The Santeria Religion is a syncretic religion which originated in the Caribbean and is known by various names, Regla de Ocha, La Regla Lucumi or Lucumi. Santeria is a word used by others to describe the folk religions of Africa.
Lucumi is the African term meaning my friend.It is a system of beliefs that merge the Yoruba religion, brought to the New World by slaves imported to the Caribbean to work the sugar plantations, with Roman Catholic and Native American traditions.
These slaves carried with them various religious traditions, including a tradition of a trance for communicating with their ancestors and deities, animal sacrifice and the practice of sacred drumming.
In Cuba this religious tradition has evolved into what we now recognize as Santería. In 2001, there were an estimated 22,000 practitioners in the USA alone, but the number may be higher as some practitioners may be reluctant to disclose their religion on a government census or to an academic researcher.
Priests of the religion are known as Babalorishas and priestesses are known as Iyalorishas. They in fact are known as Santeros. The priesthood is also known as Ifa and in some areas women are accepted into the priesthood.
Since Santeria developed outside of its West African origin and acquired various influences of Catholicism, Congolese religion, spiritism and Dahomean influences, the opinions of West Africa or Cuba have little relevance for either tradition.
The traditional Santería religion can be found in many parts of the world today, including but not limited to: the United States, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Panama, Nicaragua, Argentina, Colombia, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Great Britain, Canada, Venezuela, and other areas with large Latin American populations.
A very similar religion called Candomblé is practiced in Brazil, which is home to a rich array of other Afro-American
In order to preserve their authentic ancestral and traditional beliefs, the people had no choice but to disguise their orishas as Catholic saints. When the Roman Catholic slave owners observed Africans celebrating a Saint's Day, they were generally unaware that the slaves were actually worshiping their sacred orishas.
In Cuba today, the terms "saint" and "orisha" are sometimes used interchangeably. The term Santería was originally a derisive term applied by the Spanish to mock followers seeming over devotion to the saints and their perceived neglect of God. It was later applied to the religion by others.
This characterization of the relationship between Catholic saints and Cuban orisha, however, is somewhat undermined by the fact that the vast majority of santeros in Cuba today also consider themselves to be Catholics, have been baptized, and often require initiates to be baptized.
Many in the Santeria Religion hold separate rituals to honor the saints and orisha respectively, even though the disguise of Catholicism is no longer needed.
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