shells.jpg - 2800 Bytes Historical Museum of Southern Florida The Afro-Cuban Orisha Religion

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Afro-Cuban Orisha Arts in Miami


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The Afro-Cuban Orisha religion, sometimes referred to as “Santería,” is the product of the encounter between Yoruba Orisha worship and the popular practices of Spanish Catholicism in colonial Cuba. Enslaved Africans juxtaposed their beliefs and customs with those imposed by the Spanish colonists to give birth to a new interpretation of their traditional religion.

From the 16th century through the 19th century, close to one million people from West and Central Africa were enslaved and transported to Cuba. The trade in African people increased substantially during the late 18th and 19th centuries, with the growth of the island’s plantations. During this period, the Yoruba (from what is now southwestern Nigeria and eastern Benin) were one of the principal ethnic groups to be brought to the island. In Cuba the Yoruba, or Lukumí, had a major cultural impact on Africans of various ethnic backgrounds and on people of European descent as well. The Yoruba’s Orisha religion attracted many followers.

The Catholic influence on the Yoruba religion is manifested in such practices as the association of individual orishas with Catholic saints. For example, Oshún parallels Our Lady of Charity, the patron saint of Cuba. Catholicism may have provided a veneer of respectability--a means by which African beliefs and customs could survive in a hostile society.

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Afro-Cuban Orisha Arts in Miami
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