Cubans seek solutions and solace in Santería amid crises

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Associated Press reports on the state of Santería in Cuba today.

From a two-room concrete home on the fringes of Cuba’s capital, the rumble of wooden drums spills out onto the streets.

Neighbors gather at the door and kids climb a fence to peer inside. They watch as dozens of Cubans wearing white and African beads make offerings at a bright blue altar consuming half a room, asking for luck, protection and good health.

While nearly 70% of Latin America’s 670 million people consider themselves Catholic, in Cuba, Santería is the name of the game.

A fusion of African religions and Catholicism, Santería was one of the few religious practices to quietly endure through decades of prohibitions and stigma by the communist government.

Now, as that stigma gradually fades and the country enters a moment of compounding economic, political and migratory crises, the religion is growing in popularity and expanding to new demographics.

“Every day the religion grows a little more,” Mandy Arrazcaeta, 30, said among the throngs of people in his home dancing and making offerings at the altar to a plastic doll depicting the Yoruba deity Yemayá. “Right now, Santería in the country is a sort of bastion.”

Santería was born as a form of quiet resistance among the island’s Black communities. The religion dates back centuries to when Spanish colonists brought in hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans.

While the Spanish tried to force Catholicism on these enslaved people, the Africans brought their own religions, mostly from West Africa, which they would camouflage by attaching their deities — orishas — to Catholic saints.

Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, for example, blended with the golden deity, Oshun.

“It would mix and mix … through this Catholic virgin, they would speak to their African saints,” explained Roberto Zurbano, a Cuban cultural critic. “That’s how the religion was able to survive.”

While there are hundreds of orishas in Santería, practitioners known as santeros usually worship only a handful, connecting with them through rituals and offerings.

On one Friday night, Arrazcaeta, family and friends splay out offerings of coconut and red Cuban pesos emblazoned with the face of Che Guevara, sacrificing two chickens over bowls filled with rocks and seashells. In exchange, they ask for good health, strength during hardship, and even luck in love.

“It’s something that’s very Cuban, something spontaneous that we do. Because we know the struggles we face in this country,” Arrazcaeta said.

Millions worldwide are estimated to practice Santería, though definitive numbers – especially in Cuba – are hard to pin down due to the religion’s informal nature. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom estimates 70% in Cuba practice some version of Santeria or similar African-based religions.

What is clear in the altars dotting homes across the island and the many Cubans in Havana cloaked in white – worn by santeros their first year after converting to represent rebirth – is that Santería has captured the Cuban consciousness. [. . .]

“It’s incredibly resilient as a religious system,” Hansing said. “It’s so decentralized and it allows the individual believer or practitioner to make it what they need it to be.”

Santería is once again seeing a surge, and expanding past historically impoverished Black communities.

Arrazcaeta, a white Cuban and member of the LGBTQ+ community, found refuge in the religion when he was 12. Once an Evangelical Christian, he said he felt rejected by members of that religion for being gay.

“I never fit in that religion,” Arrazcaeta said. “I liked that Santeria doesn’t obligate anyone to fit into a model.” [. . .]

For full article, photos and video, see

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s