By Dianne Diakité
January 20, 2010

Notwithstanding Haiti’s Christian character, the Haitian personality, if there is one, has been nurtured by a Vodou civilization that any responsible treatment of the subject must disentangle from the Western world’s manufactured “voodoo” culture. Continue reading »
Nigerian Compass

Primate, Church of Aladura Worldwide and President, United Aladura Churches, Pope Rufus Okikiola Ositelu, paid a courtesy visit to the Nigerian Compass on Thursday. During the visit, he fielded questions from a group of the newspaper’s reporters on some burning national and religious issues, including the state of the nation vis-a-vis the ill health of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, the rot in the house of God in the country today and what is in stock for the nation in 2010. Continue reading »
Dec 17, 2009
By Helen Popper

EL RINCON, Cuba (Reuters Life!) – Some dressed in sackcloth, a few crawling on their hands and knees, thousands of Cubans paid homage on Thursday to a Catholic saint who doubles as a powerful deity in the Afro-Cuban Santeria faith. Continue reading »

Original article

Obiní Batá is the only folkloric company on the island made up solely of women. They display their talent through singing, dancing, reciting and…what horror! Playing the hourglass-shaped batá drums! Continue reading »

By Virgile Ahissou Associated Press Writer

Thousands gathered on a beach Tuesday to celebrate Benin’s once-banned Voodoo, slaughtering animals and welcoming revelers from Brazil and the United States, including descendants of slaves who took the religion to the Americas centuries ago.

At a ceremony in the southern town of Ouidah, Voodoo high priestess Nagbo Hounon Gbeffa sacrificed a goat, a rooster and a chicken as divine offerings.

“I’m very moved,” said Faith McDouglas, a 37-year-old nurse from Omaha, Neb. “I’ve understood many things regarding my origins, because I’m a descendant of slaves.”

Voodoo originated in West Africa and holds that all life is driven by spiritual forces of natural phenomena like water, fire, earth and air that should be honored through rituals that include animal sacrifices. Followers believe they can communicate with divinities and spirits by putting themselves into a trance.

Countless Africans were shipped into slavery from the West African coast, taking Voodoo with them, and cults still exist in the Caribbean, Latin American and the southern United States.

The annual celebration “is an occasion for us in Ouidah to remember the hundreds of thousands of blacks deported to the Americas as slaves,” said Albert Dossou, a member of the Daagbo Hounon family, which traces its lineage to a 15th-century Voodoo chief.

“It is always a pleasure for us to see them make the pilgrimage to the land of their ancestors.”

Pamella Jonqueira, a Brazilian living in Portugal, said she came to Ouidah, 25 miles west of the commercial capital, Cotonou, to make a documentary about Voodoo.

“I’ve been able to glean some really beautiful images, but most importantly, I feel the need to initiate myself in Voodoo,” she said.

The religion was repressed in Benin, then banned during incumbent President Mathieu Kerekou’s first 18-year stint in power, which ended in 1991. Kerekou’s Marxist regime believed the rites went against the socialist work ethic.

But the religion, practiced by an estimated 60 percent of Benin’s 7 million people, was impossible to suppress and the government inaugurated National Voodoo Day in 1996, giving the religi on an official place here alongside Christianity and Islam.

Benin is considered the West African capital of Voodoo, and every year, hundreds of revelers, believers and curious tourists from as far away as Haiti and the United States attend the festival with thousands from Benin.

After Tuesday’s animal sacrifice, Gbeffa, the Voodoo priestess, prayed for the March 5 presidential elections to be peaceful, saying they should be held “in an atmosphere of tolerance and brotherhood.”

Kerekou lost the country’s first democratic elections in 1991 but won office again in 1996 and 2001. The constitution bars him from seeking another term.

Benin is not alone in Africa in having a history of suppressing local religions. In Zimbabwe on Monday, a senior High Court judge urged the government to ease colonial era restrictions on the practice of witchcraft, state-run radio reported.

Many Zimbabweans retain strong beliefs in the healing power of spirit mediums – known as n’angas, or witch doctors – along with the role of ancestral rites in the nation’s cultural life, Judge Maphios Cheda said.

Zimbabwe’s century-old Witchcraft Suppression Act has not been strictly enforced since independence from Britain in 1980, but Cheda said it has forced some rites to be performed in secret.

Article from World News Network
The Associated Press


Haiti’s government has officially sanctioned voodoo as a religion, allowing practitioners to begin performing ceremonies from baptisms to marriages with legal authority.

Many who practice voodoo praised the move, but said much remains to be done to make up for centuries of ridicule and persecution in the Caribbean country and abroad.

Voodoo priest Philippe Castera said he hopes the government’s decree is more than an effort to win popularity amid economic and political troubles.

“In spite of our contribution to Haitian culture, we are still misunderstood and despised,” said Castera, 48.

In an executive decree issued last week, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide invited voodoo adherents and organizations to register with the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

After swearing an oath before a civil judge, practitioners will be able to legally conduct ceremonies such as marriages and baptisms, the decree said.

Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, has said he recognizes voodoo as a religion like any other, and a voodoo priestess bestowed a presidential sash on him at his first inauguration in 1991.

“An ancestral religion, voodoo is an essential part of national identity,” and its institutions “represent a considerable portion” of Haiti’s 8.3 million people, Aristide said in the decree.

Voodoo practitioners believe in a supreme God and spirits who link the human with the divine. The spirits are summoned by offerings that include everything from rum to roosters.

Though permitted by Haiti’s 1987 constitution, which recognizes religious equality, many books and films have sensationalized voodoo as black magic based on animal and human sacrifices to summon zombies and evil spirits.

“It will take more than a government decree to undo all that malevolence,” Castera said, and suggested that construction of a central voodoo temple would “turn good words into a good deed.”

There are no reliable statistics on the number of adherents, but millions in Haiti place faith in voodoo. The religion evolved from West African beliefs and developed further among slaves in the Caribbean who adopted elements of Catholicism.

Voodoo is an inseparable part of Haitian art, literature, music and film. Hymns are played on the radio and voodoo ceremonies are broadcast on television along with Christian services.

But for centuries voodoo has been looked down upon as little more than superstition, and at times has been the victim of ferocious persecution. A campaign led by the Catholic church in the 1940s led to the destruction of temples and sacred objects.

In 1986, following the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship, hundreds of voodoo practitioners were killed on the pretext that they had been accomplices to Duvalier’s abuses.

El Nuevo Herald
Miguel A. Sirgado

Preservar vivos los anales del pueblo cubano y establecer sus antecedentes y vínculos con otros fenómenos históricos de América y el Caribe, es una de las misiones del Centro de Estudios Cubanos y Cubanoamericanos de la Universidad de Miami. Y este mes en el que Estados Unidos celebra el aporte de Africa a su cultura, la institución ha organizado una serie de eventos que reflejan la profunda influencia de la herencia negra en el desarrollo sociocultural de los cubanos hasta el presente.

En su edificio conocido como la Casa Bacardí, la institución proyectará todos los días de este mes a las 2:30 p.m., los documentales Voices of the Orishas, del director Alvaro Pérez Betancourt, y Lucumí, del grupo creativo Mundo Latino.

”Se trata de dos piezas que aunque no forman parte del circuito comercial cinematográfico, resultan de gran interés para el público general por su valor documental”, explica Eugene Pons, coordinador del Cuban Information System de la Universidad de Miami.

Según Pons, el primero es un trabajo fílmico que documenta en 37 minutos ciertos aspectos de la cultura africana en Cuba y específicamente de la herencia religiosa yoruba que han logrado sobrevivir al tiempo y forman parte de la vida contemporánea de los cubanos.

En español con subtítulos en inglés, el documental de Pérez Betancourt recoge entre otras, imágenes de un ritual ceremonial con cantos, danza, rezos y un toque de tambores batá en el que se invocan a las 22 deidades u orishas que conforman el panteón yoruba.

En la cinta se puede apreciar también parte del rito en el que un santero le rinde homenaje a sus deidades al tiempo que le pide guía para resolver asuntos que involucran el nacimiento y la muerte, y permiso para iniciar nuevos santeros en los misterios de su religión.

Por su parte, Lucumí revela de manera mucho más didáctica aspectos de la santería cubana y explica mediante imágenes el valor y los mitos detrás de cada orisha así como su sistema adivinatorio, mezcla y síntesis de la cultura yoruba y la religión católica.

”Se trata de una excelente investigación histórica, sociológica, mitológica y etnográfica que intenta descifrar las raíces de esa religión”, afirma Pons.

Como parte de las actividades del centro, este viernes entre 7 y 9 p.m., quedará inaugurada también una muestra de las pinturas del artista cubanoamericano Humberto Hernández, que tocan aspectos de la cultura afroamericana y la vida rural en la mayor de las islas del Caribe.

De su trabajo se ha dicho que es “modernista y simbólico, de colores tropicales que se identifican con el carácter de su tierra mientras reflejan elementos arquitectónicos y otros aspectos del vernáculo cubano”.

Nacido en la ciudad de Cienfuegos, Cuba, Hernández estudió arte en la Escuela de San Alejandro y continuó sus estudios en el Miami-Dade College y la Universidad de Miami.

Paralelamente la institución abrirá una exposición de litografías de los dioses yoruba hechas por Alberto del Pozo y que forman parte de la colección de la herencia cubana del pabellón Roberto Goizueta, en la biblioteca Otto G. Richter de la universidad.

Nacido en la ciudad de Santa Clara, Cuba, Pozo estudió arte en Nueva York y trabajó como diseñador de vestuario y escenografía en aquella ciudad hasta que se mudó a Miami, en 1975, donde falleció en 1992.

La Casa Bacardí está ubicada en el 1531 Brescia Ave., en Coral Gables. Para obtener información adicional sobre las actividadees del departamento se puede llamar al 305-284-CUBA (2822).

The Chicago Tribune
At the beginning of each year, Afro-Cuban religious leaders gather to forecast the events of the next 12 months, the Tribune’s Gary Marx finds
Gary Marx is the Tribune’s Havana correspondent

HAVANA — President Bush may be leading all his would-be challengers in the polls, but a prominent Afro-Cuban religious leader says the Republican is likely to lose his re-election bid this autumn.

That’s only one of a handful of bold predictions made by Victor Betancourt as part of an annual event in which Afro-Cuban priests divine what’s in store over the next 12 months.

Betancourt said 2004 could find President Fidel Castro stepping aside after 45 years in power. He sees the risk of a sharp drop in the U.S. stock market, trouble for the world economy, a strong possibility of a terrorist strike in the U.S. and continued bloodshed in Iraq.

He also said there is a “tremendous possibility” that the 4-decade-old U.S. trade embargo against Cuba could be lifted or rendered ineffective.

“This is a year to be very, very careful because it is possible that great chaos could be unleashed on a universal level,” Betancourt warned.

Just before each new year, Betancourt and scores of the island’s most senior Afro-Cuban religious leaders gather to sacrifice chickens, goats and other animals and read sacred seeds to help forecast the upcoming year’s events.

The secret, three-day ceremony ends in the Letter of the Year, a terse, typewritten document that lays out the pluses and minuses of the next 12 months and explains the conduct, prayers and sacrifices needed to please the Afro-Cuban divinities.

Some of the suggestions this year make good moral sense, such as avoiding “indecorous conduct with the goal of acquiring money.” Other recommendations are a little more esoteric to those who do not follow Santeria and other Afro-Cuban religions with a wide following.

The 2004 letter calls for praying to Elegua, the god of destiny, with a roasted sweet potato smeared in palm oil. It also recommends that heads of households participate in a cleansing ceremony using blood and feathers of white guinea fowl.

“The letter is always very accurate,” said Natalia Bolivar, a scholar of Afro-Cuban religions who has tracked each year’s predictions since 1955. “When the religious leaders tell people to do sacrifices, they do them so that they will have a very good year.”

Bolivar said the 1957 letter foretold that Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista would face assassination. Upon hearing the news, Batista built a secret escape door in the Presidential Palace and slipped through it several months later when armed revolutionaries stormed the building and narrowly missed him, she said.

“The people who reached his office said his coffee was still hot,” Bolivar recalled.

She also said the 1994 letter predicted that “the dead would not be buried.” Later that year, tens of thousands of desperate Cubans tried to float on rafts to U.S. shores. Many of them drowned, and their bodies never were recovered.

Skeptics say the predictions contained in the annual letter are often so vague and universal that they are likely to be realized no matter what happens during the year.

The letter said 2004 will bring an “increase in the struggle for power,” the “removal of officials from office” and the “deaths of elderly religious and public personalities.”

The letter does not mention Bush’s political fate, Iraq or any leader or nation by name. Betancourt gave his own spin in a separate interview.

Still, even Cubans who are not strong believers in Santeria pay close attention to the letter, especially for any sign of what it may mean for their Maximum Leader.

A buzz rippled through the island last year after the letter predicted that “the king will turn in his crown before he dies.”

“Every year it seems people interpret the letter as if this is the year Fidel will die,” one believer said. But other Cubans believe Castro has remained in power so long because he has the protection of the Afro-Cuban deities.

Bolivar said the annual letter began at the end of the 19th Century, but in recent years the island’s Santeria priests–known as babalawos–have split into two rival groups, each announcing its own set of annual predictions each January.

“I read the letter to see what the year is going to be like,” said Alfredo Serrano, 55, a telephone worker who had just finished skimming the document. “If you follow the letter’s advice, you won’t have any problems.”

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

Article from The Longview News-Journal
By John Lynch

Lawmen who thought they had seen it all saw something new Monday after a routine traffic stop turned up 12 pounds of marijuana, a pistol and more than $6,000. The discovery resulted in the arrests of two Cuban nationals suspected of being in the country illegally.

But it wasn’t the money, contraband, firearm or even potentially illegal aliens that surprised Gregg County sheriff’s deputies — it was the urns filled with strange fluids, sacks of fur, feathers and animal bones, some tied into cross shapes, said Capt. Ken Hartley, sheriff’s spokesman. He said authorities also found books written in Spanish that appeared to be about voodoo or Santeria. Voodoo and Santeria are similar religions practiced mainly in the Caribbean that combine elements of Roman Catholicism with the worship of African tribal gods and involve animal sacrifice.

The items were found after a search of a black 2003 GMC Yukon Denali stopped for speeding by Deputy Tracy Freeman.

According to arrest reports, the sport utility vehicle was stopped for speeding 77 mph in a 70 mph zone about 8:20 a.m.

The driver, 34-year-old Javier Diaz, told the deputy he and his passenger, 25-year-old Osmany Maynet, both of Albuquerque, were heading from New Mexico to Florida, the report said. Diaz didn’t say much more, however, claiming he did not understand much English, according to the report.

Freeman became suspicious after Maynet told him the pair were driving from Arizona to Georgia, according to the report, which notes the SUV has Georgia license plates.

Both men denied any involvement with illegal drugs, the deputy reported, but a check of their criminal histories showed both men had been arrested before on suspicion of drug involvement.

Freeman then asked for permission to search the vehicle, which Diaz agreed to allow, the report shows. During the search, investigators found about 12 pounds of marijuana, divided into a dozen bags that were covered with duct tape, the sheriff’s office reported. Found with the contraband were a loaded .38 caliber handgun, also wrapped in duct tape, and $6,309, which was hidden inside a red and white towel. Duct tape is commonly used by narcotics traffickers to try to mask the scent of drugs from police dogs, the sheriff’s office noted.

The authorities also found the urns, sacks of animal remains and books, but after checking to make sure the materials were not illegal and did not contain human remains, deputies left them in the SUV where they found them, Hartley said.

Hartley said authorities believe the items are used in Santeria rituals because both men are from Cuba, where the religion is very popular. Both men told jailers they were Roman Catholics when they were booked into jail. The SUV has been impounded. The men can get their things back when they get out of jail, but that doesn’t look to be anytime soon.

The pair are held in the Gregg County Jail without bond, charged with felony marijuana possession, felon in possession of a firearm and federal immigration detainer. They will be turned over to federal immigration officials after the drug charges are resolved.

The Miami Herald
Posted on Tue, Dec. 16, 2003
By Larry Lebowitz

Someone is apparently trying to give defense attorney J.C. Elso a supernatural leg up as his federal money-laundering trial hits the homestretch.

Prosecutors complained Monday that their courtroom seats and evidence boxes were covered with voodoo powder in a Santeria ritual.

Veteran Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie said he respects all religions, but is tired of getting his suit coats cleaned of powder residue.

Co-prosecutor Michael S. Davis showed U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz a large quantity of the grayish dust that was dumped in evidence boxes next to their table in the courtroom.

Santeria experts say voodoo powder can bring good luck, swaying juries, judges or prosecutors in favor of the accused.

”White powder, generally, is for things to go good,” said Mercedes Sandoval, a retired Miami Dade College anthropology professor.

The names of the judge, prosecutor, defendant and others are written on pieces of paper and burned. Ashes mixed with ground-up twigs are then spread around for maximum impact.

Black magic is rarely found at the federal courthouse, but is more common outside the Richard Gerstein Justice Building, the state criminal courthouse. A janitorial crew dubbed ”the Voodoo Squad” regularly removes sacrificial chickens, roosters and goats from the grounds.

Elso’s defense attorney, Mel Black, said whoever is hoping to help his client has probably done the opposite:

Seitz ordered the courtroom locked during breaks, meaning Black can’t prepare there for the next series of witnesses.

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