Jorge Milanes Despaigne
HAVANA TIMES — The “Santeria Multinational Religious Consortium” is how I often refer to this religious practice today, a practice governed by market trends in Cuba and beyond.
This Afro-Cuban religion, conceived to improve the health of the ill, has become one of the most lucrative enterprises one can pursue in Cuba. It has become almost the contrary of what its spiritual essence dictates.
It was once practiced primarily to secure physical and spiritual health. The clothing used by initiates was and continues to be white. Today, however, the vast majority of these pieces of clothing – the fabrics, collars, shoes and all of the utensils employed in the ritual – must be of the highest quality, paid for at market price and the price agreed to for the ceremony.
This situation has got me thinking. In the past, black people did not pay the sums of money today demanded for these rituals, sums that make its practitioners economic references within society and prompt a broad range of opinions about this religion.
No few people feel the spiritual need to practice a religion and to have the sense they are being protected by something that is part of our culture and African tradition, many a time inaccessible to us, because of the way these are being commercialized.
I pity those who feel they need the services this business affords, be it for health-related reasons (as was customary at the beginning) or other reasons. They will have to work in the tourism industry or a warehouse, receive remittances from abroad or work somewhere they can sell things under table, until putting enough money together to “save their lives.”
With money, they will be able to afford a top-of-the-line ceremony, pay their dues and extend the good to all people who take part in it. Then, they will have to put on expensive Iyawo clothes, like the ones initiates wear today and are seen everywhere. It may seem a bit contradictory, but then, only then will they enjoy “impunity” with respect to all kinds of illegalities, even the ones they are responsible for.
What kind of religious offering could we seriously talk about under such circumstances, when faith and crime come together? Are these the feelings that traditional and respectable beliefs have led to? True religious devotees have always been characterized by humbleness, honesty and an infinity love for higher beings. True faith does not corrupt itself, even when a corrupt market demands this.