Bill Summers Master Bata Drummer
Master Drummer Bill Summers beats Bata at the Mistic.
Santeria, more properly called La Regla Lucumi (as the Yoruba were called in Cuba) or Regla de Ocha, is a system of beliefs, rites and practices derived from a merging of Roman Catholicism, Native Indian and African traditions maintained by the Yoruba priests and priestesses who were enslaved in Cuba at the end of the eighteenth and the first decades of the nineteenth centuries.
It was a common practice among slaves who shared an ethnolinguistic background to group together in secret societies or "naciones". Those societies which were devoted to the practice of traditional religious beliefs were known as "cabildos". These functioned to maintain traditional beliefs among a people who were simultaneously being exposed to Catholicism, often converting under duress.
Needing to find different layers of discourse in which to organize and practice their religion, they began to refer to their Orishas by the Spanish word Santos, leading outsiders to refer to their religion as Santeria, The Way of the Saints.
In Cuba, Santeria functioned under a cloak of secrecy, prior to the official abolition of slavery in colonial Cuba in 1886. The Spanish authorities sought to outlaw the gatherings of black mutual beneficence associations, the cabildos, by passing legislation that would limit the number or frequency of the so-called "drum dances" of the plantations which were, in reality, religious rites.
The Yoruba were a highly civilized nation, and their rich culture and deep sense of ethics are evident in the history of the religion. In Lucumi there is a belief in one god known as Olodumare(or Olorun ). Olodumare is the source of ashé, the spiritual energy that makes up the universe.
Olodumare interacts with the world and humankind through Intermediaries - sometimes called Angels or Saints. These Saints are called the Orisha. The Orisha represent both elemental forces and human conditions. Each Orisha has his/her own colors, rituals, ways and attributes. They can be described as divinities with human characteristics - their own contradictions and issues. Through their problems, humans learn life lessons. Morality and ethics are derived from their stories or parables.
Santeria has identified popular Catholic Saints with the ancient Orisha of the Yoruba pantheon. Since Catholicism also venerated their saints and believed in their miraculous powers, it is not surprising that the traditions began to merge.Whereas in Africa these deities were numbered in the hundreds, in Cuba a much smaller number survived. The principal ones or Siete Potencias (Sevens Powers), are those who seem to be most actively acknowledged in the United States:
* Obatalá ~ Oludumare gave birth to a Son and named him Obatalá. He is the creator of man and the top Orisha.
* Ellegguá-Eshu ~ Two spirits bound together. Eshu represents the problems of man and Ellegua the ability to overcome them through divine intervention. Elleggua is the guardian of the crossroad and the first Orisha all must go to before contacting any other.
* Orula ~ The fortune-teller and the advisor of men, in addition to being the interpreter of the Oracle of Ifá.
* Chango ~ Spirit of Lightning, Thunder and Fire. Great healer, lover and warrior.
* Oggun ~ Spirit of iron, minerals, the mountains and tools. He is a solitary Spirit who lives in the forest. When the Orisha came to the Earth, it was Oggun who cleared their path with his untiring machete.
* Yemaya ~ Mother of all Orishas and ruler of the Sea. When the world was created great fires were extinguished by the ocean waters. yemaya was the first Orisha created.
* Oshun~ Orisha of the love, marriage and gold, symbol of all things feminine. She is born of the Rivers and is protectress of preganant mothers.
Once dismissed as mere entertainment for slaves and freed blacks, as superstition or witchcraft, Santeria has become fertile ground for research and artistic inspiration and acquired a huge following among Cubans, Latin-Americans and African-Americas. Lucumi is both a support system and a mediating institution in Cuba and the US; acting as a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, whether induced by living under a Communist regime, exile in a foreign land, socio-economic oppression and the politics of power. As such, it is often used as a psycho therapeutic method and an alternative medical system.
IS SANTERIA FOR ME?
The traditions of Santería are fiercely preserved, and full knowledge of the rites, songs and language is prerequisites to any deep involvement in the religion. Initiates must follow a strict regimen and are answerable to Olodumare and the Orishas for their actions. As a person passes through each stage of initiation, this knowledge deepens and their abilities and responsibilities grow accordingly. In fact, during the entire first year of their initiation into the priesthood, the initiate or iyawó must dress in white. The iyawo must not look into a mirror, touch anyone or allow themselves to be touched, and they may not wear makeup or go out at night.
However, it is not necessary to become initiated into La Regla Lucumi in order to receive benefit from this beautiful religion. The parables or patakis which help illustrate history, morality and ethics to adherents are timeless and are useful to all humankind. Bembes, or drum services for the Orisha are wondrous events to attend. Divination and spiritual work performed by Santeros and Santeras, the male and female priests of the religion are available to those outside the religion
Santería is famous for its "magic." This magic is based on a knowledge of the Spirits and how to interact with them to better our lives and the lives of those who come for help. Followers live under the premise that this world is a magical one. This knowledge seems "supernatural" only to those who don't understand it, but it really is quite natural.