Iyabó: Path to Sanctification (I)

Regina Cano

Havana photo by Caridad
Havana photo by Caridad

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…)

2 thoughts on “Iyabó: Path to Sanctification (I)

  • It is nice to see an article of our faith, however, the author should have done much more prior research. The correct word is “Iyawo” (Yoruba for “bride”). The year and seven day period is the “Iyaworaje.”
    I don’t know where the author got the impression that the initiate feels “impotent,” or that most initiates are crowned for their health. The author does a disservice to the readers and to the millions of Orisha devotees globally.

    Much of what is written here is incorrect. I suggest before you continue, you make sure what you are reporting is true. I am a journalist and an Olorisha, a priestess of Oshun. I take both my vocations seriously and hope you will do a better job with the next installment..

  • I look forward to the continuation of this article, Regina. I am curious about Regla Ocha, but like the protagonist in “Miel para Ochun” in the end I am a skeptic. Still, I can’t help but feeling that my spirit is out of balance and, held in thrall to my reason and cynicism, which imprisson my intuition and spontenaety. I once knew an elderly couple–in fact they were quite ancient–who wore white during the last four or five years of their lives. They told me they wore white to purify themselves before death; as far as I could judge, however, they didn’t need to do this as both their lives were exemplary; in fact their life-long love for each other was an ispiration to their friends, and they shared this love with others. One of my fantasies: like the protagonist in the 1959 film “Orpheo negro, through an intermediary I, too, might someday communicate directly with them. Alas, in the Brazilian film “Orpheo” looks backward, thus forever loosing his love, and I, too…

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