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 Afro Caribbean Healers and Councillors

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PostSubject: Afro Caribbean Healers and Councillors   Thu 14 Jun 2007 - 4:00




VOODOO, VODUN, SANTERIA and more....


Perhaps the best example of a faith system that blends the traditions of Africa with Christianity is seen in Santeria, which incorporates the beliefs of the Yoruba and Bantu people of southern Nigeria, Senegal and Guinea with elements of Roman Catholic worship. According to the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, Santeria, which means "the way of the saints," originated during the slave trade, when natives of the Yoruba tribe were forcibly transported from Africa to the Caribbean. They were typically baptized by the Roman Catholic church upon arrival, and their native practices were suppressed.

But they developed a novel way of keeping their old beliefs alive by equating each of the many deities in their pantheon with a corresponding Christian saint. Practitioners became known for their devotion to both Catholic saints and their traditional spirits. God is referred to as "Olorun," or "Olodumare," the "owner of heaven." He is the supreme deity, the creator of the universe. Lesser deities are called Orisha, or "guardians." Each Orisha not only has an associated Christian saint, but also a number, colour, food, dance posture and emblem.

Drumming and dancing play important parts in rituals. Animals, most commonly chickens, are often sacrificed. But little else is known about beliefs and practices; one has to be initiated into the faith before information is freely released. Santeria is currently concentrated in Cuba and other Caribbean islands, and among some Hispanic-Americans. It was actively suppressed in Cuba, but restrictions were lifted during the 1990s and the practice exploded.

Estimates put the number [of these practitioners] in the United States at between 22,000 and 35,000. A related belief system - and perhaps the most misunderstood in this group - is commonly called voodoo. More accurately known as Vodun, the name is traceable to an African word for "spirit." Like Santeria, Vodun originates among the West African Yoruba people and its roots go back 6,000 years.

And like Santeria, it was brought to the West, notably Haiti and the West Indies, by slaves who were then baptized as Catholics. Its reputation as evil, primitive sorcery is largely a creation of Hollywood, complete with pins stuck in voodoo dolls and bizarre rituals. The actual religion is practiced in Benin, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Haiti, Togo and various centres in the U.S. - largely where Haitian refuges have settled. Today, an estimated 60 million people practice Vodun worldwide.

Practices and beliefs vary but mainly, adherents worship hundreds of spirits, called Loa. And as seen in Santeria, there is a chief god, Olorun. Followers of Vodun believe that each person has a soul which is composed of two parts: a "gros bon ange" or "big guardian angel," and a "ti bon ange" or "little guardian angel." The latter leaves the body during sleep, and when the person is possessed by a Loa during a ritual. As well, each person has a "met tete" ("master of the head") which, like Santeria, corresponds to a Christian patron saint.In fact, observers have noted a number of similarities between Roman Catholicism and Vodun: Both believe in a supreme being; the Loa resemble saints in that they were once people who led exceptional lives; both believe in an afterlife; both have highlight consumption of flesh and blood in their rituals; and both believe in the existence of invisible evil spirits or demons.

The purpose of Vodun rituals is to make contact with a spirit and gain its favour through offerings of animal sacrifices and gifts. These rites consist of a feast before the main ceremony, creation of a "veve," or a pattern of flour or cornmeal on the floor unique to each Loa, shaking a rattle and beating drums, and dancing that builds in intensity until one of the dancers becomes possessed by a Loa and falls.

At this point, it's believed that the dancer's little guardian angel has left their body and the spirit has taken control. Like the sangoma, the possessed dancer enters a trance and channels the attributes of the Loa.

As for sticking pins in dolls, the practice was once used as a method of cursing an individual by some followers of Vodun in New Orleans. Reportedly, it is still used occasionally in South America.

excerpt from article by Ron Csillag

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