This is one of several syncretism faiths formed in the New World. In his classic, 'Santería', Joseph Murphy says, "The sacred world of this religion is motivated by Ashe…the absolute ground of reality." The Orisha are multi-dimensional beings that embody the forces of nature, carrying out the duties of sacred patrons or "Guardian Angels." In Africa, each Orisha was recognized by a sequence of colors, numbers, natural elements, drum beats, dance steps, and images that stand for the character and qualities of that Orisha.
Orisha worship was taken to the New World in the holds of slave ships, and became well established in many countries of the Western Hemisphere. The Orishas remain worshipped today in the religions of Santería of Cuba and the United States, Candomble and Umbanda in Brazil, and Shango in Trinidad, and their worship is still combined with various Native American, Roman Catholic, European Spiritualist, and other African traditions. Music is a key constituent in the worship of the Orishas.
Santería is a Cuban religious expression whose roots are African. The complex belief systems of the Yoruba Religion became part of the Cuban experience when colonial Cuba began to bring in conquered African slaves to develop the city centers and work the mines and sugar estates. Santería religion is officially acknowledged as a lawful religion, but white Christians usually describe it as the dialectical product of Yoruba's belief system and Iberian Catholicism, in which a "confused" and eccentric merging of the Saints with the Orishas occurred.
The religion was created from the animistic beliefs of West African slaves combined with the Catholic tradition imposed upon them by the Spanish slave owners. Santería is just one, but the most extensively practiced, Afro-Cuban religion. The Museum of Regla, in the town of Regla, located across the harbor from La Habana Vieja, is considered to be the center of Afro-Cuban religions, and it houses several exhibits displaying the Orishas.
Cuban artists are inspired by the Santeria art. The Yoruba Orisha Ritual Comes To New York City. Building on the research of Melville Herskovits and W.E.B. Du Bois, the work of Katherine Dunham, Zora Neal Hurston, and Pearl Primus bring in an academic viewpoint of the African Diaspora into the arts. Durham went to Cuba when she could not find drummers for her dance company in 1952 and recruited Julito Collazo and Francisco Aguabella, renowned percussionists in the Latino, jazz, and popular music communities who had been trained in the Orisha tradition.
The main Afro-Cuban religions – particularly the Yoruba-derived Santería, have established considerable followings in the metropolitan area since the mid twentieth century, not only among Cubans, but also among Puerto Ricans, other Latinos, North American blacks, and even some whites. The rich tradition of ritual music native to these sects has consequently taken root in the area, although not without significant difficulties deriving from the original scarcity of knowledgeable performers.
The darkside of the religion
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