Religion in the Caribbean

By Seela Sankei
The Caribbean
The Caribbean(also called the West Indies) is a group of countries and islands in the Caribbean Sea. There are at least 7,000 islands, big and small, organized into 25 territories including countries or sovereign states, as well as overseas departments, dependencies or territories of larger countries. The Caribbean region also includes the southeastern coast of Mexico, the eastern coast of Central America and the northwestern coast of Venezuela, South America. It was first mapped out in 1492 as one of Columbus' stop and discoveries across the Atlantic Ocean. Upon its discovery, its astonishing beauty of blue waters, clear skies and natural resources attracted the Europeans power who competed for both political and economic dominance. As the Europeans settled in, they brought in a new culture and ways of life different to that of the indigenous people.map_caribbean-1.gif Among the many things was the introduction of religion which is Christianity. Historically, there is no evidence of what type of religion the indigenous people of the Caribbean practiced up until the introduction of Christianity as many Europeans were Catholics. A few decades, if not years, later due to high labor (working fort the Europeans) and diseases (which they were not immune to) brought by the Europeans, most of the indigenous people were extinct. To replace the laborers, the Europeans brought in slaves from Africa. But by the end of the slavery period, the African descent had multiplied passing down their traditions from generation to generation including their religious practices. Therefore by the end of the European era, other groups from all over migrated in and out of the Caribbean but always leaving their traces of religion behind which, the current occupiers of the Caribbean selected and modifies some of these practice and created their own. The diversity of people, languages and cultures, currently the reality of the Caribbean, has modified and brought in the important mix of religious traditions. According to the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society (1), the most practiced religions in the Caribbean are Haitian Voodoo, Rastafarianism, Cuban Santeria, and the spiritual Baptism in Trinidad, Hindu, Christianity and Islam.
Cuba is one of the three Islands in the Caribbean that speak Spanish apart from Cuba-Map.jpgPuerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. It's a home to 11 million people making it the most populated and largest by area but with a lower population density Island nation compared to the other Caribbean countries. Its diverse culture, people and customs originated from the aboriginal Taíno and Ciboney peoples, during the period of Spanish colonialism, the introduction of African slavesand its proximity to the United States(4). Even with diversity, Cuba is a religious nation that practices Christianity and so many other types of religions.

Even with diversity, Cuba is a religious nation that practices Christianity brought about by Europeans during the colonial period. But these changed when the Europeans introduced slavery from Africa. One of the enslaved people was the Lucumi people of Nigeria. When they first arrived, they were only a few of them compared to the other slave population. But as time went by, the colonizers realized that the Lucumi people are one of the hard working slaves. And so more and more were brought in from African for more labor which then led to their rapid increased population in Cuba. The Lucumi people brought with them their religious practice, mixed it with the Christianity from the Europeans to form a religious called Santeria. Santeria means ways of the saints also called Regla de Ocha, La Regla Lucumíor Lukumi. Because of their increase in population compared to other slave population, they easily influence the other slaves and free men to started practicing the same religion. But because they were slaves, Santeria practice was forbidden by the Europeans and forced to convert to Christianity by baptizing and worshipping a different god. And instead of disobeying, the believers of Santeria began practicing secretly by disguising their priest or priestess, Santero (traditionally called Olorisha) to a saint in the image of the catholic pantheon (5). Today Santeria is the largest of the Afro-Cuban religions.
Ceremonies and Rituals
Santeria practices include sacrificial food, song, dance, costumes, spiritual deities and the use of artifacts. Nonetheless one doesn’t become initiated for pleasure or leisure but so that one can move forward with their lives by accepting the spiritual power of Orishas in their life. To be a Santerian, one goes through several steps of initiations so as to gain more knowledge and learn how to deliver the commitments expected of them by the Orisahs and their grandparents. Hence because people differ, initiations are performed in accordance to the needs of the person by the Orishas, through divination, as they see fit. The first step is where one first becomes a warrior (Guerreros). Here one is given several Orishas (Echu Elegguá, Ogún, Ochossi and Osun), who will camp by the warrior’s front door and the warrior is to care for them every day and provide for whatever and whenever they will ask for through divination. Hence the more one learns the easier it becomes to corporate and to communicate with the Orishas.
The next step is receiving a necklace or Ilekes (Collares). This one is long process that might take days or weeks since many other rites are involved including taking the rest of the day off after hours of receiving the ilkekes. The ilkekes is given because it puts one under the protection and blessings of their grandparent’s Orisha’s hence making them part Orisha (Ile) house. They are also believed to be sacred and banners of the Orishas and act as a sign of Orisha’s presence and protection. This step can only be performed by Santeras and Santeros. After this they might receive the Hand of Orula (Mano de Orula), which for women is called Ikofa and Awofakan for men, into the world of Ifa. It’s performed to place one under Orula’s care and protection in a ceremony that will last for three days. It takes a while because deep divination is performed to open up one’s path with ways on how to avoid the hardships yet to come along that path. Ifa will determine if one is ready to go through Making Ocha (Kariocha) which is becoming a Santera or Santro (Priest) in the religion. Orishas are born while their tutelary Orisha is “crowned’ (a ritual performed to combine the Orisha is with the initiates inner head ceremoniously). To do this, they perform different rituals while consulting other people involved. Becoming a Santera or Santro means a lifelong commitment and one is seen as royal because they represent and have powers to fully work with the Orishas. And finally, the last step is the ceremony of Making Ifa. Here a person becomes a Father of the Secrets (Babalawo) since they deal with the deepest form of divination and everything that comes with them. They are known to be highest in this religion because of the huge responsibilities, it’s restrictive and learning (6). The other ritual this religion performs is traditional healing passed down from their ancestors, way before the slavery era, to their descendants in Cuba years later. This involves natural herbs and spiritual medium between God and humans.

Santeria Practices Then Today
In the past during the colonial and slavery times they did everything involving this religion secretly in sugar and other plantations to avoid endless torture from their colonizers the Europeans, in form of punishments. But even with this there were complications like shortage of medical aid and the lack of transportation means since the urban was way out and it would take days before they get help. The slaves were also divided according to the favor of their owners. Some were taken to the urban center and the others were sent to the rural areas. Those in the rural area couldn’t travel even on foot because it would take them days to get there which would then delay the progress on the plantation. Unlike the rural slaves, those that lived in the urban were luckier than those in the rural area because they had churches close to them, which then allow them to disguise the practice of Santeria inform of Christianity. They also had the privileges of working side by side the whites not in the plantation but for them in their offices. And as time went by, they had fewer restrictions, had an education and even gained the colonial’s trust to a point of laboring without supervision and other responsibilities. They acted as the facilitators for the syncretism of Santeria with Catholicism and Christianity. Nevertheless with this kind of luck, success and privileges, many slaves (the Cimmarones, as their owners called them), did not really like the idea of slavery. And so some would oppose their employers or owner and flee captivity to the wilderness and stayed on a mountain (present day called El Cobre). In hiding they practiced Santeria and slowly they grew in number. This then became a concern to the whites because they were a threat to the government for holding and oppressing slaves.
Santeria Practices Today
Unlike then, both Yoruba and Santeria are now open religious practices found in places like Puerto Rico, Dominican, U. S, Republic, Panama, and other parts of the worldwide due to Cuban and Puerto Rican migration.Today, worship is conducted in homes, and as many as 3 million Cubans may be involved in this practice all at once. Some Catholic priests welcome it as a way to attract parishioners to Christian teachings while others see it as demonic practice which then divides the believes into either pure Christianity for example evangelists who can't combine the two because of the other practices involved, or pure Santerian.
Though evangelicals believe santeria is evil, the movement has found its way into mainline Protestant denominations. There are more santeria priests in Havana than Catholic priests in all of Cuba. But with no hierarchy or centralized leadership, the religion has never been a threat to Castro. Santeria has spread throughout the Caribbean and to the United States, where there are an estimated 800,000 devotees of different nationalities.

With modernization and civilization in the world rights are passed to allow and protect the follows of this religion. But there are some other countries that find these practices either against their believe or just a wrong doing of thins. For instance, in the United States, the Supreme Court in 1993 struck down a city ordinance and ruled that live animal sacrifices in religious rites are constitutionally protected. Residents in the Miami suburb of Hialeah had complained about the stench from animal sacrifices at the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye. All in all, the Santeria believers held and fought for the right and existence of this religion. And to this day, they are still fighting for it and influencing many.

The map……