Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion that developed from the Cuban slave trade. It is also called La Regla Lucumi and the Rule of Osha. Santeria means "the worship of the saints." The religion is centered on African traditions and has some elements of Christianity. It is an oral tradition. The exact number of Santeria followers is unknown.

History of Santeria

Santeria developed in Cuba by Africans from Benin and Nigeria who were sent to Cuba because of the slave trade. They mixed their Yoruba religious traditions with elements of the Catholic faith of the plantation owners who were trying to convert the enslaved Africans. The Africans accepted some of the Christian traditions, but mainly adhered to their own religion. Thus, Santeria was created. It was a secret religion for decades, but has since revealed itself. Santeria is most popular in Cuba, but has spread to other countries especially since the 1959 Cuban Revolution. In the past, Santeria was regarded a religion of the uneducated and poor in the Caribbean, but now it also has a middle-class professional following in countries like the United States. The revolutionary Cuban government was critical of Santeria at first, but eventually started to tolerate the religion.

Santeria Beliefs

Santeria encourages building relationships with orishas or spirits that are manifestations of God or Olodumare. Orishas help people throughout their daily lives. They also help people reach their fates which have been pre-planned by Olodumare. In turn, people must worship orishas so that the spirits would keep on existing, because orishas are not immortal. The Roman Catholic elements of Santeria are associated with the belief in Catholic saints and symbols. Saint Barbara in Santeria is connected to fire and lightening.

Orishas can possess a priest and during a ceremony the community can share in the experience. Since priests can be possessed by orishas, they have certain powers like predicting the future by using coconut halves, nuts, or shells. A senior male priest, a babalawo, can predict the future by using an ekwele chain. Santeria priests also provide support to the sick. They have a wealth of knowledge on the medicinal properties of herbs, holy water, and natural elements, as dictated by Catholic and African belief systems.

Santeria Customs

Followers of the religion often wear white as a symbol of purity. It is also customary for Santeria followers to partake in various rituals in order to stay in touch with orishas. Santeria rituals include engaging the orishas through dancing, eating, singing, drumming, and more. A bembê is an example of a ceremony that welcomes the orisha to join in the festivities. The rituals of Santeria can take place at a home with altars or at a hall which is properly decorated. If the orisha possesses a person, the individual starts dancing dramatically and shares messages from the orisha with others in the community. One of the major forms of worship to ensure the survival of orishas is animal sacrifice. Animals are sacrificed as food for the orishas, who only take the blood while humans eat the meat.

By Ryan Brown