HAVANA TIMES — It’s nighttime and I can hear the sounds of drums. I can’t help but to stand here on the balcony, the night is rainy and rinsed away all the other noises of the city. This is when you can best hear the beating of hands on leather. I would like to listen to the drums more closely.
Brujeria (occultism): This is the word that might be uttered by any Venezuela, with a sense of mystery, disgust or hidden curiosity.
I’m fairly accustomed to this, being from Cuba – where “s/he who doesn’t have Congo [blood] has Carabali,” and where the most bourgeois of the bourgeois have a neighbor who’s a babalawo (Afro-Cuban priest) who they’ll go consult in the middle of the night.
So it’s a little strange to me to see how people here approach this phenomenon; or — better said — how they distance themselves from it, despite it being an important part of their roots.
My partner worked in the last census that was conducted in Caracas. In it, one of the questions on the questionnaire was what race the respondent considered themself to be. Although a high percentage of the respondents were black or zambo (mixed indigenous and black), the majority of them refused to identify themselves that way.
This is no wonder, since blackness — like African religions — is seen as dark, mysterious, negative and distant from the true God.
Nonetheless, one can see increasingly more white Afro-Venezuelan religious garb being worn by Iyabo novices on the street, hear more drums at night and note on every corner the ever-flourishing trade of various products of African religions.
The Catholic Church here is undoubtedly concerned. I’ve attended several events in recent months for my work as a photographer. There, I took shots of baptisms, first communions, and school graduations, and in all of them, the Catholic priests express concern, openly attacking the African religions and accusing them of being false religions that do nothing but take people’s money.
That was the best excuse that one of the priests could find to dissuade his parishioners from any involvement in “witchcraft.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d think the Catholic Church, to the contrary, was giving money away to its followers (though I can’t forget that it actually charges a hefty sum for any baptism, without caring whether it’s for an apostolic or an Orthodox).
A couple of nights ago we ran into one guy who — apparently — was trying to cheat my partner’s aunt, out of her house.
The woman lived in an apartment full of pets, until she met this guy.
They got rid of (or had killed) most of the little creatures because somehow he convinced her of her impurity for being around so many animals.
Now this guy is asking the family to give him legal charge over the aunt saying that he’ll fix everything that the animals damaged in the apartment. He says the aunt has been neglectful because she was living by herself and is still surrounded by several “occultists” there in the building.
As it turned out, it was this group of “occultists” that warned us about the intentions of this gentleman, a member of one of the hundreds of churches that abound in this city.
But since this guy is white, the church fathers — that are mostly white — see him as more respectable than those “strange, lower class people” that worship black gods.