The Caribbean region is home to people of diverse backgrounds and cultures, and Afro-Caribbean people are one of the most culturally-rich ethnic groups you can find in the region. This section of the Caribbean population came from West Africa, and elements of their African past can still be seen in the way they live today.
Religion is one of the cultural aspects that ties Afro-Caribbean people to their African descent. In fact, the list of Afro-Caribbean religions that are practiced in the Caribbean today is quite long. However, some religions have cut across the Caribbean borders to gain followership all over the world. One such religion is Santería.
First things first, let’s get the Santeria definition.
What is Santería?
Also referred to as Regla de Ochá, Santería is an Afro-Caribbean religion that emerged out of Spanish colonialization of Cuba. It is a syncretic religion that comprises elements of both Yoruba (West African) tradition and Roman Catholicism.
The Santería meaning in English is “Way of the Saints.” Those who really understand the tenets of this religion from a cultural standpoint actively practice it. However, people who mistake it for witchcraft continue to criticize and discourage its practice.
Before taking sides, you should first learn more about this Cuban religion.
The Origin and Development of Santeria
Africa has, and continues to be, the place of origin for several Afro-based religions practiced in the Caribbean and many other parts of the world today.
The origin of the Santería can be traced back to the 16th century when slaves from West Africa first arrived in colonial Cuba to work on sugar plantations. Prior to their arrival, the Spaniards established a colony in the island after Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Caribbean region.
The Spaniards introduced Roman Catholicism as the dominant religion in the Island, so when the African slaves realized that their masters did not approve of their traditional African religion, they developed Santería — a religion that merged two competing religious systems (the traditional Yoruba religion and worship of God the Roman Catholic way).
This way, the Afro-Cubans could practice Roman Catholicism while maintaining reverence for their ancestors.
The Santería Beliefs
Almost every religion is based on the belief that there is a connection between human beings and a powerful, supernatural being (God). The Santería religion is no different. Those who practice this religion worship mortal spirits known as Orishas. It is believed that the Orishas help followers to achieve their destiny from God.
Impact of the Roman Catholic Church on the Santería Faith
The Catholic faith left an indelible mark on the traditional religion of the Yoruba people who were taken to Spanish Cuba to work as laborers on sugar plantations.
However, coming up with the Santería religion was relatively easy because the primary belief that there exists supreme beings had already been established by the Roman Catholics.
The various aspects of Catholicism that can be seen in the Santería religion include:
- The Catholic Church celebrates Easter Holiday to remember God’s ultimate sacrifice through the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Followers of Santería religion mark this sacrificial rite by performing Ebbo, a sacrifice of harvest or animals to appease and thank their God.
- There are close similarities in the roles that some Catholic Saints and Orishas play. For example, Santería’s Babalú-Ayé is syncretized with the Church’s St. Lazarus and both are associated with healing of the sick. In a similar vein, the Babalawo — the high priest of Santeria — is associated with St. Francis of Assisi of the Catholic Church.
- Some Catholic symbols are used when performing Santería rituals.
Differences Between Santería Religion and the Roman Catholic Church
Key differences between these two religious systems include:
- Ancestor worship is the fundamental doctrine of the Santería religion. Before any ritual is carried out, worshippers make prayers to the ancestors with reverence. Catholic followers, on the other hand, believe that they can directly communicate with God through prayer.
- Unlike the Catholic Church, which uses readings from the “Holy Bible” to teach its followers, Santería teachings are strictly passed on to people by word of mouth.
The Bottom Line is… Santería isn’t Satanic, Just Misunderstood
Santería is often depicted as a demonic or evil religion. As you have just read, this is far from the truth. The misconceptions revolving around this Afro-Caribbean religion are primarily as a result of the outside world’s misunderstanding of its origin and development.
Throughout the world, people are guided by the tenets of religion drawn from their past. Therefore, it is important for people to stop blind criticism of the Santería religion, and instead, strive to gain a better understanding of its tenets.
If this Afro-based Caribbean religion was as evil as some people say it is, it wouldn’t be gaining followership all over the world, now would it?