HAVANA TIMES — When I interviewed a Babalawo [a priest of the Yoruba, or Santería, religion] a few years ago for Havana Times, I was alarmed at the murky vapors emanating from the religious offerings that are common sights in Havana.
Like almost everything else in Cuba, the only change in this situation has been for the worse. The fruit of the faith of the numerous believers has condemned all of us to breathe in the putrefaction.
The coasts, the beaches that tourists don’t visit, any street corner, even the most central parks are the sites of these practices inherited from our ancestors. Wherever a Ceiba tree exists, its destiny is to be surrounded by decomposing cadavers.
Now the alarm has been sounded regarding the Achatina fulica or African land snail, first brought in by a Nigerian for a Yoruba ritual. According to Wikipedia, this snail is one of the most damaging invasive species in the world. It’s the largest terrestrial mollusk, it reproduces very quickly, it harbors parasites capable of causing the death of any animal that eats it, and to finish off, it can cause meningoencephalitis, a frequently fatal illness.
I can’t help but wonder why, – once again – the official reaction is to program frenetic fumigation campaigns…amid total silence regarding the havoc being wreaked by this religion which the tourists find so attractive.
Those same tourists, of course, live in cities that are clean and free of such blights.
Personally, I don’t approve of killing animals, but I’ve never imposed my disapproval on any santero, given that their beliefs and rituals are not my concern. In the same way, I’m clear that no one needs to be affected by the things I believe in.
For those reasons, I’m open-mouthed at the incredible apathy of my fellow Cubans, their inability to take seriously the destruction of their surroundings and their right to live in a healthy environment; to not have to stumble onto these repulsive spectacles, symbols of cruelty that are in no way edifying for our children. Not to mention demanding that this religion not add another scourge to those that already cause regular fumigations to invade their privacy, and uncertainties to assault their peace.
In my daily experience, I’ve repeatedly noticed that those persons who have “made themselves saints” stand out for their arrogant attitudes, and that the pure white of their clothing contrasts with their lack of common courtesy, not to mention love.
They’re not offering an attractive image of their faith. I ask myself what kind of respect is inspired in them by these gods that they flaunt through their colorful necklaces and bracelets. – symbols, it sometimes seems, of a sly and menacing power. It’s not unusual to have a believer menace a supposed enemy with “throwing them into the cauldron.”
Is this what is also paralyzing the common sense of those responsible for the public health?
The Catholic religion has been attacked throughout the world for the pending balance on its backwardness and abuses of power; for its conservative postures and pedophilia cover-ups; (and in Cuba for practicing a certain degree of political plurality). However, in its favor is the atavistic charity that it extends towards the diseased – from lepers to those suffering from AIDS – as well as to the poor and the elderly.
One of the few old age homes on the island where a “dignified and secure old age” is possible is maintained and attended by the Catholic Church. I might also mention in passing that they offer excellent educational programs to the public, programs which encourage vocation and discipline, and where the faithful have the same rights as the believers.
Where are the benefits to social progress offered by the Yoruba believers, at least in Cuba? Where is their support for the preservation of a sense of ethics, the minimal premise of every religion? Is it ethical to pollute the air that we all breathe? Is it ethical to put at risk the lives of other citizens for a personal belief system? Is it ethical to promote distrust, damage to others, to convert a religion into a sign of social hierarchy?
Speaking for myself, at least, I don’t know a single person who has joined these practices out of a noble aspiration to become a better human being. Instead, they do so seeking protection and prosperity.
Nonetheless, statistics show that the communities where similar practices have taken root and expanded are among the poorest in the world. The societies that have managed to construct cities highly developed in trade, technology, culture, have invoked no other god but concrete money, and have followed no rule other than that of common sense.