By Miguel Arias Sanchez
HAVANA TIMES — Darnelys Dominguez Pino is 42 years old and works as an attendant at a sports center. He has been directly linked to the Afro-Cuban religion known as Santeria for many years. He is a man of few words who is concerned about the path his religion is taking.
HT: How old were you when you started out in this Afro-Cuban religion?
Darnelys Dominguez Pino: Ever since I was born practically. I began because I wanted to, I was drawn to it by its sincerity and truth.
HT: What do you really think about your religion?
DDP: I believe it is something beautiful, human, when it is practiced honestly.
HT: Why has this fever to become initiated into Santeria come about?
DDP: Looking for different objectives: financial, to leave the country or to improve ones health.
HT: Why would a person choose to do this?
DDP: Look there are many reasons why: some are incited by other people who have done this; others, by their families or by their own inspiration, they believe that it will help them to progress or to be better.
HT: Are health or life always necessary reasons in every case?
DDP: I don’t think so, there are special cases which draws people to santeria because of health problems, but not all of them. A lot of people approach the religion because they hope to be better off financially, that it will open new doors for them.
HT: Why do they ask for so many animals, even money, in order to become a santero?
DDC: It’s true, you need animals, but sometimes you don’t need as many as the santeria priest asks for; money? is something new too, in reality, what they ask for is a right.
HT: Is everything that’s asked for the initiation?
DDP: No, it’s not always like that, there are people who take what they can out of this for their own personal benefit.
HT: Do they finally meet all the requirements?
DDP: Some do, others don’t, and everything depends on what is being done is in a loyal and pure way.
HT: Do you think that all of those people who practice as santeria priests: babalao, palero, etc. do so in a truly dignified manner?
DDP: No. There are people who do this just to make money, for their own benefit and wellbeing.
HT: Was this religion in Cuba always like this?
DDP: No, it used to be a lot more honest in the past.
HT: What’s the main difference?
DDP: Before, people used to practice out of conviction while today they do so because of money a lot of the time.
HT: Can anybody be initiated into santeria, even if they are a criminal, alcoholic or an immoral person?
DDP: Yes, of course anyone can.
HT: How’s that?
DDP: If you become initiated in an honest and proper way, santeria educates you and takes you out of the evil path, guiding you down new paths to what’s good.
HT: How would you define a person practicing Santeria?
DDP: Somebody who doesn’t fail to meet the precepts of Santeria.
HT: Are you proud about your religion right now, about how it is being practiced here in Cuba?
DDP: Yes, I am proud of it, but I’m not proud of everybody who practices it. There are still a lot of people who respect it but it has become a scam in a lot of other cases, it isn’t practiced as it should be and people take advantage of it for their own good.