Some religions, developed by slaves brought to the colonies, show syncretism, a mingling of religious practices which have their origin in African cults with others which stem from the Roman Catholic liturgy, iconography and doctrine. Basically they are a mixture of ancestor worship, animism and Catholicism. Religions of African origin include those of Voodoo in Haiti, Obeah in Jamaica, Orisha in Brazil and Santeria in Cuba.
Adherents of the Afro-Cuban religions regard Catholicism as the form of Santeria which was followed by the descendants of Spanish immigrants from Europe. Santeria is the name of both the religion and its followers. In Cuba the Afro-Cuban religions have been tolerated since 1959 and Santeria probably has more followers there then pure Catholicism does.
In Santeria, the concepts of original sin and final judgment are unknown. Catholic saints and visions of the Virgin are associated with Yoruba deities or ‘orishas’, and ancestral spirits are worshipped. Unlike the Catholic saints, the orishas do not represent perfection and they have many frailties in common with humans. Among the most important of the orishas is the creator-god Obatala, who is always addressed in white and is associated with Christ. Obatala’s wife, goddess of the underworld, is associated with the Virgin Mary, and in the minds of many worshippers devotion to these two is intertwined.
The goddess of the ocean and the mother of all the orishas is identified by the colour blue. The rites of Santeria are conducted by a male priest called ‘babalawo’. Like the shaman, he serves as priest, counsellor, healer, political guide and lodge-master. He provides the congregation with a sanctuary, or Santeria, though this may be only a shed. Offerings are placed before a small shrine in the babalawo’s home, the stones of which are believed to harbour the spirits of the orishas who must be fed with food, herbs and blood. During rituals the babalawo sprays rum from his mouth onto the altar. Cubans are very open about Santeria and travellers are welcome to inspect their household shrines.