SANTERIA = Enlightenment & Transformation…

  **Santeria Rituals & Experiences In An Afro-Cuban Religion**

Of all the New World societies, Cuba received captives from the greatest mix of African origins. They came from all parts of the coast and interior of western Africa. The size, diversity, and continual replenishment of this population allowed a rich array of African-inspired religions to flourish there, even beyond the end of the slave trade. It has long been common to call Cuban Oricha-Worship “Santería” because of the identification of the Orichas with the Saints. However the term is now being rejected by those who think it overemphasizes the Catholic and syncretistic elements. Increasingly, many within the Afro-Caribbean tradition prefer to call it La Regla de Oricha, “the order of the Orichas.

Is a system of beliefs that merges aspects of Yoruba mythology that were brought to the New World by enslaved Yoruba people, along with Christianity and Indigenous American traditions. The Yoruba people carried with them various religious customs, including a trance and divination system for communicating with their Ancestors and Deities, animal sacrifice, and sacred drumming and dance. The need to preserve their traditions and belief systems in a hostile cultural environment prompted those enslaved in Cuba, to merge their customs with aspects of Roman Catholicism.

This religious tradition evolved into what is now recognized as Santería. In order to preserve and shield their traditional beliefs, the Lukumi people syncretized their Orichás with Roman Catholic saints. As a consequence, the terms “Saint” and “Orichá” are commonly used interchangeably among practitioners. Spanish colonial planters who saw the enslaved African people celebrating on Saints’ days did not know that they were actually performing rituals related to Orichás, and assumed that they were showing more interest in Catholic Saints than in the Christian God—hence the derisory origin of the term: Santería – Worship of Saints

The historical veiling of the relationship between Catholic saints and Orichás is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of Santeros in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, are also Roman Catholics, have been baptized, and often require initiates to be baptized in Roman Catholicism as well. The spread of Santería beyond the Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean, including to the United States, was catalyzed by the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

Rituals and Ceremonies: Santería does not use a central creed for its religious practices; though it is understood in terms of its rituals and ceremonies. These rituals and ceremonies take place in what is known as a House-Temple or casa de Santos, in the homes of the initiated priests and priestesses, to the different Orichás, which creates a space for worship, there is a display of three distinct thrones – draped with royal blue, white, and red satin that represent the seats of the Queens, Kings, and the deified Warriors.

To become a Santero or Santera,  the Initiator must go through an intensive week-long initiation process in which the teaching of the ritual skills and moral behavior occurs informally and nonverbally. The initiator’s Padrino – godfather cleanses the head with special herbs and water. The Padrino rubs the herbs and water in a specific pattern of movements into the scalp of the head. However, if a person is entering Santería for the need of healing, they will undergo the rogación de la cabeza – blessing of the head, in which coconut water and cotton are applied on the head to feed it. Once cleansed, there are four major initiation rituals that the initiator will have to undergo: obtaining the Ilekes – beaded necklace, receiving Los Guerreros – Warriors, making Ochá – Saint, and Asiento. The first ritual is known as the acquisition of the beaded necklaces Ilekes is bathed in a mixture of herbs, sacrificial blood, and other potent substances and given to the initiated. The initiate most often receives the necklace of the five most powerful and popular Oricha, as the multicolored beads of the Ilekes are each patterned for the primary Orichás -Eleguá, Obatalá, Yemayá, Changó, and Ochún, and they serve as a sacred point of contact with these Orichás. When the necklace is received, the initiated must bow over a bathtub and have his/her head washed by the Olorichá. The Ilekes serves as the sacred banners for the Orichás and act as a sign of the Orichá’s presence and protection; however, it must never be worn during a woman’s menstruation period, nor during sex, nor when bathing.

Los Guerreros – Warriors: The third ritual, known as “receiving the Warriors”, is a ritual where the initiated receives objects from their Padrino that represents the warriors; Iron tools to represent Ogún; an iron bow and arrow to represent Ochosi; and an iron or silver chalice surmounted by a rooster to represent Osún. This ritual begins a formal and lifelong relationship that the Initiate will have with these Orichás, as the orichás devote their energies to protecting and providing for the initiate on their path.

Asiento = Ascending the throne: The last ritual of the initiation process is known as Asiento, and is the most important and the most secretive ritual in Santería, as it is the ceremony where the Iyawo becomes “born again” into the faith. This ritual is a culmination of the previous rituals, and cannot be made unless the others have been completed. Asiento is a process of purification and divination whereby the Initiated becomes like a newborn baby and begins a new life of deeper growth within the faith. Once the initiation is completed, depending on the individual’s “house”, there is a year-long waiting period, known as Iyaboraje, in which the newly appointed Priest and Priestess cannot perform cleansings and other remedies. It is a time where the Iyawo or Bride of the Orichá must follow a strict regimen of wearing all white and must avoid physical contact with those who have not been initiated. Once the Ebo del año has been completed there will be an end of year ceremony, which will enable the Priest or Priestess to consult clients, perform cleansings, provide remedies and perform initiations. They are also regarded as royalty in the religion, as they are considered representatives of the Orichás and are vested with the power to work with the forces of those Orichás in full.

Priests are commonly known as Santeros or Olorichas. Once those priests have initiated other priests, they become known as Babalorichás, “fathers of Orichá”, and as Iyalorichás, “mothers of Orichá”. Priests can commonly be referred to as Santeros and Santeras, and if they function as diviners using cowrie-shell divination known as Dilogun) of the Orichás they can be considered Italeros, or if they go through training to become leaders of initiations, Obas or Oriates.

Santería traditional healing practice has a spiritual aspect. Santería has a holistic approach, acknowledging the connection with heart, mind, and body. In Santería, the world flows with the primal life energy called aché or growth, the force toward completeness and divinity. Aché is the current that Santería initiates channel so that it empowers them to fulfill their path in life, because Aché is connected to all that has life or exhibits power; Aché comprises blood, grace, and power. When a person is sick, the healer thinks, interprets and reacts, considering the illness not just a physical dysfunction but also an interface with suffering and bad luck in life, believed to be brought on by the activity of bad spirits.

Aligning and harmonizing with the forces of nature, practitioners of the Regla de Ochá invoke on the guidance of Orichás. There are three foremost orichás that are predominantly concerned with folk-healing, however, other Orichás may be invoked to help a person with a specific problem. These main Orichás are: Osaín, the Orichá of the herbs; Babalúayé, the Orichá of contagious and epidemic diseases; and Inle, the patron of physicians. Aside from the use of herbs and divination, the Santería traditional healing is achieved through rituals that include animal sacrifice, offerings, altar building, music, dance, and possession trance.

Santería is mainly found in the Spanish speaking Americas, including but not limited to Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Mexico, as well as in the United States, mainly as a result of migration from these countries, especially Cuba and Puerto Rico. A similar religion of Yoruba origin called Candomblé is practiced in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

Ilu Anya: Itotele – Iya – Okonkolo Chief Yagbe Awolowo Onilu (Ayan Wood)

**Santería rituals there are musical ceremonies and prayers that are referred to as Bembé, Toque de santo, or Tambor. It is a celebration dedicated to an Orichá, where the Batá drums are played in the Orichá’s honor.

Afro-Cuban = Dances…

**Dance Encompasses All Movement That Expresses Or Enhances Spiritual Experiences.**

Afro-Cuban dances occupies central place in cultures throughout the world, embodying energy and a graceful beauty flowing with rhythm. Afro-Cuban dance is connected to Africa’s rich musical traditions. Afro-Cuban dance has a unity of aesthetic and logic that is evident even in the dances within the African Diaspora. To understand this logic, it is essential to look deeper into the elements that are common to the dances in the various cultures from  West Africa & Cuba.

Traditional Afro-Cuban Dances: Ritual dance – Ancestral worship – Ritual dances to connect to the divine Ceremonial dance – Communal dances – Essence of African dance – Modern dance – Dance clubs…

Dance has always been an indispensable element of life in Afro-Cuban society, binding together communities and helping individuals to understand their roles in relation to the community. In spiritual rituals, dance helps people to understand and remember their role in relation to the divine. Dance in social ceremonies has helped keep community life vibrant, contributing to a sense of security, safety and continuity.

Traditional Afro-Cuban dance is an essential element of Africa’s cultural heritage, providing a vital expression of the region’s philosophy, and the living memory of its cultural wealth and its evolution over the centuries. Because it has more power than gesture, more eloquence than word, more richness than writing and because it expresses the most profound experiences of human beings, dance is a complete and self sufficient language. It is the expression of life and of its permanent emotions of joy, love, sadness, hope, and without emotion there is no Afro-Cuban Dance.

Afro-Cuban Dances are as varied and changing as the communities that create them. Although many types of Afro-Cuban dance incorporate spirited, vigorous movement, there are also others that are more reserved or stylized. Afro-Cuban dances vary widely by region and ethnic community. In addition, there are numerous dances within each given community. At the same time, there is a great deal of similarity in the role dance plays in each Afro-Cuban community. Dances play a role in religious rituals, they form a part of communal ceremonies and social club dances.

** To a great extent there is no formal distinction drawn between sacred and secular, religious and non-religious, spiritual or material. In many African languages there is no word for religion, because a person’s life is a total embodiment of his or her philosophy. By extension, sacred rituals are integral part of daily African-Cuban life. They are interwoven with every aspect of human endeavor, from the profound to the mundane. From birth to death, every transition in an individual’s life is marked by some form of ritual observance. 

Ritual Dances To Connect To The Divine: Many Afro-Cuban dances are the means by which individuals relate to Ancestors and other Divinities. Whatever the motivation of the dance, it combines the expression of human feeling with the higher aspirations of man to communicate with the Cosmos.

Ceremonial Dance: Although ceremonial or cultural functions are more commemorative and transient than rituals, they are still important. Although the basic rhythms and movements remain, the number of dancers, formations and other elements change to fit the situation. Dances appear as parts of broader cultural activities. They give confidence to the dancers who have to perform in front of everyone. This builds pride, as well as a stronger sense of community. Dances of Welcome are a show of respect and pleasure to visitors, and at the same time provide a show of how talented and attractive the host performers are. They all share one common link: “A call to a Spirit” These spirits can be the spirits of Plants or Forests, Ancestors or Deities.

These traditions and stories are kept in the form of music and dance, containing elements of history or metaphorical statements that carry and pass on the culture of the people through the generations.

Communal Dances: Traditionally, dance in Africa & Cuba occurs collectively in a community setting. It expresses the life of the community more than the mood of an individual or a couple. The sound and the rhythm of the drum express the mood of the people. The drum is the sign of life; its beat is the heartbeat of the community. Such is the power of the drum to evoke emotions, to touch the souls of those who hear its rhythms. In an Afro-Cuban community, coming together in response to the beating of the drum is an opportunity to give one another a sense of belonging and of solidarity. It is a time to connect with each other, to be part of that collective rhythm of the life in which young and old, rich and poor, men and women are all invited to contribute to the society.

Dancing At A Community Gathering: Dances mark key elements of communal life. Dance does not merely form a part of community life; it represents and reinforces the community itself. Its structures reproduce the organization and the values of the community. Dances provide community recognition for the major events in people’s lives.  The basic formation of Afro-Cuban dance is in lines and circles; dances are performed by lines or circles of dancers. There is supernatural power in the circle, the curved, and the round. “Let the circle be unbroken” is a popular creed throughout. More complex shapes are formed through the combination of these basic forms, to create more sophisticated dance forms and style.

The Afro-Cuban dancers often bends slightly toward the earth and flattens the feet against it in a wide, solid stance. In Afro-Cuban dances, gravity provides an earthward orientation even in those forms in which dancers leap into the air. A rhythmic communication occurs between the dancers – the drums and the chorus in Afro-Cuban dances. The give-and-take dynamic found in African-Cuban traditions all over the world reflects the rhythmic communication among dancers, music, and audience found in traditional Afro-Cuban dance. More skillful dancers might express several different rhythms at the same time, for example by maintaining a separate rhythmic movement with each of several different parts of the body. Rhythm frequently forms a dialogue between dancers, musicians, and audience.

Afro-Cuban dances move  all parts of the body. Angular bending of arms, legs, and torso; shoulder and hip movement; scuffing, stamping, and hopping steps; asymmetrical use of the body; and fluid movement are all part of Afro-Cuban dance. It is a medium that embodies the experiences of life, pleasure, enjoyment, and sensuality.

The body of the Afro-Cuban dancer overflows with joy and vitality, it trembles, vibrates, radiates, it is charged with emotions. No matter what shape a dancer is thick or thin, round or svelte, weak or muscled, large or small his/her emotions are not repressed and stifled, as long as the rational does not restrict his/her movements, but allows the irrational, which directs the true language of the body, to assert itself, the body becomes joyous, attractive, vigorous, and magnetic…

RUMBA = La Negra Tiene Tumbao…

            El Espiritu De La Rumba: “Pa Ke Tu Me Llama”

African slaves first arrived in Cuba in the 16th century with the early Spanish settlers. Due to the reliance on sugar as an export during the late 18th and early 19th century, great numbers of slaves were brought to work on the sugar plantations. Where large populations of slaves lived, African religion, dance, and drumming were clandestinely preserved from generation to generation.

During the 19th century in Cuba, specifically in urban Havana and Matanzas, people of African descent originally used the word Rumba as a synonym for party. The term Rumbón is frequently used to denote rumba performances in the streets.

Rumba is a secular genre of Cuban music involving Dance, Drum, and Song. It originated in the central regions of Cuba, mainly in urban Havana and Matanzas, during the late 19th century. It is based on African music and dance traditions, namely Abakuá and Yuka, as well as the Spanish-based coros de clave.

Traditionally the Rumba has been classified into three distinct styles: Yambú, Guaguancó and Columbia. Both Yambú and Guaguancó originated in the solares, large houses in the poorest districts of Havana and Matanzas mostly inhabited by the descendants of African slaves.

Rumba instrumentation has varied historically depending on the style and the availability of the instruments. The core instruments of any rumba ensemble are the Claves, two sticks that are struck against each other, and the conga Drums: Quinto (lead drum, highest-pitched), Tres Dos (middle), and Tumba or Salidor (lowest-pitched). Other common instruments include the Katá or guagua, a wooden cylinder; the Palitos, sticks to struck the catá; shakers such as the Chekeré and the maracas; scrapers such as the güiro; bells, and cajones, wooden boxes that preceded the congas.

Yambú is considered the oldest style of Rumba, originating in colonial times. Hence, it is often called “yambú de tiempo España” – yambú of Spanish times. It has the slowest tempo of all Rumba styles and its dance incorporates movements feigning frailty.  Although Male dancers may flirt with Female dancers during the dance, they do not use the vacunao of Guaguancó.

Guaguancó is the most popular and influential rumba style. It is similar to Yambú in most aspects, having derived from it,  but it has a faster tempo. The term “guaguancó” originally referred to a narrative song style which emerged from the coros de clave of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Columbia is a fast and energetic Rumba, originated in the hamlets, plantations, and docks where men of African descent worked together. Unlike other Rumba styles, columbia is traditionally meant to be a solo male dance. Columbia originated from the drum patterns and chants of religious Cuban Abakuá traditions. The drum patterns of the lowest conga drum is essentially the same in both Columbia and Abakuá. The rhythmic phrasing of the Abakuá lead drum bonkó enchemiyá is similar, and in some instances, identical to columbia quinto phrases.

Men may also compete with other men to display their agility, strength, confidence and even sense of humor.  Columbia incorporates many movements derived from Abakuá and Yuka dances, as well as Spanish flamenco, and contemporary expressions of the dance often incorporate break dancing and hip hop moves. In recent decades, women are also beginning to dance Columbia.

In Cuba, Rumba is a generic term covering a variety of musical rhythms and associated dances. The Rumba has its influences in the music brought to Cuba by Spanish colonizers as well as Africans brought to Cuba as slaves. Rumba is more than a music and dance genre; it is the collective expression of the Creole nature of the island itself. Rumba is a secular genre of Congolese African and Spanish flamenco influences, and is one of the primary ancestors of popular music in Cuba.

Cultural retention among the Bantu (Palo), Yoruba (Lukumi), Fon (Arará), and Efik (Abakuá) had the most significant impact in western Cuba, where rumba was born. The consistent interaction of Africans and Europeans on the island brought about what today is known as Afro-Cuban culture.

 

EKPE = ABAKUA: The Voice Of The Leopard

                           The Sacred Language of the Abakua…

    “The goat that breaks the drum will pay for it with his hide”

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Abakuá is an Afro-Cuban men’s initiatory fraternity, or secret society, which originated from fraternal associations in the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon. Known generally as Ekpe, Egbo, Ngbe, or Ugbe among the multi-lingual groups in the region, these closed groups all used the leopard as a symbol of masculine prowess in war and political authority in their various communities. The term Ñáñigo has also been used for the organization’s members. The creolized Cuban term Abakuá is thought to refer to the Abakpa area in southeast Nigeria, where the society was active.

The first such societies were established by Africans in the town of Regla, Havana, in 1836. This remains the main area of Abakuá implantation, especially the district of Guanabacoa in eastern Havana, and in Matanzas where Afro-Cuban culture is vibrant.

Abakuá members derive their belief systems and traditional practices from the Igbo, Efik, Efut, and Ibibio spirits that lived in the forest. Ekpe and synonymous terms were names of both a forest spirit and a leopard related secret society. Members of this society came to be known as ñañigos, a word used to designate the street dancers of the society.  The oaths of loyalty to the Abakuá society’s sacred objects, members, and secret knowledge taken by initiates are a lifelong pact which creates a sacred kinship among the members.

Cameroon
The duties of an Abakuá member to his ritual brothers at times surpass even the responsibilities of friendship, and the phrase “Friendship is one thing, and Abakuá is another” is often heard.

One of the oaths made during initiation is that one will not reveal the secrets of the Abakuá to non-members, which is why the Abakuá have remained hermetic for over 160 years. Aside from its activities as a mutual aid society, the Abakuá performs rituals and ceremonies, called Plantes, full of theatricality and drama which consists of drumming, dancing, and chanting activities using the secret Abakuá language.

Knowledge of the chants are restricted to members of the Abakuá but Cuban scholars have long thought that the Abakuá expresses their cultural history through their ceremonies. Other ceremonies such as initiations and funerals, are secret and take place in the sacred room of the Abakuá temple, called the Famba.

Prejudice about the Abakuá dates back to the colonial era, and stems from the negative propaganda associated with the fear of slave uprisings. It was compounded by the secretive nature and mysteries surrounding the culture… While Abakuá members do use some of the same phrases that their Ancestors did in Africa, it is only for religious purposes, not for everyday oral or written communication. Some of these expressions have become popular sayings, such as -Ekue mbori aborekin ñangue, which means “The goat that breaks the drum will pay for it with his hide.”

However, sometimes people use refrains from the Abakuá moral code that can cause misunderstandings. The concept of Manliness depends on a subjective interpretation, and that depends on one’s cultural education and on psychological and sociological factors such as a person’s family, school and community. Some Abakuás view it as being – a good father, son and brother.

 The expression that refers to – cleansing honor with blood, advocates being ambia koneyó – sincere friends and solidarity among Ecobios – Brothers in religion. The Abakuá’s roots go back to the slave trade. The Carabalíes – people from the Calabar region of Africa who were brought to Cuba maintained their legends and their secret societies from Africa.

The rhythmic dance music of the Abakuá combined with Bantu traditions of the Congo contributed to the musical tradition the rumba.

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The antecedents of the Abakuá or ñañiguismo are in the secret society that existed in Nigeria, Calabar. Its organization and content have the roots in the African legend that tells the story of the violation of a secret by a woman: the princess Sikan. She found the sacred fish Tanze and reproduced the roar in the sacred drum Eku. The ñañiguismo cannot be separated of the African believes about the existence of Ancestor (spirits), that’s why in all the ceremonies they are called to guaranty the development of the ritual according to rigorous liturgical norms. Its symbolic representation is the Ireme or Diablito.

All the activities of the cult are made in the temples. In all the rituals are used lines and graphics known as Ekeniyo which are an ideological graphical system of signs to immobilize and attach the representation of global events. These symbols are painted with yellow and with yeast and they are divided in three categories: the Gandos, the Signs or Anaforuanas and the Seals.

The ñañigismo has several hierarchies. The Indisime is the applicant to enter into a potencia, the Obonekué is an already initiated man. The Plaza is a everlasting hierarchy with a relevant position in the juego. This person is in charge to preserve and to make follow the norms and ritual and social principles. The Iyamba, Mokongo, Ekueñón, Nkrikamo and Nasako have the title of Plaza. Only men are admitted in the secret society Abakua.