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CHALLENGING STEREOTYPES, TESTI NG HYPOTHESES, AND PRESENTING TRUTHS ABOUT SANTERIA BY CHRISTINA GOLDSTEIN A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Maribeth Clark Sarasota, Florida January, 2010
ii Challenging Stereotypes, Testing Hypotheses, and Presenting Truths About Santeria Christina Goldstein New College of Florida, 2010 Abstract This exploration challenges the stereotype s attributed to Sant eria by the dominant Protestant culture and media of the United States, examines the observations of bygone and contemporary anthropologists, and offers new insights on the religion. It employs material from interviews with santeros and santeras living in Tampa, sacred stories, songs, and poems, and personal anecdotes to convey that the popular depictions of Santeria are not founded on real ity, and that charges of i rrationality and darkness and criticism of embodiment in the religion as pr imitive are unjustified, to test the hypotheses of Santerias new openness, Afro-centrism, syncretism, and growing racial and ethnic composition, and to relate that Santeria is benevolent, rational, and empowering in its gender fluidity and acceptance of alternative sexualities, an d that its practitioners are diverse and singular. Ultimatel y, through the mode of experi mental, creative, and selfreflexive ethnography, this proj ect concludes that Santeria is a complex and benevolent religion that scarcely resemb les its popular depictions, th at includes a wide array of practitioners, all unique, yet all undoubted ly human, and that it should be accorded
iiirespect. Maribeth Clark Division of Humanities
iv Contents Abstract ii Glossary v Preface and Acknowledgements vi An Introduction Part One 1 Part Two: Theory 3 Part Three: Method 13 Santero Next Door 21 Lydia, Oshun and Santerias Representation of Alternative Gender Identities and Sexualities Part One 37 Part Two: Further Remarks on Issues of Gende r and Sexuality in Santeria 47 Persephone: Scholar and Santera 51 Conclusion 58 Bibliography 64
vGlossary Bembe: Santeria ritual celebration which cen ters on drumming and serves to invoke the presence of Santerias deities Botanica: a shop specializing in Santeria and espiritismo ritual implements Collares: sanctified beaded necklaces rece ived upon the first major initiation ceremony Crowned: dedicated to the service of a particular Santeria deity Kariocha: the ceremony in which one is dedi cated to a particular deity and thereby becomes a priest or priestess of that deity Oriki: poems praising Santerias deities Orin: songs praising Santerias deities Orishas: Santerias deities Pataki: a sacred story feat uring Santerias deities Santero: a Santeria priest Santera: a Santeria priestess
viPreface and Acknowledgements I have spent most of my life in the et hnically and culturally diverse section of Tampa known as the University area. Growi ng up in this area, I was very curious and open-minded about the religious and cultura l traditions I encountered. A Vietnamese family lived directly behind us, and I ofte n slipped through a litt le gap between the wooden fence that separated our houses and the chain-link one that ran alongside to play with the two sons who were about my age. In the little plaza right off the end of my street sat a bodega, and a Cuban eatery which always emitted a pleasant smokey smell. I ate my first sushi at eight. My moth er had taken me to the Japanese restaurant that sat adjacent to the gro cery store where we shopped as a special treat. One of the traditions with which I came into contact in my formative years in Tampa was Santeria. There are many botanicas Santeria supply stores dispersed throughout the University area and West Tampa and, as a child, my eyes were always drawn to them. I desperately wanted to go inside one; they were so enticingly my sterious with their strange figurines crowding the windows to look out, exotic herbs hanging from the ceilings. Despite my somewhat atypical upbringing, I was far from beyond the reach of the values and restrictions of the dominant Prot estant culture. For several years, in fact, my mother and I lived with my socially c onservative Southern Baptist grandparents. Though they have never, since their chil dhoods, attended church with any regularity, their worldviews are informed by the beliefs and customs of this branch of Protestant Christianity and are basically consistent with the values promoted in the popular
viiculture and media. My grandmother, for in stance, was constantly telling me to sit like a lady, eat like a lady, act like a lady. My grandfather, moreover, frequently voiced his disapproval of his daughter-in-law s superstitious Catholicism and of the lively music and shouting that issued from the Black church down the street every Sunday morning. With the exception of my grandmothers decadent dinners and the tearful yet restrained gospel or classic country music that sometimes emanated from the stereo, the rule of my grandparent s was strict, colorless, and dogmatic. My grandparents, though they generally appreciated my appetite for learning, often frowned upon (and continue to cri ticize) my exploratory nature. Sometime around my sixteenth birthday, for example, my mom presented me with my first car, a 2003 silver Hyundai Accent. I was, of course, immensely excited to see my hometown from the point of view of the dr ivers seat, and in the first few months after I had received this generous gift, I drove around as much as possible, usually without aim. One afternoon, I passed by a botanica one of the little shops that had so intrigued me in my younger years, and deci ded finally to go inside. I was immediately enthralled. What first struck me was the sense of embodiment that I had heretofore only recognized in Catholicism. Instead of the sterile wooden crucifix typical of Protestant homes and churches, I was greet ed by a statue of a muscled Black man seated in a small wooden chair, dressed in cool black and bright red, with money spilling from his lap, and a sly smile. It seem ed that whatever religion to which this shop was devoted was full of blood, full of life. In awe, I spent what must have been at least an hour perusing th e shelves of the small shop, taki ng it all in: th e candles in many and brilliant colors featur ing the Virgin of Copper or Jesus of the Sacred Heart,
viiithe little phials of river water, the pungent herbs, the thin ribbons of fragrant smoke curling up into the air from the glowing ends of incense. Upon returning from my expedition, I r ecounted my experience to my family. Excepting my mother, they responded with e xpressions of shock and horror. This I understood even less than the odd collection I had recently marveled at. What could there be to fear? The place was so beautif ul and welcoming, and the proprietor so warm. My best guess is that negative attitudes towards traditions such as Santeria that are prevalent in the dominant Protestant culture and exemplifie d by the reaction of my grandparents are rooted in issues of race and ethnicity. The dominant Protestant culture treats Santeria in much the same way it has historically treated all of Black culture; it does not represent it fairly or accurately, and often works to maintain supposed white superiority. Its undeniably D ark Continent origins, furthermore, only contribute to Santerias marginaliz ation and misrepresentation. Santerias penchant for secrecy may also arouse su spicion. Moreover, as Max Weber astutely observes in his pioneering (and, at points, profoundly flawed) work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism our modern American culture is born of the distinctly Protestant worldly asceticism that rejects expression of the sacred in material form. Thus, Santerias embodiment of spiritual forces is in opposition to the values of the dominant Prot estant culture, making the tr adition easily othered. Unfortunately, the aforementioned reactions of grandparents to my visit to the botanica were only my first encounter with the prejudice regarding Santeria Over the summer that I spent researching for this project, the summer of 2009, I passed more than a few evenings watching reruns of CSI: Miami and NY and Law and Order:
ixCriminal Intent and Special Victims Unit Several of the episodes featured santeros and santeras In the episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit entitled Ritual, for instance, a young Nigerian boy is found mutilated in a park, aside some small bowls containing his blood. The investig ators assume that the boy was used as a sacrifice in a Santeria ritual. Though the ending revealed that the boy had actually been bought as a slave by a white professi onal man with a family, and the episode ultimately exculpates Santeria and its practitioners, it nonetheless perpetuates negative stereotypes and reveal s a general lack of understand ing of Santeria. First, the episode implies that human sacrifice may be us ed in Santeria rituals. Of course, it is not. It also portrays Santeria as a Nigerian reli gion. Santeria, however, originated in Cuba where, initially, Catholic saints conceal ed African deities from colonial forces. In the CSI: Miami episode Curse of the Coffin, Voodoo and Santeria are confused and, together, blamed for a murd er and a supposed curse on the laboratory where the main characters work. The conf lation of Voodoo and Santeria represents, once again, an ignorance of Afro-Latin re ligions. The association with darkness, moreover, is fairly obvious. This is especia lly deplorable considering that the show is set in and made to represent the city with one of the highest populations of Santeria practitioners in the United States. Law and Order: Criminal Intent s The Gift, also links Santeria to murder. This episode, how ever, adds mind-control to Santerias list of offenses. Moreover, any cursory search for Sante ria on the internet will reveal dozens of websites somehow condemning or spreadi ng misinformation about the religion. A website written by and for Jehovahs Witne sses uses Biblical passages to condemn
xSanteria. The page is titled The Lure of Santeria. The authors of the page cite Galatians 5:19-21, attributing to Santeria, works of the flesh. They also cite I Corinthians 10:14: Flee from idolatry. So, here, as in Max Webers works, which I discuss in greater detail later, Santeria is criticized for its embodiment. There are countless examples of similar condemnations of Santeria. Despite these unflattering, unfair, and untrue represen tations of Santeria, many scholars and other public figures have recently demanded tolerance for the religion. These scholars, many of whom I refer to la ter in my project, in clude Raul Canizares, Jorge Guerra, Harry G. Lefever, Bettina E. Schmidt, and Andres Isidoro Perez y Mea. Other individuals who have advocat ed tolerance for th e religion include Reverend Jeremiah Wright, in his church bulletin issued on July 30, 2006, wherein the Reverend includes an article about discri mination against practit ioners of Santeria and calls for acceptance of all religions,1 and Sonia Sotomayor, who in June of 2009 demanded that imprisoned practitio ners be allowed to wear their collares beaded necklaces that are received upon a particular initiation and that are necessary for the practice of the tradition, argui ng that allowing Christians to wear their crucifixes or rosary beads while denying practitioners of Santeria the same right was discriminatory.2 To this chorus I offer my voice and gratitude. In addition to these individuals, I must extend my sincere thanks to Indio, Lydia, 1 Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Pastors Page: Can Faith and Tolerance Coexist? Part 2, Trinity United Church of Christ Bulletin (July 30, 2006), 10-11, http://www.scribd.com/doc/2368249/ Trinity-U nited-Church-of-Christ-Bulletin-July30-2006 (accessed Nov. 2009). 2 Fadia Galindo, Sotomayor Overturn ed Prison Regulations to Allow SanteriaPracticing Convicts to Wear Beads, CNSNews.com (June 22, 2009), 1, http://www.cnsnews.com/public/ content/ar ticle.aspx? RsrcID=49870 (accessed Dec. 2009).
xiand Persephone, the thre e kind and intelligent santeros who so generously shared with me, an awkward neophyte toting a notebook, their invaluable insights and fascinating experiences to make this project possible. I am forever indebted to Professor Maribeth Clark, who contributed to th is project her wisdom, expertise, time, and unrelenting patience. In addition, she has helped me to b ecome a more proficient writer and student, and a brighter and bolder individual who is onl y slightly trembling in anticipation of an uncertain future. I also offer sincere gratitude to Professor Susan Marks, who has gently pushed me to actualize my potential, who has engaged my interest, who has helped me immensely in my path to becoming an adult, and who has forever liberated my writing from superfluous use of the passive tense. In earnest, moreover, I thank Professor Heather White who has generously offered her time, energy, ear, and insights to an eager student she has recently met. I hope that my project fulfills its goals and makes her participation worthwhile. Professor Chad Seales has inspir ed and enlightened me, and has helped to create a strong foundation for this undertaking. Without th e tireless work and wit of Professor David Rohrbacher, furthermore, my time at New College would have been far less fruitful and enjoyable. Gra tias ago! I give special thanks to my supportive, selfless, and open-minded parents, Kellie Renee and I gnacio Albert Galvez. Britney Summit-Gil, Jessica Mae Yokum, and Darryl Ryan Dague have also made invaluable contributions to this project; they have encouraged, comf orted, stimulated, and even fed me throughout this endeavor. Finally, I offer gratitude and devotion to the orishas particularly Eleggua, governor of all crossroads, and the merciful Oshun.
1 An Introduction Part One Many sources name Francisco Mora, who moved from Cuba to New York in 1946, as the first practicing santero in the United States.1 However, the research of scholar and santero Raul Canizares has revealed Afro-Cuban religious groups practicing in Tampa, Florid a in 1939. Moreover, one of Canizares informants has claimed that her great-grandparents, who came to Tampa from Cuba in 1876, were santeros and it is likely that ma ny more of the thousands of Afro-Cubans who came to work in the cigar factories in Tampa and Key West in the latter part of the nineteenth century practiced Santeria as well.2 From the beginning of the Cuban Revolution in 1958 until about 1973 many Cubans immigrated to the United States.3 These individuals were largely from the lower middle and urban working classes, who comprised the majority of Santeria practitioners in Cuba. In May of 1980, the release of prisoners to the United Sates brought in 120, 000 more Cubans, ma ny of whom practiced Santeria.4 Puerto Rican and Puerto Rican descended individuals have also cont ributed to the growth of Santeria in the United States. In additi on, since 1959 Santeria has been gaining followers among Black and Caucasian Americ ans as well as non-Latin West Indians, a point to which I later return. Today, ma ny practitioners live in Miami, Tampa, and 1 George Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories (Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana: In diana University Press, 1993), 106; Raul Canizares, Walking with the Night (Rochester, Vermont: De stiny Books, 1993), 122. 2 Canizares, Walking with the Night 122. 3 Jorge Castillo Guerra, The Dial ogue between Christia nity and Afro-Cuban Religions, Exchange vol. 32, no. 3 (July 2003): 250.
2 New York City, and fewer in other me tropolitan cities in the United States.5 Tampa, Santerias first home in th e United States, is also my home, and the place in which I decided to c onduct my research on the tradition. There, I explored Santerias supply shops, botanicas and sought interviews with their proprietors. I found that the depictions of Santeria I had come across on television shows, in the news, on various websites, a nd in the works of many respected scholars were unfounded. I found, also, that charges of irrationality and darkness were without justification in real ity. In my field research, I also explored some of the claims of contemporary anthropologists writing about Santeria. I am unable to confirm assertions of Santerias recent tr end toward Afro-centrism. I can, however, offer a few words on the participation of non-Cuban and non-Latin individuals, as well as offer some insights about th e proposed phenomenon of openness. Moreover, I have made some observations of my own. Santeria, I argue, is both benevolent and rational. Furthermore, it tends toward acceptance of alternative gender identities and sexuali ties, and is therefore, empo wering for many practitioners. Also, its practitioners are dive rse and singular, as are their iles or small communities of practitioners. In sum, my project challenges ster eotypes, tests contemporary scholarly assertions, and offers new and relevant insi ghts about Santeria, drawing on material from interviews with santeros and santeras practicing in Tampa, sacred stories, songs, and poems about the orishas and personal anecdotes from myself and other 4 Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories, 104. 5 Harry G. Lefever, When the Saints Go Riding In: Santeria in Cuba and the United States, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 35, no. 3 (Sept. 1996): 319.
3 contemporary anthropologists, and em ploying the contemporary experimental, creative and self-reflexive ethnographic model. Ultimately it conveys that Santeria is a complex and benevolent religion that scarce ly resembles its popular depictions, that includes a wide array of pract itioners, all unique, yet al l undoubtedly human, and that should be accorded respect. Part Two Theory In Anthropology as Cultural Critique George E. Marcus and Michael M.J. Fischer discuss shifts in approaches to ethnographic research a nd writing, which are similar to those taking place in other academic fields in this postmodern world. They assert that where anthropology was once primarily descriptive and unselfconscious, it is now experimental and self-aware. In their preface, Marcus and Fischer write that contemporar y ethnographic scholarship is: in the process of reconstructing the ed ifices of anthropol ogical theory by exploring new ways to fulfill the promises on which modern anthropology was founded: to offer worthwhile and intere sting critiques of our own society; to enlighten us to other human possibilities engendering an awareness that we are merely one pattern among many; to make accessible the normally unexamined assumptions by which we operate and through which we encounter members of other cultures.6 From the 1960s on, anthropologists have b een, in short, breaking free from old paradigms. They have questioned the justi ce of earlier scholarship and have sought ways to present more fair depictions of subjects as well as of themselves. In doing 6 George M. Marcus and Michael M. J. Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), ix.
4 this, they have often employed a self -reflexive approach, and have shown an openness to new and diverse influences a nd styles, embracing whatever seems to work in practice.7 Max Webers works are generally placed in the category of social theory. However, their perspective and impli cations have much in common with contemporaneous anthropological scholarship, have been important in many fields of modern academia, and are representative of the previous trends that Marcus and Fischer explore. While assuming and asserti ng his perspective to be objective, Weber writes about his own culture in ways that suggest superiority to a general other culture. It cannot be denied that Webers works have contributed many invaluable insights, nor that they have perpetuated ne gative stereotypes about those outside what he calls Western civilization. In both The Sociology of Religion and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Weber sets up a dichot omy that associates Western religion, as epitomized by Calvin ism and excluding Catholicism, with rationality, sophistication, a nd asceticism, and the religions of the Orient and Catholicism with irrationality and prim itive corporeality. In addition, he implies that the Western economic system, and Western thought in general, are more advanced than those of the East. In the introduction to his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Max Weber makes it clear that he intends his a pproach to be objective. He writes, The question of the relative value of the cultures which are compared here will not receive 7 Marcus and Fischer, Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences, x.
5 a single word.8 Though he proclaims that he will not in the pages that follow, place value statements on the cultures of the peopl e to whom he refers in his work, his language implies a higher valu ation of Western systems and ideas. For instance, Weber praises the Western rational stru ctures of law and of administration, claiming that such a legal system and such administration have been available for economic activity in a comparative state of legal and formalistic perfection only in the Occident.9 For Weber, the West alone has developed to the fullest rational structures of law and administration. By ex tension, the rational structures of law and administration of the Orient are imperfect not fully developed, flawed. Considered in the context of the entire work, these stat ements appear even more derogatory, as it becomes clear that Weber values rationa lity above all other qualities. In the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Weber also often uses the term development in reference to the Wester n capitalistic system, as if our economic system were a more highly evolved form than those of the rest of the world. Webers Sociology of Religion gives a similar impression. For example, he writes, For various popular religions of Asia, in c ontrast to ascetic Protestantism, the world remained a great enchanted ga rden...No path led from the magical religiosity of the non-intellectual classes of Asia to a rational, methodical control of life.10 Here, Webers use of the word remained is telling of his atti tude concerning the relationship of West to East in the dichotomy he has se t up. It implies that the West had also experienced the phase of magical religiosity, but has since moved forward. 8 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Charles Scribners and Sons, 1958), 29. 9 Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism 25. 10 Max Weber, The Sociology of Religion (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1969), 270.
6 Thus, the East is more primitive. In the same work, Weber also depreciates sensuality and belief in the physical embodiment of spir itual concepts in religious traditions. He suggests that folk medicine, based u pon exorcism or upon symbolic homeopathy, and created from the point of view of symbolism and the animistic doctrine of possession by spirits, have not been de termined empirically and are irrational.11 Because they suppose that bodily rituals can affect the spiritual world, and that spiritual forces are at work in our everyday lives, as opposed to Webers favored ascetic Protestantism, these religious ther apies are illogical and primitive. I note that there are many more examples of this fa lse objectivity and unfair treatment of nonProtestant traditions th roughout Webers works. The work of scholar Bruce Jackson cha llenges claims of Santerias supposed irrationality and primitivism. Jacksons The Other Kind of Doctor: Conjure and Magic in Black American Folk Medicine ar gues that the same folk medicine that Weber criticizes and that is central to Santeria practice is indeed a rational enterprise. Jackson writes, The curious thing about the stuff so often referred to as primitive medicine or magic is that it is terrifically logical. It assumes the operation of the universe is causal, not gratuit ous. It assumes, moreover, that the world has a sense to it greater than accident and less than total divine plan.12 So, individuals have a somewhat limited power over th e events of their lives. This is a perfectly rational notion. Santeros and santeras and Yoruba priests before them, then, have spent their lives studying the extent and mechanisms of this power. As scholar George Brandon 11 Weber, The Sociology of Religion 8. 12 Bruce Jackson, The Other Kind of Doctor: Conjure and Magic in Black American Folk Medicine, in African American Religion: Interpretive Essays in History and Culture ed. Timothy E. Fulop and Albert J. Raboteau (New York:
7 writes, the religions of the Benin, Dahome y, and Yoruba peoples, were not revealed religions. On the contrary, they ar ose through generations of imagination, observation, and reflection by which thei r peoples gradually built up a coherent orientation toward the facts of human existence.13 This means that the knowledge santeras and santeros now posess, the knowledge that a llows them to exercise their limited power, has been accumulated through a process much like what is referred to as the scientific method. Santeras and santeros employ the treatments and enact the rituals that they do simply because they ha ve been proven effec tive by countless trials over many generations. This considered, clai ms of Santerias irrationality seem ludicrous. Influenced directly or indirectly by Weber and similar works, and employing Marcus and Fischers proposed descriptiv e approach, are the scholars who have written about Santeria as a s yncretistic tradition. In reference to Santeria, syncretism describes the process by which Yoruba slav es in Cuba came to partially synthesize their African beliefs with the Catholicis m that the Spanish rule imposed upon them. The works of William R. Bascom, an anth ropologist writing through the 1950s and 1960s, are among the many that describe Sa nteria as syncretistic and suggest a religion that is primitive and confused. In his article entitled The Focus of Cuban Santeria, Bascom explains: Certain features of Santeria have become well-known These features include the syncretism of African de ities with Catholic saints, commonly represented by chromolithographs; the Af rican pattern of possession which has attracted interest as a psychological phenomenon; and the retention of animal sacrifices and African dr umming, singing, and dancing in the New World Negro Routledge, 1997), 418. 13 Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories, 11.
8 rituals.14 This statement perfectly illustrate s some of the faults contemporary anthropologists find in the s yncretistic model. First, Ba scom perceives a fusion of Catholic saints and African deities that, my research in the field suggests, belies reality and, thus, points to cu rsory observation as a potenti al problem with the older descriptive mode. Also as Andres Perez y Mea argues, this supposed syncretism casts the practitioners in a passive role.15 It implies a confusion of two worldviews, rather than a conscious act of resistan ce, adaptation, survival, and creation. He believes that the syncretism reported by many an thropologists is a result of Santerias penchant for secrecy. Because practitioners often upheld a Catholic faade and so infrequently disclosed the extent to which th ey actually adhered to Christian beliefs, their individual religiosities may have seem ed more synthesized than they actually were, and the practitioners themselves more unassuming. Next, Bascom points to the African pa ttern of possession, and retention of other African elements. Attempts, such as this, to separate out and categorize different elements imply a lack of coheren ce in the religion. It is not one pure entity, but a collection of different elements thrown together under a common title. Moreover, scholars such as Andres Perez y Mea have criticized the syncretistic model for the same treatment of African cultural elements as mere retention that is displayed in this excerpt.16 It portrays these central components as affects of a 14 William R. Bascom, The Focus of Cuban Santeria, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology (1950), 50. 15 Andres Isidoro Perez y Me#n#a, Cuba n Santeria, Haitian Vodun, Puerto Rican Spiritualism: A Multi-Culturalist Inquiry into Syncretism, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion vol. 37. no. 1 (Mar. 1998): 18. 16 Perez y Mena, Cuban Santeria, Haitian Vodun, Puerto Rican Spiritualism: A
9 primitive past that impede the progress of practitioners and pollute the pure Christian tradition. Still more contemporary scholars have formulated ideas about Santerias transformative processes that ar e much less injurious to the tradition. As these reactionary and transformative proce sses are not one of my primary foci, I cannot, unfortunately, discuss them here. Other contemporary anthropologists of th e new school that Marcus and Fischer describe and that challenges the approaches of earlier scholars such as Weber, have pointed to a few recent trends in the religion. These include Afro-centrism, involvement of non-Latin practitioners, and openness regarding practice of the religion. On the topic of Afro-centrism, or Yoruba Reversionism, Harry G. Lefever writes that currently, in the United States, Santeria is becoming more universal and institutionalized, yet also more conservative. Practitioners have shown increasing interest in learning African languages and interpreting ritu als in traditional Yoruban ways.17 Raul Canizares, Mercedes Cros Sa ndoval, and George Brandon note a link between Afro-centrism and initiation of Black non-Latin individuals, though Sandoval adds that focus on Yoruba religious culture is not limited to this group. According to Canizares, the first documente d case of a person not of Latin descent receiving the kariocha wherein the practitioner become s a priest, is Walter King, an African American. He was initiated in 1959 in Cuba. He became a well known figure in the Black power movement of the 1960s who infus[ed] hi s interpretation of Santeria with elements of Black pride. He now heads a Yoruba revitalization Multi-Culturalist Inquiry into Syncretism, 16. 17 Lefever, When the Saints Go Riding In: Santeria in Cuba and the United States, 323-4.
10 movement headquartered in Oyot unji Village, South Carolina.18 George Brandon asserts that Kings practice gave rise to a phenomenon he calls Orisha-Voodoo. It incorporated elements of Voodoo while dispensing with the saints and other Catholic religious trappings. It was oriented toward Africa, rather than Cuba. In 1960, Walter King founded the Yoruba Temple in East Harlem. It expressed a need for cultural redemption and encourag ed members to find personal and racial identity through studying African dance, musi c, and art, ass well as wearing African dress and learning the Yoruba languag e, and became an arm of the Black Nationalist Movement.19 For Brandon, it represented a reje ction of white culture as a means to Black empowerment.20 He notes that it did, however, allow whites in its membership.21 In a section entitled Santeria in the Twenty-First Century, Mercedes Cros Sandoval writes that, many Black initiate s in the United States have disposed of Santerias Cuban additives. For these pe ople, involvement with Santeria is a source of ethnic and racial identity, a nd a link to Africa to their roots.22 Sandoval later asserts that many Black and white Cuban santeros and santeras in and outside the United States have also a ssumed an Afrocentric posture.23 Both Sandoval and Brandon also discuss the recent phenomenon of openness. George Brandon briefly menti ons Santerias new professi onalism. He explains that 18 Canizares, Walking with the Night 122. 19 Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories, 114-5. 20 Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories, 120. 21 Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories, 115. 22 Mercedes Cros Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santeria: Africa to Cuba and Beyond ( Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2006), 341-2. 23 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 347.
11 many santeras and santeros are now setting up shops and giving consultations.24 Mercedes Cros Sandoval discus ses the subject at length. Santeros and santeras she asserts, are bringing their practice out into the open. She believes that this phenomenon might stem from a desire to make their religio n accessible to public awareness, and gain for it acceptance by th e dominant Protestant culture of the United States. She offers some exampl es of this new openness. In 1988 Miguel Ramos established a cabildo Lucumi in Miami. It aimed to disseminate knowledge of Yoruban religious culture. Other practit ioners have opened up similar institutions in Miami and New York with mixed results. She mentions, of course, the 1993 Supreme Court ruling that declared that the Hialeh, Florida ban on animal sacrifice in religious ritual was unconstitutional.25 She adds, that in May 2001, the same man who brought the case to the Supreme Court, Ernesto Pichardo, commented that as a consequence [of the ruling], there is a new openness in the practice of this religion. In doing so, she underscores her belief that th is openness is related to the increasing awareness of Santeria on behalf of th e larger society. Cros Sandoval goes on to mention a 2001 procession of Catholic religious images and believers down a busy Miami street. In her opinion, santeras and santeras are more eager than ever to share information about Santeria.26 Furthermore, many non-Latin Black, Cau casian, and West Indian individuals living in the United States are becoming invol ved with Santeria. The first documented case is Walter King, mentioned earlier. He is a Black American who received the 24 Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories, 106. 25 I discuss this issue further in the following chapter. 26 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 345-6.
12 kariocha in 1959 in Cuba.27 In 1961, the first non-Latin Black santera in the United States was initiated in Queens, New Yor k. Margie Baynes Quiniones was reportedly a member of an ile that was composed of Cubans, Black Americans, and Puerto Ricans. The first Caucasian indivi dual to be initiated as a santera was Judith Gleason. The anthropologist was initiated in 1963 in New York City by the Puerto Rican santera Asunta Serrano.28 According to Raul Canizares, Af rican Americans and West Indians comprise the fastest-growing group of non-La tin practitioners in the United States, though Caucasian participation is certainly on the rise. He encourages individuals to study this phenomenon.29 The same author also mentions a few Caucasian Tampa santeros with whom he is acquainted. These include Omi Dina, whose name I have come across several times in my research. He has been crowned to Yemaya for approximately twenty-five years and has litt le use for Cubans in his ile and yet is recognized as legitimate.30 Following this description, Canizares writes that you can be a santero without having to kowtow to any one group Santeria [is] becoming international.31 Anthropologist Karen McCarthy Brow n also represents the school of contemporary ethnographers Marcus discusses. Her Mama Lola is both experimental and self-reflexive and has greatly inspired me in this project. Mama Lola is a long narrative interrupted by shorte r creative renderings of th e lives of Mama Lolas ancestors in Africa. Throughout the narra tive, Brown emphasizes her subjectivity, 27 Lefever, When the Saints Go Riding In: Santeria in Cuba and the United States, 323-4. 28 Brandon, Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories, 107; Canizares, Walking with the Night 122. 29 Canizares, Walking with the Night, 123. 30 Canizares, Walking with the Night, 119.
13 making note of her background, moods going in to meetings with Mama Lola, and growing engagement with Voudun. The result is an honest and just portrayal of a scholars interactions with a Voudun priest ess in Brooklyn. Her work has inspired me to recognize and reveal the apprehensions, fears, hopes, motives, and racial, social, and cultural situations th at are a part of the singularity th at is me, so that I and readers are able to more fully understand my biases and shortcomings in dealings with subjects. She has also inspired me to be creative and to use the materials and techniques that seem relevant and useful to me, regardless of whether or not they have received sanction from the academy. Sh e has, moreover, in my humble opinion, fulfilled the goals of modern anthropology. With this project, I hope to present something that, though it may not be in th e same class, is in the same vein. Part Three Method Anthropologist Mark P. Whitaker said of the contemporary style of ethnography: It suggests that knowledge should be approach ed contingently, as a form of learning, rather than absolutely as a form of representation.32 It is process-oriented, taking shape gradually, in its time and of its ow n volition, rather than poured into a mold. This brings me comfort. It comforts me b ecause, first, I have little prior experience with ethnography. I am exploring the m ode of ethnography as I am exploring Santeria. It comforts me, too, because I pref er this process-orie nted style in most 31 Canizares, Walking with the Night, 119. 32 Whitaker 1
14 endeavors, and particularly in ethnographic projects. I believe th at if you go into the project, and into your interactions with subjects, with hypotheses and goals, you are likely to overlook significant pa tterns that present themselv es. Our expectations, after all, necessarily color our experiences. Thus, I just jumped in. With some apprehension at first and with respect to th e discipline and, of course, to my subjects, I jumped in with my whole body and let the current carry me. It may seem curious that, with such limited experience, I chose the ethnographic mode for this project. I know that it was bold. However, it seems to me to be the best method for learning and teaching about Santer ia. Because there are not, as far as I know, any official churches, excepting a cente r in Hialeah, Florida, I cannot search through archives that are crea ted by practitioners themselves to gather information. Because Santeria is so individual and is constantly being transformed by its practitioners, I cannot rely on books to get a whole picture. Besides, most of them, even in my early research, seemed so fl awed, with anthropologist so distant from subject. I had to talk to th ese people myself. I had to immerse myself, inasmuch as someone like me is able. In addition to my work in the field, I read countless articles and books on Santeria, including books and pamphlets bought in botanicas online forums, both by and for practitioners and by and for outsiders. I watched DVD documentaries, listened to Afro-Cuban rhythm s. When watching television or reading the news, I looked for any possible references to Santeria or Af ro-Cuban religion or culture. I lunched in the Cuban eateries after interviews in West Tampa. I probed my Puerto-Rican stepfather for experiences with espiritismo or Santeria growing up in Puerto Rico and Brooklyn. I thought about Santeria all the time.
15 In my field research, I went to the botanicas seeking interviews first, thinking that I would have the proprietors pass my inform ation onto others. Well, my field research ended with the botanicas Luckily, they produced fascin ating interviews. I found the botanicas at which I sought subj ects either through th e phonebook or internet, by driving through the Latin neighborhoods, or by recommendations from other santeros and santeras or Santeria priests and prie stesses. I visited twelve botanicas in and around Tampa seeking interviews with the proprietors of these shops. I visited botanicas on Waters Avenue, Gandy Boulevard, 30th Street, and several on Columbus Drive and Armenia Avenue in West Tampa. I even drove to Brandon in search of informants. Once inside, I introduced myself and my project and listed my goals for the work. Then I asked if he or she would be willing to participate in an interview. The answer was usually no. Of the dozen shops I visite d, in fact, only three of the proprietors were both a santera or santero and willing to speak with me about their involvement with Santeria. A few of these proprietors practiced espiritismo rather than Santeria and, thus, were not eligible. They were us ually very nice, often directing me to santeros and santeras who they thought might partic ipate. Most of the time, though, the proprietors of the botanicas I visited simply refused. Sometimes, they found other ways to get rid of me. An encounter with a West Tampa santero and babalao exemplifies Santerias oftdiscussed secretive nature. One weekend I took a drive to West Tampa to visit a botanica I had located in the phone book. At th is point, I had conducted a couple of interviews and was becoming more comforta ble with the process. I stopped for a
16 soda on the way, lunch money in pocket. It was going to be a leisurely day. I found this botanica, with little difficulty, to find, ye t again, that the owner practiced espiritismo rather than Santeria. I drove around th e area a bit, looking at the old brick buildings, shadowy streets. It was a rath er beautiful area. Within about fifteen minutes I spotted another botanica and decided to go inside. The proprietor of the shop was on the phone when I came in. He was young, handsome, and wearing all white. His shop wa s small and very neat. He asked if he could help me with anything and I told him that I would wait until he go off the telephone. However, he insisted that I as k my question right then, adding that his conversation would take a while. I explaine d my project as quickly as possible and asked he would be willing to participate in an interview sometime. He immediately responded, No. I dont do that. I asked if he was the owner, hoping that there was someone else who might be willing to give an interview. He replied, Yes. And I am a santero and babalao but I dont do that. As I was walking out, I heard him telling the caller about this muchacha--me. When I looked back I saw that he had a repulsed expression on his face and was watching me carefully. As I approached my car, I looked back once more. The proprietor had gotten up and walked to the doo r to watch me leave, suspicious. I went back home feeling wounded. One of my great fears had been fulfilled. The man had seen me as an imposing and ill-intentioned outsider. A few days later, I resolved to go to a shop in Brandon, a forty-minute drive from my mothers house where I wa s staying. I had called beforehand and spoken with a man who said he was a santero and that the store was open for business. I made the
17 long drive and found the shop. It was located in a small plaza. This shop contained the largest selection of produc ts of all the shops I had visited. The many shelves and tables were brimming with washes, candles, stones, herbs, roots, teas, books, beads. Much of the merchandise was unfamiliar to me. There were also two glass counters near the entrance. In one, I noticed a basket full of little packets containing strange black balls. It took me a moment to reali ze that these packets were labeled Bats Eyes. I took about half an hour to browse th is interesting collec tion. Eventually I selected a bottle of Florida Water and a La s Sites Potencias Africanas candle. The woman who rang up my purchase was very friendly. A man, presumably the one I had spoken to on the telephone, peaked out from the doorway that led to the back room. I began to tell the woman, an ol der Latin woman, about my project. She seemed interested until I got to the part a bout the interviews. When I asked her if she would be willing to participate in an interview, she said that she had never even heard of Santeria. I tried to explai n that I did not wish to defame her or her religion, that I wanted to present a fair depiction of this rich tradition and its practitioners. I also assured her that I would not ask her questions about initiations or other rituals, and that she could choose not to answer any of my questions once we had begun the interview. She replied that she would like to help, but knew nothing about Santeria. These experiences illustrate the secrecy upheld by many santeros and santeras which began with the religions inception as a way for African slaves to resist cultural colonization by the Spanish, and has continue d into the present, probably, in response to popular attitudes toward the religion. Many of the proprietors I spoke with were
18 also concerned that I might ask them to re veal information that practitioners must earn, such as specific details about initiations and other rituals. Moving on, once a santera or santero had agreed to be in terviewed, I presented my informed consent forms for them to sign. In the forms, subjects choose whether or not they wanted their names to be used a nd whether or not they wanted to be audiorecorded. Unfortunately, none of my subjects would al low audio-recording. This meant that I had to write down as much of wh at they said as possible, and as quickly and accurately as possible. Before interviews, I always wrote in my notebook how I was feeling that day, how nervous I was, if my mom and I had an argument that morning (I was staying at my moms house for the summer), what I lis tened to on the drive. This way, when I looked back at notes from interviews I c ould determine if I was being unduly negative or hopeful. Because I wanted the project to be process-oriented, yet feared being so overcome by anxiety that I couldnt think of an ything to say, I usually came in with a few questions, intending to see where the conversation led and to improvise. After speaking with my subjects, I unf ailingly sat in my parked ca r for half an hour, filling in gaps in my notes, trying to get down as much of the interview as I could. After returning home, I would wr ite down general feelings, thoughts, observations and impressions, descriptions of the shop, owne r, and patrons, how the interview related to my preliminary research, what I might do differently next time. I always kept my notebook nearby. When I went to sleep, I left my notebook next to the bed in case I woke up with an idea, which I did on a couple occasions. My approach to this paper, as in th e field, is explorator y, creative, and self-
19 reflexive. I often present my interviews as narratives, drawing out certain strands as they present themselves. I also include oriki and orin sacred songs and poems about the orishas translated from Yoruba, in order to construct a more whole image of the orisha of the subject and the c oncepts that inform the santeros or santeras worldview, and of the relations hip between the informant and orisha In addition, I include some patakis These are sacred stories about the orishas ; since they are never used in any formalized ritual, they circul ate in many different forms and are open to alteration and revision. Often, I found at least a couple versions of each pataki I encountered. In my paper, I took the liberty of combining pieces of different forms of the same pataki to create one inclusive piece, to which I give my own creative flourish. I always, moreover, include my fee lings and social situation in relation to subject. I think it is important that I remind myself of these things, so that I treat the subject and paper as justly as possible, and that readers have enough information about me and my position in relation to my in formants to discern whether or not I am a reliable narrator. Also, I am a Humanities student. I have take n Religion, Literature, Creative Writing, and language classes. This project reflects this. At times, I employ different discourses as they seem releva nt. Ultimately, with a self-reflexive, experimental and creative approach to th e ethnographic method, I intend to present a full and fair depiction of th e Santeria and the practitione rs I have encountered in Tampa, a Santeria which is decidedly different from the one portrayed in television shows, in the news, and by the scholars of previous genera tions, which is not irrational or dark, and which is bene volent, embodied, and empowering, mostly notably with its acceptance of non-traditio nal gender identities and alternative
20 sexualities. In addition, I explore the issu es of openness, Afro-centrism, and nonLatin participation. I only hope that I am able to fulfill my goals for this project, and to do justice to my participants and their complex spiritual lives, and to the field of contemporary anthropology.
21 Santero Next Door This chapter centers on my interview with a warm and knowledgeable Tampa santero named Indio. Indio is a priest of the orisha Obatala and is, my conversations with other practitioners have reveale d, well-known and highly esteemed in the community. Our meeting was part interview, part consultation, as his spirits broke in occasionally to show concern for me or to contribute to the conversation. As his name suggests, Indios spirit guide is Native American. Like his guide, he says, he is proud of his way of life. Though he could not disp ense any sacred knowledge, he would be glad to talk with me. The testimony presen ted here portrays a tradition much different from the Santeria depicted in the popular media and by earlier primarily descriptive ethnographers. It portrays a religion em bodied, complex, and certainly far from barbaric. This chapter also pr ovides brief definitions of ke y concepts in Santeria, and proffers careful descriptions and atmosphe ric details that serve to give a fuller representation of the experience. A botanica is a religious supply store for practitioners of Santeria, espiritsmo and some other forms of Afro-Latin religion such as Orisha-Voodoo.33 The botanicas of Tampa were the starting point fo r my field research. The first botanica I went to, upon embarking on this project, is located in West Tampa, in what I have often heard referred to (specifically by my Puerto Rican stepfather, a longtime Tampa resident) as the old Latin neighborhood. I was extremely nervous. Wanting desperately to make a good impression, I put on my professional outfit, applied some make-up, and 33 Orisha-Voodoo is a new form that has been identifie d by anthropologists including George Brandon in Santeria from Africa to the New World (see pages 114-
22 sprayed some perfume on myself, which wa s counteracted by the countless cigarettes I smoked on the ride in an attempt to cal m down. On the way there, I muted my music and rehearsed my introducti on and interview. After pulli ng into the parking lot, I tested my audio-recorder a couple of times, and rewound the tape so that it was ready to go. I re-applied my lipstick, took a few l ong, deep breaths and started for the shop with notepad in hand. The botanica was relatively large with a glass storefront. Upon walking inside, I first noticed a statue of El egua by the door, with money sp read all about. Immediately to the right, was a large bookcase. The sh elves were lined with books on Yoruba culture, general informational books and pa mphlets on Santeria, and a few focused on other Afro-Latin traditions, books devoted to specific orishas many by Baba Raul Canizares (to whom I refer often), and books on specific types of rituals, such as baths, some in Spanish, some English. It was an extensive collec tion. In the middle of the store were several aisles of tall shelves containing ritual implements and other items involved in the practice of Santeria such as decorative statues, combs and mirrors for the altars of Oshun, candles f eaturing the saints and the Virgin Mary, incense. There were many statues and figurines of Native Americans, as well as a collection of dream catchers. There were al so statues of the Buddha, and of the Hindu deities Ganesh and Shiva. One area of the store was devoted to herb s and other sorts of plants. I recognized the marjoram and mint. The star anise tea was also familiar to me. I knew that it is one of Oshuns favorite drinks,34 and that it is sometimes used to sweeten breath and 120). 34 Because of my affinity for Oshun, I recognized disproportionately the objects
23 to ease gastrointestinal ailments. Near thes e stood little jars of honey and packets of cinnamon sticks. These are often used in offerings to Oshun and in rituals governed by her. Perusing the aisles further, I sa w silver bells for Obatala, yellow gingham dresses, which priestesses of Oshun wear in certain ritual celebr ations, a few baskets of stones, one of which was labeled riv er stones, presumably for honoring Oshun, countless phials of oils, bo ttles of riverwater and s eawater, homemade baths and washes, the soup tureens that santeras and santeros use to house the sacred objects of the orishas beads in every color, and ornate crowns for initiation ceremonies. One shelf contained only white clothing--white sh irts, pants, sneakers, sandals, hats. These are to be worn by practitioners for the enti re year before initiation as a priest or priestess. After browsing all the shel ves, I selected a candle for my altar to Oshun. It was yellow and pictured a peacock, a hand mirror, and a fan, all items a ssociated with the orisha I also picked out a jar of honey and some orange blossom incense. I walked up to the counter to purchase these items, and to introduce myself to the proprietor before asking for an interview. After receiving my change, I was overcome with nervousness and started to leave. I quic kly composed myself, however, and again took a place at the counter behind two patrons who had just formed a line. I stood there, biting my lip, as they conversed w ith the proprietor in quick Spanish. Its okay, I repeated over and over in my head to reassure myself. Anyway, I thought, whats the worst that can happen? He can refuse. Thats not so bad. Though this worked to quell my anxiety at the time, my subsequent experiences at other botanicas have shown that a polite refusal is not the worst possible scenario. associated with her.
24 I watched as the door closed behind the second patron and again stepped up to the counter. Hello. The proprietor smiled and returned the greeting. He had intelligent wide dark brown eyes. His strong cheekbones an d jaw lent a stoicism to his face that was balanced by his sincere and youthful smile He was dressed rath er fashionably, in a brown shirt on which was printed a swir ling design in gold and white, and dark denim jeans. He wore gold necklaces tucked inside his shirt. He appeared to me to be in his mid to late thirties. I told him my first and last name and offered my hand for the customary shaking. His name, he said, is Indio. Next, suppressing my fear of rejection with a sharp inhala tion of breath, I told him that I was going into my senior year of college, during which I must compose a thesis. I proceeded to explain my project, adding that I intende d to provide a fair and honest depiction of Santeria and its practitioners, which would serve as a c ounter to the image presented in the popular media. After my brief explanation, my ne rvousness returned, a nd instead of asking him to participate in an interview right th en, I asked if we c ould schedule one for another time. I was surprised and tremendously relieved to find that he was receptive to the idea. He invited me to return the following Monday morning during the time he usually reserves for consulta tions. I left feeling giddy. I showed up early on that Monday morni ng wearing my favorite black dress. The shop was dark and the parking lot devoid of cars. I sat in my car rehearsing my interview questions once more, imagining possible answers and directions that the interview might take. As I was talkin g and smiling to myself, a car pulled up alongside mine. I stilled my face and slouche d over a bit in an attempt to seem nonchalant. I watched as a woman in blue sc rubs emerged from the drivers side. I
25 soon followed, stretching out a cramped leg to step out of my lit tle compact car. The woman and I greeted each other and excha nged names. She said that she had to go into work soon, and asked if I would mi nd letting her meet with Indio first. I answered that I did not mind, she was we lcome to go ahead of me. After speaking with her for a few minutes, it became clear th at the woman was a client, rather than a godchild on the initiation path. She was a Ca tholic who sometimes sought the counsel of santeros She had been to many santeros and santeras in the past few years, and praised Indio as the best. A few, she in sisted, had been dishonest; they had taken her money unfairly, without offering much insight or guidance. The woman had even been to a psychic, a white woman, who was, by far, the worst of the bunch. She had required the greatest fee, while providing the l east insight. I had been speaking with the woman for a while when an old Black man edged up slowly from around the far side of the bu ilding, pausing a few times to pull up some weeds that had grown up through cracks in the concrete along the front of the shop. The wizened and sweet-faced old man began speaking to us in Spanish. When he realized that I could not understand what he was saying, he directed his speech at my companion. The two were conversing for a c ouple of minutes before I noticed the old man gesturing to me and shaking his head in disapproval. I looked to the woman for some explanation. In response to my conf used and fearful expression, she told me that the man said I should not have worn black. She seemed as una ware of my offense as I. I looked down at my favorite black dress, now embarrassed, and feeling the hotness of tears gath ering in the corners of my eyes. For a moment, I wanted desperately to ru sh home, never to return, and cry to my
26 mom about my favorite black dress and the mean old man with the sweet-looking face. I also considered going home to change clothes, though I knew it would be a long drive back. Then, finally, I steadied my breath, and allowed the tears to recede. I did not want to miss the opportunity to inte rview Indio, and I reasoned that maybe the man thought he was chastising an initiate, ma ybe my black dress was not as damnable as his furious motioning suggested, maybe, at the least, Indio would be more forgiving. I determined that I would wait fo r the friendly proprietor I had a met a few days before. I smoothed out my favorite black dress with hands still trembling from bygone panic. I struck a c onfident posture and awa ited Indios arrival. The old man walked off and a blue miniva n slid into the lot. Indio, unfortunately, was not its driver. The woman behind the wheel, in fact, remained in her van, watching through window tint as the woma n in scrubs and I continued our conversation. Each time my gaze wandered to the van, I found that the woman inside was massaging her forehead and temples. Sh e was in distress. My friend in scrubs was becoming anxious as well. She was suppos ed to be at work, but needed Indios guidance. She called the santero twice from her cell phone before giving up and turning to face the road, arms crossed in an attitude of exasperation. A couple minutes into her impatient foot-tapping, Indio pulle d up. The woman in scrubs released her folded arms and relaxed her face, while th e driver of the van stepped down and out onto the asphalt of the parking lot. I thought about my black dress, briefly, and then brightened in anticipat ion of my first interview. This was it. Indio unlocked the door and we all file d inside, followed by Indios wife and baby. After flipping on the lights and helpi ng his wife set up the playpen behind the
27 counter, Indio apologized to the woman in scrubs. He would have to see the other woman first, as she had just been discharged from the hospital and was still very ill. I would be third now. Again, the woman and I waited together, this time in the airconditioned shop, with me perched on a small metal stool and her in a plastic patio chair. We made faces at the baby while hi s mother went about the routine of opening the botanica for business. About fifteen minutes into our wait, the woman in scrubs had to leave for work. She stood, yawned, and turned and walked briskly toward the door. Tell Indio Ill be back, she called over her shoulder. Shortly thereafter, the door to Indios small consultation room opened to reveal the newly serene face of the woman driving the van. As she stepped out into the shop, I noticed that her whole form had und ergone a change. Her shoulders no longer hunched forward, her step seemed surer. Where, earlier, her eyes had swept the floor before her, they now gazed straight out ahead. She thanked Indio and his wife and headed for the outside, pausing in the threshold to turn and wave goodbye. The santero downed a cup of water, exchanged a few words with his wife, and ushered me into the consultation room with a smile and wave of his hand. With that slight gesture, my anxiety was born anew. What if he saw me as an outsider who would never be able to understand his rich and complex tradition? Or as imposing? What about my black dress? What if he simply did not like me? Once inside, I asked if my black dress wa s a problem. He said that it was not a problem for him, but that it could be dr awing negativity to me. I sat down in the folding metal chair across the table from Indio and looked around. The room was mostly barren, with a tall basin in the corn er diagonal to the door. The white of the
28 walls ran unbroken around the perimeter of the room. On the table sat a cigar and a glass filled with water, bot h offerings. Next to these was a small ashtray. Indio pushed the ashtray toward me, insisting that I have a cigarette and get comfortable. I obliged, and my nerves settled down a bit as we talked casually about where we live, my school, his new baby. His house, we disc overed, is a short drive from the one my mother and stepfather purchase d in my junior year of high school, just north of New Tampas sprawling suburbs, in Wesley Ch apel. Like my mom, Indio had always wanted to live in the country. He appreciat es the wildlife as well as the privacy. The lower taxes are also a plus. After this preliminary conversation, I brought out my informed consent page for Indio to sign. He signed and dated the form, but marked that I could not audio record our conversation. I would have to take notes furiously. We then began the interview. Indio, originally named Israel, was born in Connecticut to Catholic Puerto Rican parents. When he was almost too young to remember, the family moved from Connecticut to Puerto Rico, and then, a fe w years later, to Tampa, Florida. Indio could communicate with the spirits from a ve ry young age. When he told his parents of his gift, they assumed that he was experi encing spiritual or emotional turmoil. As a result, they sent him to a host of psychologi sts and priests. Thei r counsel did little more than encourage the young Indio to be more secretive. Eventually, though, Indio came into contact with an elder santero living in his Tampa neighborhood. The santero helped Indio to hone his gifts and to legitimate his claims He was no longer a troubled, imaginative, confus ed child; he was doing Sain t, as practitioners often say. He was initiated as a santero or Santeria priest, as an adult, and he opened his
29 shop in the city in which he was introduced to Santeria. Indio is omo Obatala, a priest of the orisha Obatala. Both the orishas and the priesthood are central in Santeria practice, and are, therefor e, central to my project. Thus, I must take a moment here to explic ate the concepts before moving further into my meeting with Indio. Put simply, the orishas are Santeria deities originating from the region of southwest Nigeria whose inha bitants are commonly referred to as Yoruba. The Yoruba slaves, who comprise d a vast majority of Cubas slave population, carried these deitie s across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, along with sacred stories, poems, songs, rituals, and rhythms. Scholars Mercedes Cros Sandoval, Pierre Verger, and Raul Canizares offer helpful wa ys of thinking about the orishas Mercedes Cros Sandoval describes the orishas as lesser beings who are immortal, personify forces of nature, and act as patrons of human activities and affairs.35 For Pierre Verger, an orisha is a force of nature, with a supernatural element, whose power is channeled toward the care of the specific human beings that fate has assigned them.36 Raul Canizares describes the orishas using psychological concepts: One way of explaining the orishas in western termsone Im not particularly fond of but which has receive d widespread attenti onis to equate the orishas with Jungian archetypes. The Jungian archetype is a prototypic phenomenon that simultaneously forms part of the so-called collective unconscious and is accessible to each individuals conscious.37 35 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 181. 36 Pierre Verger, Dieux dAfrique (Par is: Paul Hartman, 1954), 14, First encountered in Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 1812. 37 Canizares, Walking with the Night 69.
30 These orishas mediate between humans and the Supreme Being, Olorun or Olodumare. Like people, they have distinct personalities and sp ecific preferences. Specific orishas moreover, govern specific areas of life, groups of people, such as people of a particular prof ession, events, individuals, and natural phenomena. They are often associated with cer tain colors, numbers, foods, an imals, saints, plants, and sometimes stones or elements. Each orisha also has multiple caminos or manifestations. They may be understood as different expressions of the orishas, or sub-archetypes that fall under a broader archet ype. The sacred stories that tell about the lives of the orishas are called pataki Oriki and orin are songs and poems used to honor the orishas, and are generally performed or de livered in the original Yoruba language. The orishas require occasional offerings, bot h tangible, such as of food and drink, and intangible, like devotion. Santeros and santeras are Santeria priests and pr iestesses. The have passed through many levels of initiation to the highest (excepting babalaos ). Once initiated, santeros and santeras have access to a wea lth of sacred knowledge that others do not. During the kariocha ceremony, in which the pract itioner becomes a priest or priestess, an orisha, or a camino of an orisha is seated in the head of the initiate. The initiate is then said to be crowned to that orisha The orisha to whom the santero or santera is crowned functions as a spiritu al parent. He or she protects, advises, and punishes the santera or santero The orisha may also impose dietary or other restrictions on his or her children. Moreover, a santero and santera will likely exhibit characteristics associated with his or her spiritual parent(s). The orisha to whom Indio is crowned is Ob atala. According to Cros Sandoval,
31 Most people believe that there are sixteen [ caminos ] Obatalas; while others think there are twenty-four.38 Half of these are female, the other half male. Obatala is usually referred to as king of the orishas This is because he is the owner of all heads; he rules over all the eledas or orishas installed in the heads of priests and priestesses. 39 Because of Obatalas stature, priests and priestesses of Obatala, such as Indio, can be possessed by, or in Indios words, can work with, any of the orishas Mercedes Cros Sandoval explains br iefly Obatalas status among the orishas : Obatala, manifest as a goddess, is a vi gorous woman in the prime of life. She alone knows the road that leads to th e residence of Olodumare. She is so influential that she persuaded the Deity to meet with the orishas and grant each one part of his power. Obatala was given power over all other deities. Thus, she is called the owner of the heads. Obatala is the agent of the Deity on Earth, and as such is the arbitrator of rest rictions and concessions to the orishas in the cult houses.40 Obatala is depicted always in all white. His altars are likewise decked in white. He is associated with justice, generosit y, and purity, and is said to have molded humans before Olodumare blew the breath of life into them. Obatalas favorite ebbo or offerings, include white yams, eggs, a nd milk. All food offerings to the deity should be topped with powdered egg shells and cocoa butter. Ob atalas sacrificial animals include female goats and guinea hens. Some caminos of the orisha eat roosters and turtles as well.41 This may explain the huge tu rtle in the washbasin that startled me when I went to the restroom. Ob atala, moreover, is never offered alcohol. 38 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 190. 39 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 190. 40 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 190. 41 Obatala, AgoLaroye.com http://agolaroye.com/Obatala.php (accessed Dec. 2009).
32 If other orishas are being honored with alcohol, Obat alas throne must be set up in a different room. This originated, according to a popular pataki with the creation of humans. Following the creation of the Earth and the young planets first blooming, Olodumare decided that the Earth should be populated by beings similar to the orishas but with less ashe or power. The orisha appointed Obatala to carry out this important task. Obatala formed human bodi es from the sands of the Earth, and Olodumare descended intermittently to breath e life into the forms. This went on for days. After several days of crafting human forms from the raw materials of the planet, Obatala was very tired. He decided to rest with some palm wine under a tree before finishing his work. Soon, however, the orisha became drunk off the oti When he returned to his task, his vision was blu rred, his hands clumsy. He made many bodies without limbs, some without pigmentation. After Olodumare breathed life into these forms, he noticed the orishas drunken workmanship. He became angry with Obatala and demanded an explanation. Obatala rev ealed that he had drunk too much palm wine, and, penitent, vowed to take as his children all people with disabilities, sicknesses, disorders, birthmar ks, and albinism. He also pr omised that he would never drink again. In addition to an orisha parent, santeros and santeras often have a guiding spirit who is more easily accessed than the orisha The spirit is that of one who has died. It may be, according to Indio, an ancestor or a stranger removed by centuries and continents. Indios guardian sp irit is Native American. When I asked Indio if I could use his real name, he answered that, like his Native American guide, he was proud of
33 his way of life. I could use his real name At one point during the interview, Indio stopped me to say that his spirits were tel ling him something important. I assume this includes his Native American spirit guide as well as other spirits with which he is connected. They were telling him that I had been crying and that I had not been taking care of my physical health, both tr ue. He told me that Oshun does not like to see her daughters cry, and also that daughter s of Yeye should take daily vitamins, eat healthily, and get exercise. He said that I ne ed to love myself, and more than I love anyone else. Since Indio has given me this advice, I have kept it at the surface of my mind, and have been significantly happier overall. Indio also talked to me a bit about anim al sacrifice, at my urging. There are many different kinds of sacrifices or offerings, called ebbo within Santeria practice. Though most do not require the sacrifice of live animals, some do. Raul Canizares writes a bit about the different ebbo He discerns five ba sic types. These are thanksgiving, propitiatory, preventive, ini tiatory, and substitution. In some cases, a sacrifice may include a number of these type s. Thanksgiving sacrifices are prepared out of gratitude for good fortune or for specific favors obtained from the orishas . These may be simply a piece of fruit or a large feast including many animals. Propitiatory sacrifices are performed when a neglected orisha must be pacified. Although many sacrifices may be consumed by participants, these may not. Preventive sacrifices are al so designed to gratify the orishas though these occur before the orisha has demanded them. Initiatory sacrifices are offered to the orishas during initiation ceremoni es. Those offered at kariocha ceremonies, wherein the practitioner is seated by his or her orisha and, thus, becomes a santero or santera
34 are eaten by all guests throughout the three-day feast. S ubstitution sacrifices are offered in lieu of a human life that is in jeopardy.42 Critics of the religion have pointed to Sant erias ritual sacrifi ce of live animals as illustration of its barbaric nature. For example, in his Walking With the Night Raul Canizares, omo Obatala, discusses a program he had seen on television. The program featured a well-meaning medical examin er from southern Florida. During the broadcast, the man entreated Santeria pract itioners to end the practice of animal sacrifice. He proceeded to say that if pr actitioners gave up animal sacrifice, they would be welcomed to the family of civilized religions.43 Clearly, because of its use of animal sacrifice, the medical examin er has placed Santeria in opposition to civilized religions. Thus, it is uncivilize d, or savage. Because of the dominant cultures attitudes toward animal sacrifice, many santeros and santeras have decided to give up the practice. Ma ny more, however, feel that Santeria is not Santeria without the blood, which is offered to the orishas because it contains ashe, or power.44 Discussions of animal sacrifice in Sant eria make clear the dominant cultures unwillingness or inability to examine its own be haviors as relative to others. It is, in fact, almost laughable that a society that in the words of Canizares, condones the mass slaughter of animals, often under appalli ng conditions, simply to eat their flesh, would dare to criticize the use of animals in religious rituals by practitioners of Santeria who view the animals with empat hy and respect and who rarely discard the 42 Canizares, Walking with the Night 87-88. 43 Canizares, Walking with the Night 85. 44 Canizares, Walking with the Night 86.
35 flesh.45 It seems that the Supreme Court, howev er, has recently exhibited more justice and honesty in regards to the issue of animal sacrifice in Santeria than the popular media or public. After the 1987 ruling in Hial eah, Florida that an imal sacrifice in Santeria ritual is unlawful the case was brought to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that Hialeah, Floridas ordinances preventi ng the sacrifice of animals in religious ritual were aimed speci fically at Santeria and concerned one of the religions central practices. Therefore, they must be dropped and the original ruling reversed. In our brief conversation on animal sacr ifice, Indio again invoked his personal spiritual guide and Native American culture. He said that, like the Native Americans, santeros and santeras respect the animals they kill and generally waste none of the flesh. He added, moreover, that animals are used in sacrif ice because of the ashe, or power, they contain. Thus, in being killed in ritual, they acquire special purpose and power. They transcend, or perhaps fulfill, th eir natural existence. This is in opposition to the meat industry that, by my estimati on, tortures and then slaughters countless animals daily for the hedonistic pleasu re of unselfconscious and immoderate Americans. It is no wonder, then, that In dio asked, Why dont they go protest animal testing? In sum, this chapter described my experience with Indio, santero next door. Contrary to depictions of Santeria as dark and alien, Indio was very welcoming and familiar, treating me as an old family friend might. He spoke with me for an hour and a half. His life was also strikingly similar to that of my parents. Like my mother and stepfather, he purchased a home in Pasco County just off of State Road 52. He 45 Canizares, Walking with the Night 86.
36 appreciates the nature and pr ivacy and the friendly atmo sphere that lies just beyond the suburbs. He has a family, moreover, including a wife and new baby, who he clearly loves very much. Moving on, in recent scholarship on Sant eria, anthropologists have discussed a trend toward openness Though he chose not to be audio-recorded, Indio was very open about his religion. He used the word proud. However, given the multitude of reactions with which my attempts at obtaini ng interviews were met, I cannot say that this degree of openness is the norm. Indios comments on animal sacrifice, furthermore, were enlightening, and serve as evidence contrary to claims of Santeria s supposed savagery. He has shown that animals used for sacrifice are given special purpose in their ritual use, and that criticisms of Santerias treat ment of animals might be more aptly directed toward the meat industry or research facilitie s that test prod ucts on animals.46
37 Lydia, Oshun and Santerias Representation of Alternative Gender Identities and Sexualities Part One This chapter primarily discusses my experience with santera Lydia Diaz and Santerias provision of repres entations of sexualities and femininities that may be considered alternatives to those promoted in the dominant Protes tant culture of the United States. It depicts a young santera business owner, and single mother, who is strong from overcoming many obstacles, yet who is warm and welcoming. It also examines descriptions from stories, songs, and poems to convey that the orisha Oshun represents a wide array of traits a nd behaviors, serving as an example for women who find the traditional gender roles of the dominant Protestant culture too constricting, and demonstrates Santerias acceptance of homosexuality. Like the previous section, this chapter also includes detailed descrip tions that work to give a more complete picture of Santeria and its shops and practitioners. After being chastised by an old man for wearing all black in a botanica I decided to wear a sunny yellow dress on my next fi eldtrip. Yellow, I knew, is the favorite color of Oshun, the orisha with whom I most closely identify. So, on a Saturday morning, in a pretty yellow dress and matchi ng sandals I set off toward West Tampa. At the first botanica I went into, the proprieto r spoke little English. We communicated via the translation of one of the two young girls who worked alongside him, possibly a godchild. She told me that the friendly older man in the crisp oxford shirt and gold necklaces was a spiritualist a nd did not speak English well. She sent me to Indio, praising him as a very good santero and adding that hes fluent in 46 Indios testimony from Israel Carde, personal interview (Tampa, July 27, 2009).
38 English. I told her that I had alr eady met with him and left for a botanica I had picked out of the phone book, La Virgen de Regla. La Virgen de Regla botanica is located on a busy part of Columbus drive in West Tampa. It sits in a small plaza, near a bodega and adjacent to a portrait studio, on the end, next to the road. Like Indios shop, it has a glass storefront but is a good deal smaller. I walked up to find a sign on the door announcing that the owner would return in thirty minutes. After buying an apple-flavored soda at the nearby bodega I sat on the curb outside awa iting the proprietors return. As I sat sipping my soda through a straw, quite a few patrons walked up to read the same sign that had greeted me. Some came in pairs, some alone. Th ere was one young couple, probably in their early twenties, who walked up holding hands and laughing and talking quietly to one another. These patrons represented various ages, skin colors, and genders. All, however, smiled at me, or offered an Hola, or Hello. After waiting outside for about twenty minutes, I began to grow hot and impatient. To remedy this, I decided to drive around in my car with the wind ows down. When I returned, I found the botanica open, the sign gone. When I walked inside, none of the patr ons I had encountered earlier perused the shelves or sought consultation, and Lydia was passing a napkin to her young daughter who was eating lunch on a small stool. Sh e greeted me, Hey, mama. Inside, the shop was very neat and smelled vaguely like the lemon-scented furniture polish with which my mother treats the di ning room table. The counter is situated directly across from the entrance. Right near the door is a collection of books. This collection contains books on Yoruba culture and many more on Santeria, the orishas and
39 rituals. I noticed almost i mmediately that there were sm all painted eyes, about half the size of my palm, adorning the entir e shop, with one hanging high above the counter in the center of the wall. The sh elves were stocked with countless colognes and washes--St. Judes cleansing wash, Fl orida Water, River Water, attraction essences. The neat little shop also had a wi de selection of candl es. I noticed candles picturing Las Sietes Potencia s Africanas (The Seven African Powers, or the seven most popular empowering orishas in Cuba and the United States), Nuestra Seora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), Es pirito Santo (Holy Spirit), Oshun, Yemaya, and Oya. Near these were incense in sticks, cones, and little tins of powder, along with a plethora of herbs. Lydias shop also offered many statues, though without those of the Buddha or Hindu deities, as in Indios. La Virgen de Regla was also without the Native Am erican presence of my previous informants shop. In response to Lydias Hey mama, I introduced myself, described my project, and asked if I could interview her. She wa s almost immediately receptive to the idea; although, like the other santero and santera I interviewed, she did not want to be audio-recorded. With a wide smile that seemed to include the whole world, Lydia invited me to sit and we began the interview She had a mellifluous voice and a gold necklace with charms reaching almost all the way around. I first asked Lydia when and where she received her kariocha the ceremony in which the practitioner is initiated into the priesthood and dedicated to an orisha She replied that she was initiated in her hometown of Tampa in May 2006. She then told me that she was crowned to Oshun, for whom I had dressed on that day, and I fancied that the deity had a hand in our meeti ng. Popular in Cuba and the United States,
40 Oshun is commonly known as the goddess of love and sexuality who lives in and rules over all rivers. However, as with the other orishas there are many different caminos of Oshun, which are described in the stories, songs, and poems about the deity, and which represent a wide array of pe rsonality traits. For example, Oshun is at once the beautiful one,47 and the huge powerful woman who cannot be attacked.48 These descriptions offer practitioners ex amples of womanhood and sexualities not represented in the dominant Protestant cult ure that teaches stri ctly defined gender roles and that often results in compulsive heterosexuality. The orisha Oshun is the embodiment of female sexuality, and the goddess and patroness of love, who is always as ked for counsel in romantic matters.49 At the same time, she is also the owner of all wealth ; it is hers to dole out as she sees fit. While love and romance are often in our culture thought of as womans domain, pecuniary affairs have tradit ionally been the domain of men. These dual roles, then, are significant because they endow one i ndividual with masculine and feminine traits. Though, in the context of the popular culture, Oshun s dual roles as keeper of wealth and patroness of love would seem contradictory, within the tradition of Santeria, they need not be; personality tra its and behaviors, it seems, are not so clearly gendered. This allows orishas and practitioners many more materials from which to choose in constructi ng identities. Moreov er, although in recent generations women have been participating in the pr ofessional world and have been gaining economic power, womens generally lower wages reflect the still intact power 47 Baba Raul Canizares, Oshun: Santeria and Orisha of Love, Rivers, and Sensuality (Plainview, New York: Original Publications, 2001), 31. 48 Canizares, Oshun: Santeria and Orisha of Love, Rivers, and Sensuality, 14. 49 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond,
41 differential between women and men in our society. That Oshun rule s over all wealth, then, is significant, as it subverts trad itional American gender roles by placing supreme economic power solely in the hands of a woman. One of Oshuns many caminos is Oshun Yeye Moro, often called La Santa Puta, or the Holy Whore. In this asp ect, according to Raul Canizares, Oshun is sensuous, coquettish, and party-loving. She is also a protector of prostitutes.50 Clearly, in this camino Oshun is starkly contrasted to the traditional American Protestant ideal, as personif ied by the Virgin Mary, as La Santa Puta is sensual and sexual and indulgent. In her profession, moreover, she exchanges for money the bodily privacy prescribed for women by the dominant Protestant culture, with the result of legitimizing a profession forbidden by worldly laws. In this camino Oshun also watches over prostitutes--women who ha ve generally been damned by the major world religions, killed, beaten, raped, and ar rested in the pursu it of their livelihood, and mocked and maligned in the popular media. Mercedes Cros Sandoval describes the camino Oshun Ibu Itumu. Oshun Ibu Itumu is a lesbian. She dresses as a man.51 Where so many traditions have abandoned and vilified same-gender-loving individuals it is remarkable that Oshun has not. Instead, her existence legitimizes homosexual preference and practice, encouraging women to embrace their sexualities, and subve rting the traditional Protestant values that predominate in our culture. Also, in dressing like a man Oshun Ibu Itumu offers women practitioners al ternatives to the dress prescribed to their gender by the 241. 50 Canizares, Oshun: Santeria and Orisha of Love, Rivers, and Sensuality, 23. 51 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 367.
42 dominant culture. The camino to which Lydia is crowned is th at of Oshun Ibu Kole. Oshun Ibu Kole is the crone aspect of the goddess. In her crone aspect, Caniza res writes, she is accompanied by vultures and is a supremely gifted sorceress.52 This camino Oshun Ibu Kole, subverts traditional gender roles by, like La Santa Punta, straying from the traditional Protestant feminine ideal. As a sorceress who lives among vultures, her character is, in fact, more similar to the wo men we have historically burned at stakes and otherwise persecuted than to th ose we have worshipped or lauded. The patakies or sacred stories, that focu s on Oshun, moreover, express a wide range of personality traits, some seemi ng to fall under the cu lturally constructed category of masculinity, making Oshun a subversive character whose example offers her devotees possibilities that are not often represented in the dominant culture or media, and therefore an empowering presence. In the pataki wherein Oshun marries Orula, the orisha who is primarily associated with knowledge and wisdom and who practices the highest form of divi nation, as Raul Canizares tells it, Oshun had retired to the forest as an old woman. There she lived a life of deep meditation and simplicity, befriending the vulture as well as the peacock, washing her one dress every night so that she could w ear it clean the next morning.53 At this time in her life, moreover, Canizares writes, her power s became enormously focused, eventually making her an unparalleled force.54 Contrary to the popular trend in mainstream American culture to value youth over old age, particularly in regards to women, Oshun, in this pataki becomes more powerful, in fact unparalleled, in her old age. 52 Canizares, Oshun: Santeria and Orisha of Love, Rivers, and Sensuality, 22. 53 Canizares, Oshun: Santeria and Orisha of Love, Rivers, and Sensuality, 10.
43 In contrast to the culturally constructed dichotomy that associates men with the mind and rationality, and women with the body and irrationality, moreover, Oshun, also the embodiment of female sexuality, leads a life of contemplation. Her asceticism is also in opposition to the American cultural myth of women as essentially materialistic. Even in sacred stories that endow Os hun with traditionally feminine attributes, those characteristics are celeb rated and often valued over masculine attributes. For example, in one pataki Ogun, the orisha who ruled over iron, was banned from Orishaland by his father and king orisha, Obatala. After some time, the orishas and humans alike required new iron implements They began to miss the presence and gifts of the orisha None, however, could convince the bitter Ogun to return to his station. Finally, Oshun decided to try to lure him back. Canizares writes: Spreading honey on her curvaceous form, the naked beauty set out for the jungle. Oguns keen sense of smell was overwhe lmed with the swee t-sour delight of Oshuns honey. Almost in a trance, the muscular, bearded man appeared next to Oshun. She put her fingers, drenched in honey, inside Oguns mouth, he could not resist following Oshun back to civilization.55 Although the story sexualizes Oshun and asso ciates her with sensual pleasure, she is the only orisha capable of persuading Ogun to act again as blacksmith to the orishas and humans. She is, therefore, the only on e who is able to preserve the current way of life for humankind and in Orishaland. For Raul Canizares, who was initiated as a santero and, later, as a babalao it was Oshuns female guile, not brute force, that worked to bring Ogun back to civilization.56 This means that it was precisely because of her feminine attributes that she was able to accomplish this great feat. These attributes are not limited to her beau ty. Her guile involves art and wit, as 54 Canizares, Oshun: Santeria and Orisha of Love, Rivers, and Sensuality, 10. 55 Canizares, Oshun: Santeria and Orisha of Love, Rivers, and Sensuality, 5-6.
44 contrasted here to masculine corporeal ity. Moreover, although she is without clothes and is presented in a sexual context, Oshun occupies the more dominant role. She leads Ogun to Nupe, with him following close behind, without satisfying the sexual desire that compelled him to follow her. While Oshun undermines limiting traditional Protestant American cultural practices to empower her chil dren, she does not hesitate to castigate them when they have disobeyed her wishes, as I realized upon speaking with Lydia about her personal relationship with the orisha Oshun. After her grandmothers passing in 2005, Lydia Diaz acquired the shop that she had run for many years. She was young, inexperienced, and frightened for the fate of the botanica as well as for that of herself and her child. Believing that she had been e ndowed with spiritual gifts, Lydia decided to do saint. Though her family members we re mostly spiritual or Catholic, they supported her in her endeavor. Lydias life in this period seemed to be charmed. It seemed that nothing bad could happen to he r. Eventually, she underwent the initiation ceremony that would make her a santera As she sat in the midst of all of the babalaos who would guide her thro ugh the initiation process, they asked her which orisha she felt was her spiritual parent. She replied that she had always identified with Saint Lazarus and with the Virgin of Copper, so she supposed that Oshun looked after her. The wise babalaos confirmed this, and Lydia was crowned. Upon crowning her, the babalaos informed Lydia of all of her particul ar duties and restrictions, dietary and otherwise. For exampl e, they instructed her to avoid romantic relationships with sons of Shango. Shortly after her initia tion ceremony, Lydia became involved with a man, a 56 Canizares, Oshun: Santeria and Orisha of Love, Rivers, and Sensuality, 6.
45 practitioner of Palo, a religi on of Afro-Brazilian origin th at is often described as Santerias dark counterpart. Though thei r relationship was healthy and fulfilling at first, Lydia soon began to notice that thi ngs were turning sour. The relationship, she says, became terrible. The palero began involving himself w ith what Lydia refers to generally as bad stuff. After losing he r shop and home, she realized her mistake. She had unwittingly disobeyed Oshun. This palero was a son of Shango. Her grandfather took her and her children in a nd she vowed never to associate with the man again. He was soon thrown in jail and Oshun gradually gave [Lydia] everything back. Her shop now seems to be thrivi ng, based on the many patrons I observed seeking Lydias services while awaiting her return. Lydia also has another spiritual parent. El egua is not seated in her head, as is Oshun Ibu Kole, but he is important noneth eless. Like Oshun, Elegua protects and advises and, if necessary, punishes Lydia. He has also passed on some personality traits and preferences to Lydi a, as with Oshun. Elegua is the lord of all crossroads and thresholds, the messenger god, and the trickster. Because of these three powers combined, Elegua is, according to Merced es Cros Sandoval, feared and respected.57 Offerings to Elegua are alwa ys placed at the front door of the home. Moreover, at bembes his rhythms are always played first and last. He must also always partake of sacrificial offerings first. If these rules are not followed, and Elegua is discontented, he may punish practitioners or withdr aw his service as messenger, ending communication between humans and the orishas altogether. Mercedes Cros Sandoval also describes the orisha as astute and fickle. 57 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 219.
46 Elegua is a mischievous and capricious boy who uses his power with complete disregard to mores and morals.58 To illustrate this point, Cros Sandoval includes a pataki about the deity, wherein, using his masterful deception, he disrupts the close friendship of two men for no apparent reason, excepting pers onal entertainment: There were two friends who were so clos e that the people of the town commented on the devotion and respect they felt for each other. One day, Elegua decided to destroy this beautiful friendship. He pain ted half of his body with white paint and the other half with black paint. Then he started walking down the road that separated the fields in which the two fr iends labored. In this fashion each man could only see one side of him. One ma n would see a white man; the other one would see a black man. Later on, when they met and talked about the stranger, a terrible argument ensued. It turned so bitter that the two old friends became the worst of enemies.59 Lydia and I also spent quite a bit of the interview talking about her grandmother, whose shop she now runs--how devastated she was at her death in 2005, her espiritismo with its more prevalent Catholic elements, Lydias fear that the shop would be closed down, and her joy at acquiri ng it. She concluded, ultimately, that her grandmother would be proud of the success of her shop. She would be proud, too, of the kind, intelligent, accepting person, a nd attentive mother Lydia had become. We concluded the interview with a disc ussion on society s tolerance of the religion. I asked Lydia if many other student s or curious non-practitioners had come in to her botanica She replied that Raul Canizare s, whose works have, to a large extent, informed this project had been ther e a few years prior to his death to take pictures. Lydia said she has some of his scholarly works, including Walking with the Night in her personal library. Moreover, she said that the frequency with which 58 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 218. 59 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 217-218.
47 Caucasian University of South Florida students wander in gives her hope for the future acceptance of Santeria. They seem to adore the tradition as much as many initiates. In response to questions regarding the stigma that is currently attached to Santeria, Lydia replied that Santeria involves the use of sacred knowledge and power. However, she continues, it is not Santeria if it is not practiced with a pure heart.60 Part Two Further Remarks on Issues of Gender and Sexuality in Santeria This chapter recounted my experience with Lydia Diaz to reveal a resilient, resourceful, and affable young woman. It pointed, also, to Santerias diversity of practitioners and its benevolent nature, in its description of Lydias patronage and mention of Lydias assertion th at Santeria must be practi ced with a pure heart. It also discussed Santerias representation of gender identities and sexual orientations that are not featured in the dominant cultu re. The discussion demonstrated that Oshun is an empowering character who offers her children alternative examples of femininity. It noted also that Oshun protects prostitutes, who, in spite of their dangerous and time-honored profession, are not protected by municipal laws, and guides same-gender-loving women who have generally been neglected or else condemned by the major world religions a nd sexualized, trivialized, and maligned by the hegemony. Mary Ann Clark also presents many valu able insights on Santerias approach to gender which did not seem to fit anywhere in the main body of this chapter yet are 60 Lydias testimony from Lydia Diaz, personal interview (Tampa, August 10, 2009).
48 significant. In her Where Men Are Wives and Mothers Rule Clark writes that there are no gender pronouns in the traditional Yo ruba language. She also quotes Oyeronke Oyewumis suggestion that in traditional Yo ruba culture and religion, gender was not an important category, as in the dominant Protestant culture. To describe the traditional Yoruba approach toward gender, she invokes the phrase distinction without difference.61 This attitude is pervasive in the Santeria of here and now, and even seems to have been strengthened in this constricting cultural climate. As Clark notes, Santeria has traditionally provided men and women equal acc ess to all ritual roles and leadership positions excepting the positions of babalao and drummer. In the United States, however, in this histor ical moment, many women are filling these stations.62 Mary Ann Clark also discusses patakis She writes that unlike in the mythology of most world religions, the stories involving the women orishas do not focus on their roles as wife as moth er. For example, stories about the orisha Oya usually focus on her skills as a warrior. Thes e stories, she writes, provide a myriad of alternatives for those w ho find these roles [wife and mother] constricting or who need a different type of personal power.63 Put differently, in Santerias sacred stories, the importance of women is not determined by their relationships to important men, as is often the case in religious mythology (e.g. the Virgin Mary), nor are they denied experiences outside of family life. Familial relationships do seem to me to be important in Santerias sacred stories, t hough they are not generally the focal points, and women orishas always have interests, duties, and adventures outside of the 61 Mary Ann Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule (Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2005), 35-36. 62 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule 27. 63 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule 37.
49 immediate familial circle. Moreover, as I have stated previousl y, Obatala has equal numbers of male and female caminos Clarks work notes that the Su preme God, Olodumare, is neither male nor female.64 For the gendered orishas Clark remarks, there is a wide range of gender appropriate behavior s that sometimes overlap.65 Orishas also sometimes relinquish the cultural symbols of their own genders fo r those of the other. I have already introduced Oshun Ibu Itumu, the camino wherein Oshun dons the dress of a man. Cros Sandoval observes that the orisha Chango, one of Oshuns husbands and usually the incarnation of male virility, appears at times very effeminate. In one story, moreover, he wears womens clothes to escape an enemy.66 Priests and priestesses also sometimes take on the signi fiers of the other ge nder. A male priest possessed by Oshun, for example, may flirt and primp.67 Since gender is culturally constructed and performed, this movement of orishas and initiates between different gender signifiers represents what may be aptly called pervasive gender fluidity.68 This fluidity, however, is not limited to gende r. Clark writes in her conclusion that practitioners must move be tween roles embodying different conceptions not only of the Self but also other the sacred Other demands a view of the self that is fluid rather than fixed or unitary.69 On the topic of sexuality, this project marvels at Santerias acceptance of homosexuality, as exemplified by the existe nce of a lesbian deity who watches over 64 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule 35. 65 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule 33. 66 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 235. 67 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule 26-27. 68 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule 29.
50 lesbian practitioners. As further evidence of this acceptance, Clark writes that more than thirty percent of all santeros and santeras in the United States identify as gay or lesbian.70 For these individuals, moreover, their sexuality need not be their most important or defining characteri stic. Within this tradition, sexuality seems just another aspect of a persons character. I mentioned earlier that priests sometimes bear an obvious resemblance to the orisha to whom they are crowned. When there is a clear relationship, Clark writes, s exual orientation may not be the most important feature of that relationship. It is common to find gay men crowned to such male Orisha as Shango, Eleggua, Ogun, and Obatala, straight men crowned to the female Orisha Oshun, Yemaya, and Oya, and straight a nd lesbian women crowned to any of these.71 Furthermore, ritual roles are dete rmined by initiation level and personal preference, and anyone can pot entially participate in a ny capacity. Mary Ann Clark asserts that this fluidity of roles is often liberating and empowering for practitioners. It is especially so fo r women and gay men, who might find themselves blocked from participation in ot her religious systems or in other portions of their lives because of their anatomy or se xual orientation. In th is religion they can rise to the highest positions of authority.72 69 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule 144. 70 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule 63. 71 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule 147. 72 Clark, Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule, 148.
51 Persephone: Scholar and Santera This chapter recounts the testimony of my third informant Persephone, a beautiful, scholarly Black wo man of Cuban descent with an artful and immaculate shop. Though Persephone was initially and understandably reluctant, she provided this project with a nuanced perspective on santeros and santeras openness regarding their practice, as well as on societys understanding of Santeria. Moreover, her portrayal of Santeria as a tradition promoting moderation, embracing diversity, accepting difference, and operating in the way of betterment of the self and the world, contradicts the dominant societys depicti on of the religion. It reveals Santerias empowering and compassionate impulses. Persephones botanica is located on a busy street in West Tampa in a plaza with a travel agency and salon. It is rather large and, inside, it is bright and airy and clean. A beaded curtain separates the store from the backroom and in a back corner, near the counter, is a small seating area. The proprie tor, Persephone, greeted me with a smile. She was wearing a bright white dress with tiny lavender flowers and had a neat, short haircut. She had a slender and strong bu ild and healthful glow. Her high cheekbones and heavy-lidded eyes gave her a regal beauty. I could have guessed she was a daughter of king orisha Obatala. I introduced myself, described my project and its goals, and asked if she would participate in an interview. She immediately said simply, I dont think so. I assured Persephone that I w ould not ask her to reveal information that must be learned along the initiation path, and th at she could decline
52 to answer any questions. She then asked for examples of the sort of questions I would be asking. I let Persephone look over my pre liminary list of questions. After a few moments consideration, Persephone agr eed. She invited me to have a seat. We started the interview with a disc ussion of Persephones background. She had gone through undergraduate studies and then into graduate school. She was familiar with theses. She wished me luck. Perse phone, moreover, was crowned to Obatala in June of 2005 in her hometown of Tampa. Her mother and grandmother practiced Santeria, but Persephone says that, as a ch ild, she did not know pr ecisely what that meant. She knew only that that glass of water or that cigar were not to be touched. I asked Persephone how her life has ch anged since she was crowned. She said, smiling, that her life has changed greatly. She has become more disciplined, calmer, less reactive. Persephone said also that sh e has a greater respect for all life, and has learned to appreciate little things. The many daily ritu als and proscriptions that go along with the priesthood, furthermore, help to give her days structure. She said, though, that this has all come gradually for her, along with the gradual learning of sacred knowledge imparted by her madrino and padrino Next, we discussed the domi nant Protestant cultures vi ew of Santeria. She said that she wish[es] society would be mo re understanding, accepting, and, indeed, believes that it is moving in a positive dire ction, as evidenced by the Supreme Courts reversal of the ruling that forbade animal s acrifice. She even gave an example of her personal experience with this positive trend. Although most of the people, Persephone said, who visit her shop are Latin and were likely aware of Sant eria at a young age, two young Caucasian women are among her frequent customers. One comes in
53 practically every other day. This particul ar girl, Persephone went on, is very close to her mother. Her mother, however, had e xpressed her disapproval at the girls involvement with the tradition. The young woma n had tried, on various occasions, to make her mother understand, always to no avail. She didnt know what to do. One day, though, the young womans mother agreed to go to Persephones botanica with her. She spoke with Persephone a bit and looked around the shop. Upon leaving the shop, the girl was surprised to find that her mother seemed to have changed her mind. She no longer objected to the girls participa tion in the tradition. She was, Im sure, charmed by Persephones poise and wisdom, at least in part. In the same vein, Persephone commente d on Santerias sup posedly increasing openness, with which I can say I have firsthand experience. She said that while she does believe that there has been a recent tr end towards openness, that overall, the santeros and santeras of today are more willing to discuss their practice with outsiders than those of yesterday, how open a santero or santera is largely dependent on that practitioners madrino and padrino who mentored the practitioner in the religion. In addition, practitioners are always associated with iles or houses, networks of individuals who have ritu al celebrations together and who are all linked through godparentage or friendly or familial ties. Each ile it seems, adheres to a different policy (unspoken or explicit ) in dealings with outside rs and other issues. These policies have been handed down through the ile and influenced by the preferences of current practitioners. To illustrate the general trend of openness that Persephone believes is present, though overestimated, sh e discusses the saints. Where they used to conceal the orishas they now mainly serve as a teaching tool. Many individuals
54 who embark on the initiati on path have a Catholic background. And because the orishas are associated with particular saints, these familiar saints may be used initially to explain the orishas to new practitioners. She adds that, for some, the Catholic saints remain important, though th ey do not disguise the Yoruba-derived deities. My perusal of intern et images of Santeria altars in addition, has shown that images of the saints are also often used as decoration for altars. Practitioners may choose candle or other object represen ting the saint associated with the orisha as a gift for that orisha Toward the end of the interview, Pers ephone and I talked more generally about Santeria and about religion. She said that sh e believes all religions to have the same goal, and that Santeria was just one way to realize it. It is one outward expression of an inner truth. She went on to say that throughout her experience with Santeria, she has been working toward an ideal self. This ideal self is disciplined and stoic, yet compassionate. And in becoming this ideal self and interacting with the world as this self, Persephone will be changing it in a positive way. At the conclusion of our interview, I commented on Persephones collection of books, remembering the scholars who have observed an increasing Afro-centrism,73 to use Mercedes Cros Sandovals language, in the religion. I noticed that you ha ve several books on Yoruba language and culture, I said. Do you think its important for practitioners to learn about these things? She replied that she did not think it necessary, or even important; it is interesting. To recount, Persephones interview brings up several salient issues. It points to 73 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 347.
55 the importance of godparentage and iles brings the ideal self into the conversation, represents a nuanced view of the issue of openness, and challenges the dominant Protestant cultures view of Santeria. It also provides an example of a unique yet relatable practitioner. Sim ilarities and differences between Persephones and Lydias and Indios testimonies, moreover, furt her illustrate the importance of iles and the diversity of practitioners, and underscore the religion s benevolence and empowering spirit. One of the issues that arose in my interview with Persephone was that of openness. This issue is, at le ast partly, related to anothe r issue we discussed--the dominant Protestant cultures view a nd the medias depiction of Santeria. In her Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond Mercedes Cros Sandoval makes the claim that the tr end toward recognition has prompted santeros to bring their religious pract ices out into the open, in what might be considered attempts to mainstream their beliefs a nd make them more accessible to public awareness.74 For her, society is becoming more accepting, and, as a result, santeros and santeras are becoming more open about their practice. However, this is not uniformly the case. Different groups of pr actitioners, and individuals within those groups, have chosen to intera ct with the larger society in different ways, as is reflected in the multitude of responses with which my attempts at interviewing were met. Persephones mention of her Caucasian cl ients who are new to the religion makes it clear that the dominant culture is beco ming more accepting, as these individuals 74 Sandoval, Worldview, the Orichas, and Santer ia: Africa to Cuba and Beyond, 345.
56 who were brought up into that culture are s howing an interest in Santeria. However, the aforementioned episodes of CSI: Miami and Law and Order, and the various websites, and news programs and articles I have encountered show that the religion is still misunderstood and ma ligned. Moreover, though some santeros and santeras are more open than their predecessors, either in an attempt to change Santerias image or simply because they feel more comfortabl e as a result of a change in the cultural climate, many are still extremely secretive. One proprietor, for example, told me she had never even heard of Sant eria. This has much to do, according to Persephone, with the values passed down from godparent s and prevalent in particular iles Thus, Mercedes Cros Sandovals model is a bit si mplistic to account for the multiplicity of feelings and behaviors of santeros and santeras and towards Santeria. Furthermore, the popular culture and medi a often portray Santeria and other AfroLatin religions as dark and immoderate-orgiastic, even. Persephones interview has proven that this image does not reflect real ity. For instance, since initiation, she has become more disciplined and less reactive. This means, in brief, that she has become more moderate, and has learned to work through her problems logically. Comparing Persephones interview with t hose of the other proprietors highlights the diversity of practitioners of Sant eria, as well as, the open-mindedness and compassion promoted in Santeria s teachings. Like the other santera and santero I interviewed, Persephone is Latin. Unli ke Lydia and Indio, however, she has experienced life as a Black woman in th e United States. She also has a college degree. Persephone and Lydia are from Ta mpa, Indio is not. They are all botanica owners, yet their shops are very different Persephone grew up around Santeria, Indio
57 and Lydia did not. They are, in short, th ree singular people with some similarities. Persephone and Indio, furtherm ore, are both crowned to Ob atala, though they tend to focus on different aspects of the religion. Fo r example, Indio talked a lot about his spirit guide, less about Obatala. Persephone focused more on Obatala. This again speaks to the importance of iles and godparentage, or pe rhaps simply speaks to difference between individuals. In the same ve in, Indio and Lydia agreed to take part interviews almost immediately upon my asking; Persephone initially refused. All informants did have in common, though, a re spect for religions different from their own and a concern about the common conception of the religion so dear to them.75 75 Persephones testimony from Persephone Cantz, personal interview (Tampa, August 12, 2009)
58 Conclusion This project challenged popul ar stereotypes about Santer ia, pointed to Santerias empowering and subversive elements, and ex amined scholarly hypotheses concerning the religion. The chapter fo cusing on my interaction with Indio depicted a santero next door. In stark contrast to the image of Santeria that is presented by the dominant Protestant culture, Indio is an affable, ki nd, generous, and sincer e individual who has much in common with my family, and, in f act, lives practically right down the street. Interviewing him, I felt like a guest in the home of an old family friend, and stayed with him in his shop for almost two hours. I note, also, that Indio is known and respected by most of the santeros and santeras I met, and specifically by the other two santeras I interviewed. This implies that this warm and intelligent individual, this santero next door is, perhaps, more represen tative of Tampas Santeria community than those featured on popular televisi on shows, websites, and news programs. Moreover, Indio gave a well-reasoned and insi ghtful defense of an imal sacrifice in Santeria ritual, assert ing that the ritual endows the an imal with special purpose and meaning, that the animals are treated humanely, and that th eir flesh is generally not wasted, and encouraging Santerias accusers to examine their own behaviors. He also compares the practice to th e hunting rituals of Native Americans, of which his personal spirit guide is one. Seeming to confirm the hypothesis of Santerias new openness, Indio remarked that, like his guide he is proud of his way of life and readily agreed to be interviewed. The Na tive American presence in Indios shop and practice, furthermore, speaks to Santerias diversity of expression and ability to be molded according the preferences of indi vidual practitioners, and, thus, to the
59 religions practicality. The chapter devoted to my interview with Lydia and the orisha Oshun, to whom she is crowned, focused primarily on Sant erias provision of representations of sexualities and femininities that may be c onsidered alternatives to those promoted in the dominant Protestant culture of the Un ited States. It examined descriptions taken from stories, songs, and poems about Oshun to demonstrate that, while the orisha is always represented as a woma n (I do not know of any male caminos of Oshun, though there may be some), she is allowed a wider array of personality traits and behaviors than the figures exalted in th e dominant culture. She is at once sexual, proactive, economically powerful, clev er, charming, and sometimes dark and formidable, and thereby empowers followers to express their indi vidual personalities without regard to the standard s of the hegemony. This chap ter also conveyed that the most adored orisha in Cuba and the United States Oshun, is, in one particular camino represented as a lesbian. This reflect s the religions acceptance of samegender-loving individuals. Santerias provision of a positive example of a homosexual, moreover, legitimates ho mosexual preference and encourages practitioners to embrace their own individual sexualities. The chapter Persephone: Scholar and Santer a depicted a Santeria priest who is unique, relatable, and thoughtful. Persephone, my third informant, also contributed invaluable insights on the issue of op enness and confirmed the hypothesis of Santerias growing ethnic and racial co mposition. Persephone is intelligent, openminded, and conscientious, bearing a strong resemblance to the bright young people with whom I have spent the four and a half years of my undergraduate study. For her,
60 Santeria is one of many legitimate paths to God. She hopes that her religion will one day be accorded the same respect with whic h she regards other traditions. Persephone also insists that, in contrast to popula r conceptions about Santeria, as she has progressed through various initiation levels to that of santera she has become more disciplined, moderate, and self-aware. Pers ephone, furthermore, posits a correlation between societys acceptance of Santeria and santeras and santeros openness. She goes on to say, however, that an individual s willingness to speak openly about her or his involvement with the religion is la rgely dependent on the teachings of the individuals godparents in the religion, the belief s and practices of the ile to which the individual belongs, and the pa rticular preference s of the practitioner. She mentions also that her patrons include men and women of different ethnicities, national origins, races, and backgrounds, including a coupl e of young Caucasian women. Thus, the hypothesis that Santeria is gain ing a variety of new practitioners seems to be correct. For Persephone, this also represents the dominant cultures increasing acceptance of Santeria. The various backgrounds, experiences, pers onalities, and perspec tives of my three informants, as well as the assortment of pe ople with whom I came into contact in and around Tampas botanicas reflect the diversity of Sant erias practitioners. In his Walking with the Night Raul Canizares discusses Santer ias growing ethnic and racial composition, and my experience has shown that that seems to be the case. Moreover, most of the individuals I met while conduc ting my field research were friendly and warm. My three informants were exceptiona lly kind and welcoming, and all showed a genuine acceptance of others traditi ons. Obviously, the Santeria-practicing
61 community of Tampa is generally a collecti on of warm individuals, and Santeria is certainly a benevolent tradition. However, in the interest of provi ding a fair depiction of a large and various group of individuals, I must remark that this group, like all other segments of humanity, is not wit hout corruption. The woma n I met at Indios botanica for example, felt as if she had been duped by some of the santeros of whom she sought counsel. One of my informants, whose identity I w ill not reveal, also expressed concern that some individuals compromise the integrity of their station for money. Santeros and santeras are only human, and, as such, are prone to the same indiscretions as all th e rest of humanity. Contrary to the assertions of scholars such as Weber and to popular conceptions about Santeria, this project has shown that Sa nteria is neither sava ge nor irrational. As I have emphasized, santeras and santeros are, like all people, generally benevolent yet not altogether unerring. To respond to th e terms implication of primitivism, these individuals also seem thoroughly modern. They participate in economic life, live next door, shop at the grocery store down the street, and seem to be a group of conscientious, intelligent, and politically aw are individuals. They are no more or less savage than you or me. One aspect of th e religion that has b een singled out as particularly savage is animal sacrifice. My first informant, Indio, responded to these claims. Like scholar Raul Ca nizares, Indio asserts that these animals are treated humanely, and that Santerias accusers s hould instead look to th eir own devaluation of life and exploitation of animals in the na me of greed and excess. Furthermore, the reasonable constitutions of my informants cont radict claims of Santerias irrationality, as do the previously mentioned testimoni es of scholars George Brandon and Bruce
62 Jackson. Furthermore, recent scholarship on Santer ia has postulated a trend toward Afrocentrism. Cros Sandoval claims that this is especially true for Black non-Latin initiates in the United States. Because I did not interview any non-Latin Black individuals, I cannot comme nt on Cros Sandovals hypothesis. On the phenomenon of Afro-centrism in general, I can offer only a few words and no conclusions. First, none of my informants seemed to place pa rticular importance on studying traditional Yoruba religious culture. All of the shops I visited, however, offered a selection of books, and within each of these was at least one book on Yoruba culture, religion, and/or language. Recent projects on Santer ia have also pointed to Santerias increasing openness. I have already mentione d the range of reactions my attempts at obtaining interviews provoked. A few practi tioners dismissed me immediately. One denied that she practiced Santeria. One was extremely reluctant but agreed after some consideration. Two were very open to talki ng with me about their religion. Based on these reactions, I cannot say th at todays practitioners ar e particularly open. I might speculate, however, that a few decades ago, no santero or santera would have been willing to speak with me, and that today s cast of initiates are a bit more open on average. My third informant, Persephone has contributed to this study a new and nuanced hypothesis on the issu e. She believes that as society is becoming more accepting of Santeria, practitioners are becoming more open. And though practitioners are more open than in previous generations, they are not all equally so. They interact with outsiders in different ways depending on the teachings of their godparents in the religion, the at titudes of the people with whom they practice, and
63 their own personal preferences. This project also examined gender issues. It asserted that th e stories, poems, and songs about the deity Oshun glor ify a wide array of female traits, personalities, and behaviors, many of which defy the traditi onal gender roles of the dominant Protestant culture. In doing so, they offer women alte rnatives to proscribed gender roles. Moreover, consideration of differences in approach to gender between the Santeria community and the dominant cu lture underline its cultural construction. At times, the same stories, songs, and poems also seem to valorize more traditionally feminine traits over masculine ones, as in the pataki (recounted in the third chapter) wherein Oshuns female sexuality proves more powerful than the bodily stre ngth of the male orishas Thus, Oshun positively represents and serves as an example for a huge range of women, and, though orishas are generally assigned one of two genders, these genders are not the disproportionately pr ivileged complementary opposites of the dominant Protestant culture. They are not strictly defined or necessarily very different. If I could begin this project again, I would ask my informants for statements regarding gender and sexuality issues in Santeria in order to further support my claims and those of Mary Ann Clark. Mo reover, this project has largely been designed to let santeros speak for themselves in order to counteract the depictions of the dominant culture and popular media. In the same vein, if I were to continue with this exploration, I would again meet with my three informants and ask them to help revise the final paper to allow them ev en more control over their images.
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