In my neighborhood, at certain times of the year, it’s common to see people dressed completely in white. This is because “Iyaboraje” sanctification rites in Cuba were unbanned after the economic crisis of the 1990s. People no longer conceal these; instead, they openly display the attributes of the religion and the “Santo” (saint, also called Orisha or God) who consecrates them.
One by one, I have observed my neighbors become “Iyabós” (holy or sanctified) for diverse reasons, though usually this has to do with health problems.
This is because the Yoruba religion (Regla Ocha) -a system of beliefs passed down from those who came from Africa- is widely practiced among people who see themselves as impotent in solving problems of their daily personal life.
It is a polytheistic religion with a creator (Olofi) and other gods (Orishas) who assume and fulfill various functions.
The liturgy is a tool and a bridge with which one follows along the “path of Ifá” as set out by a “babalawo” (intermediary or interpreter) priest of Ocha – a role authorized only for men.
The requirements dictated by the Orishas determine the way each individual must conduct themselves in life; that’s to say, these gods are responsible for the diagnosis, treatment and cure of people’s problems. In this way, the human desire for protection is satisfied.
In addition, through the use of herbs, items providing protection and consecrated garments, you can remove the “curses” or bad intentions that others wish upon you. These can be “el muerto” (a spiritual entity without physical form but one which can do harm), obstacles in work or the lack of work, or the hope that your daughter finds a good husband or that she divorces the one she has or bears offspring. Likewise, one can rid themselves of an enemy, be granted admissions into a school, perform well in school and other such fields, or on occasions be able to cope with more serious situations that malevolent spirits inflict on the living.
Non-compliance with what is determined by the Orishas takes you backward, and things become more difficult to solve.
Each babalawo priest has something to add from his own characteristics in the way of executing his responsibilities, either from the man himself or from the Santo who grants him his abilities, though this does not alter his predictions.
The initiation includes everything that makes the countryside and the earth beautiful: plants (“rompesaraguey,” pepper, poppies), animals (rams, goats, hens, pigeons) and other substances (such as perfumes, peelings, honey, tobacco smoke, river or sea water), which all contribute their essence to the ritual.
The Iyabó (the initiate) must get in tune with their own spirits: those which accompany them from birth to again travel the path of life and later determine which Orisha or saint will be in charge of that person and guide them with their characteristics – though this doesn’t imply abandonment by the other gods.
This sanctified man or woman is like a newborn, requiring care (similar to that which must be given to a baby) during this initial period that extends for one year.
(To be continued…)