Slavery - Religion and Magic Practices

The Cabildos, communities of Africans who belonged to the same tribe or people, were organisations of mainly religious but also of social and protective character. They were legalised in the year 1755. Today, the most important ritual practices are Santeria, Palo Monte and Abakua.
Among the Abakuai, the fish known as 'Tanse' is venerated as a sacred animal, invested with magic secrets and supernatural powers. The fish is also a familiar symbol to Christians. 'Tanse' (the fish) is invo­ked among the Abakua by the sacred drum 'Ekue' as the drum is called, means 'leopard' in their African tribal language called Efik. Since the drum possesses great magical powers, it may not be shown. The cult dancers who follow its rhythm wear colourful costumes, reminiscent of Iremes dolls (called 'diablitos' in Spanish).
They portray the cycle of life - birth, motherhood, the prime of life, age and death. The priests (Santeros) are not only masters of ceremony but also soothsayers. In both the Santeria and Abakua cults, there is a chief god called Ochun and twenty other gods, called Orishas. Since the pressure to conform to the Catholic faith was so strong, Afro-Cubans tended to cloak their gods in the mantle of Catholic saints. And it is hard to tell whether the African slaves did this consciously, partly for purposes of camouflage, or whether they thought they recognised their gods in certain Christian saints.

As a consequence, the sex of the gods did not correspond to the one of the saints. Ochun is the Venus of the Cuban Lucumi group. She is the goddess of love and sexuality, symbol of coquetry and vanity. Her Catholic counterpart is the Virgin Mary and many childless Cuban women pray to her. Obbatala is the son of the 'father of gods' Olofi who told Obbatala the creation of man. He stands for in­finite age, the personification of peace and harmony. Oya is the goddess of death and ruler of graveyards and the winds. Babalu Aye is the god of sickness. Yemaya is the mother of life and goddess of waters, the guardian of motherhood and mariners. Olokun, the lord of the deep, cannot be invoked by a Santeria priest without his being in danger of dying while in trance. During the ceremonial dance, the Bata drums inspire the dancers and the gods manifest them­selves in trance. Every drum has its own personality and function. Incantations, cigar smoke and joss sticks inflame the atmosphere.

Colours, too, play an important part: every god and his Christian counterpart is attributed a characteristic colour. The gods are placated with flowers and animal sacrifices. This 'Veneration of the saints' has great meaning for all Cubans today, no matter what the colour of their skin. Guanabacoa and Regla, districts of Havana, are regarded as the main centres of Santeria. In the Palo Monte cult, it is not gods but natural forces, certain plants and animals and rocks that are venerated. Objects with specific magical attributes are worshipped The central feature of this cult of adoration is a kind of pot - the 'Nganga'. This 'Nganga' (pot) is filled with magic objects (e.g. graveyard soil, fragments of human skeletons, pieces of twig) - the contents embodying all the powers operating in the world.

The circle is dominant in representing the spirit Opens internal link in current windowMama Kengue - ­Obbatala (Ocha - Santeria) - Las Mercedes (Catholicism).
The circle stands for the sun and this is accentuated by pairs of small radiating strokes. These are also interpreted as pillars of wisdom. In the centre is a smaller circle symbolising the birth of humanity under the jurisdiction of the chief god Olofi. Above the large circle (sun) are two­ crossed arrows, creating the balance between physical and mental forces.
Below the large circle is another arrow attached to the extension of a magical triangle; this attempts to create a balance between the positive (+) and negative (O) forces. Olofi struggles to reconcile positive and negative forces. He draws his powers from the triangle, symbolic of fire but also of purity and strength.

The representation of the Opens internal link in current windowMakuto Judio (evil forces) which must be combated with the aid of ashes, also includes the circular sun symbol, among other things.
Here, the round form stands for the spirit Nfumbe, who is symbolic of wicked forces. The horizontal line dissecting the circle symbolises the path of the questioner. The small parallel lines running above it are obstacles on the path of the questioner.
The small lines crossing the interior of the large circle symbolise physical and mental powers. The small circle is symbolic of the concentrated powers of the spirit, which flow in the direction of the horizontal line (path).
The spirit has the task of collecting the powers and leading to a positive result, namely that of driving away the Makuto Judio (evil forces).

Opens internal link in current windowKalunga, another spirit symbolised by a circle, does not stand for the sun but for the full moon, which influences the vital forces: water (sea, rivers etc.) The vertical arrow represents the sea in its entirety, with all its waters and its mystery.
The horizontal arrow stands for the rivers and streams that all flow into the sea. they all meet in the centre of the war (moon) and symbolise the movements of the earth. El Maja or Noca is a serpentine arrow, a positive spirit that protects the powers of the Kalunga. The small crosses in the centre ofthe circle (moon) represent the spirituality of the Nganga (magic pot).

Opens internal link in current windowKunanquisa (Odudua) - Tiembla Tierra (shaking earth) - Mama Kengue (Obbatala)
Here, the triangle symbolises the elements of this spirit - the triangle is the fire in the Earth's interior. It also stands for spiritual rebirth. The semicircle re­sting on the line represents the growth of the intellect. The arrows crossing the semicircle are lines of destiny, opposing each other in the struggle between good and evil forces. The two small circles stand for the reality of the world.

Opens internal link in current windowLucero (morning star). This spirit also includes the sign ofthe triangle (fire). Out of this triangle (fire) emerges the arrow with which the Fula (gunpowder) is ignited. This causes the spirit that lives in the Nganga (magic pot) to vibrate. The crossed arrows show the duaIity of physical and mental powers. The circle (sun) is the symbol of infi­nity.The arrows crossing in the cent­re ofthe circle show the strength of the duality of physical and mental powers. The uppermost arrows sym­boIise the balance of physical and mental states.

Opens internal link in current windowNfuiri is the spirit of the dead. The central arrow points to the infinity of his immateriality. The circle is dissected by an arrow pointing in one direction towards the animal nature and in the other to­wards spirituality. The triangle, dis­sected both vertically and horizontally symbolises the spirit taking leave of its material (corporeal) existence. The Krillumba - the six circular ele­ments - conforms to the elements of the deceased person.

Opens internal link in current windowBaluande - Yemaya (Seven Seas in Storm). The vertical arrow stands in the centre of the spi­rit Nfumbe. The horizontal arrows symbolise the seven seas: the Carib­bean Sea (stormy), North Sea (very stormy), Red Sea (normal), Black Sea (normal), Baltic Sea (stormy), Caspi­an Sea (tranquil) and Dead Sea (tran­quil). Here, too, the triangle signifies fire, burning. The semicircle signifies lead and iron.

Opens internal link in current windowCentella Sacara Empeno (Combi­nation of La Brillumba with the soul Sola). The arrows on the left symbolise warfare and also open up the possibility of something evil. The central sign stands for in­fluencing the evil spirit taken from the Nganga. The smaller crosses attempt to hold the balance between good and evil with which the Tata or Padre (master) works. The small circles belong to the evil spirits. Noca or Maja (serpentine arrow) is the protectress of good.

Opens internal link in current windowKengue - Obbatala (Santeria) - Las Mercedes (Catholicism). The crossed arrows with serpentine lines symbolise rivers, seas, streams and hills, the creation of the univer­se. The central arrow represents the stability of the Earth (Ntolo) and the firmament (Nsulu).

Opens internal link in current windowSarabanda - Muñunga - Tarambele - Ndoki. These spirits or saints belong to the Christia faith as well as the religion of the slaves. Sarabanda is also called San Pedro. Muñunga stands for the holy Antonia Gervasio and Tarambele for San Roque. Ndoki signifies the evil spirit. The central arrow in combination with a crescent (left above) signifies war. The horizontal arrows are seven lightning shafts of war. The small circle stands for the evil spirits and the plus sign for the good spirits.Here, too, Noca or Maja provides protection. The semicircle symbolises the hill in which work is done. The arrows above signify the graveyard.

Opens internal link in current windowFirma Para Espantar Un Espiritu: A sign whose function is to frighten a spirit. The central arrow, showing the way, is followed here. The aim is to tear the ­disruptive spirit out of the body. (circle). The irregular serpentine line stands for a spirit but is also an astrological sign. lt symbolises water - a ­river that maintains balance through the crosses (positive forces) and circles (negative forces). The looped arrow pointing upwards signifies the growth of the spirit striving upwards towards its goal, tbe body (circle).

The body also bears the symbol of duality (two crossed arrows).

Translated in English by
Eileen Cahoon