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Cuba: Yoruba Culture in the Caribbean

The presence in Cuba of African slaves, who were brought by force by the Spanish conquistadors, a phenomenon that was justified at the time by the need for cheap labor force, also marked the beginning of religious traditions brought to the Caribbean Island by members of the Yoruba tribe.

Uprooted from their motherland, the Yoruba slaves made major contributions to the formation of Cuban society. Their contributions can be found today in the religious syncretism present in Cuban and Caribbean cultures.

The Yoruba religion is based on believing in a supreme being through natural elements, and believers must follow a series of commandments.

Known in the Yoruba culture as the 16 laws of Ifá, their origin is attributed to the pronouncements of Orunmila, the orisha of wisdom and divinations.

The laws of Ifá state that one cannot say what he/she does not know, must avoid unknown rites, refrain from leading others on a false paths, be humble, keep the sacred instruments clean, and respect the weaker and moral laws.

The other commandments state not to betray a friend, to respect hierarchies and the elderly, not to reveal secrets, and not to pretend to be wise when you are not.

IFA Board
Shangó dance.
Attributes of Orishas.

That way, the orishas – the gods of the Yoruba religion – have been worshipped in Cuba for nearly five centuries. They are represented with human characteristics and their difference lies in the colors they wear, music, animals that represent them, and preferences for certain food and drinks.

The so-called Ocha Rule, popularly known as Santeria, derived from the Yoruba culture. Santeria followers worship a group of orishas (deities) characterized by different myths and attributes.

The Santeria rites are controlled by priests known as babalawos, who are consulted periodically for advice on specific situations, the cure for diseases or protection.

One of the events that attract most attention is the so-called Letter of the Year, which is revealed by the most eminent babalawos after a religious ceremony.

The babalawos invoke the Oracle of Ifá to know the recommendations that must be followed to prevent and overcome the obstacles and difficulties predicted for the year.

In Cuba, the African slaves identified their deities with Catholic saints, and that, according to experts, marked the origin of Santeria.

For Santeria followers, each person's life is supervised by a specific saint, who plays an active role in that process, which combines Catholic and African beliefs.

Under those precepts, the orishas present human beings with a vision of the past, the present and the future, in addition to helping them to solve everyday problems.

Generations of descendants from the first African slaves who arrived in Cuba have kept alive the Yoruba religion, which is also acknowledged by foreign visitors as a characteristic element in the Caribbean Island.

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