Columbia University IRAAS
Apr 7 11


Santería is a religion based on the amalgamation of Catholic and West African Yoruba beliefs.   The Yoruba belief structure is known as Lucumí in Cuba.  The word is derived from the Yoruba word akumí, which means a native of Aku, the region of Nigeria many of the Yoruba came from.  My work will focus on Cuba and the transformation of Lucumí into Santería. Lucumí is a monotheistic religion that worships a single being as the creator of the universe.  This creator, known in Lucumí as Olodumare, is served by Orishas who are seen as repositories of this divine power and mediators between humanity and the divine, just as in the Catholic belief system, the Saints act as mediators and repositories for the power of God the Father.  Like the Holy Trinity in Catholicism, Olodumare has different persons within the same God.  These include Eledaa, the guardian of the cosmos; Olorún, God in heaven, identified with the sun; and Olofi, creator of the human race and humanity’s personal God.  Olofi is synchronized with Jesus Christ and is considered God on Earth and humanity’s savior.  Olodumare is never petitioned directly because it is believed that his powers far surpass the aspects of human life.  Olofi can only be summoned by the babalawos, the highest class of priest in Santería.  Most practitioners of Santería must thus use the Orishas in order to become closer with the divinity of the creator.  This divine power is known as “ashé” and it is the main motivation for worship.  Practitioners of Santería aim to acquire “ashé” through “ebbó,” or offerings, which will bring the practitioner power and good fortune.

When an individual first decides to practice Santería, Olodumare owns his/her head because he is the supreme creator.  However, once that person is initiated, his/her head becomes the property of the Orishas to whom they are dedicated.  Each Orisha has its own followers, rituals, songs, colors, and “ebbó” (offerings).  For example, while a cigar would be a gift favored by Ellegua, the same cigar will make Chango very angry.  In fact, when the spirit of Chango enters one its practitioners during ritual, the practitioner will eat – literally – the embers of any cigar smoked in his presence.

Santería is practiced in the home or at community centers and practitioners will have shrines to their Orishas in their houses.  Botánicas provide the products necessary for the worship of Orishas, whether they are specific statues, herbs, candles, dolls, beads, jewelry, stones, or potions.  Thus, although a Botánica is not a place of worship, it is a Holy place and one cannot help but be impacted when entering. The Almacen y Botánica Ochun is an incredible place and I would recommend anyone take a walk over and look at their products.  There are so many things, it can be somewhat dizzying, but with patience and persistence there is a lot to be learned.