|Dancers and musicians teaching Rumba at Callejon de Hamel|
Our first Sunday on the island began at the Callejon de Hamel, the first and oldest Afro-Cuban art project in Havana. Here, was my first authentic introduction to Santeria/Yoruba religious practices. I was familiar in the way that most Americans are familiar with Afro-centric religions. The message from our Euro-centric world is that these religions are not normal. They are not “real religion” being full of animal sacrifice, voodoo, candles, zombies and whirling dervish type black men and women caught up in dancinc around a huge bond fire, where you can cut the sexual tension with a knife.
Instead of being told that Yoruba/Santeria was the religion of our ancestors, we are told these so called “pseudo-religions” are to be feared and shunned as not being religious at all. Not real in the sense that Christianity or Catholicism is real.
However, the truth of the matter is that Christianity and Catholicism are as “made up” as they want us to believe that Santeria/Yoruba is. One has become Euro-centric in practice, if not in origin, while the other remains Afro-centric and frowned upon by those who hold the dominant Euro-centric view of the world.
In 1992, Cuba amended its constitution to allow for total religious freedom. It wasn't always this way, at times, there was a very fractious relationship between church and state. But no more. Cuba is considered a Christian country with roughly 25% of Cubans calling themselves Catholic.
In colonial times, the Spanish confused Santeria with black magic, witchcraft, accusing practicioners of being criminals and bad people. These prevailing beliefs forced those who kept the Afro-Cuban cultural practices to worship in secret. For a long time, Santerian believers were persecuted, hunted and sometimes killed.
|Santeria Altar inside Callejon de Hamel|
|Rules for sending wishes to the Orisha|
Here we learned about Rumba, the dance and its importance in Santeria worship. We learned about the importance of drums, music, call and response, and about how to call the Orisha, the spirits to help in our lives. I can't remember all of the names, because there are many Orisha, 600 by some counts. However, I do remember Yemaya and Oshun, two who continually keep popping up in my own personal world on a regular basis, even when I'm not in Cuba.
|Gifts to the Orisha inside a private home|
|Orisha altar kept behind the door|
There were many statues and offerings to the Orisha, placed in various locations within buildings and homes, as well as without. There were places to pray and to seek favor. The Center had what looked like a closet with no door. Inside was a bell, and a list of rules for calling the Orisha. Say a prayer. Ring the bell and gain relief.
More to come...