Fusion of cultures
child of an African mother and a Spanish father.
The fusion of beliefs, traditions and culture forms a fundamental
aspect of life in the Caribbean.
As a people, we are heirs to a rich heritage from various
regions, for example Asia, Europe and Africa. The shango
cult in T&T is a representation of the amalgamation
of religious practices of the slaves of West Africa and
Roman Catholics from France, Spain and England. Similarly,
in Cuba, our Latin American sister, one can find yet another
vivid example of this syncretism, Santeria.
La Santeríaas it is called in the Spanish-speaking
worldis indeed a child of Afro-Hispanic parentage.
The religion is practiced in various nations throughout
our region: Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Panama and, of course,
in Cuba, the isle in which it was conceived.
Furthermore, wherever there may be large populations of
Latin Americans, for example in New York and Miami, Santeria
forms part of the cultural tapestry of the people.
As was stated earlier, Santeria is an example of religious
syncretism, a fusion of tribal practices of the Yoruba of
West Africa as well as Catholic doctrine handed down by
During the period of Caribbean chattel slavery, the captured
West-African peoplewho survived the horrendous journey
of the Middle Passageheld within their hearts their
traditional religious beliefs. However, under the yolk of
their Spanish masters, the Afro-Cuban slaves were forced
to adopt the practices of the Roman Catholic church.
As a result, they were forced to suppress their own beliefs
and follow the religion of their Catholic masters. Nonetheless,
the slaves would not relent and they continued to fuel the
flames of their traditions.
In addition, the enslaved people discovered some interesting
parallels between their practices and those of their masters.
Thus, La Santeria was born, as the slaves embraced certain
aspects of this new religion and fused them with their own
One primordial similarity that the slaves drew upon between
their Yoruba tribal practices and Catholicism was the presence
of an all-seeing, all-knowing, omnipresent, omnipotent God.
On the sugar plantations, the slaves were taught to worship
this great God (dios in Spanish), who created the universe
in six days and rested on the seventh. Also, this dios was
one made up of the entities: the Father, the Son and the
Holy Spirit. This would have been a familiar concept for
the slaves because they too believed in a powerful, creative
energy who made heaven, earth and everything within the
Furthermore, just as dios is three people in one God, the
supreme God of the Yoruba people was an entity composed
of three separate spirits: Oludumare Nzame, Olofi and Baba
La Santeria translated into English means The Way of the
Saints. It is not by chance that this name was chosen by
the Afro-Cuban people because in addition to their supreme
God, Oludumare, they worshiped other smaller gods called
To the slaves, Los Santos Católicos (the Catholic
Saints), of whose greatness and strength their masters spoke,
seemed to be the same Orishas of their faith, but slightly
different manifestations of these tribal deities.
For example, when the slaves were told the story of Nuestra
Señora de la Caridad del Cobre, in English Our Lady
of the Charity of Copper. The latter was, in fact, the the
patroness of Cuba, the Africans would have naturally identified
with and forged devotion to this saint, because for the
Yoruba, copper was considered to be the most precious of
The Orisha Oshún, patroness of river waters, had
a deep love of copper jewelry and so this deity was syncretised
with the aforementioned Catholic saint.
Another illustration of the syncretism between the saints
and the Orishas is that of the fusion of San Lázaro
(St Lazarus) and the Orisha Babalú-Ayé. Just
as San Lázaro is the patron saint of healing and
survival of illnesses, Babalú-Ayé is the Orisha
who confers good health.
This Orisha is also patron of skin diseases, paraplegics
and thus like the saint, people pray to him in hope of recovery.
Although various studies have been completed on Santeria,
in reality, certain details about the religion remain secret
and privy only to those initiated into the faith. Nonetheless,
there are some interesting facts which only add to the richness
of the beliefs of santeros, the followers of the religion.
Trance possession is one of the principal mysteries of Santeria.
In her book The Altar of My Soulthe Living Traditions
of Santeria, Marta Moreno Vega tells of these supernatural
experiences, often witnessing the possession of her relatives
and fellow santeros by deceased spirits.
On one occasion, even the spirit of her mother emerged from
beyond the grave to enter the body of her godmother. Believers
can also be possessed by an Orisha and so, through the singing
of particular invocations, enchanting drumming and rhythmic
dancing during a ceremony known as a bembe, an orisha such
as Oshún or Babalú-Aye.
Animal sacrificing is yet another thought provoking dimension
of Santeria, where to pay tribute to an orisha, or to seek
salvation from sickness or misfortune, a santero may kill
a chicken or a dove.
One may not agree with the beliefs of Santeria, but given
T&Ts interaction with Latin America and the growing
number of Venezuelans in this country, it is possible that
the religion may eventually form a greater part of our socio-cultural
landscape. As a people, we should foster an appreciation
of Santeria, as it represents the legacy left by our African
ancestors and our Spanish forefathers as well.
For more information about the Spanish As the First Foreign
Language (SAFFL) initiative, please contact the Secretariat
for the Implementation of Spanish (a division of the Ministry
of Trade and Industry) at 624-8329/627-9513 or fax us at