The first Cuban vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez visited the headquarters of the Cultural Yoruba Association of Cuba this past Monday, days after the Department of State published a document in regards to religious freedom, which alleges that there have been some advances as far as Cuba’s approach in these matters.
While the second-in-line of the Cuban government was saying goodbye to the babalaos –– the Santeria priests — of the official association, throughout the streets of Cuba other Santeria leaders are looked down upon for not joining the organization run by the Office of Religious Affairs, for abiding by other rules, for carrying weapons to carry out animal sacrifices and even for being dissidents, a charge which turns out to be quite heavy to bear.
The babalao Gesse Castelnau Ruiz considers that the meeting of Diaz-Canel with the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba is manipulative in its essence, as this religious group accepts only Communist party members or citizens who are committed to the government.
In the Havana municipality of October 10 there is another Yoruba Association of Cuba, named “Lazaro Cuesta,” which also issues a “Letter of the Year,” parallel to that located in Old Havana. In this regard, the priest of Ifa, Castelnau states that just recently they went to that organization to apply for a license to carry the weapons intended for animal sacrifices and were denied for being active regime opponents.
A drum circle for the health of the deceased former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a rite of sacrifice and worship of the five Cuban intelligence spies imprisoned in the U.S., or for the recovery of former President Fidel Castro, have been three of the last three demonstrations of the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba to the government adhering to the government’s designs.
Carrying weapons without official authorization, issuing the Letter of the Year parallel to that of the official association, showing their openly rebellious activism or attempting to provide religious services to foreign visitors, are all part of the causes of harassment experienced in the capital or provinces such as Villa Clara and Holguin.
“I have taken very well to being a babalao and dissident, me and my family, where there are four more babalaos. They did not let us participate in activities organized by that association, nor did we want to. They have confiscated my batá drums for Zanja Street police station because they say they have things inside and have to search them. There is no freedom of religion and expression,” the Yoruba priest concluded.
A religion divided
Iyalocha (priestess of Ifa) and Lady in White, Jessica is a young woman who believes in the powers of Orula and that all men and women are born free and have equal rights. Because of this she wears a fardo that has cost her arrests, police repression and the refusal to allow her to be in the Yoruba Association, based on the Prado in Havana.
Jessica thinks that the practice of the cult of the Orishas in Cuba is divided, and says that “This happened since they opened the Prado Street headquarters, which is governed entirely by the Cuban government.”
Several babalaos and practitioners agree that the Cuban Santeria guru, Lazaro Cuesta, would feel betrayed because he created the first Yoruba Association of Cuba in the municipality of October 10, and it was from there that the “only true Letter of the Year” is issued Jessica said, somewhat affected.
“Many Santeria followers don’t go to Meadow Street headquarters, for the simple reason that there can’t be two letters. I dare say that 90% of the Cuban people who believe in Ifa are governed by the letter issued in the municipality October 10 which was the first that came out.”
Cuba currently has Letters of the Year and for those Santeria followers who originally went to the house of October 10, this duality is a sacrilege.
Declarations of the Iyalocha and Lady in White Jessica C.
Jessica recalls that the official association came to offer a Tambor (a religious ceremony) for the health of President Hugo Chavez and on this occasion the Cuban Santeria followers had to use drums at the Prado headquarters site because most Cuban babalaos will not lend themselves to such a propaganda show. In the images the musician Papo Angarica could be seen cheering the Venezuelan leader, as on other occasions he had done for the cause of the five spies or any other partisan mandate.
“Christians say we are evil and Chavez was a Christian, then how did they set the Santeria to pray for a Christian? All the world realized it was a media circus,” says the iyalochaa Jessica Castelnau.
24 May 2013