, tetralogía compuesta por Eleguá, Ogún, Ochosi y Osun; y los “santos de fundamento” que la persona recibe en la ceremonia de iniciación independientemente de su “santo de cabecera” o de “corona”. Estos dos conjuntos son un resultado del proceso de transculturación. Ellos son asumidos por los religiosos como totalidades y no como partes, lo que tiende a desdibujar posibles relaciones jerárquicas individuales.

La caracterización que hace Pierre Verger de la noción de oricha es válida para Cuba, aunque acá ha perdido dos de los rasgos señalados por el investigador: no es exactamente un bien de familia ni se transmite por linaje paterno.

La creación, como acto trascendente, está muy atemperada en Cuba, y los religiosos no le conceden mucha importancia, al menos externamente. La creación del mundo y de los orichas es un problema que pertenece al pasado, y en las historias de la creación que aparecen en los documentos escritos por los religiosos se observa la influencia de otras normas.

El cambio de posición -de hegemónico a subalterno- de los elementos culturales precedentes del etnos cultural yoruba, implicó pérdidas en algunos casos y en otros reajustes. Orommiyon, cofundador con Olokun del etnos Yoruba -según una versión recogida por Frank Willet, y reconocida como el mundo presente convertido en pasado-, no se conoce en nuestro medio; la temida Olokun es en Ife una deidad independiente y no un camino de Yemayá o la madre de Yemayá, como la identifican muchos de nuestros religiosos.

Conviene recordar que Oyá dejó de ser la dueña del río Níger para convertirse en la portera de nuestros cementerios; Ochún, en Cuba, simboliza el reino de las aguas dulces y la femineidad de la cubana, mas no la sobria fertilidad de la diosa adorada en Yorubalandia. En su oriki se dice:

Ella es la sabiduría de la selva, es la sabiduría del río. Donde el médico fracasó, ella cura con agua fresca. Donde la medicina es impotente, ella cura con agua fría; ella cura al niño y no cobra al padre. Alimenta a la mujer estéril con miel y su seco cuerpo se hincha como un jugoso fruto de la palma. ¡Oh! Cuán dulce es el roce de la mano de un niño.20

En el proceso de construcción de la identidad santera se ven comprometidas infinitas acciones comunicativas. Cuando se agrupan las motivaciones que, según los testimonios, condicionan el ingreso en la religión, resultan privilegiadas las siguientes: la adopción de los postulados santeros, que puede significar continuar una tradición de familia; la solución de conflictos contingenciales ligados a la vida personal, social, profesional, etc.; una manera de obtener el sustento que puede o no implicar formas de lucro muy diversificadas; la búsqueda de una identidad cultural.

Los factores mencionados no son restrictivos ni excluyentes; por tanto, varios de ellos pueden confluir y calificar, conformar y modelar la red de relaciones socioculturales en las que se inserta el individuo comprometido con el ejercicio ritual.

Entre los elementos que explican y sirven de acicate al reconocimiento de la condición de santero, no se detectan, como signos de ellos: la necesidad de violar las normas sociales establecidas y refrendadas por la tradición sociofamiliar; un deseo premeditado de singularización o la explícita proclamación del derecho a la diferencia; reacciones de autodefensa a la agresión de las normas tradicionales; manifestaciones de nacionalismo chauvinista, odio, racismo, o resentimiento ante ciertas hostilidades sociofamiliares.

Son otros los móviles que reconocen los religiosos y que detectan los estudios. La Santería le brinda al sujeto la posibilidad de una constante, flexible y dialogada interacción con lo sagrado; a nivel individual o en el reducido entorno de la familia ritual, la Regla de Ocha-Ifá le permite al individuo estar en estrecha relación con la recreación y reconstrucción del legado que se asume como tradicional, estar en contacto con herencias culturales disímiles que coexisten y confluyen en la práctica y favorecen la voluntad de asumir premeditadamente un cambio.

Por ignorancia o tendenciosidad, las formas culturales que entronizan las hegemonías, han despreciado el valor de la tradición oral como medio de expresión de una cultura. También, durante años, se le negó a la Santería la condición de cultura y las funciones que ella es capaz de desempeñar, tales como las de memorización, entendimiento, normación ética y expresión estética. La poca instrucción académica atribuida a sus practicantes y la carencia de un texto escrito semejante a la Biblia, se ha utilizado como indicadores de una supuesta falta de inteligencia y saber.

Este enfoque tiende a omitir que bajo el signo de la oralidad han pervivido informaciones que “dan fe de los comportamientos pasados de los individuos, nociones filosóficas, concepciones cosmológico-alegóricas, normas étnicas, sociales y estructuras discursivas abiertas y flexibles a la novedad aun cuando conservaran núcleos mínimos irreductibles”.21

La oralidad implica una actitud ante la realidad y no todos los datos verbales constituyen una tradición, solo aquellos que durante cierto tiempo son refrendados por el grupo. Son mensajes transmitidos de una generación a otra, influidos y condicionados por formas-cánones procedentes de diferentes estratos.

La cultura, la educación y la instrucción en los marcos de la práctica santera no están homogeneizadas y no todos disponen de los mismos conocimientos, hábitos, costumbres y hasta normas rituales; heterogénea es también la integración del grupo desde el punto de vista socioprofesional. De esta manera se favorece, y más que favorecerse se hace un requisito indispensable, el intercambio de información y la dinámica continuidad-cambio en la interpretación de los datos. Las siguientes informaciones dan luz sobre esto.

Hay casas de santo en las que no se utilizan “herramientas” acompañando a los “otanes” (piedras que simbólicamente representan a las divinidades), pues esos religiosos consideran que eso es superfluo, ya que los africanos no pudieron traer ninguno de esos objetos y consideran que muchos de ellos fueron incorporaciones que se hicieron en nuestro contexto.

Los ejemplos más utilizados para argumentar el criterio anterior son el salvavidas que integra el conjunto de herramientas de Yemayá, las sirenas de Olokun, los clavos de línea de ferrocarril que se dedican a Ogún.

Otras modificaciones que se pueden observar son las que competen a la relación existente entre los iyalochas, babalochas e igboros, y los babalaos. Hay casas donde en las ceremonias de iniciación no prescinden de la presencia del servidor de Orula, el dios de la adivinación, al que están consagrados los babalaos. En otras casas todo el ceremonial se desarrolla sin la presencia de aquel. Existen casas dedicadas al culto de Ifá en las que el ingreso a la condición de babalao está precedida de su coronación como omo-ocha o hijo de santo; pero en otras, el sujeto puede prescindir de la iniciación en ocha y consagrarse directamente como babalao.

En el seno de la comunidad santera deviene tradición todo aquello que se juzga importante para el buen funcionamiento y comprensión de los hábitos que marcan la evolución del fenómeno. Así encontramos que en la práctica santera se suscribe la necesidad del empleo de la lengua yoruba. En algunos lugares y circunstancias, el repetir ciertas fórmulas de los remanentes de esa y otras lenguas que quedan en Cuba, funciona como un signo de prestigio ritual; y a la vez, como una forma de incomunicación porque es el castellano y no el yoruba el soporte y vehículo del pensamiento y el saber santero.

La masa: el saber depositado

En 1970 tuve la extraordinaria posibilidad de obtener, de boca de un babalao (Eusebio Hernández, de 86 años de edad, 76 de iniciado omo-Changó y 50 de babalao en aquel entonces) una moyuba que él había empleado en ciertas circunstancias rituales. Según me contó, la había aprendido de su padrino Saturnino de Cárdenas. Este antiguo rezo se había conservado en Cuba -a través del tiempo- en los tradicionales ambientes santeros, en las profundas intimidades de las casas-templos consagradas a la adoración de los orichas. A través de ella se hace posible, gracias a la lengua, la presencia de aquellas civilizaciones africanas que aún se reconocen como el antecedente inmediato de la Regla de Ocha-Ifá.

Kinkamaché to gbogbo oricha Aché awó, aché babá ikú, aché Aché to gbogbo made lo ilé Yansa

Moyuba erí mi Moyuba babalao, olué Moyuba iyalocha, babalocha Moyuba igboro, aleyos, to gbogbo made lo ilé

Tote jun ko mo fi edde no Arayé jun ló Ikú jun ló Ofé jun ló

Kosi ikú Kose kofé anú Kosi ofo jun ló

Folé owó Folé ayé Folé aché.22

En 1990 pedí a varios santeros, amigos míos, que me dieran ejemplos de “moyuba”. Antes de contestarme, casi todos me preguntaron a qué yo denominaba “moyuba” y para qué quería esa información. Una vez aprobado este examen aparecieron otros reparos. Si bien comprendían mis propósitos, la solicitud no dejaba de resultarles extraña, básicamente porque con anterioridad ninguna otra persona les había reclamado tal información.

A mis amigos no les era fácil darme los textos porque las moyubas, denominadas también parlas, rezos, invocaciones, forman parte de la intimidad de la práctica y del religioso; resultaban muy personales y según todos ellos “no son como el Padre Nuestro, el Ave María, o el Credo, que todo el mundo se aprende igual”;23 no constituyen secretos, pero al estar destinados a un solo interlocutor -los orichas-, se tornan privadas; por último, se conservan en la memoria.

Cuando tuve la información en la mano descubrí -con alegría y sorpresa- que uno de los nuevos ejemplos coincidía, en parte, con la que Eusebio Hernández me había dado hacía 20 años. Había más de un elemento común. Las dos moyubas, en sus núcleos básicos, habían sido enseñadas por los respectivos padrinos después de la ceremonia de iniciación, se empleaban para introducir otros textos en las ceremonias privadas y como una unidad cerrada en las ceremonias públicas.

Kinkamaché … (nombre del oricha a saludar). Moyuba to egun que están en el araonú … (nombres de los familiares difuntos del que hace la invocación) Moyuba oluo, iyalocha, y babalocha que están en el araonú… (nombres de difuntos religiosos integrados a la familia ritual). Aquí está su hijo … (nombre del que hace la invocación) que le pide su bendición. Kinkamaché … (nombre del padrino ritual). Kinkamaché … (nombre del segundo padrino ritual).

Moyuba el erí mi. Moyuba oluos, iyalochas y babalochas que coguan en el ilé, moyuba igboro y aleyos que coguan en el ilé. La bendición de mi madre me alcance, la bendición de mis hijos me alcance, la bendición de mis hermanos me alcance. Aquí está su hijo … que le pide me libre de iña, arayé, tiya-tiya, achelú, acobú, fitibo, ikú, /anú. Que me libre de todo lo malo.

Toto jun ko me fi edeno Arayé jun ló Ikú jun ló Anú jun ló Ofó jun ló

Kosi ikú kosi kofé anú kosi ofé jun ló

Folé owó Folé ayé Folé aché Aquí está su hijo … que le pide su bendición, salud, fuerzas y energía.

La vieja moyuba se fue transformando, sufrió un proceso de cambio en el que se manifestó el factor individual que resultaba más afín a la médula estructural del corpus santero. Otra diferencia estriba en que mi amigo había reconstruido la moyuba, enseñada por su padrino, agregándole un texto encontrado en un libro de Fernando Ortiz. Estaba en presencia del diálogo que, al menos en nuestra sociedad, se produce entre la oralidad, el documento escrito y la práctica cotidiana. No fortuitamente el profesor Argeliers León se refería a la tradición oral-escrita como un binomio inseparable.

No quiero pasar por alto que la primera parte de esta moyuba está dedicada a la invocación de los antepasados. La selección de los nombres que integran la lista queda a la libre elección del sujeto que los invoca. Los antepasados citados están en relación directa o indirecta con el sujeto, a través de su propia experiencia de la vida, la de sus padrinos o la que se asume como de la familia ritual. De este modo pueden aparecer en la relación nombres de personas no conocidas por el iniciado que hace el rezo; en este sentido hay ejemplos paradigmáticos: Obadimelli, Fermina Gómez, Pepa y Susana Cantero.

En estas dos variantes, de las múltiples que podemos encontrar, se encierran claves que permiten un acercamiento al sistema de pensamiento santero y a algunos de los mecanismos internos que caracterizan y cualifican la práctica ritual. Ellos marcan diferencias con el antecedente y con la propia Santería como referente. Se cumple acá la consideración de Greimas cuando afirma que “el mundo humano parécenos definirse esencialmente como el mundo de la significación. El mundo solamente puede ser llamado ‘humano’ en la medida en que significa algo”.24

En el sentir omniabarcante que los religiosos le imprimen a la moyuba se expresa su relación con la naturaleza, de la cual se infiere su totalizadora concepción del universo, deducible del “kinkamaché to gbogbo oricha”.

El kinkamaché constituye el saludo jubiloso, de ventura y dicha, al conjunto de orichas, y lleva implícita la solicitud de salud y bienestar psicofísico del individuo. Ese bienestar abre las puertas de la armonía como tendencia universal y manifestación del equilibrio cósmico e individual.

La invocación genérica de todos los orichas incluye -pero de modo atemperado- sus particularidades individuales, y evoca un fundamento tradicional que desanda la historia y se inscribe en la intemporalidad desconocedora de fronteras cronológicas; allá tuvo lugar la formación y el origen de la vida. Refieren los viejos santeros, y se recoge en los manuales de Santería, que:

En Africa, como en todas partes, tienen sus creencias fundadas en algo original o histórico, se dice que antiguamente, antes de que Cristo andara en este mundo, no había ni árboles ni ríos ni mares, sino llamas, candela y fogajes. Esto sucedió por muchos siglos y como consecuencia de este vapor, producido por las llamas, se acumularon muchos gases formando nubes que no se mantenían en el espacio y todo por voluntad de Olofi. Entonces esas nubes errantes cargadas de agua se descargaron sobre las llamas en la parte que más intenso era el fogaje, y como era tanto el peso de esas aguas, se abrió la tierra, esta se fue hundiendo formando grandes charcos, que son conocidos hoy por océanos y es donde nacen las yemayaes desde Olokun hasta Okuti. Después esas llamas se fueron acumulando alrededor hasta que se convirtieron en lo que hoy llamamos sol, nace Aggayú. Después las cenizas de aquellas rocas y cuerpos sólidos se fueron acumulando y mezclándose con el vapor y la humedad, se convirtieron en fango y pestilencia, según dicen, nace San Lázaro. Más tarde, la tierra se fue tornando más fértil y húmeda dando origen a las plantas y flores, nace Osain. A consecuencia de las masas de vapor y humedad que se derramaban sobre la tierra, se fueron abriendo brechas y canales para alejar ese líquido dando origen a los ríos, nacen los Ochunes, desde Ikolé hasta Ibuindo. Todas las rocas no fueron quemadas y mediante procesos se tornaron montañas y lomas, nace Oke. Se dice que el volcán dio origen a Aggayú y por eso se dice que es Oroiña que quiere decir “hijo de la entraña de la tierra”. Obatalá fue creado por obra y gracia del señor Olofi”.25

Al inicio del trabajo comentaba que no se reconocen referencias muy consolidadas ligadas al antecedente africano. Africa se perfila como algo alejado donde está situado el origen. El hombre, los principios de autoridad, la familia, el entorno social y lo sobrenatural concretados en acciones específicas se ubican en un espacio indeterminado; lo mismo puede ser la ciudad que el campo, el cielo o la tierra, el río o el mar, el llano o la montaña, como se manifiesta en otros “pataquines”. De hecho quedan involucrados todos los espacios a los que el sujeto tiene o cree tener acceso física o espiritualmente, y adquiere categoría de sagrado en virtud de la omnipresencia de las divinidades.

Los orichas, que según esta versión se van conformando conjuntamente con la naturaleza, no constituyen -según ponen de manifiesto otros relatos- arquetipos morales, no son infalibles ante las debilidades humanas, no son dogmáticos, y su gusto por el juego, la antisolemnidad y cierta provisionalidad de sus emociones y acciones, flexibilizan el sentido trascendente emanado de las historias que explican cómo el santo nació del muerto o -dicho en términos ortodoxos- “ikú lovi ocha”.

La invocación al difunto, al antepasado, al que está “ibaé” precede cualquier ceremonia; en ella está implícita la solicitud de bendición; así, el “aché awó, aché baba ikú, aché / aché to gbogbo made lo ilé Yansa” es interpretado por los religiosos como “bendíceme mayor, Padre difunto. Bendíganme todos los que habitan la casa de Yansa”.

El misterio de lo débil, conjuntamente con la fuerza de lo suave, se entremezclan con la ingenuidad y la temeridad, con la necesidad de perpetuar y perpetuarse en palabras y objetos que simbólicamente representan fuerzas universales. Esta sugerente espiritualidad es la que sirve de soporte conceptual a los “otanes”, piedras representativas del poder de los orichas, como he mencionado antes. Son ellas la continuidad del ser, son el principio único que radica en la naturaleza y que perdura a través de todos los tiempos, más allá de las edades; con las luces que conducen las acciones humanas y también las sombras.

El muerto/antepasado y el santo/oricha están asociados a la historia del nacimiento de Eleguá; el otá, o piedra que sirve para representar al niño-príncipe después que muere, se hace extensivo a todos los orichas. Todo parece indicar que Eleguá, deidad polar, representativa de la vida y la muerte, de la alegría y la tristeza, de los caminos y las encrucijadas, es el punto de partida de una armonía lograda por contrastes, de un equilibrio arrellanado sobre tensiones. Cuenta la historia del nacimiento de Eleguá:

Había en una tribu africana un oba que se llamaba Ocubero y su mujer Oñagui y estos tuvieron un primer hijo al que llamaron Eleguá. Creció Eleguá y como príncipe que era le nombraron su séquito palaciego o sea su guardia. Un día, ya hecho muchachón, Eleguá salió con su guardia a pasear y al llegar a un lugar en que había cuatro caminos, su séquito, sin saber la causa se paró también, varios segundos después Eleguá dio unos cuantos pasos y se detuvo otra vez. Esta operación, Eleguá la repitió tres veces y siguió hasta llegar al lugar de aquello que él vio y lo hizo detenerse. Era una luz, como dos ojos relumbrantes, que estaba en el suelo. Aquello fue un asombro para su séquito, pues cuando llegaron al lugar, vieron que Eleguá se agachó y cogió un coco seco. > Aquel muchacho era tan atrevido que en todo se metía, ya fuera malo o bueno, no le temía a nadie ni a nada, tan pronto era tu amigo como tu enemigo, se envalentonaba por ser príncipe y le había temido a aquel insignificante coquito. Eleguá llevó el coco para su casa y le contó a sus padres lo que había visto, pero nadie lo creyó. Eleguá tiró el coco detrás de la puerta y allí lo dejó. Pero un día estaba reunida toda la casa real y su séquito en una fiesta y todos vieron con gran asombro las luces del coco y todos se horrorizaron de aquello. Aconteció que tres días después de la fiesta Eleguá murió y durante todo el tiempo del velorio, aquel coco estuvo alumbrando. Fue respetado y temido por todos. Pasó mucho tiempo después de la muerte del príncipe y el pueblo pasaba por una situación desesperada. Los mayores, los awos, se reunieron y sacaron en consecuencia que era el estado de abandono de aquel coco dejado por el príncipe. Fueron a brindarle holocausto, pero al acercarse allí vieron que el coco estaba vacío, comido por los bichos. Entonces deliberaron acerca de aquel objeto que tenía que perdurar a través de los siglos y vieron y pensaron que el coco no servía para venerarlo, entonces pensaron en la piedra, ota, y fue aceptado y la lavaron. Pusieron a ota en un rincón que es lo que hacemos en nuestros días.26

Coco y piedra son representativos de lo efímero y lo perdurable, de lo transitorio y lo eterno, lo mutable y lo inmutable, de la encrucijada, de la perfección. Asociado a estos significados aparece la ética latente tras todas las acciones. El relato del coco en su condición de Obi nos acerca a esta problemática.

Olofi tenía mucha estima a Obi. Obi era justo y puro de corazón, modesto y sencillo como los justos. El corazón Olofi se lo hizo blanco, le hizo blancas las entrañas y la piel y lo elevó a gran altura. Pero Obi se envaneció en las alturas. A su servicio estaba Eleguá, criado también de Obi. Un día Obi hizo una fiesta y mandó a invitar a sus amigos con Eleguá, que conocía a todos los amigos de Obi. Todo el mundo se consideraba amigo de Obi y entre éstos, junto a los grandes de la tierra los Okokus, Olorogu, Tobi Tobi, Oriseso. Ogboni, Ayuyebalogué, se encontraban los pobres, los aere, achini, oburegua, aimó, alaquisa elegbo, gente fea, miserable, sucia, llagada, pordiosera. Los feos, los deformes y los hermosos, los limpios y sucios, todos querían a Obi. > Eleguá había observado cambios en Obi, había sorprendido detalles de arrogancia y de orgullo que manchaban invisiblemente su inmaculada blancura, y en vez de invitar a los ricos exclusivamente, como era la intención de Obi, sólo invitó a limosneros, harapientos y malolientes, hombres y mujeres defectuosos de fealdad repugnante. > Cuando Obi el día de la fiesta, contempló aquella turba fea y miserable de andrajosos y tullidos, les preguntó fuera de sí que quién los había invitado; respondieron que había sido Eleguá en nombre suyo. Obi los despidió, no sin haberlos reprendido duramente por haberse presentado ante él en aquel estado de suciedad y abandono. Y así los miserables de la tierra se marcharon abochornados de casa de Obi y Eleguá con ellos.

Algún tiempo después de esto, Olofi envió a Eleguá a la tierra con un recado para Obi. Eleguá se negó a llevarlo y le contó la conducta inclemente de Obi. Olofi se disfrazó de mendigo y fue a buscarlo. Obi al ver a aquel okure astroso que amenazaba contaminarlo con sus guiñapos hediondos, le pidió que se alejase y le increpó por no haberse bañado y vestido un achó limpio antes de presentársele. Le volvió la espalda. Entonces Olofi, sin fingir la voz, pronunció su nombre con indignación y Obi se volvió extrañado. Reconoció a Olofi y se arrojó a sus plantas. “Perdón”. Y Olofi dijo “Obi tú eras justo por eso te hice blanco el corazón y te di un cuerpo que era digno de tu corazón. Para castigar tu orgullo aunque conservarás blancas las entrañas, bajarás de tus alturas para rodar y ensuciarte en la tierra”. Y el castigo consistió en caer de la rama y rodar por el suelo. Desde entonces el coco sirve para “romper enfermedades”. El que ofendió a los tullidos y llagados, negándose a admitirlos en su fiesta, rueda en las casas más pobres donde hay enfermos y los limpia por Obatalá.27

Este mismo Obi es el que se emplea para la adivinación y todos los orichas “hablan” a través de él. En otra historia, se narra que Obatalá reunió bajo un cocotero a todos los orichas para repartir jerarquías y mandos y puso a los pies de cada santo un coco partido; así, todos los orichas tienen derecho a él; desde entonces, ningún rito puede realizarse sin la ofrenda del coco a ikú, eguns y orichas. Todos los caminos conducen a la presencia del muerto, el antepasado difunto, y con esto la manifestación de expresiones mediumnímicas y los nexos con el espiritismo en sus versiones locales.

El oddun o letra del sistema predictivo interpretativo conocido como caracol o dilogun, denominado “oché”, caracterizado por el signo donde se habla de familia y tragedia, en uno de sus “ebbo”28 se usa lo que algunos italeros29 llaman “chequeché”. Cuentan que así se denominaba la acción que le dio fundamento al santo en Cuba; se afirma que algunos yorubas esclavizados trajeron al cuello un hilo blanco con una pluma de loro y un hilo negro con el aché del santo-obi, erú y kola. Estos traían la autorización para autocoronarse, pues esos objetos eran la evidencia de que el proceso de iniciación no había concluido en su lugar de origen.

Si la existencia del “chequeché” se corresponde o no con la realidad histórica, no estamos en condiciones de asegurarlo; pero sí es indiscutible que muchos religiosos apegados teóricamente a posiciones ortodoxas, preservan un lugar especial para el origen o asentamiento cubano de esta práctica y el papel desempeñado por los antepasados. Estos sirven para marcar diferencias con el antecedente africano. Después de solicitar la bendición, se pide permiso:

Moyuba erí mi Moyuba babalao, oluo Moyuba iyalocha, babalocha Moyuba igboro aleyos to gbogbo made le ilé

Con este segmento penetramos en el mundo presente, en lo cotidiano, en el acontecer que sobre el pasado sedimento actúa con fuerza para proyectarse sabiamente hacia el futuro. Con el permiso de la cabeza, que todos saben salva o pierde si no oye consejos; con el permiso del babalao, oluos, iyalochas, babalochas, igboros y hasta los que aún tienen un incipiente o ningún compromiso con la práctica, es que podemos entonces, intentar alcanzar la armonía.

Es necesario el permiso de todos ellos, porque según acredita otra vieja expresión -de origen yoruba- convertida en sentencia: “Obedi ka ka obedi le le”, (Olofi repartió el conocimiento entre todas las cabezas). Todas ellas son portadoras de sabiduría y por tanto dignas de respeto y consideración. A esta concepción se articula otra no menos significativa, la del rechazo al desprecio, al envanecimiento, a la falsa concepción de superioridad y la excesiva arrogancia. Vale la pena recordar la historia de Obi y la de Erí y Oriolo.

La cabeza es la que lleva el cuerpo. Como Erí decía que él era Obá, el orificio dijo que con todo el rey del cuerpo era él y lo probaría. ¿Qué hizo Oriolo? Se cerró. Pasó un día, dos, la cabeza no sintió nada. Al cuarto la cabeza bien, si acaso un poco pesada, pero el estómago y el intestino estaban un poco inquietos. Al sexto día, ilú, el vientre estaba gravísimo, wowo, el hígado, odosú, duro como un palo y Ori empezó a sentirse mal. Muy mal. Eluyó, la fiebre hizo su aparición. El purgante lerroá no se conocía entonces y la situación empeoró a partir del décimo día, porque ya todo funcionaba mal y la cabeza, los brazos, las piernas no podían moverse. Lo que entraba el purgante de guasasí no salía. La cabeza no se puede levantar de la estera para llevar al cuerpo. Ella y todos los órganos tuvieron que rogarle al Orificio que se abriera. El demostró lo importante que es aunque nadie lo considera ahí donde está en la oscuridad y despreciado por todos.30

Es frecuente oír la recomendación de babalochas e iyalochas de refrescar erí (31) para evitar acciones que entorpezcan el presente y comprometan el futuro individual y familiar. A la cabeza se le concede especial importancia, y los religiosos afirman que “la cabeza guía al cuerpo” y que “oreja no pasa a cabeza”. De ella es dueña Obatalá, símbolo de la pureza, la tranquilidad, la armonía y la paz.

En erí se asienta el Angel de la Guarda, o sea, el santo que funge como padre o madre del individuo, o aquel que posibilita que este sea recibido a través de una ceremonia especial denominada “oro”.

El permiso que se le pide a la cabeza es dirigido, en última instancia, al oricha. Este suele estar en todas partes acompañando a su omó, pero especialmente se encuentra en la casa, en el “ilé” de su hijo. Al ser la casa la residencia del oricha, esta deviene templo, se transforma en un lugar sagrado.

La moyuba involucra la casa cuando se dice: “to gbogbo made lo ilé”. Con ello se alude a todos los presentes en la vivienda, los que vinieron a la ceremonia, los que están de visita, los vecinos que ocasionalmente entran y salen, los familiares que creen y los que no creen. Es indudable que este es para el santero un lugar sagrado, superprotector y superprotegido. La casa es una entidad de trascendencia cósmica, cuyas raíces se afincan en los otanes de fundamento, aquellos que son representativos del poder del oricha.

Casa y universo se funden para preservar al hombre. Nada hay de insignificante, nada de minúsculo; todo es eminente, superior. El valor particular de la casa viene dado por la presencia, entre otros, de los guerreros, el canastillero, los santos de adimú, plantas y animales consagrados al oricha.

Las divinidades encarnan fuerzas inconmensurables destinadas, en lo particular y en lo general, a orientar el destino de los hombres; soperas, lebrillos, bateas, receptáculos todos empleados para contener los otanes, no son celdas que oculten lo prohibido, ni oprimen lo sacrílego, sino espacios que guardan la intimidad de lo sagrado, la privacidad del ser.

Solicitar el permiso al erí y a todos los presentes, como se hace en la moyuba, es pedir autorización para entrar en contacto con la tierra profunda, con la grandeza que trasciende las edades.

Folé owó Folé ayé Folé aché

Esta petición va acompañada de un movimiento de brazos circular y en la dirección de la persona que hace la invocación para atraer diferentes venturas. Aquí se pone de manifiesto que lo divino no excluye a lo cotidiano ni lo metafísico a lo físico. El hombre que a través de la ceremonia de iniciación ha buscado un espacio para vivir en armonía, o al menos tratar de encontrarla, reclama protección y amparo.

De la moyuba puede inferirse que el hombre santero centra su atención en aquellos problemas que pueden perturbar el desarrollo y consumación de aspiraciones y sueños si no son debidamente controlados; por consiguiente, siempre que se pueda, hay que alejar la tragedia (arayé), la muerte (ikú) las vicisitudes (ofo), las enfermedades (anú) y todo aquello que pueda representar las fuerzas del mal. Solo así se puede solicitar bienestar, salud, fuerza. En suma, “aché”.


El traslado del africano al Nuevo Mundo significó una ruptura espacial y temporal y una atomización de sus esencias culturales. El esclavo se vio obligado a aprender una nueva lengua y conocer una nueva mentalidad. Tuvo que sobrevivir en medio de desequilibrios sociales, económicos y políticos agudizados por los prejuicios que se derivaban de su condición de negro y esclavo. Todo ello favoreció, sobre todo en sus descendientes, como en casi todos los cubanos, una asimilación flexible de la realidad ajustada a las contingencias del “reino de este mundo”. En ello influyeron muchas de las concepciones que constituían núcleos significativos en las culturas matrices; sirva de ejemplo, la noción de iwàpèlé contenida en el corpus de Ifá yoruba-nigeriano.32

La Santería -y ello puede hacerse extensivo a otras manifestaciones de la cultura popular tradicional- no acepta la impositiva extrapolación de etiquetas y membretes clasificatorios creados para explicar fenómenos de otras latitudes que, fuera de sus contextos y aplicados mecánicamente, tienden a inmovilizar prácticas culturales vivas o interactuantes con el acontecer sociocultural del contexto en el que están inscritas.

Esa resistencia a ajustarse a cánones externos que se hace manifiesta en la Santería encuentra, a nuestro juicio, su punto de partida en la confluencia, prácticamente simultánea, de herencias culturales disímiles en tiempo y espacio que se produce en tierras de “aquende el Atlántico”; en la imprescindible reconstrucción espontánea de universos estructurados sobre remanentes culturales de las sociedades tradicionales africanas que facilitaron, en lo esencial, la articulación de todas aquellas normas que se hicieron funcionales para el sujeto insertado, por voluntad propia o de forma obligada, en un nuevo contexto; en la permanente recreación del legado que se asume como tradicional; y en la voluntad de asumir, premeditadamente, un cambio.

La naturaleza innovadora del hombre y el desarrollo científico-técnico agilizan los cambios socioculturales, aun cuando las estructuras, a las que el sujeto vincula significativas esencias de su ser, están regidas por normas tradicionales, como ocurre para el sujeto santero.

Este hombre no vive esclavizado por esas normas. La dinámica de la vida social y su activa participación en ella condicionan el establecimiento de vínculos con otros sistemas de regulaciones socionormativas e informacionales que condicionan cambios en los valores, conductas y proyección social de los sujetos.

Si el hombre santero puede lograr que su hijo ingrese en la universidad, hará todo lo posible para que ello se cumpla. No subordinará el posible desarrollo científico de su hijo al proceso religioso, sino que este se pondrá en función de facilitarle el acceso a las aulas universitarias y a la carrera preferida del joven. En esta, entre otras posibles situaciones, se inserta el hombre santero en Cuba.

La proyección del sentido de pertenencia al grupo y el sentimiento de identidad que se genera por su condición de santero, son el resultado de una peculiar interrelación entre la tradición familiar que se transmite de padres a hijos y ahijados, y la inserción, adecuada o no, del ideal hegemónico del sujeto al medio social en el que vive.

La asunción del cambio, en el orden personal, entraña el desarrollo de la capacidad de construir, arraigar, generalizar y defender por una parte, la apetencia de independencia, por lo que se hace esencial para el sujeto saber que puede disponer de múltiples opciones. Es también importante conocer los mecanismos de contención, pues la elección no depende de su sola voluntad, sino también de la sugerencia emitida por la divinidad a través de las variantes predictivo-interpretativas.

Salvo en los casos de iniciación de niños, el resto de las personas que se inician en la Santería, en el momento de su arribo a la “coronación”, están formados o deformados socioculturalmente. La práctica ritual puede ejercer cierta influencia sobre el individuo, si él está en disposición de atender a las sugerencias de sus mayores en el santo y, por supuesto, de los orichas. Ello favorece su enriquecimiento espiritual y consolida, al decir de los religiosos, su voluntad individual de cambio.

La interrelación de los sujetos con diferentes medios sociales y culturales, entre los que se encuentra la familia ritual y con ella la persistente y permanente circulación de bienes culturales e ideas religiosas y extrarreligiosas, contribuye a la resemantización de los estereotipos santeros.

La existencia de la familia ritual es trascendente; primero, porque funciona como soporte del saber tradicional y se constituye en su custodio principal; segundo, porque la información convive en el seno de varias generaciones y ella enriquece su caudal por la confrontación generacional; tercero, por la fluida relación entre transmisión oral y escrita del legado.

La proyección de estereotipos individuales y colectivos forma parte de todo un sistema de valores y conocimientos. Para el hombre santero nada es más importante que el hombre.

Alrededor de este se construyen los principios de autoridad sostenidos por el culto a la prudencia, el respeto a la experiencia, la medida y la precaución; aquellos sostienen, al menos teóricamente, a la familia y esta es envuelta por el entorno social.

La confrontación de la identidad, en el contexto santero, es un proceso permanente en el que se articulan momentos de ascenso y descenso de la información sociocultural aprendida, de reconocimiento, negación y superación de los juicios y valores con los que opera el sujeto.

La identidad cultural no se construye exclusivamente dentro de los límites de ciertas esferas del saber previamente determinadas, ni ellas deben ser erigibles como áreas paradigmáticas de construcción de la identidad.

La Santería, sin que sus portadores-miembros sean portavoces premeditados de ciertas invariantes de identidad, es un soporte de tan complejo fenómeno.

Actos o hechos culturales de la naturaleza de la Santería, implican la transmisión en el tiempo y la propagación en el espacio, de múltiples informaciones, concepciones y comportamientos que, aparecidos en ciertos estratos sociales, se desplazan hacia otros.

Hoy, cuando miramos a nuestro alrededor y constatamos que el “oché” de nuestro Changó tiene homólogos en la antigua civilización cretense; que los baños de “mewa” proponen lejanas asociaciones con la cultura del antiguo Egipto; que la divina Ochún tiene en la americana calabaza su adorado cofre; que a la valiente Oyá algunos religiosos le dedican berenjenas, cuyo origen se reconoce en la India; que babalaos, babalochas e iyalochas recomiendan poner rosas y azucenas a orichas y espíritus, es evidente que estamos en presencia de cambios, trasmutaciones y desplazamientos que involucran, en mayor o menor medida, a muchas culturas del planeta.

A nuestro Changó se le ponen manzanas, siempre que se puede, y a Santa Bárbara, plátanos, que no tienen que ser indios y hasta pueden ser plásticos. Todos nuestros orichas gustan del tabaco, del mismo que disfrutaban nuestros aborígenes y que por la acción de la conquista y la colonización se extendió a todos los confines del globo terráqueo. En cualquier ceremonia encontramos cakes colocados como ofrendas al pie de los “tronos”; muchos de estos peculiares altares se adornan con mantones de Manila, pañuelos de seda china, sofisticados ornamentos y encajes que no hace mucho tiempo nos llegaban de Europa del Este.

Defender el derecho de existencia del cake para Obatalá es preservar el espacio para las mutaciones, que se producirán independientemente de nuestra voluntad, por el papel que la vida cotidiana desempeña en el funcionamiento y regulación de la cultura popular tradicional.

Todos los que defienden, abierta o solapadamente, la yorubización de la Santería, deben meditar sobre ello y sobre la responsabilidad que contraen al asumir una postura tendiente a la despersonalización de tan rico y complejo fenómeno, al subvalorar otros de sus carriles. Aunque buenos propósitos animen esa idea, vale la pena recordar que de buenas intenciones está empedrado el camino del infierno.

Algo tranquiliza, y es que en nuestras culturas no ha habido mucho espacio para el petimetre que pretende culturizar al “vivo”, pues siempre una trífida lengua, en tolerante y lacerante actitud ha sabido decir: “No seas bobo compadre”. A lo que, contemporáneamente se añadiría: “Desmaya eso”. ¡Confiemos!


1. Taller Internacional: Influencia yoruba y otras culturas africanas en Cuba. La Habana, Palacio de Convenciones, 25 al 30 de mayo de 1992.

2. Los términos iyalocha y babalocha se han empleado en Cuba para designar a una madre y un padre de santo, de acuerdo con su etimología (iya = madre; baba = padre; ocha = oricha). El primero, aparece consignado por Lydia Cabrera en Anagó (La Habana: Ediciones CR, 1957: 177), pero no así el segundo, lo que hace suponer que, al menos en aquella época, no era un vocablo de estricta oriundez yoruba, aun cuando las dos palabras que lo conforman remiten a ese antecedente. En la actualidad esos términos resultan más distinciones técnicas que vocablos en uso. De cien entrevistas realizadas a santeros con más de cinco años de “iniciados” en la Santería o Regla de Ocha, solo cuatro pudieron dar el significado; el resto o no lo sabía o dio significados erróneos. Estos términos han sido sustituidos por los de “madrina” y “padrino”. El vocablo babalao proviene de baba, padre, y awo, secreto. Se emplea para designar a los hombres consagrados a la adoración de Orula, dios de la adivinación en la Santería o Regla de Ocha-Ifá, y a la interpretación del sistema de Ifá. Mantiene actualidad y vigencia.

3. Raymond Firth, Social change in Tikopia, Londres, 1959: 10.

4. Fernando Ortiz, El engaño de las razas, La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1974: 35.

5. Cintio Vitier, Lo cubano en la poesía, La Habana: Editorial Letras Cubanas, 1970: 433.

6. Fernando Ortiz, Africanía de la música folklórica de Cuba, La Habana: Editorial Universitaria, 1965: 113.

7. Moisés Kagan, “Del sincretismo artístico al sistema de artes contemporáneo”, en: Problemas de la teoría del arte, La Habana: Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1989, t.4: 273.

8. Basil Davidson, Mère Afrique, París: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965: 23.

9. Berta J. Sharevskaya, “Las religiones del Africa tropical. Contribución a la crítica de las concepciones fideístas occidentales de los cultos africanos autóctonos”, en: Armando Entralgo, comp., Africa. Religión, La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1979: 51.

10. Pierre Verger, Flux et reflux de la traite des nègres entre le Golfe de Benin et Bahía de Todos os Santos du XVIIe au XIXe, París: Mouton, 1968:

11. _____, Orixás, Salvador: Corrupio, 1981: 72.

12. Ibíd.: 78.

13. Wande Abimbola, “Iwápèlé: The concept of good character in Ifa Literary Corpus”, en: Yoruba Oral Tradition, Ife: University of Ife, 1975: 380.

14. Fernando Ortiz, Los bailes y el teatro de los negros en el folklore de Cuba, La Habana: Publicaciones del Ministerio de Educación, 1951: 146. 15. Jean Casimir, “Cultura oprimida y creación intelectual”, en: Pablo González Casanova, comp., Cultura y creación intelectual en América Latina, La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1978: 66.

16. Ibíd.

17. Vil B. Mirimanov, Breve historia del arte, La Habana: Editorial Arte y Literatura, 1980.

18. John Beattie, Otras culturas, México, D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1972: 321.

19. Fernando Ortiz, El engaño de las razas, Op. cit.: 304. 20. Heriberto Feraudy, Yoruba, La Habana: Editora Política, 1993: 190.

21. Martin Lienhard, La voz y su huella, La Habana: Casa de las Américas, 1989: 153.

22. Los textos entregados directamente por los religiosos, o tomados de libros u otras fuentes documentales, se reproducen fielmente en el presente trabajo.

23. Rodolfo Poey, Entrevista realizada en El Cotorro, 1990. 24. A. J. Greimas, Semántica estructural, Madrid: Gredos, 1971: 7.

25. Pedro Arango, “Manual de Santería”, en: Lázara Menéndez, comp., Estudios afrocubanos, La Habana: Universidad de La Habana, 1990: 238-9.

26. Nicolás Angarica, “El ‘lucumí’ al alcance de todos”, Ibíd.: 100-1.

27. Pedro Arango, Op. cit.: 161-2.

28. Ebbo, en Cuba, es sinónimo de ofrenda, purificación.

29. También se les denomina Obbas y Oriatés. Es probable que el vocablo derive de itá, palabra que designa en Cuba a la “reunión de Iyalochas y Babalochas que se celebra a las setenta y dos horas de haberse hecho un santo, para consultar (‘registrar’) el Dilogun sobre el destino de un iniciado”. (Lydia Cabrera, Anagó, Op. cit.: 174.)

30. Pedro Arango, Op. cit.: 152.

31. Erí, en Cuba, es sinónimo de cabeza.

32. Véase Wande Abimbola, Op. cit.: 389. > (Tomado de la Revista Temas, 1995)

Isokan Yoruba Magazine
Summer 1997
Volume III No. III: Article

Beier: I wanted to talk to you about Yoruba religion, because you seem to be the only writer who has seriously tried to come to terms with it. Even many of the Yoruba scholars, who do research into language, literature, history of the Yoruba shy away from the subject – as if they were embarrassed about it …

Now in your own case, given the type of upbringing you had, I have asked myself how you became interested in Yoruba religion. There is an image “Ake”, that has made a very strong impression on me. You were living in the Christian school compound, that was surrounded by a high wall and when the Egungun masqueraders were passing by outside, you had to ask somebody to lift you onto the ladder, so that you could watch the procession going on outside. Your upbringing was designed to shield you from the realities of Yoruba life … and later on your education in the Grammar school, the University in England – they all were designed to take you further away from the core of your culture.

How then did you find your way back into it? How did you manage to break the wall that had been built up around you?

Soyinka: Curiosity mostly, and the annual visits to Isara – which was a very different situation from Abeokuta! There is no question at all, that there was something, an immediacy that was more attractive, more intriguing about something from which you were obviously being shielded. If you hear all the time “Oh, you mustn’t play with those kids because their father is an Egungun man …” you become curious: and then you discover that there is nothing really “evil” about it … that it is not the way they preach about it. Even my great great uncle, the Reverend J.J. Ransome Kuti, whom I never met, composed a song whose refrain was: “Dead men can’t talk … ” One was surrounded by such refutations of that other world, of that other part of one’s heritage, so of course you asked questions about it. Yes, and even if I realized quite early on, that there was a man in the Egungun mask, that did not mean that a great act of evil was being committed – any more than saying that Father Christmas was evil.

I had this rather comparative sense and I wrote in “Ake” that I used to look at the images on the stained glass windows of the church: Henry Townsend, the Rev. Hinderer and then the image that was supposed to be St. Peter. In my very imaginative mind, it didn’t seem to me that they were very different from the Egungun.

So one was surrounded by all these different images which easily flowed into one another. I was never frightened of the Egungun. I was fascinated by them. Of course, I talked to some of my colleagues, like Osiki, who donned the masquerade himself, from time to time.

The Igbale1 was nothing sinister to me: it signified to me a mystery, a place of transformation. You went into Igbale to put on your masquerade. Then when the Egungun came out, it seemed that all they did was blessing the community and beg a little bit for alms here and there. Occasionally there were disciplinary outings: they terrorized everybody and we ran away from them but then, some distance away you stopped and regathered … maybe my dramatic bent saw this right from the beginning as part of the drama of life.

I never went through a phase, when I believed that traditional religion or ceremonies were evil. I believed that there were witches – I was convinced of that – but at the same time there were good apparitions. And of course I found the songs and the drumming very exciting.

Beier: You never really took to Christianity at any stage …

Soyinka: Never really – not even as a child. I remember distinctly my first essay prize at secondary school – that was in my first year. My essay was entitled: “Ideals of an Atheist.” Yes, I went through all these phases. I just felt I couldn’t believe in the Christian god and for me that meant I was an atheist.

Beier: How old were you then?

Soyinka: I was eleven! But I also enjoyed being in the choir – I was a chorister. I went regularly to rehearsals. I enjoyed the festive occasion, the harvest festival, etc. Then we processed through the congregation, rather than sneaking in through the side entrances. At Christmas and New Year I enjoyed putting on the robes of a chorister. On the way to church I went to see my friend Edun, who lived in Ibarapa. And my Sunday was made even more interesting, when we met the Egungun masquerades on the way – which was quite often.

Beier: Do you remember we went to a conference in Venice, it must have been in 1960 or 1961 …?

Soyinka: Oooooh yes …

Beier: There was a writer from Northern Nigeria … I think it was Ibrahim Tahir. And he made a statement, the gist of which was that Nigeria was, or was about to become, an Islamic country …

Soyinka: I have actually forgotten that, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Beier: I am not quite certain what his real argument was or how it was phrased. But I do remember your rather fierce reply! The gist of which was that both Christianity and Islam were conservative forces that actually retarded Nigeria’s ability to copy with the modern world, whereas traditional religions – Yoruba religion at least – was something much more open, and much capable of adaptation …

Soyinka: Yes, and for the very reason liberating! I am glad you brought up the issue of Islam, because that was also contributory to my entire attitude to imposed foreign religions. You know all this nonsense of religious intolerance which is eating into the country now – it didn’t exist in my youth! During the Ileya we celebrated with our Muslim friends, because they would send us meat from their ram; the Oba would go to the mosque, even if he was a Christian, and vice versa: during Christmas and Easter, our Muslim friends would come to the house. There was always equality between the religions – acceptance. And that in turn made it impossible for me to see one as superior to the other. And of course, the more I learned about Yoruba religion the more I realized that that was just another interpretation of the world, another encapsulation of man’s conceiving of himself and his position in the universe; and that all these religions are just metaphors for the strategy of man coping with the vast unknown.

I became more and more intrigued and it is not surprising that, when I went to study in England. I nearly took “Comparative Religion” as one of my subjects; but then I decided that I would enjoy it more, if I just read into it and visited all sorts of places … I remember going to this small Buddhist meeting; I visited the so-called fundamentalist religions, the spiritualist churches … I went to one or two seances. I have always been interested in the spirituality of the human individual. So when people like Tahir – and there have been many of them – have made that kind of statement, I have always risen to counter it very fiercely. Traditional religion is not only accommodating, it is liberating, and this seems logical, because whenever a new phenomenon impinged on the consciousness of the Yoruba – whether a historical event, a technological or scientific encounter – they do not bring down the barriers – close the doors. They say: Let us look at this phenomenon and see what we have that corresponds to it in our own tradition, that is a kind of analogue to this experience. And sure enough, they go to Ifa and they examine the corpus of proverbs and sayings; and they look even into their, let’s say, agricultural practices or the observation of their calendar. Somewhere within that religion they will find some kind of approximate interpretation of that event. They do not consider it a hostile experience. That’s why the corpus of Ifa is constantly reinforced and augmented, even from the history of other religions with which Ifa comes into contact. You have Ifa verses which deal with Islam, you have Ifa verses which deal with Christianity. Yoruba religion attunes itself and accommodates the unknown very readily; unlike Islam, because they did not see this in the Koran – therefore it does not exist. The last prophet was Mohammed, anybody who comes after this is a fake. And Christianity! The Roman Catholics: until today they do not cope with the experience and the reality of abortion! They just shut the wall firmly against it. They fail to address the real problems of it; they refuse to adjust any of their tenets.

Beier: The Yoruba people have always been willing to look at another mythology and find equivalents in their own tradition. For example: when I first met Aderemi, the late Oba of Ife – that was at Easter 1951 – he told me about the different shrines in his town and he said: “You know, in Yoruba religion we know the story of Mary and Jesus” and he told me the myth of Moremi (Mary) who sacrificed her only son in order to save her town. And he said: “Really, Moremi is Mary.” I was impressed, because he could see that there was some basic metaphor that remained valid across a variety of cultures: He knew that the basic truth is the same – only the trappings are different …

Soyinka: The Yoruba had no hostility to the piety of other people.

Beier: Yoruba religion, within itself, is based on this very tolerance. Because in each town you have a variety of cults, all coexisting peacefully: there may be Shango, Ogun, Obatala, Oshun and many more …

Soyinka: Even in the same compound!

Beier: Even within the same small family – because you are not supposed to marry into the same Orisha!

But there is never any rivalry between different cult groups; they all know they are interdependent. Because they are like specialists: everybody understands specific aspects of the supernatural world. Nobody can know everything. The Egunguns know how to deal with the dead; the Ogun worshippers know how to handle the forces that are symbolized by iron. But for the Ogun worshippers to function, it is also necessary that Shango worshippers and Obatala worshippers and all the other Olorisha perform their part. Only the concentrated effort of all of them will bring peace and harmony to the town.

So naturally: when the Christians first appeared, the Olorishas could hardly suspect …

Soyinka: … how hostile the new religion would be …

Beier: I think that tolerance is one of the big qualities of Yoruba culture. Even the treatment of handicapped or mentally disturbed people – it all shows how much more tolerant Yoruba culture was than Western cultures.

Soyinka: Yes. Europeans tend to hide such people, whereas Yoruba religion actually accounts for them.2

Beier: You said before that Yoruba religion “liberates.” Can you expand on that?

Soyinka: I believe that the truly liberated mind is never aggressive about his or her system of beliefs. Because it is founded on such total self confidence, such acceptance of others, that there is no need to march out and propagate one’s cause. That is why Yoruba religion has never waged a religious war, like the Jihad or the Crusades.

Beier: In fact they never make converts! It is the orisha himself who chooses his devotees …

Soyinka: The person who needs to convert others is a creature of total insecurity.

Beier: There is this beautiful Yoruba proverb: “The effort one makes of forcing another to be like oneself, makes one an unpleasant person!”

Soyinka: And even in practical terms, in day to day terms, take Shango for instance. Shango becomes the demiurge of electricity, so that this new phenomenon does not become an object of terror, it does not alienate you, because Yoruba religion enables you to assimilate it. The ease with which the Yoruba moves into that world and adapts to phenomena that had not come into the purview of his religion until recently – it means that he does not see the need to protect his family or his town from the benefits of this new technological experience. This is another evidence of this liberating attitude, which becomes ingrained in one. It is not just a bag of tricks that helps you to cope with the world: the mind is already prepared.

The same thing applies to human relationships. Social relationships. The whole experimental nature of what the modern world should be. The way other religions absolutely block your entry into new progressive fronts – Yoruba religion just doesn’t do that!

Beier: It is significant that when a Yoruba says “Igbagbo” (a believer) it means “Christian”, because it is nonsensical to say “I believe in Shango” or “I believe in “Ogun”. One is too secure in one’s world view. I think I have mentioned to you once that remarkable reply of an old olorisha, to whom is grandchild said: “The teacher said, your Obatala doesn’t exist!” He simply answered. “Only that for which we have no name does not exist.” He could not be shaken.

Soyinka: That is a brilliant way of putting it. And you have been to Brazil and Cuba. In that part of the world you find Europeans – not just Mulattoes – but people of ‘pure’ European descent, who accept the humanism of this religion and who recognize it as their own way of truth. And they cannot conceive of any other way of looking at the world. This proven ability of this religion is well documented.

Beier: A few days before I came to Nigeria, I received a letter from a Portuguese student at the University of Munich. She came across a small community of Olorishas in Lisbon and again she found this a more realistic and intense way of looking at the world.

Soyinka: I know a number of people like that. On the other hand, what you said earlier on about Yoruba scholars and their reluctance to come terms with Yoruba religion … it is a very curious phenomenon …

Beier: So you agree with my estimation?

Soyinka: Oh yes, I agree with it absolutely. And the worst part of it is that those fellows who speak about “false consciousness” – and I don’t just mean the dying breed of Marxists – they are all totally preconditioned. Even when they are trying to be objective about African religion in general – or about their own traditional belief system – they are totally incapable of relating to it. They say: “This is a contemporary world. What use is our traditional religion today …”, and I feel tempted to say to them: What use is a system of beliefs like Islam and Christianity in the contemporary world? And they cannot see that they have totally failed to make the leap: to take Yoruba religion on the same level as any system of belief in the world, that they are committing a serious scholarship lapse. In other words they are totally brainwashed by what I call these “elaborate structures superstition” – Islam and Christianity particularly. They have accepted these as absolute facts of life which cannot be questioned.

They lack the comparative sense of being able to see Yoruba religion as just another system – whether you wan to call it superstition, belief, world view, cosmogony or whatever – you have to do it on the same level with any other system. Once you do that, many questions which have been asked become totally redundant, because they have not been asked about other religions. But when our scholars come up against their own religion, their faculty of comparison completely disappears.

Beier: There is a whole body of prejudices – which have their roots in the ignorant or malicious misinterpretations of missionaries – and which still persist in the minds of many Nigerians.

A typical one is the accusation that the Egungun try to “deceive” women and children, by pretending that they are spirits. Whereas of course every child knows that there is a man in the mask …

Soyinka: Absolutely! I did.

Beier: Everybody knows that the mask is carried by a dancer who is specially trained for that task – but at the height of the dance he becomes the ancestor. That is a totally different matter. These “wicked” man who allegedly try to intimidate women – can’t people see that during the Egungun festival they are in fact blessing women and that those who pray for children dance behind them?

Soyinka: And again, if you take the communion: here is a thing that happens every Sunday, sometimes twice a week. In which the officiating priest actually gives you a wafer and says “This is the flesh of Christ” and he gives you a drop of wine and says “This is the blood of Christ” …

Beier: Another defamation of Yoruba religion is the notion that is a form of exploitation of the people. But surely it is much less so than Christianity! Take a babalawo, for instance: When you consult a babalawo, you put down threepence. A token fee! There is no money involved in divination. Have you ever seen a rich babalawo?

Soyinka: (laughs)

Beier: A traditional babalawo was a poor man. He was not even interested in being rich. In fact the whole society did not even know wealth in our modern sense. What kind of possessions could you own, that others didn’t have? Another Agbada? Everybody had enough yams to eat. Everybody lived in a spacious compound that would accommodate him, his wives and his children. Everybody had enough clothes to wear … everybody had access to land. What else could you want? There was nothing to buy.

The grand old Olorisha priests I knew in the fifties: the Ajagemo of Ede, the Akodu of Ilobu … they were poor people, in spite of their influence. There was no such thing as a fat priest. Whereas now some of these new Churches really do exploit their congregation. Only a week ago one of these self styled “prophets” went to see a friend of mine and told her: “I had a vision. The child you are going to give birth to will be born dead, and you too will die in childbirth. The only way you can survive is to fast for three days without water and to give money to the Church!” Now here is not only exploitation but also blackmail!

Soyinka: It is happening all the time. All the time. This whole spate of prophesying, this competitive mortification of people is nothing but an attempt to bring powerful and wealthy people under the control of the priest. Even ordinary individuals are not exempted. They have succeeded in some cases. Oh yes. They rush to them and say: You must do this and that. And sometimes when people take no notice of them, their relatives will! There was a relation of mine, he got so frightened when one of these prophets predicted a likely death for me, that he ran to him and asked him what to do. And I said to him: I will curse you, if you go again to that church. I will follow you there and break up that ceremony. So they do succeed on so many levels and it has become competitive …

Beier: Now let us talk about the way in which some of these traditional Yoruba concepts have been used in your plays. If I am not mistaken, it was in “A Dance of the Forest” that you have first used some kind of Yoruba symbolism in a play.

Soyinka: Yes, of course by that time I had written the draft for The Lion and the Jewel, but that was a very different thing. It was on a different level …

Beier: The striking thing about “A Dance of the Forest” is the character of Ogun. This image of Ogun of your play is a rather personal, “unorthodox” orisha – that you have, in fact, created a new kind of Ogun.

Soyinka: Hmmm … that is true.

Beier: But of course, even in purely traditional Yoruba terms, that is quite a legitimate thing to do. Ogun has never been a rigid defined being; the orisha can only live through people – by “mounting somebody’s head” – you could go so far to say that when the Orisha fails to manifest himself in this way through his priests and worshippers, he ceases to exist. If the priest who personifies Ogun is an unusually powerful Olorisha he can modify the image of Ogun. So that even in Yoruba tradition Ogun consists of a variety of interrelated personalities.

Any traditional priest would accord you the right to live Ogun your own way, in fact they would think it the normal thing to do. You recreate Ogun – or perhaps one could say you are sensitive to other aspects of his being. Because Ogun is a very complex being …

Soyinka: Yes, indeed.

Beier: It is again the typical Yoruba openness and tolerance that we are talking about. It applies not only to the relationship between the different orisha cults, it also applies to the variants of interpretations within one and the same cult group.

Soyinka: And in the Diaspora of course – the same thing. the concept of Orishala or Oshun are very different in Brazil or Cuba; and in turn the manifestations of the orisha over there have affected the interpretations of some of the scholars and they in turn have transmitted some of these ideas to our most traditional priests. So that when you speak to a Babalawo you may notice a new perception, a slightly altered perception.

Beier: Actually Pierre Verger was instrumental in establishing contacts between Brazilian olorisha and their families in Dahomey and Nigeria. Messages were sent back and forth, which were ultimately followed by exchange visits. Today there is quite a bit of movement between the two countries. Look at Sangodare, for example: the young Shango priest who grew up in Susanne Wenger’s house. He was invited to Brazil four times by groups of olorisha.

Soyinka: Take Eshu for instance. The stature of Eshu has grown considerably, so that the original myths of Eshu that I knew as a child have grown even more colourful.

Beier: … the “devil”,

Soyinka: That’s right, and again Wande Abimbola admitted once that these new aspects of Eshu are now found here in Nigeria as well. It is this movement …

Beier: And of course it shows that the whole thing is alive. But you know what Melville Herskovitz thought about Verger’s travels between Brazil and Nigeria? “Terrible man”, he said to me “he is destroying laboratory conditions.”

Soyinka: Oh perfect! That’s perfect. That’s beautiful: it really sums up the whole lame battle – scholarship faced with a living phenomenon.

Beier: Now the Ogun you created in “A Dance of the Forest” stresses particularly the creative aspect. He is not merely the warrior, he is also the creator!

Soyinka: This was for me very obvious, because the instrument of sculpture belongs to Ogun; many sculptors are his followers and so is the blacksmith, again a very creative person, not just an artisan. And then of course there is the Ijala3 – he is therefore by implication the father of poetry. All this made me delve more into the complexity of Ogun and given my own creative bent, I explored that a lot more. And also given my own acknowledged combative strain, I found a fine partner in Ogun. It was a kind of liberation for me, having grown up in a narrow form of Christianity.

Beier: Which is very simplistic.

Soyinka: Very simplistic, everything has to be black or white: you are either a good child or a bad child. When I grew up and was given a little bit to self-analysis and introspection, I wondered why I should be inclined towards the creative – I really feel alive when I am creating – while at the same time I would readily drop my pen or typewriter without hesitation and pick up whatever combative instrument necessary …

Yoruba religion made me see that there was no contradiction – it was the most normal thing in the world to have within the same person these two or more aspects.

Beier: Each orisha contains and bridges contradictions, and human beings are the same. To pretend otherwise is hypocrisy. People don’t realize how unrealistic Christianity is. Yoruba religion portrays the world as it is and makes you live with it, the way it is. It teaches you how to turn a dangerous situation, how to diffuse tension, how to turn a negative situation into something positive even.

But in “A Dance of the Forest” you created another character called Esuoro. I find it hard to relate this figure to any Yoruba tradition – I am tempted to say you simply invented him.

Soyinka: Oh, that was purely dramatic. That is something I have not taken beyond the pages of the book. It’s purely dramatic. I created him in the same way – I suppose – in which Puck was created by Shakespeare, taking parts from various mythological beings. As you know: Oro is one of the most intangible beings … so I fleshed him out, somehow.

Beier: By far the most important statement you have made about Yoruba culture is your play “Death and the King’s Horsemen”. I don’t know whether you remember this, but it was Pierre Verger who found out about this famous incident in Oyo. He was even able to verify it, by writing to the District Officer, who was then living in Canada.

Soyinka: I do remember that you gave me a kind of summary of the story …

Beier: I thought that the material was crying out for a play. But for several years, you didn’t do anything with it.

Soyinka: Well, I wasn’t ready for it.

Beier: I then gave the material to Duro Lapido who produced “Oba Waja” in 1964. Then, maybe a decade later you wrote the “Horseman.” What was it then that prompted you to go back to this material finally? What new insight had occurred? What new preoccupation with Yoruba religion, maybe?

Soyinka: That’s a question that’s always very difficult to answer. Because it has to do with the entire active creative process: gestation, something that takes place on different levels of consciousness or subconsciousness. But don’t forget, I wrote this play in Cambridge, when I was there for a year as a fellow in Churchill College.

And it could have been the resentment of the presumption! Because you know in a Cambridge College named after a personality like Churchill, you have encapsulated the entire history of the arrogance of your colonizers; the supercilious attitude towards other cultures, the narrowness, the mind closure – it could be all of that. It was not a year which I enjoyed particularly. There were a few stimulating intellectual contacts, which made it worth while; but I think there was the basic underlying question “What the hell am I doing here? What the hell are we doing here?”

I felt like a representative; a captured, creative individual having to deal with another culture on its own terms, in its own locale. And passing the bust of Churchill on the top of the stairs almost every day – with all that Churchill meant. The big colonial man himself! It could have been all of this that brought back the memory of this tragic representation of the way their culture would always impinge on ours. I suspect that is the way it must have been. I must have been tempted to challenge this: How dare this smugness be! How dare it be exported …!

Beier: They came without the least attempt to come to terms with the culture they ruled.

Soyinka: Hardly ever!

Beier: This was particularly so in Southern Nigeria. They referred to Yorubas and Igbos as riff-raff, whereas Northerners, of course, were gentlemen.

Soyinka: Of course, the North appealed to their sense of feudalism.

Beier: You have given a very plausible explanation for the immediate stimulus that prompted you to write this play. But of course the far more difficult question is: what actually happens in the poet’s mind? What are the secrets and maybe subconscious processes that produce the particular images and the particular kind of magic of a play like “Death and the King’s Horseman”?

This is almost unanswerable, and many writers would simply refuse to be drawn into any discussion about it. But you have in fact attempted to find a metaphor for the creative process which you described at length in “The Fourth Stage”. I am fascinated by that essay because it seems to me that you are giving a very Yoruba explanation and one that seems to have some parallels in Yoruba religious thought. You speak about the artist going on a kind of journey; a trip into another dimension from where he returns with a kind of boon … and inspiration … but maybe you better summarize it yourself.

Soyinka: I think what I was referring to was the mystery of creativity itself. Which is almost like a dare, a challenge of nature secrecies. One goes out almost in the same way in which Ogun cleared the jungle – because he had forged the metallic instrument. He is very much the explorer.

The artist is in many ways similar; each time, he discovers a proto world in gestation; it’s almost like discovering another world in the galaxy. The artist’s view of reality creates an entirely new world. Into that world he leads a raid; he rifles its resources and returns to normal existence. The tragic dimension of that is one of disintegration of the self in a world which is being reborn always, and from which the artists can only recover his being by an exercise of sheer will power. He disintegrates in the passage into that world. He loses himself and only the power of the will can bring him back. And when he returns from the experience, he is imbued with new wisdoms, new perspectives, a new way of looking at phenomena.

I was using Ogun very much as an analogue: what happens when one steps out into the unknown? There is a myth about all the gods setting out, wanting to explore and rediscover the world of mortals. But then the primordial forest had grown so thick, no one could penetrate it. Then Ogun forged the metallic tool and cut a way through the jungle. But the material for the implement was extracted from the primordial barrier.

This I took as a kind of model of the artist’s role, the artist as a visionary explorer, a creature dissatisfied with the immediate reality – so he has to cut through the obscuring growth, to enter a totally new terrain of being; a new terrain of sensing, a new terrain of relationships. And Ogun represented that kind of artist to me.

Beier: I can find parallels to Yoruba concepts here on several levels. The artist as the “creature of dissatisfaction with the immediate reality” is really very reminiscent of the orisha, who starts life as a human being – a king or a warrior – but because of his dissatisfaction with the immediate reality “leads a raid into that other world”, losing himself on the way: Shango hanging himself at Koso, Ogun descending into the ground at Ire, Oshun turning into a river at Otan Aiyegbaju – all these are examples of the creative human being breaking through the limitations of ordinary human existence.

Of course, the orisha does not return – he undergoes a metamorphosis and becomes a divine being. But he is there to remind us of the existence of that other world, to remind us that we can dare to penetrate, however briefly, that other sphere of existence.

Similarly the olorisha going into trance crosses the border, “rifles the resources” of the divine world and returns with a new understanding. His personality undergoes significant changes through such repeated experiences. The maturity of the old orisha priests, their wisdom and tolerance, their insight into the human mind are the result of these raids into the divine sphere. Am I right in thinking, that this is something very similar – almost identical to the experience you are describing in the “Fourth Stage”?

Soyinka: Yes, definitely!

Beier: I think you can describe the act of the priest who goes into trance also as creative act; because he has to personify the orisha, recreate him through his performance, through song and dance. So in that sense there may be some real hope left: for a while we must helplessly watch the culture crumble in front of our eyes, there are still some individuals, like yourself, left who can capture something of the spirit of this culture through the very individual process you have described and who can keep the orisha alive in some new form of existence.

Soyinka: There is a lot of hope left. I’ll give you an example: when I gave a lecture in Ibadan recently titled “The Credo of Being and Nothingness”, when I explained certain aspects of Yoruba beliefs, the role of the orisha, the reaction, the forcefulness of response which I could see on the faces of the young people was really very encouraging. It was more than just an expression of their misgivings towards the way in which they were brought up, more than just a feeling of deprivation. These young people are really looking for new directions in their lives. I believe there is real hope.

1 Igbale: The secret grove of transformation, where the mask is donned.

2 The Yoruba creation story relates that Obatala created human beings out of clay and that one day he was drunk on palm wine and made cripples, albinos and blind people. Since then, all handicapped people are sacred to him.

3 Ijala: The poems of Yoruba hunters. The hunters are worshippers of Ogun, because they use iron.

For More Information Contact:
Egbe Isokan Yoruba
P.O. Box 90832, Washington, DC 20090
Tel: (202) 270-6382
FAX: (301) 499-5386

Brilliant article by Dr. Joseph Murphy that looks at the sensationalized depictions of African religions in America. Though the author focuses on Vodún, the insightful analysis is applicable to all African religions in the Diaspora.


The title of the paper is an evocative way to speak of a disjunction of images. “Black religion” connotes a system of behavior embodying the highest aspirations of peoples of African descent. “Black magic” connotes the expression of the lowest impulses of human vindictiveness and greed. This paper explores the persistent tendency to depict black religion through images of black magic. It is concerned with how these images are constructed and it speculates on the reasons for their remarkable tenacity. It is asserted that images of black religions as cults of violence and license serve social and psychological functions for those who support these images. These images reinforce social boundaries of otherness and displace impulses of lust, anger and violence away from their sources.

The article was first presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Anaheim, 1989, then published in The Journal of Religion in 1990. Dr. Murphy is the Author of such well-known books as “Santeria-African Spirits in America,” “Working the Spirit,” and his most recent “Osun across the Waters.”

Joseph M. Murphy
Department of Theology
Georgetown University
Washington, DC 20057

Adapted for publication from a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion, Anaheim, 1989.

The title of the paper is an evocative way to speak of a disjunction of images. “Black religion” connotes a system of behavior embodying the highest aspirations of peoples of African descent. “Black magic” connotes the expression of the lowest impulses of human vindictiveness and greed. This paper explores the persistent tendency to depict black religion through images of black magic. It is concerned with how these images are constructed and it speculates on the reasons for their remarkable tenacity. It is asserted that images of black religions as cults of violence and license serve social and psychological functions for those who support these images. These images reinforce social boundaries of otherness and displace impulses of lust, anger and violence away from their sources.

By speaking of “black religion” I am particularly concerned with religions of African derivation practiced in the Americas and I will focus on the most fertile source of images of African-derived religions, Haitian vodun. By speaking of “black magic” I am referring somewhat facetiously to the images of African-derived religions created by outsiders, and written or filmed for large audiences, presumably also of outsiders. These are the “popular” images of vodun and other African-derived religions, supported by and recognizable to mass audiences of readers and filmgoers.

An image is a reduction of data into a form or a frame that is understandable and communicable to a particular community. Any verbal or pictorial representation of African-derived religions must reduce them to forms recognizable to certain people. All presentations of these religions – whether they are created by believers, scholars, journalists, novelists or film makers – are reductions of the reality which they seek to communicate.[1]

A preliminary review of even a part of this material reveals a serious disjunction in the content and tone of these images. Usually observers who have spent time among devotees of African-derived religions, attended their rites and learned their languages, have portrayed these religions as what I have called “black religion,” complex systems of social, psychological and spiritual communication. On the other hand, writers and film makers who have little, if any, direct experience of these religions, have portrayed them as “black magic,” wild and violent expressions of human malevolence. Observers familiar with African-derived religions can attest to energetic dances, spontaneous and enthusiastic calls to worship, or loud and complex percussive music. Yet it requires a commitment to a special set of images to describe these actions by such adjectives as “frenzied,” “crazed,” or “unrelenting.” Scores, perhaps hundreds, of works of popular fiction and reportage in print and film have depicted African-derived religions in these terms. The rather startling similarity of these images suggests both textual dependence and that important psychological and social functions are being worked out.

What underlies nearly every image of African-derived religions in print and film is that it is made by an outsider: someone who cannot say “we” when referring to devotees; “my” and “mine” when discussing the religion that is being imaged.[2] This critical hermeneutic stance is the starting point to speak of the disjunction between “black religion” and “black magic.” In both categories of images, devotees are depicted as “them.” Images of “black religion” show that “they” are related to “us” by means of comparative categories of belief and ritual expression. Images of “black magic,” for both their creators and their audiences, show “them” to be menacingly alien to “us.” Images of “black religion” invite “us” to compare; those of “black magic” to contrast.

What interests the observer awakened to this contrast is the “hermeneutic of deceit.” If the first and perhaps the last task of hermeneutics is self-understanding, then the construction of the very idea of “them,” and the contrast it affords to “us,” are invaluable “deceptive” clues to who “we” are. I would like to proceed by examining some of the history of this construction of “their” religions and offer some examples from the literature on Haitian vodun.

The idea that “their” magic can be contrasted to “our” religion is a very old one in Western history. The contrast and disjunction become apparent when the “them” being libeled has proven to be “us,” and thus the fictive self-revelation of the libel can be readily seen. Most Christians have heard of the libels that Roman writers made against Christian communities in the second and third centuries of the common era. Around 200 CE a Christian lawyer named Minucius Felix summarized the anti-Christian charges of a notable pagan, Marcus Cornelius Fronto. A brief quote will suffice:

Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites; this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily – O horror! they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs.

On a solemn day they assemble at the feast, with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of every sex and every age. There, after much feasting, when the fellowship has grown warm, and the fervour of incestuous lust has grown hot with drunkenness . . . the connection of abominable lust involve them in the uncertainty of fate. (Bento 1984:56).

Since the repulsive “them” of the Roman has become the virtuous “us” of the Christian through the vagaries of history, the malicious misrepresentation of Fronto invites us to inquire into his motivations for constructing such an image of Christianity.

Similar charges have been placed against different categories of “them” in different places and different historical periods. Late medieval and Reformation accusations against Jews included ritual murder and ritual uses of human blood.[3] Nearly every description of “savage” communities encountered by Europeans from the Age of Discovery into the nineteenth century included reports of incest, human sacrifice, and cannibalism.[4] I do not mean to say that these things never happen, but rather ask why people wish to see these acts as characteristic of other people. People believe what they want to believe, but why do “we” wish to believe this of “them?”

When we turn to outsiders’ images of African-derived religions, the sheer number of images of Haitian vodun make it a worthy case study. The very name “voodoo” in the popular mind is a kind of generic term for “black magic” and all of us in the field wage a barely successful struggle for our students to see “voodoo” as “black religion.” Nearly fifty years ago the historian of Haiti, James Leyburn wrote:

In spite of detailed reports of anthropologists, the average American clings firmly to his notion that voodoo is Negro superstition chiefly concerned with charms or spells to “hoodoo” (a variation of the same word) an enemy. Scientists rarely succeed in correcting long-held but incorrect or one-sided impressions of the meaning of terms; they end rather by inventing a new word, or else continue the generally losing fight for precise usage, and so preserve the confusion. (Leyburn 1941:113).

While I have been arguing that the scholarly image of “vodun” is as much an image as the popular one of “voodoo,” it is the similarity and tenacity of the popular images that interest and disturb me and that I wish to understand. At the risk of preserving confusion I will use the term “voodoo” when referring to these popular images in the pages that follow.[5]

When I began the research for this paper I knew that images of voodoo were widespread. George Bush could capture precious sound bites by references to “voodoo economics” and rely on the public’s recognition of images of irrational magic to discredit the economic policies of his erstwhile opponent. The failure of this witchcraft accusation did not impede the career of the accuser and perhaps secured it. What I did not realize was the vast number of writings on voodoo that it takes to generate such a well-recognized image. I underestimated what might be hundreds of works that describe or purport to describe voodoo ceremonies. Short of a form-critical study of textual dependencies, I can offer a short history of the images of voodoo in four parts.

The most influential, if not the sole, source of written information on Haitian voodoo until the time of the Marine Occupation of the country in 1915, is the Martiniquean traveler and encyclopedist, Mederic Louis Elie Moreau de St. Méry. It is his account of voodoo, published in 1797 that forms the prologue for modern images of voodoo. He writes:

The [Voodoo] King and Queen take their places at one end of the room. Nearby is a species of altar on which is a chest containing the snake where every member can see it through the bars. When they have ascertained that no one has entered the precincts out of curiosity, the ceremony is started. It begins with the worship of the adder, through protestations of loyalty to its cult and being submissive to its orders. . . Then follow the rites which anyone in his delirium can imagine, anything that is most horrible, to render the ceremony more impressive emotionally.

For each of these invocations he receives, the Vaudoux King mediates. The Spirit acts in him. Suddenly he takes the chest containing the adder, places it on the ground, and makes the Vaudoux Queen stand on it. Once the sacred refuge is under her feet, this new pythoness that she is, is possessed by God. She shakes, her whole body is convulsed, and the oracle speaks through her mouth.

After that comes the dance of the Vaudoux . . . . Each makes movements, in which the upper part of the body, the head and shoulders, seem to be dislocated. The Queen above all is the prey to the most violent agitations . . . Fainting and raptures take over some of them and a sort of fury some of the others, but for all there is a nervous trembling which they cannot master. They spin around ceaselessly. And there are some in this species of bacchanal who tear their clothing and even bite their flesh. Others who are only deprived of their senses and have fallen in their tracks are taken, even while dancing, into the darkness of a neighboring room, where a disgusting prostitution exercises a most hideous empire.

The contagion is so strong that Whites found spying on the mysteries of this sect and touched by one of the cultists discovering them, have sometimes started to dance and have had to go so far as to pay the Vaudoux Queen to put an end to their torment.

In order to quiet the alarms which this mysterious cult of Vaudoux causes in the Colony, they affect to dance it in public, to the sound of the drums and of rhythmic handclapping. They even have this followed by a dinner where people eat nothing but poultry. But I assure you that this is only one more calculation to evade the watchfulness of the magistrates and the better to guarantee the success of this dark cabal.

In a word, nothing is more dangerous . . than this cult of Vaudoux. It can be made into a terrible weapon – this extravagant idea that the ministers of this alleged god know all and can do anything. (Moreau de St. Méry 1958:65-69).[6]

Here are images of wild and frenzied dancing, suggestive references to serpent worship, hints at meals other than of fowl, loss of reason, illicit sexuality, terror, and finally threats to whites in the form of revolutionary violence, and, equally significant, fear of psychic compulsion to join in the ceremonies. Perhaps it is Moreau de St. Méry’s invitation to “anyone in his delirium” to imagine the rites which has been most faithfully taken up by later generations.

These elements of “voodoography” are crystallized nearly one hundred years later in the work of English diplomat Spenser St. John who in 1889 devoted over 70 of his 390 page portrait of Haiti to the subject of “Vaudoux Worship and Cannibalism.” He writes of the adoration of a serpent taken from a box on the ground, the serpent acting as an oracle for the congregation, worshippers falling into “fainting fits,” being “dragged into a neighboring apartment.” “Here,” he writes, “in the obscurity is too often the scene of disgusting prostitution.” (St. John 1889: 199). While he admits that his account of voodoo is “freely taken” from Moreau de St. Méry, nowhere does he indicate whether he has observed any of the things which he purports to describe. It becomes clear that during his time in Haiti he has seen nothing of vodun but an empty hounfor shown him by a Catholic priest.

He retails a story told by a French priest at a dinner party in which the priest attended a ceremony the description of which matches Moreau de St. Méry in form and in content. The terrified cleric flees the scene in panic. The priest’s account takes up Moreau de St. Méry’s hint of heinous meats, by adding to the image of frenzied and dangerous excess, a sacrifice of a “goat without horns.” This is a human sacrifice, and St. John divides the voodoo community into those who are satisfied with only the flesh and blood of animals and those that require the offering of the “goat without horns.” (St. John 1889:191).

To corroborate the French priest’s account, St. John relies on an anonymous American journalist who also witnessed “hideous practices” similar to those seen by the curé. In this case he and a colleague are said to have blackened their white hands and faces, stolen to the fringes of a hounfor, witnessed the boxed serpent, frenzied dancing, and human sacrifice. Terrified, they fled from the scene, alive to tell their account in the New York World.[7]

The elements present in Moreau de St. Méry’s image of voodoo are solidified in St. John and made yet more “other.” Charges of ritual murder and cannibalism, together with rites “of the lowest debauchery,” transform the image of voodoo from a dangerous yet compelling dance into a sensational and horrific outrage.[8] St. John’s association of voodoo with horror proved to have enormous commercial potential for writers ever after.[9] As we move to the third part of our history of voodoo images, their steady commercial success indicates a fixing of the images in the popular mind, a “consolidation of discourse” about voodoo.

A work of fiction opens this phase of writing on voodoo. In 1925, one Beale Davis wrote an adventure story, titled none too enigmatically, The Goat Without Horns. Haiti had been occupied by American Marines since 1915 and numerous Americans were returning with St. John-like stories of voodoo. I’ve abridged this description of our white hero coming upon a voodoo ceremony:

Then, unexpectedly close at hand, he saw it through an opening among the trees. With an involuntary exclamation of amazement, Blaine crouched in the tangled undergrowth and watched. This was not ordinary dance, of that he was sure.

Resinous torches, some stuck in the ground along the edge of the clearing, others fastened to the boles of the encircling palms, cast a thick red glow over the scene. A canopy of heavy black smoke hovered overhead, blotting out the stars.

The throb of numerous tom-toms reverberated in the air. . . The stench of raw tafia and sweating human bodies was heavy in the air.

Amid this glare and stink and sound, macabre figures shuffled in and out in an African ghost dance. Men and women, some half naked, some stark, advanced and retreated to the beat of the drums. All danced singly, grimacing and posturing with nauseating vileness.

. . . they formed a weaving circle, their sweating bronze bodies gleaming where the red glare of the torches touched swelling muscles and rounded flesh.

. . . A white goat, his terror-glazed eyes glittering, appeared from somewhere and dashed frantically about . . . The chanting became a delirious wail . . . a knife flashed, poised and then plunged swiftly down. A gurgling bleat, and the goat, blood spurting with every heart-beat, stumbled blindly around the re-made circle.

Pandemonium. Men and women jostled and fought to be the first to reach it. Black hands plunged deep, searching for the heart, and come out dripping and gory. The mad dance began again. Men with bloody hands reached out and streaked bronze shoulders and pendulous breasts with long wet stains of crimson. The tom-toms boomed deafeningly. Voices howled insanely. Even to Blaine, with generations of civilization behind him, their call was almost irresistible. Every nerve in his body tingled with desire. Unconsciously, his body swayed to their hypnotic beat. (Davis 1925:189-192).

Blaine, we are relieved to find, does not succumb to desire, but flees the scene in panic, ready to believe that he has narrowly escaped being himself “the goat without horns.”

This literary formula will be followed by scores if not hundreds of novelists and film makers to come. It sets the stage for the most famous of writers on voodoo, William Buehler Seabrook. The Magic Island is said to have sold half a million copies since its publication in 1929 and it has just been reprinted in 1989 by Paragon. My own 1929 copy indicates it to be a Literary Guild selection. Seabrook was a traveler and a journalist who sought to write good books about exotic places. During his trip to Haiti it is clear that he did a good deal of research on voodoo, consulted knowledgeable people and attempted to witness ceremonies. Yet his diligence and insights are harnessed into perpetuating the images developed by St. John and Davis. He betrays that he is aware that these images are sensationalized, even aware that they are fiction, yet he chooses to exploit them anyway. In this often-quoted passage, note the odd irony:

And now the literary-traditional white stranger who spied from hiding in the forest, had such a one lurked nearby, would have seen all the wildest tales of Voodoo fiction justified: in the red light of torches which made the moon turn pale, leaping, screaming, writhing black bodies, blood-maddened, sex-maddened, god-maddened, drunken, whirled and danced their dark saturnalia, heads thrown weirdly back as if their necks were broken, white teeth and eyeballs gleaming, while couples seizing one another from time to time fled from the circle, as if pursued by furies, into the forest to share and slake their ecstasy. (Seabrook 1929:42).

Every scholarly treatment of voodoo has criticized Seabrook’s sensationalized descriptions. Jean Price-Mars, who might be assumed to know, doubts that he witnessed much of what he wrote about and embellished what he did witness with false piquant details. (Shannon in Price-Mars 1983:241-242). Harold Courlander and Rémy Bastien describe The Magic Island as a work of “mythomania.” (Courlander and Bastien 1966:73). My purpose is not to demonstrate the falsity of The Magic Island, but to inquire into Seabrook’s motivations in writing it, and in the public’s interest in supporting the book so wholeheartedly.

Michael J. Dash, in his excellent survey of writing about Haiti, sees Seabrook as part of a larger movement of the 1920′s, that sought access to a “secret vital world lost to the West.” With voodoo, Dash argues, Seabrook and others could carry out “an imaginative plundering of Haiti for the fatigued West – essentially an intellectual ‘nostalgie de la boue.’” (Dash:1988:24-25).

Seabrook has had many imitators since 1929 and it is likely The Magic Island which inspired the images of voodoo on film. In a quick survey of film indexes I have found over thirty feature films with the words “voodoo” or “zombie” in the titles.[10] There are probably many more. In the fourth and final part of this survey of voodoo images, I want to outline its cinematic treatment in three feature films of recent years: “Angel Heart;” “The Serpent and the Rainbow;” and “The Believers.”

In “Angel Heart” detective Harold Angel undertakes a case that becomes a quest of self-discovery. Clues lead him to New Orleans where he meets Epiphany Proudfoot, youthful mambo to a voodoo community. In a scene worthy of Beale Davis, Angel comes upon a hidden ceremony. He crouches concealed in the underbrush, parts leaves, and his eyes bulge out of his pale face as he witnesses black dancers whirling to drum rhythms. Epiphany occupies center stage as she raises a chicken above her head, cuts its throat with a gleaming straight razor, and lets its blood flow over her body. In ecstasy she pantomimes copulation and orgasm. Terrified, Angel recklessly flees the scene.

The film makers have taken a great deal of care in getting some of the visual elements of voodoo right, while at the same time utilizing the “black magic” tradition of violence and unrestrained sexuality. The models for the drums, rhythms, and symbols of voodoo are all taken from scholarly sources. Epiphany’s dance scene, though embellished with more explicitly erotic touches, is mounted nearly frame for frame from Maya Deren’s documentary footage in “Divine Horsemen.” Thus director Alan Parker knowingly used materials from the “black religion” images of voodoo to preserve the “black magic” image. Voodoo metaphysics is not really a part of “Angel Heart.” The “black magic” image of voodoo is used only to create a malevolent redundancy to the central mystery of the film. The “heart” of “Angel Heart” is a murderous and cannibal rite: an evil, unconscious “heart” which the sympathetic, conscious Angel discovers within himself.

“The Serpent and the Rainbow” purports to enter the invisible world of voodoo through the adventures of youthful ethnobotanist, Dennis Alan. Again actual voodoo terms and symbols are appropriated from ethnographic literature to authenticate the images of horror. The film demonstrates its connection with the truth in the opening graphic message, “Inspired by a true story.”[11] Once inspired, director Wes Craven sees the world of voodoo and Haiti itself as a hallucinatory inferno. Voodoo has the psychic and chemical power to terrorize and dement the population of Haiti, our hero, and through him the audience. Voodoo inspires murder, torture, and gore. The only moment of respite comes when Maya Deren’s images of possession by the vodun spirit Erzulie are again used as the model for human eroticism. This time Deren’s footage is the basis for the love scene between hero Alan and heroine Marielle Duchamps. The image of voodoo in “The Serpent and the Rainbow” is of a malevolent kind of mind control, which, in Moreau de St. Méry’s words, is a “contagion so strong” as to torment whites.

“The Believers” represents voodoo, or its cousin religion, santeria, as an African cult of human sacrifice secretly permeating New York. Cal Jamison, a psychologist, discovers his young son is being magically coerced into becoming a victim of the cult, which has just imported the most potent high priest directly from Africa to empower its scheme to take over New York. Good santeros practice what the movie portrays as well-meaning but ineffectual rites to protect Jamison and the boy, but it is only Jamison’s fists which finally save the boy from the “believers’” clutches. The film ends with a wry scene in which Jamison discovers that the woman that he has married in the film’s denouement has secretly set up a sacrificial altar in their gentrified barn.

In each of these movies credible scholarly sources have been consulted yet the images of voodoo are those developed by St. John and Seabrook. In “Angel Heart,” “black magic” triumphs; in “The Serpent and the Rainbow;” it is defeated. The audience of “The Believers” is lulled into thinking that “black magic” has been defeated, but learns that the struggle must go on. In each case the hero is white, and his security and very self-identity are threatened by blacks. And so it is the “blackness” of the threat that brings our history to a close and forms the basis of our interpretation.

Beginning in the 1790s, crystalized in the 1880s, flowering in the 1920s, and seemingly resurgent in the 1980s, images of “black religion” as violent and licentious “black magic” have dominated all popular discourse on African-derived religions. The longevity, tenacity and currency of the images seems to require some interpretation, some speculation about why these images are so powerful. I have been suggesting throughout the paper that the disjunction between the images of “black magic” and “black religion” leads us to inquire about the motivations of those who produce and support the “black magic” images. This contrast of images takes the focus off “them” and places it on “us.”

Seabrook, the most successful purveyor of images of “black magic,” consistently reveals himself in his “mythomania.” His work is a kind of unsuccessful self-analysis, proceeding in fits and starts and culminating in denial. Yet after a lurid description of the terror of voodoo rites, Seabrook experiences this hint of self-awareness:

But I forget that I am writing the description of a Voodoo ceremonial in the Haitian mountains, and that excursions among the terrors aroused by elemental nightmares in my own soul are an unwarranted interruption. (Seabrook 1929:37).

Seabrook is aware that his own terrors are not part of a voodoo ceremonial but “forgets.” This “forgetting” on the part of Seabrook suggests that psychological interpretations might be applied to understand the disjunctions of images in African-derived religions. Could the same “forgetting,” the same confusion between internal and external phenomena, be operable among other writers and readers, film makers and filmgoers who produce and support these “black magic” images?

Michael Dash referred to the work of Seabrook and others as “a kind of intellectual ‘nostalgie de la boue,’” an opportunity to imagine primitive, atavistic forces unleashed from the psyche by voodoo. While these unrestrained forces are supposed to be fearful, they are also imagined to be a therapeutic release of repressed libidinal energy. I believe that the “black magic” images of African-derived religions, which are generated by and for whites, are using badly understood elements of black religion to imagine and express psychological processes in white minds. Voodoo, for example then, is not really saying anything about “them,” its devotees, but about “us,” who create these images. The “otherness” of black religion is created out of the “otherness” within the psyches of the creators and supporters of the images.

In these images of “black magic” I see expressions of psychological forces of denial and projection. Joel Kovel in his “psychohistory” of American racism writes:

If he is a white American, it is likely that he will find an outlet for some of his infantile fantasies about dirt, property, power, and sexuality in his culture’s racism. (Kovel 1970:50).[12]

The erotic and ecstatic elements in African-derived religions are selected and transformed into images of unrestraint and become vehicles for white sexual and aggressive fantasies. They displace the “other” within to an “other” without. What is “dark” and “black” and within the white psyche is projected onto what is “dark” and “black” in the social environment. Anna Freud writes of projection:

An ego which with the aid of the defence-mechanism of projection develops along this particular line introjects the authorities to whose criticism it is exposed and incorporates them in the super-ego. It is then able to project its prohibited impulses outwards. Its intolerance of other people is prior to its severity toward itself. It learns what is regarded as blameworthy but protects itself by means of this defence mechanism from unpleasant self-criticism. Vehement indignation at someone else’s wrong-doing is the precursor of and substitute for guilty feelings on its own account. Its indignation increases automatically when the perception of its own guilt is imminent. (Freud 1948:128).

In the relations between the races: who is seducing whom? Who is committing violence against whom? Who is cannibalizing whom? Images of license and violence in African-derived religions are denials of white guilt, projections of unrestraint and malevolence onto blacks.

William Seabrook tells of meeting a “sort of Voodoo hermit-saint” who discourages his quest for voodoo and gives him advice which he disbelieves yet still repeats for us. The saint says, “There is no such thing as Voodoo; it is a silly lie invented by you whites to injure us.” (Seabrook 1929:27). We know, and Seabrook knows, that the sage is right. The purposes behind the “black magic” images of voodoo are racially motivated and serve social and psychological functions among the whites that create and support them.

I think these images of voodoo are indeed images of “black magic,” or to be more precise, of witchcraft. Witches are thought to be people who harbor evil thoughts and gather at night to indulge in horrible inversions of life-sustaining behavior. They revel in filth, they engage in indiscriminate sexual activity, they kill even children, and they eat human flesh and blood. Their hatred and envy of proper society drives them to these practices which happen in unseen places. In each of the literary and cinematic images of voodoo which we have looked at, those practicing these horrible rites are black and the victims intended to arouse our sympathy are white. Whites are victims of irrational, malevolent and unseen violence which is directed at them by blacks. I believe that in these images of voodoo we have a recognition of social violence and a displacement of its true source.

In images of “black magic,” white audiences recognize the force and rage of black power. Voodoo has the power to seduce, dement and kill. Not only does voodoo pose a danger to its own community, but it has the power to overturn white “civilization,” as it did in St. Domingue in 1791. As accusations of witchcraft these images of voodoo recognize that black power exists and that it poses a threat to whites. Yet since this power is characterized as witchcraft, the causes of the anger that generate it are removed from their sources. Witches are inherently evil, even genetically so. Their rage at the social order is due to some deep-seated maladjustment. Thus the images of voodoo as “black magic” deflect a search on the part of their white creators and supporters for the causes of the marginalization that the black wielders of voodoo experience. Images of “black magic” disguise the flow of seduction and violence in our society by reversing it. Instead of blacks being the victims of white seduction and violence, whites are victimized by blacks. This reversal allows whites to recognize the consequences of racism and at the same time absolve themselves of responsibility for it. Thus voodoo and other African-derived religions become social images of witchcraft beliefs, serving to justify a white “us” in its marginalization of a black “them.”

Further evidence of the link between images of voodoo and social repression might be found in the timing of the phases of the short history of these images outlined above. In 1797 Moreau de St. Méry’s observations on voodoo were being written in the midst of the Haitian revolution as Napoleonic armies were seeking to re-enslave the island. Moreau de St. Méry was presenting his experience of voodoo before the revolution to an audience in the midst of it, an audience actively seeking to crush black resistance. By characterizing voodoo as a dangerous “dark cabal” and irrational “fury,” Moreau de St. Méry justified its repression and deflected a search for causes of the violence of the revolution.

The fear of the “contagion” of the Haitian revolution among North American slaves became an obsession on the part of Southern slaveholders in the first half of the nineteenth century. By the conclusion of the American civil war another slaveholding “civilization” had come to an end and it must have seemed to the planters that their fears of black independence had been realized. Spenser St. John lived in Haiti during these years and first published his memoirs in 1884. His characterization of Haiti as a “country of barbarians,”[13] was very well received in the United States as white efforts to dismantle black emancipation were in ascendancy.

The same motivations may be seen in the rash of literature on voodoo during the twenty-year military occupation of Haiti by the United States Marines. Michael Dash shrewdly points out that the colonialist mission of Marines, who saw voodoo as insubordinate black mischief, and the thrill-seeking of Seabrook, who imagined in voodoo a kind of atavistic authenticity, were really much the same impulse.[14] Voodoo was a “dark” reflection of white selves, “cannibal cousins” to use Marine Captain Craige’s phrase.[15] These expressions of black independence were either to be repressed or co-opted.

It may be too rash to see if the resurgence of voodoo on film in the 1980s once again indicates threatened borders of white consciousness and society. Each flowering of voodoo images has accompanied an effort to control real gains in black independence. Do the 1980s present as visible and concerted an effort to roll back black gains and reestablish borders as those efforts of the earlier eras? What does seem evident is that malevolent images of voodoo become important to whites when there is evidence of gains in black independence.

It is possible that this pattern of stereotyping is changing, however. The dissemination of the images of voodoo to outsiders is no longer completely in the hands of outsiders. Practitioners are gaining access to mass media as spokespeople, writers and film makers. Despite enormous prejudice on the part of outsiders, and often against the advice of those within the tradition, practitioners of African-derived religions are coming “above ground” to sponsor conferences, publicize festivals, and incorporate as congregations. These actions will mean enormous changes for the traditions as they are challenged to develop new institutions, authorities and texts. If they are successful it will be interesting to see if the “black magic” images of voodoo dear to outsiders will give way to images of “black religion.”

I began this project with an attitude of amusement at what I though to be ludicrous images of African-derived religions. As the research progressed the numbing sameness of the descriptions, and the predictability of the titillation and horror that they were designed to engender, began to sadden me. The images became symptoms of a sickness, a failure of white America to accept its “dark” side.

In conversations with colleagues and students I was frequently given evidence for the validity of these images: there are such things as ritual murders, blacks do commit violence against whites.

In April of this year sensational evidence of such ritual violence came to light. A drug-smuggling organization in Matamoros, Mexico had ritually murdered thirteen people. Its leader was reported to be a priest of an African-derived religion and symbols of these religions were employed in the murders. Here was clear evidence of terrible violence in an African-derived religion. Yet the interrogation of the suspects revealed that the inspiration for the killings did not come from an African-derived religion. The leaders of the organization said that they repeatedly showed a tape of “The Believers” to the members to prove to them that human sacrifice would protect and strengthen their drug-importing organization. The killers did not act on their faith in an African-derived religion, but in an outsider’s image of one. A more pathetic illustration of the potency of these images cannot be imagined.

I do not mean to suggest that the actions of drug-smugglers and killers should indict these images of African-derived religions. They are destructive not as blueprints for murder, but as blueprints for racism, for denying the crimes of the past and the healings of the future.


[1]. Scholars seek to be self conscious in their reduction of religions to images. By explaining the methods or techniques of reduction, they hope to allow the reader access to the reality, to “enlarge” from the images back to the data. Scholars of religion, (historians of religion, religionists) are particularly aware of the reductions carried out by other disciplines which seek to represent religion. The secularist ethos of social science, with its values of neutrality toward spirituality, is often seen as a serious inadequacy in understanding religious phenomena.

[2]. There are a number of interesting exceptions to this generalization. While not academically trained, Gary Edwards and John Mason have carefully researched and written of Yoruba religion from the believers’ perspective. Luisah Teish has integrated African-derived religions into her personal quest for an authentic Afra-American spirituality. Judith Gleason has written novels and beautifully-researched treatments of the African spirits which have influenced her. Katherine Dunham received both training in anthropology and initiation into Haitian vodun. A number of academic researchers have received initiations in African-derived religions and have attempted to incorporate these personal perspectives into their scholarly work. Among them: Roger Bastide and Pierre Verger; and more recently Robert Farris Thompson, Karen McCarthy Brown, and Mikelle Smith Omari. Maya Deren’s personal experience with the vodun loas gives her work the hermeneutic interest of the insider. To write at all I suppose there must be some level of self-identification with one’s subject. Yet I imagine that an equal precondition of writing “about” something is that one is liminal, also a member of another community for which the subject must be interpreted.

[3]. See R. Po-Chia Hsia’s The Myth of Ritual Murder: Jews and Magic in Reformation Germany. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988) for a disturbing but illuminating survey of trials of accused Jewish murderers. One frighteningly revealing court document shows an accused murderer, under pain of torture, frantically trying to guess what the folk idea of ritual murder was so that he could confess to it and end his interrogation.

[4]. See Katherine George’s “The Civilized West Looks at Primitive Africa: 1400-1800 A Study in Ethnocentrism.” In The Concept of the Primitive, edited by Ashley Montagu. (New York: The Free Press, 1968). George argues that the monsters at the edge of Renaissance maps are indicative of cultural rather than natural geography. W. Arens has written a beautifully contentious book on accusations of cannibalism provocatively titled, The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology and Anthropophagy. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979). He writes: “The idea of ‘others’ as cannibals, rather than the act, is the universal phenomenon. The significant question is not why people eat human flesh, but why one group invariably assumes that others do.” (p. 139). Arens goes so far as to question the actual occurrence of ritual cannibalism and takes anthropologists to task for their allegedly ethnocentric choice to believe reports on poor evidence. For a review of the question see Peggy Reeves Sanday, Divine Hunger: Cannibalism as a Cultural System. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

[5]. I am tempted to follow Professor Cosentino of UCLA who likes the distinction between “voodoo” and “vodoun” to demarcate the “black magic” and the “black religion” images of the popular religion of Haiti. But as Leyburn had predicted this distinction can confuse the unwary. See his correspondence with senior ethnographer Harold Courlander in African Arts, Volume 21, Numbers 2 and 3 (1988).

The problem is compounded since several excellent scholars such as Michel Laguerre of Berkeley use the “voodoo” orthography. Magdaline Shannon, in translating Jean Price-Mars’s Ainsi Parla l’Oncle, makes the curious decision to render Price-Mars’s “Vaudou” as “voodoo” and justifies it by appeal to the usage by scholars such as Laguerre and the Library of Congress. She notes that the translators of Alfred Métraux’s Le Vaudou Haitien rendered the title Voodoo in Haiti. (Shannon in Price-Mars, 1983: xxv-xxvii).

A study of the variants, uses and purposes of the term chosen to designate the popular religion of Haiti would make an interesting dissertation in and of itself. Nearly every treatment of the subject makes some more or less self conscious choice and often explains it at the beginning of the work.

[6]. I have relied on the translations of Ivor D. Spencer and of Selden Rodman in these extracts. See Spencer’s translation, abridgement and editing of Moreau de St. Mery not-at-all-ironically titled A Civilization that Perished: The Last Days of White Colonial Rule in Haiti. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 1985; and Rodman’s Haiti: The Black Republic. Old Greenwich, Connecticut: Devin-Adair, 1980.

[7]. St. John gives the publication date of this story as December 5, 1886. Jean Price-Mars places the credibility of St. John and others in proper perspective in Thus Spoke the Uncle. He draws an interesting parallel when he writes:

Given such a mentality, is it surprising that reporters of the foreign press newly arrived in Haiti issue sensational reports in their newspapers about . . . the barbarous Haitian practice of human sacrifices of which they have not seen a trace anywhere, since after all they have drawn the material for their stories, which were as absurd as they were improbable, from the credulity of the milieu?” Price-Mars 1983:147. “Moreover this imagination easily complements that of theologians, inquisitors , and public prosecutors of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance who have lent an authentic reality to the myth of the Sabbath.” Price-Mars 1983:148. “In fact no one has observed it [human sacrifice] here. (Price-Mars 1983:150).

As for the testimony of Sir Spenser St. John, Minister Resident of Her Britannic Majesty, and that of his colleague, Minister to Her Majesty’s Catholics in Port-au-Prince, in respect to sorcery in Haiti around 1864, the two diplomats reveal such a lack of critical sense in that one could impose the worst foolishness upon them without a doubt crossing their pitiful minds. (Price-Mars 1983:150 n.144).

[8]. It would be interesting to speculate whether the emphasis on the horrible in this and later images of voodoo is itself a kind of religiosity. Rudolf Otto argued that the horrible and the grisly is a kind of low level experience of the divine wholly other, a primitive stage in an evolutionary development of the schematization of the numinous. See The Idea of the Holy. (New York: Oxford, 1958) especially expressions of “daemonic dread,” p. 14ff.

[9]. Watergate’s Howard Hunt wrote a spy novel which used horrific images of voodoo for a grisly frisson. In homage to his predecessor Spenser St. John, he chose the pseudonym, David St. John. See, if you must, Diabolus. (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1971).

[10]. What is equally interesting I have yet to come across a treatment of black religion on film. In two major bibliographic surveys of blacks in American cinema, I found no reference to religion, let alone voodoo. See Allen L. Woll and Randall M. Miller. Ethnic and Racial Images in American Films and Television: Historical Essays and Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1987 and Donald Bogle, Blacks in American Film and Television. New York: Garland, 1988. In a recent study of religion on film, I found no references to blacks. See John R. May and Michael Bird, eds, Religion in Film. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982.

[11]. The “true story” is Wade Davis’s The Serpent and the Rainbow. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Readers may wonder if Davis’s adventure account of his quest for zombie poison deserved Wes Craven’s treatment or not.

[12]. This raises a question that space will not let me explore, still I must note that I find Kovel’s use of the pronoun “he” suggestive. Could the same statement be made if the word “sexism” were inserted for “racism.” Women like blacks are made “other” by virtue of their bodies. It is not surprising that repressed ideas about the body are projected onto women and on to blacks. The overwhelming majority of voodoographers are not only white but also male. Thus voodoo can be seen as having a triple “otherness:” it is non-Christian, black, and largely controlled by women. Are the “black magic” images of voodoo marginalizing women’s power as much as they are black power?

[13]. St. John so enjoys this characterization that he opens the book with this epigraph which he attributes to Louis Napoleon, “Haiti, Haiti, pays de barbares.” (St. John 1889:1).

[14]. See Dash 1988, especially pp. 24 and 25.

[15]. John Houston Craige. Cannibal Cousins. New York: Minton, Balch 1934.

Morton Marks
Science of the Concrete
(This article first appeared in “En torno a Lydia Cabrera,” edited by Isabel Castellanos and Josefina Inclán. Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1987)

If you knew the story of all the leaves of the forest, you would know all there is to be known about the gods of Dahomey.
Dahomean proverb

Social scientists working in Afro-America have noted the presence of double systems in virtually every sphere of human activity. In whatever aspect of social or cultural organization, in the linguistic, religious, economic, legal, medical and aesthetic-expressive domains, there exists a pairing or opposition of an official institution or form and its vernacular or Afro-American counterpart.[1] Cuba is no exception, and Lydia Cabrera’s El Monte documents the dynamic relationship between that country’s Iberian-based “official” culture and institutions and its African-derived popular traditions, of Yoruba, Fon, Kongo and Ejagham origin.

Perhaps the best known Cuban “double system” is the pairing of some Catholic saints with their Yoruba orisha counterparts. The dialectic between popular Catholicism and Lukumí (Cuban Yoruba) traditions comprises a good part of El Monte’s subject matter, but such pairings go far beyond the saint/orisha identifications. In the medical domain, Cuba had well-developed parallel systems as well. Hospital dispensaries functioned alongside Yoruba and Kongo healers and diviners, and stethoscopes, divining chains and magic mirrors could all be found among the diagnostic tools available to the Cuban people. Pharmacies and patent medicines competed with botánicas and their stocks of plants gathered in the countryside or grown in urban patios.

While many readers approach El Monte as essentially a literary work or as ethnography, it may also be read as ethnobotany and even as ethnopharmacology. The book’s second half contains a list of more than five hundred and fifty plants used magically and/or medicinally, and is one of the most complete sources of information on any New World botanical system. Its organization into an alphabetical order based on the entries’ Spanish common names obscures a double system of classification, the first based on standard scientific binomials, the second on a folk taxonomy involving orisha ownership. A complete botanical entry in El Monte thus consists of a Spanish common name, a scientific classification, the plant’s Yoruba and Kongo names, and an orisha “owner.”

It is possible to re-order all the entries and arrange them into two groups, one that would place them in their scientific families (Acanthaceae, Agavaceae, etc.), and the other in their orisha family. In the latter, Elegua “owns” red bay (Tabernaemontana citrifolia in the Dogbane family), fowl foot (Eleusine indica in the Grass family), espuela de caballero (Jacquinia aculeata in the Theophrastaceae family) and many others; Obatalá is the owner of cotton (Gossypium sp., Malvaceae), coconut (Cocos nucifera, Palmae), angel’s trumpet (Datura suaveolens, Solanaceae), the castor oil bush (Ricinus communis, Euphorbiaceae), the tropical almond tree (Terminalia catappa), etc. To Babalú Ayé are attributed sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum, Pedaliaceae), guinea grass (Panicum maximum, Gramineae), the bitter melon (Momordica charantia, Cucurbitaceae), congress weed (Parthenium hysterophorus, Compositae), etc.

This second list cuts across the standard scientific families and is clearly organized along a different sort of taxonomic grid. Discovering the underlying logic of this system reveals the operation of an Afro-Cuban “science of the concrete”, defined by Lévi-Strauss as “a speculative organization and exploitation of the sensible world in sensible terms”.[2] In the importance accorded plant classifications and their multiple associations with ritual, medicine, and other aspects of Yoruba and Kongo culture, Afro-Cubans are no different from other traditional (and also Western classical and medieval) peoples described by Lévi-Strauss in The Savage Mind:

…One begins to wish that every ethnologist were also a mineralogist, a botanist, a zoologist and even an astronomer…For Reichard’s comment about the Navajo applies not only to the Australians and Sudanese but to all or almost all native [sic] peoples. “Since the Navajo regard all parts of the universe as essential to well-being, a major problem of religious study is the classification of natural objects, a subject that demands careful taxonomic attention. We need a list, with English, scientific (Latin) and Navajo names of all plants, animals – especially birds, rodents, insects, and worms – minerals and rocks, shells and stars.” [3]

Afro-Cuban herbalists knew the orisha owners, ritual applications, and curative powers of hundreds of trees, roots, barks, grasses, herbs, vines and flowers. In their exploration and classification of the Cuban forests and savannas, they were undoubtedly guided by the cognitive categories anthropomorphized as the “orishas”, which could comprise philosophical, aesthetic, anatomical, botanic and even chemical dimensions. Particular leaves might belong to a certain deity on the basis of mythological associations, ashé (curative and/or magical power), visual appearance (color, shape, and texture), taste, association with a body part or physiological process, or all of these at once. [4]

The origins of orisha ownership, the division of the plant world into ritual and pharmacological categories and the non-arbitrary nature of the associations between the Yoruba deities and their ewe (literally, leaves) are recounted in a myth collected by Lydia Cabrera:

All the orishas received their ashé (blessing, power, active force, gift, magical power) from Olorun [the Yoruba Supreme Deity]. Once He had finished the great work of creating the world and before he withdrew to Heaven and cut Himself off from earthly things, the heavenly Father divided the world among His children…Osain received the secret of ewe and knowledge of their powers. He was the exclusive owner of plants and herbs, and would not give them away to anyone. Not, that is, until the day Shangó complained to his wife Oyá, owner of the Winds. Shangó said that only Osain knew the mystery of each plant and no other orisha had a single plant of his own. Hearing this, Oyá opened her skirts. She shook them vigorously in a swirling motion, and fefé! A powerful wind began to blow. Osain kept the secret of ewe in a calabash hanging from a tree. Seeing that the wind had knocked it down and that all the herbs were scattered, he sang: “Eé egüero, saué éreo!” {“Oh the leaves! Oh the leaves!”] But he couldn’t stop the orishas from picking up the scattered herbs and dividing them among themselves. The orishas named them, and placed a power –ashé – in each one. Thus, although Osain is recognized as lord of leaves, every orisha has his own ewe in el monte, the sacred forest. [5]

It is very possible that the term ashé, the “power-to-make-things-happen”, may be the Afro-Cuban way of referring to a plant’s chemical constituents, its magico-medicinal properties. A recent study by Edward Ayensu[6] provides an important clue for understanding the logic of the Lukumí classifications as presented in El Monte. His work also suggests indirectly that Cuban osainistas (herbalists) and their “science of the concrete” may have discovered what the ethnobotanists’ chemical analyses are now revealing.

Ayensu’s book contains entries for over six hundred plants used magically and/or medicinally in the West Indies, including about one hundred and fifty described by Lydia Cabrera. Although he makes few direct references to Cuba and none at all to the orisha system employed there, his findings strongly suggest that the “orishas” may be pharmacological categories. This hypothesis emerged from a comparison of Ayensu’s data with some of the material collected in El Monte. In fact, moving between the two books is a lesson in the nature-culture dichotomy, what we might term chemistry-ashé. Many of the chemical constituents and their effects as listed by Ayensu are embedded in the symbolic associations that link the Cuban orishas with elements of the natural world. Knowing the “leaves” means knowing the gods; it also leads to the discovery among Cuba’s santeros and paleros of a sophisticated phytochemistry and understanding of human physiology.

One case in point is the white cotton bush (Gossypium sp.), the subject of a lengthy, twelve-page entry in El Monte. This section contains a detailed discussion of the orisha Obatalá, deity of immaculate whiteness and cleanliness. His name may be translated as “King of the White Cloth”, and his worshipers are distinguished by the wearing of this emblem (àlà).[7] Logically, one would expect purity to be a feature of the cotton plant, since it is emblematic of Obatalá and contains his ashé. In Cabrera, we read that this orisha recommends baths containing cotton flowers for those whose personal hygiene leaves something to be desired, and in fact may be causing health problems.[8] According to Ayensu, the essential oil in the aerial parts of the cotton plant contains, among many other elements, salicylic acid, which has bacteriostatic action.[9]

Another characteristic of Obatalá is his association with the head and psychological calmness. Verger reports that ceremonies for this deity as performed in the city of Ilê-Ifé, Nigeria include the washing of his image with infusions of the leaves of “calming” plants, including òwú (Gossypium sp.), àbámodá (Bryophyllum pinnatum), and rinrin (Peperomia pellucida). [10] In Cuba, àbámodá and rinrin are also associated with Obatalá, and their Spanish names are siempre viva and hierba de plata, respectively. (In English, they are known as the life plant and silver bush.) Ayensu reports that leaf extracts of Bryophyllum pinnatum are active “against Gram+ bacteria due to bryophylline content”, and that the plant is taken in “cooling teas.”[11] (Cotton’s salicyclic acid, the basis of aspirin, is also antipyretic – it “cools” fevers.) Peperomia pellucida’s volatile oil contains apiol, with antispasmodic actions, and “acid amines with anesthetic effect occur in [the] family”. [12] Thus, calmness-coolness-purity are some dimensions of Obatalá’s ewe.

In Yoruba, àlà, “white cloth”, is also the word for caul, and boys born in this membrane are sacred to Obatalá. [13] This punning association suggests the aspect of this orisha as “Creator of mankind, [who] fashions the form of human beings in the womb before they are born”. [14] Obatalá’s relationship to fetal development is further described by Bascom:

[In Nigeria], the priests of Orishala, or one of the other white deities, must be called to perform the burial and atonement when a woman dies in pregnancy. Under the cover of darkness, and with great secrecy, they carry the body to the sacred grove of Orishala where it is cut open and the fetus is removed and buried in a separate grave. [15]

Given the multiple associations between this deity and procreation, it is startling to learn that the root bark of the cotton plant is an abortifacient – that which causes the expulsion of the fetus. [16] And other parts of the cotton plant are active in birth control as well. Scientists in China have been experimenting with a contraceptive pill derived from cottonseed oil.

Plants and trees are not only the living symbols of the orishas; as emblems and as medicine, they combine several aspects and powers of the deities at once. Color symbolism is one unifying element that binds the ewe into “families”. Thus, cotton is only one of a series of other white plants, foods, birds, animals, metals and beads consecrated to the “white” orishas. Similarly, many of Oshún’s symbols are yellow, which may take in a range of the spectrum from gold through red-orange to yellow-brown.[17] In her riverine aspect, she owns many aquatic plants and ferns, with sundry ritual and medicinal applications. But perhaps the most perfect embodiment of Oshún is Canella alba, her wild cinnamon tree. (In Cuba, Oshún is the mulata “saint”, her skin the color of canela.)

This is the Lukumí Venus’s tree par excellence. Cinnamon is used to prepare all her love potions, afoshés [powders] and amorous talismans. In the romantic sphere, this tree resolves all the problems brought to paleros and babalochas by their clients. It has strong attractive powers and is indispensable, they tell us, “for all romantic matters.” “When I was in my glory, whenever I courted a woman, I would put a little splinter of cinnamon wood in my mouth, and it would sweeten my words”, Calazán recalls, “and I needed it even more when I got old.”

Fancy ladies and all those who wish to please mix powdered cinnamon with their face powders. Some dust this mixture over their entire body, because cinnamon attracts men the way honey draws flies. “If you do this you will have many suitors”… In the healing arts of paleros and santeros, wild cinnamon mixed in syrup is used to treat stomach colds and to contain diarrhea and bloody vomiting. Remember that Oshún “punishes” with stomach ailments, and that she can cure them as well. [18]

(“Canella contains .75-1.25% volatile oil with 1-alpha-pinene, eugenol, eineole, caryophyllene, about 8% resin and 8% manitol.”) [19]

Oshún’s golden pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima) is closely related to her aspect as “owner of wombs”:

After she had given birth several times, Oshún noticed that she was losing her figure. She went weeping through the countryside, making rogations with different ewe along the way. She made the first request-offering with calabash, but when it dried out its seeds shook noisily, the way they do in maracas, and the noise bothered her. She found pumpkin growing in a field; claiming it as her own, she passed it over her belly. This is how she got herself back into shape…To cure someone with stomach problems, either pain or poor digestion, Oshún takes a pumpkin and passes it over the patient’s midsection, first in a criss-cross motion and then with circular movements…Since the goddess is “owner of bellies”, she can cure a recent hernia with three nice round pumpkins. Standing near her patient, the santera removes the little stems and probes for the rupture near the patient’s groin. These are kept in a place where no one may touch them. “You will see that just as the stems grow back and re-join the pumpkins, the rupture will also close”…Pulverized pumpkin seeds, mixed with boiled milk, are prized for their effectiveness in expelling tapeworms. [20]

(In other parts of the Caribbean and in Brazil, the seeds of Cucurbita pepo are also used as a vermifuge.[21] Pumpkin seeds contain the plant amino acid Curcurbitin that has shown anti-parasitic activity in laboratory tests.)

The tree known in Cuba as the jía brava (Casearia aculeata in the Flacourtia family) “belongs” to Babalú Ayé, the leprous saint/earth orisha. Two other members of Flacourtiaceae, the gorli shrub (Oncoba echinata) and the chaulmoogra oil tree (Taraktogenos kurzii) produce seed oils used in the treatment of leprosy elsewhere in the Caribbean.[22] It is probable that jía brava has similar properties. A more complex symbolic and historical relationship between the smallpox orisha and another of his plants is the case of Agave fourcroydes, or henequen. The entry in El Monte states: “Cloth made from henequen fibers or burlap, is worn by those who are fulfilling a promise made to Babá, for Babalú Ayé himself wore burlap”. [23]

This passage serves as a perfect example of how the Afro-Cuban science of the concrete can also deal with the dialectic between Yoruba and Catholic symbolism. In Cuba, henequen replaced raffia fibers as Obaluaiye’s (Babalú’s) garment. Among the Nigerian Yoruba:

There is a line of poetry praising the deity as a man covered with raffia fiber, as if he were a walking broom – a Yoruba traditional whisk broom with a short handle and long fiber. As a matter of fact, extensive broom imagery characterizes the cult of Obaluaiye. The Yoruba whisk broom, sacralized by the addition of medicines and cam wood paste sprinkled on the straw, is one of the more formidable and famous of Obaluaiye’s emblems. Ifá tells us that when he is enraged, Obaluaiye takes this special broom and spreads sesame seeds (yamoti) on the earth before him, then sweeps the seeds before him, in ever-widening circles. As the broom begins to touch the dust and the dust begins to rise, the seeds, like miniature pockmarks, ride the wind with their annihilating powers; the force of a smallpox epidemic is thereby unleashed. [24]

Here, broom-raffia-sesame-smallpox-roughness-skin form a partial cluster of natural and man-made elements that surround the figure (or cognitive category) of Obaluaiye. In Yoruba symbolism, the following associations are also possible:

The gown itself hides from sight the sickness on Babalu’s body. When he walks in his limping gait, the natural sway or movement of the mariwó [palm fiber] gown resembles the swaying motion of a broom. [25]

The chromolithograph that represents Saint Lazarus shows him as a leper covered with sores, walking with the aid of a crutch and accompanied by dogs. (These “paper saints”, as they were known in Cuba, are often visual puns that link the popular Catholic and Lukumí symbolic worlds and facilitate the transformation of one into the other.) Transformed by the activity of the ever-present double system, BabalúAye/smallpox/raffia becomes Saint Lazarus/leprosy/burlap.

The shift from raffia to burlap may be explained as due simply to the unavailability of the raffia palm in Cuba, and also as a reflection of the popular Catholic practice of wearing one’s “promise” to a saint, comparable to the color and/or fabric associated with one’s orisha: Our Lady of Regla/Yemayá, indigo blue; la Caridad del Cobre/Oshún, yellow; and Saint Lazarus/Babalú Ayé, burlap, symbolic of the penitent with whom Babalú (or Saint Lazarus) is associated.

There is a further connection:

Babalú is a symbol of what happens when the earth turns against you…He is said to make the grains men have eaten come out on their skins, and he is sometimes portrayed wearing burlap, the same sackcloth [the “penitent” association] used to package grain.[26]

In the ever-widening system of symbolic associations documented in El Monte, the original African cluster of relationships may become obscured or even replaced by a new set. But in this case, at least, the African “text” can be restored. By substituting “raffia” for burlap and “smallpox” for “leprosy” in the following Lukumí tale, the resulting version is almost identical to a myth collected by Thompson in Lagos, Nigeria. Here is the Cuban story as recorded in El Monte:

Once, when Shangó was divining in public, a crippled leper heard his words and asked, “Why can’t you tell me something? Don’t you want to divine for me?” “I will tell you,” Shangó replied, “what my father told me. He said that here in this land I have a brother and a half-brother, both older than myself. You are that half-brother. Your fortune and destiny are far from here. Turn around and go. Cross the forest, and you will find the place where you reign…” “How can I travel in this state?” the leper asked. That man was Babalú Ayé, Saint Lazarus. Then Shangó addressed another man who was present. It was Ogún, his other brother, who was accompanied by two large dogs. Shangó took them and gave them to Babalú…who then crossed the forest, protected by the dogs. He traveled in the direction that Oní-Shangó had indicated, and finally reached the land of the Ararás (Dahomey). He stretched out and went to sleep in a doorway. He spent the night there, and was awakened at dawn by a boy, whose body, like Babalú’s, was completely covered with leprous sores. The youth said, “How you must suffer with those sores! You must suffer, just as I do”. When Babalú heard him, he asked, “Do you want me to cure you?” The boy gladly replied, “Cure me!” Saint Lazarus asked for corn meal, corojo palm oil and a burlap jacket. He made a loaf of bread with the flour, dipped it in the oil and rubbed the boy’s body with the bread. He burned the clothing that the boy had been wearing, and dressed him in the burlap jacket…” [27]

The following may be the original Yoruba source:

According to the Lagosian cult of Ejiwa, the earth deity [Obaluaiye] gave Eshu, when the latter was scarred with smallpox marks, a garment made of raffia, of a thickness sufficient to keep flies from swarming about his wounds. Hence, Ifá tells us, the Ejiwa (Eshu) masquerader to this day appears completely shrouded in raffia…The primary image of the Ejiwa cult is a most suggestive clue in the search for the origins of the idea of concealment by raffia of the signs of smallpox. [28]

The “boy” in the Lukumí tale may therefore be Eshu.

Raffia/burlap relate metaphorically to Babalú/Saint Lazarus. They may also relate pharmacologically. While I have no specific information concerning the chemical constituents of the species that produce raffia in Nigeria or henequen in Cuba, I do know that at least two other members of the Agavaceae family, to which henequen belongs, are employed elsewhere in the Caribbean in the treatment of ailments that Cubans associate with Babalú. These are Furcraea agavephylla and F.tuberosa: “rhizome decoctions [of the first] for heat, rheumatism, vitiligo [a skin disease characterized by whitish nonpigmented areas surrounded by hyperpigmented borders], venereal diseases. Leaf poultice on sores”. And the emulsified root of F. tuberosa is used in the treatment of gonorrhea. [29](Saint Lazarus is also the “syphilitic saint”.) Did these properties influence the choice of henequen in Cuba? It is difficult to find the boundary separating the purely symbolic and metaphorical associations between a species and its orisha owner and the chemical ashé it contains.

A plant’s powers may also be expressed in its very name. In African healing and divination, word play is often the active element in a “spell” or cure. Both Yoruba and Kongo ritual specialists employ word magic in their therapies. Bascom describes the role of puns in Ifá divination and sacrifice:

In these cases, the name of an object sacrificed resembles the words expressing the result desired by the client. In one verse, a woman who desires to conceive is instructed to sacrifice cooked beans (ole); the pun here alludes here to embryo (ole)…Thus the figure iwori Meji, who has sacrificed a mortar and tete and gbegbe leaves in order to find a place to live, recite the formula: “The mortar (odo) will testify that I see room in which to settle (do), the tete leaf will testify that I see room in which to stretch out (te), the gbegbe leaf will testify that I see room in which to dwell (gbe).” Water (omi) is sacrificed so that the client can breathe (imi), ochra (ila) so that he will gain honor (ola) and salt, used to make food tasty or “sweet” (dun), so that his affairs will be sweet (dun).[30]

Similarly, Thompson writes:

The concreteness and seriousness of Kongo herbalism is immediately suggested by a ground plan of a mystical garden at Manselele in northern Kongo. Here a healer planted some seventy-seven different trees or shrubs about his residence for the purpose of medicine, sustenance and ritual. Many of these herbs relate to therapy and healing through wordplay and punning invocations. The trees and herbs cluster about the healer’s compound like stanzas of living speech and invocation. [31]

Afro-Cuban osainistas, babalawos (diviners) and nganguleros (Kongo healers) would plant their urban montes in exactly the same way as their African forebears and counterparts:

The late Miguel Adyai, “the Lukumí”, a Cuban-born black with an admirable command of the Aku language [spoken by the Yoruba of Sierra Leone], lived on San Rafael Street. Although this was a bustling commercial thoroughfare, Miguel’s green and fragrant patio had all the Ocha herbs (ewe-orisha), all the medicinal plants he needed. Babalaos, iyalochas [Lukumí priestesses], Kongo priests and priestesses may enter “the woods” in their own homes, which are sometimes squeezed into the busy heart of the city. But they will eagerly migrate to the suburbs, where houses with patios and grassy solares [courtyards] still abound. Or they may move to nearby towns that are happily still filled with plants and trees. These places, such as Marianao, Regla and Guanabacoa, across the bay from Havana, have become the strongholds of orthodox santería. [32]

Herbs gathered in the wild or cultivated in the city might contain two types of overlapping ashé, pharmacologically active chemicals and a magically significant common name. Afro-Cubans rediscovered or re-invented the African speaking-healing connection by punning on the Spanish common names of the plants and trees they found in Cuba. Thus, pega-pega (Desmodium obtusum), which may be translated as “stick-stick” or “glue-glue” is used to mend broken marriages or friendships; embeleso (Plumbago capensis), meaning bewitchment or enchantment, is an active ingredient in a love charm, some of whose other punning ingredients include the eyes of a majá snake, meant to hypnotize the object of the amulet’s owner’s desires; seso vegetal (Blighia sapida), literally “vegetable brains”, is given to someone you want to drive mad (this is the fruit known as akee in Jamaica); palo torcido (Mouriri valenzuela), “twisted tree”, is an ingredient in a spell to “twist” someone’s destiny; ñame volador (Dioscorea bulbifera), the air potato, according to Hortus[33], is planted to prevent flying sorcerers from landing; fulminante is the name of an exploding plant ( Ruellia tuberosa) that when wet fires its seeds like miniature bullets and is used in amulets worn by policemen and underworld figures;[34] raspa lengua (Cosearia hirsuta), or “foul-mouthed”, as it is known in English, has several applications that live up to its name:

All the authorities agree that foul-mouthed “is very good for winning lawsuits. Pulverized and mixed with cascarilla [powdered egg shells], cinnamon and white sugar, it is sprinkled on the rival lawyer’s and prosecutor’s benches. By spreading this afoshé, you can make them hold their tongues”. If a lawyer should step on or inhale these harmless powders, he will fall mute, his speech will become slurred, and he will make mistakes, simply withdraw his complaint or refuse to represent his client. This plant also works (and rightly so) to “stop the tongues of foul-mouthed people”. [35]

Such conjuring powders are employed in both the Lukumí and Cuban Kongo traditions, where they are known as afoshé and mpolo, respectively. Since swollen and inflamed feet are often viewed as a sign that someone has been “fixed” or magically injured by stepping on them, they raise the important issue of diagnosis and the interpretation of symptoms among Afro-Cubans. Some observations made by Janzen in reference to medicine and therapy in Zaire could just as easily apply to Cuba:

…Kongo etiology consistently draws the effective boundary of a person differently, more expansively, then classical Western medicine, philosophy, and religion. The outcome is usually disconcerting or unreal to Western medical observers, although completely logical within the terms of Kongo diagnosis…The definition of the person, as drawn in the typical Kongo hierarchy of symptom progressions, creates a framework within which all of the physical diseases in Western medicine (e.g., pneumonia, hernia, malaria, tuberculosis, diabetes, germs) can be added to the diagnostic repertoire without abandoning the wider etiology of gossip, mysteries, evil acts, curses, “threads of social connection”, “being in someone hand”, and “strange death”, the usual euphemisms for witchcraft. [36]

Red and swollen feet may simply be due to a lot of walking, or they may be the sign that someone has been “fixed” by an enemy. This theme echoes across all of Afro-America, and the full meaning of the following plant entry in El Monte, the very first one, did not dawn on me until I had read an anecdote collected by Price-Mars in Haiti. Lydia Cabrera’s entry for the plant aba (no scientific name) goes as follows:

If no inflammation is present, the Owner of the Road (Elegua) will bless this plant’s leaves and roots, which are boiled and used to bathe, refresh and relieve a traveler’s tired feet. Its leaves are applied as a remedy for paralysis. [37]

This bit of Afro-Cuban botanical lore can be used, in Rosetta stone fashion, to align the following examples from Haiti, Trinidad, and the American South:

The legend says that the Abbé M…, one of our first indigenous priests, died while curé of Pétion-ville [near Port-au-Prince]. Since he was a saintly man, he went straight to Paradise and was warmly welcomed. Day after day he took part in the choir of angels who were celebrating on high the glory of the Creator. But finally, after a time, the good Curé became extremely bored. He went around paradise, yawned, idled about, and became more bored than ever. One day, unable to stand it any longer, he confessed his state of mind to the Good Lord, who was grieved.

“What do you want me to do?” the Good Lord asked him. “Oh, there is only one way to keep me from being homesick for earth, that is to give me a “position” here, and there is only one that I feel worthy of holding, it is that of Saint Peter, keeper of the keys of Heaven”.

The Good Lord remonstrated with him in a fatherly manner by revealing how impossible it was to realize his desires….The Abbé M. was very chagrined but refrained from argument. One morning, Saint Peter, while making the rounds, noticed something unusual at the gates of Paradise. A mixture of feuillages [leafage], d’lo repugnance [odorous water], of parched corn and other substances were strewn on the ground. He was imprudent in pushing aside this strange offering with his foot. Immediately he was stricken with such sharp pains in his suddenly swollen lower limbs that all of Heaven became upset. But from the happy face and satisfied air of Abbé M., the Good Lord knew that he was the author of this misdeed and that he was guilty of an act unbefitting a resident of Paradise. He was damned and cast into hell. And that is why we will never have an indigenous priest… [38]

From Trinidad, George Eaton Simpson reports the following:

Grave dirt may be thrown in an enemy’s yard to injure him, or one may grind a piece of a nest of wood ants, mix this powder with ground black pepper, grave dirt, musk powder and compelling powder, and sprinkle this combination in front of an enemy’s door….Within nine days, the foot of the client’s enemy begins to ache, his ankle swells, and then sores break out. [39]

Commenting on the ante-bellum American South, Gladys-Marie Fry states:

Many ex-slaves believed that all Southern plantations had voodoo advisers who concocted charms for various uses. Matilda Marshall, an ex-slave, recalled: “The slaves were superstitious. They would sometimes throw away good hats and dressed that they thought someone had hoodooed. They wore a silver dime in their shoes to keep them from being conjured”. [40]

Fry mentions another slave who spread “dusting powder” on his enemy, and another who buried frogs, snakes or lizards at someone’s doorstep, “so if the enemy walked over it, it would be painful”. So prevalent were these practices in an area allegedly devoid of African-derived culture that many white slave owners manipulated African magic themselves as a form of social control:

The Black’s fear of conjuring was, of course, a ready-made tool for the whites to use in fostering suspicion and hatred among the slaves. The comment of Mary Howard Neely, a retired school teacher, is typical: “And they [white people] would beat up brick and pepper and put down at the Negroes’ gates, hoodooism…to scare them, you know. ‘You better stay home. So and so put that down for you’. They taught them that. Took them [Blacks} a long time to grow out of it. Some are not out of it yet”. [41]

We may view all these examples as variants of a single “text”, which in turn illuminates the aba entry in El Monte: aching and swollen feet are often a sign of contact with “witchcraft”; Elegua’s aba leaves would be recommended only when an enemy’s “conjure” is not suspected as the cause of these symptoms. If the feet are inflamed and covered with sores, they have probably come into contact with an enemy’s afoshé, and other leaves would be recommended as an antidote. Many of these belong to Shangó, renowned for his anti-witchcraft activity. For Cuban Kongos, leaves of the anamú plant (Petiveria alliacea), placed in the form of a cross inside the shoes, are the protective equivalent of the Lukumí herbs and the Black American silver dime. (In the Anglophone Caribbean, anamú is known as Congo root or kojo root, and in Brazilian herbal medicine it is called tipi or erva-de-guiné).[42] Red ochre (almagre) is the Cuban equivalent of the pounded brick in the southern American “put-down”; pepper is a common element in New World conjuring powders, and usually means “provocation”. This list of correspondences could be greatly expanded.

Readers familiar with Afro-Atlantic religion, folklore, folk medicine and ethnobotany will doubtless find many other parallels between the material presented in El Monte and examples from other areas. By themselves these comparisons might seem anecdotal, but taken together they form a structured system. El Monte not only demonstrates equivalent features among the four major Afro-Cuban traditions. It also serves as a point of reference that integrates a vast amount of comparative data from a geographic and culture area that extends from Brazil to the southern United States. Thus, a “country” (Ki-Kongo) –English vocabulary from Jamaica helps translate many Cuban Kongo terms;[43] a booklet on Brazilian popular medicine containing a discussion of doenças do ar ((“air diseases”) clarifies the Cuban term aire pasmoso, a gust of wind or chill said to cause facial neuralgia and paralysis;[44] and a recent work on Haitian ethnobiology contributes to out understanding of the pharmacological basis of Afro-Cuban “witchcraft” beliefs. [45]

The remarkable achievement of Lydia Cabrera is that her works can be read as literature, folklore, ethnography, ethnohistory, ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology. One very practical contribution of El Monte may be in its stimulation of further reseach in New World botany. Guided by Afro-Cuban religion and medicine, “hard science” could learn a lot from the “the science of the concrete”.


[1] See, for example, Donald R. Hill, The Impact of Migration on the Metropolitan and Folk Society of Carriacou, Grenada (New York: Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History 54, part 2, 1977). Hill has fashioned an entire ethnographic approach based on the interplay between “metropolitan” and “folk”(or “official” and “vernacular”) categories on the geographically small, but culturally complex, island of Carriacou. See also Isabel Castellanos, The Use of Language in Afro-Cuban Religion (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International, 1977) for an application of the sociolinguistic notion of diglossia to the study of Afro-Cuban ritual language.

[2] Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), p.16.

[3] Ibid, pp. 45-46.

[4] Here, too, we discover another double system at work. Lydia Cabrera points out that in Cuba, the aid of various Catholic saints was sought in the treatment of specific physical ailments: “Besides the orishas, and with the same urgency, one still resorts to Catholic saints, Heavenly Doctors, specialists in different illnesses, who had a large following in colonial days. Old people haven’t forgotten that Saint Gregory the Great and Saint Bernard were famous and sought after for stomach ailments; for dropsy, Saint Fermin and Saint Quentin…Saint Apolonia cured toothaches and Saint Leonard, apoplexy. (Naná Bulukú, an Arará vodun equated in Cuba with Saint Ann, is also an infallible curer of apoplexy.)” (Lydia Cabrera, El Monte [Miami,Florida: Ediciones C.R., 1983], p.44). Elsewhere, the author lists the association of orishas with particular diseases: “Thus we see that the saints [here, the orishas] cause various types of deaths: Babalú Ayé kills through gangrene, smallpox, leprosy; Obatalá blinds and paralyzes; Yewa causes consumption; Inle and Orula madden; Ogún, Oshosi, Elegua and Aláguna – the cause of solitary deaths – provoke uncontrollable hemorrhaging…” ‘Oshún and Yemayá punish a person through the belly. They kill in fresh or salt water, and they cause consumption due to rain and humidity’, says Odedei.” [Cabrera, op. cit., p.48).

Orishas can cure the same illnesses they “fight” with. Both Catholic saints and Yoruba orishas “own” body parts and diseases. In medieval Spain, the saints may have owned” specific herbs as well. Cf. Julio Caro Baroja, La Estación de Amor: Fiestas Populares de Mayo a San Juan (Madrid: Ediciones Taurus, S.A., 1979) and the same author’s Ritos y Mitos Equívocos (Madrid: Ediciones Istmo, 1974) for a detailed discussion of peninsular Spanish folklore, much of which predates Christianity, concerning plants, trees and seasonal celebrations. Brought to Cuba by Spanish colonists, many of these beliefs and practices entered into complex relationships with African traditions.

[5] Cabrera, op. cit., pp. 99-100.

[6] Edward S. Ayensu, Medicinal Plants of the West Indies (Algonac, Michigan: Reference Publications Inc., 1981).

[7] In Cuba, Obatalá was catholicized as Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, Our Lady of Mercy. In a touching pun that manages to play on both the Yoruba and Catholic features of this orisha/saint, Obatalá/Las Mercedes is described as a paño de lágrimas, a figure of speech that may be translated as “consoler” or “a shoulder to cry on.” Literally, it means “a [cotton] handkerchief that wipes all tears away”. (Cabrera, op. cit., p. 312).

[8] Cabrera, op. cit., p. 317.

[9] “Aerial parts: some essential oil containing furfurol, quercetin, betaine, choline, phytosterine, various terpenes: formic, acetic, succinic, salicylic, palmitic, butyric, valerianic, capronic acids.” (Ayensu, op. cit., p. 120.) Compare with Cabrera: “Oú, ododó, the white cotton bush’s flower, has the enviable privilege of clothing Obatalá, of serving as his perpetual mantle and of ‘living’ in the closest possible contact with Orishanla, the [incredibly immaculate] ‘deity of whiteness’.” (Cabrera, op. cit., p. 313.) Presumably many of the chemicals listed are purifying and calming agents.

[10] Pierre Fatumbi Verger, Orixás (Bahia and São Paulo, Brazil: Editora Corrupio Comércio, Ltda., 1981) p. 255.

[11] Ayensu, op. cit., p. 88.

[12] Ibid, p. 148.

[13] One of the male orisha names that might be given is Salakó, derived from the Yoruba So àlà ko, meaning “open the white cloth (or caul) and hang it” (William Bascom, Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World [Bloomington; Indiana University Press, 1980], p.9). By coincidence, both Lydia Cabrera in Cuba and William Bascom in Nigeria had informants with this orisha name.

[14] William Bascom, The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969), p, 81.

[15] Ibid, p. 82.

[16] Cabrera, op. cit., p. 317, and Ayensu, op. cit., p. 120.

[17] “Oshún’s color is pupa or pon, which, in Nagô (Yoruba), means red as well as yellow. Pon ròrò is golden yellow, the color that characterizes Oshún….Another way of saying red in Nagô is pupa eyin, literally egg yolk. Nothing could be more expressive. Not only is the egg one of Oshún’s symbols, used in the preparation of one of her favorite dishes, it is also the symbol par excellence of the Iyá àgbà, the feminine ancestors.” Juana Elbein dos Santos, Os Nagô e a Morte: Padè, Asèsè e o Culto Égun na Bahia (Petrópolis: Editora Vozes, 1976), p. 89.

[18] Cabrera, op. cit., pp. 364-365.

[19] Ayensu, op. cit., p. 70.

[20] Cabrera, op. cit., pp. 359,360,362.

[21] Ayensu, op. cit., p. 90.

[22] Ibid, p.101.

[23] Cabrera, op. cit., p. 452.

[24] Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit (New York: Random House, 1983), p. 63.

[25] Gary Edwards and John Mason, Black Gods – Orisa Studies in the New World (New York: Yòrubá Theological Archministry, 1985), p. 56.

[26] Ibid, pp. 54-56.

[27] Cabrera, op. cit., pp. 231-232. In one variant of this tale, the jacket is made of zaraza, or chintz.

[28] Thompson, op.cit. p..60. Many Yoruba from what is now Nigeria’s Federal District, including the city of Lagos, were drawn into the slave trade to Cuba.

[29] Ayensu, op.cit. p. 34.

[30] I have combined two sources in this quotation: William Bascom, “The Sanctions of Ifa Divination,” in Contribution to Folkloristics (Meerut, India: Archana Pub., 1981) p. 24, and the same author’s Ifa Divination: Communication between Gods and Men in West Africa (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1969), p. 130.

[31] Robert Farris Thompson and Joseph Cornet, The Four Moments of the Sun (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1981), pp. 37-38.

[32] Cabrera, op. cit., pp. 68-69.

[33] Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada. Revised by the L.H. Bailey Hortorium, Cornell University (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1976).

[34] Jamaicans call this plant “duppy gun”. Many of the English common names for the plants described in El Monte have a Jamaican flavor: Kingston buttercup for abrojo amarillo (Tribulus cistoides), Jamaica caper tree for palo diablo (Capparis cynophallophora), etc. In fact, were it not for the herbalists and “science men” of the Anglophone Caribbean, many of these uncultivated species, or “weeds,” would have no common names at all.

[35] Cabrera, op. cit., p. 536.

[36] John Janzen, The Quest for Therapy: Medical Pluralism in Lower Zaire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 189-190.

[37] Cabrera, op. cit., p. 288.

[38] Jean Price-Mars, Thus Spoke the Uncle, translated by Magdaline W. Shannon (Washington, D.C., Three Continents Press, 1983), unnumbered page of author’s introduction. The translator points out that the word feuillages, leafage, is synonymous in Haiti with “witchcraft”. Similarly, some of Cabrera’s older informants equate Osain with brujería, and with amulets and charms containing leaves (including Kongo nkisi and charms): “…Old people call Osain ‘Lukumí witchcraft’. Personified in the materials we shall list below, Osain is compared to the Kongo conjurer’s nganga or prenda….By extension, any amulet can be an ‘Osain’. For example, a tortoise shell, some buzzard feathers and thorns from the cuaba tree or the zarza [Pisonia aculeata] make an Osain that is meant to help someone flee the police. Roughly speaking, Osain means an amulet or more precisely, conjure or evil spell.” Cabrera, op. cit., p. 101.

[39] George Eaton Simpson, Religious Cults of the Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica and Haiti (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico: Institute of Caribbean Studies, U.P.R., 1970) p. 74.

[40] Gladys-Marie Fry, Night Riders in Black Folk History (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975), pp. 54-55.

[41] Ibid, p.54.

[42] P. alliacea is extremely rich in biologically active compounds, and anamú has a long history in the herbal medicine of all the tropical countries where it grows. In Brazilian herbal medicine it is also called amansa senhor, or tame the master, a holdover from slavery times, when Afro-Brazilians used this herb against slave-owners. Not surprisingly, this plant, like many others mentioned here, often overlaps with Native American usage. Called mucura by Indians of the Peruvian Amazon, it is used as part of an herbal bath against witchcraft and by herbal healers of the forest, called curanderos, to treat a variety of ailments.

[43] Kenneth M. Bilby and Fu-Kiau kia Bunseki, Kumina: a Kongo-based Tradition in the New World (Brussels: Les Cahiers du CEDAF, 1983).

[44] Maria Thereza L.A. Camargo, Medicina Popular (Rio de Janeiro:FUNARTE,1976), pp. 31-33.

[45] E. Wade Davis, “The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombi” [Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 9[1983] 85-104). In listing the plant species added to a combination of substances that lowers a person’s metabolic rate to the point of mimicking death, Davis identifies a number of plants described in El Monte. They have either urticating hairs (Mucuna pruriens), are anacardiaceous and produced severe dermatitis (Comocladia glabra), or are other types of irritants.

© 2010 Web design and development by Tami Jo Urban Suffusion WordPress theme by Sayontan Sinha