Questions from students at Goldsmiths.
Last year, I was invited by Adom Philogene Heron to be a guest lecturer on a course he was teaching in Goldsmiths. It was a daunting experience for me. For some stupid reason ( it’s been a long time!) I was expecting a small intimate classroom scenario, but it was a huge lecture hall and no microphone. The subject that I was asked to discuss was ” Becoming Creole: Continuity, Creativity and Cosmology” In relation to the Lucumi Tradition. I rejected the term Creole to describe our practise gave my reasons why, but the most interesting part of the lecture I found was the Q and A. There seemed to be a hunger for knowledge and explanation and there was not enough time for an in-depth Q and A . Infact, we had to clear the lecture theatre quickly for the next class, and I was mobbed by students who had more questions that they fired at me as I left the building! These are just a few of some of the questions and statements I encountered. Apologies to all whose questions I did not answer. I hope that some of them can be answered by reading this blog in its entirety.
1.Vegan Santeria. The first very surprising statement I came across was by a student before the lecture. She was describing someone she knows who had chosen not to partake in the animal sacrifice aspect of the religion. My response was that there is no such thing as Vegan Santeria. There is no initation without sacrifice. There is no birth without blood.
That is not to say that there are no Vegans OR Vegetarians who are also practitioners. Many practitioners may choose personally to have a plant-based diet and that is a personal choice, however, animal sacrifice is part of our tradition and there are reasons behind it.
However, here are a few points to think about. Firstly, the taking of a life of an animal should not be taken lightly and furthermore it should never be the first port of call when trying to resolve an issue. Secondly, those that perform the ritual are highly trained individuals who know how to perform the ritual as quickly and safely as possible and furthermore, the meat sacrificed is usually shared and eaten. Nothing is meant to go to waste. Thirdly, I believe it to be important to treat all animals with respect and to know where your meat comes from. If you are buying plastic wrapped chicken from the supermarket, this is by far less ethical. Lastly, we are not the only religious tradition that sacrifices their meat. Sacrifice means “ to make sacred”. Halal and Kosher meat are examples of meat that has been ritually slaught ered. I think if there are concerns regarding this element of the tradition, then there is always the choice not to practise this way of life.
- Lineage and Family connection. Several students didn’t quite understand the concept of lineage. Our traditions, our Orishas, our initiations are based on a lineage, hierarchical structure. Godparents initiate godchildren and the Orishas they receive at Inititiation are “born” from their godparent’s Orisha. This is a diasporic tradition where divination is used to determine whether or not initiation is necessary. Whether you have Yoruba ancestry in Lucumi is not the issue and that has been the way it has developed. (for more information: https://oshunschild.com/2019/05/31/lineage-initiation-entitlement-and-appropriation-part-1/). There are some traditions however, which have had a family basis. One film that studied this was “They are We” The story of Gangá-Longobá from Perico In Matanzas, Cuba. Lucumi, however has expanded and is practised beyond Cuba.
- One God: One student disagreed with me, when I tried to explain that Orisha are intermediaries between us and God. Our philosophy is that Olodumare is a remote entity and the Orisha are more accessible to us. They are able to act as intermediares between us and God, helping guide us through divination, and other manifestations, and allowing us to realign ourselves with our destiny which is predetermined. The particular student argument was that she goes to church and talks directly to God. My answer was that, her beliefs and her way of communicating with the divine, is entirely her choice. I did not go to the university to impose my belief system on anyone else. Everyone is welcome to believe or not believe what they choose. It is not my role to convince anyone else otherwise. I often repeat that this religion is not an evangelical one.
- My journey: One personal question was made to me regarding my journey and how I found Orisha. My answer was brief but clear. I always had a connection with Spirit, with ancestors, which led me to where I needed to be 35 years ago. This was pre social media, and I wasn’t consciously looking for answers. I do believe that Orisha chose me and not the other way around.
- Is Santeria/Lucumi Brujeria ( witchcraft). My personal answer is no! It is a way of living which is essentially about self development and doing as much as possible to live an authentic life guided by divination. There are various offerings, and other works that we may do in order to communicate with Orisha in exchange for guidance and favour. There are various cleansings we may do in order to keep us protected and clean spiritually. This does not equate with Brujeria.
It has taken me a whole year to be able to answer these questions, if you have anymore, please ask in response to this post. Thankyou!
Hi Daniela, thank you once again for the generosity you extended by joining our class last year and for so kindly sharing your responses to the students questions here. After a year, and such an intense class of 100+ students, you could have easily chosen not to but the fact that you answered them here is very much appreciated.
I recall that you rejected the term ‘Creole’ to describe our practise – as do many Caribbean peoples, for its plantation and colonial hold on our/their histories. But I recall your reasons were different, would you be happy to briefly share them here ?
With blessed wishes,
Adom PH (teacher who invited Daniela to class)
Ps. We would love to have you back in future years – perhaps to a much seminar or smaller extra-curric session – if you’d be interested
Thanks for responding Adom. I Rejected the term Creole since it implies fusion of different elements to make something new. My take on Lucumi, or La Regla de Ocha ( or Santeria) is that it is essentially African in all intents and purposes, but that it took roots, evolved and adapted to its’ circumstances. The syncretistic element is parallel, but Catholic symbolism has no place in ceremony or initiation. The religion can function without the Catholic parallels. Indeed outside of Cuba in some lineages those parallels have been dismantled altogether. The religion in Contemporary West Africa, did not stay still either. Religion is always being affected by history, migration, battles between neighbouring tribes, other religions. If you say that the religions in the Diaspora are Creole, then you have to say that Contemporary traditions in West Africa are also Creole. They have not been immune from outside influence, Christianity, Islam and indeed other traditions depending on the area are also influenced by neighbouring traditions. Religion is dependent on history, circumstance, culture and other things and it is not a fixed entity. What I would say about the Diaspora traditions, is that the fundamental basis of belief remains the same. Would love to come back at some point and thank you for asking me.