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Cuban Santeros Will Welcome The New Year

How will you ring in 2018? You probably will do something like go to a party? In Havana they do things differently. Thousands of Santeros will gather to ring in the new year with drumming, dancing, and some chicken sacrifices. The largest gathering will be in Havana’s Cuatro Caminos market where the Santeria faithful will erect a statue of Eshu, the African Orisha in charge of commerce. This is an interesting choice that is indicative of the changes happening in Cuba with regard to the growing small business sector.

Santeria is the popular name for the Regla de Ifa, a syncretic religion that blends Yoruban gods with Catholic iconography. Millions of African slaves were brought over to Cuba in the 18th and 19th centuries to work on the sugar and tobacco plantations. They were allowed to congregate with their fellow countrymen one day a week in a gathering called a cabildo. It was there that they practiced their old religion by disguising the African gods as Catholic saints. Cubans are still deeply religious in spite of 50 years of Communist rule. Santeria and its African sister religions Palo, Vodun, and Abakua are still widely practiced.

So, why is it a big deal that the main god they prayed to was Eshu? Eshu is nowhere near as popular a deity as Babalu-Aye, Chango, or Yemaya. The emphasis being on Eshu shows that commerce and business are foremost on people’s minds. Since Raul Castro took over for his brother Fidel a few years ago he has allowed a growing private sector. Small restaurants and B&Bs have opened up along side shops, fruit stands, and other private businesses that were unheard of a few years ago. There would be no reason in the past to ask Eshu to help you out commercially because all the profits fwent to the government. It’s an example of the unintended consequences brought about by the realities of Cuban history. Atheistic Communism allowing idolatrous free market capitalism is having an impact on an African/Catholic hybrid faith created as a result of the slave trade. It’s enough to make your heard hurt if you think about it too much.

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