In an email exchange this evening, a friend who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota and I enjoyed an abreviated discussion about Cuba and spiritual warfare.
U.S. Catholics, my experience, assume they share common values with their Cuban counterparts. To some degree, yes, but for the most part, no.
When slaves came to our U.S. shores, generally speaking, they were parceled and sold individually without respect to tribal origins. Cuban slavery was very different. Cuban slaves from Africa were encamped by tribes, leaving in tact local government, culture and religion.
After indigenous Indian slaves died off from European diseases in Cuba, Spain began importing African slaves. They bought from traditional Arab slave traders. Muslims have been in the slave business continuously up to this very day, from long before Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Being the ardent evangelists, the Catholic church required, forced, slaves to become Catholics, assume Catholic names and worship Catholic icons. I place below a photo of two popular orishas. I made this picture while staying in a casa particular (private home) owned by a communist lady from Canada.
Those slaves appeased their Catholic masters by pretending to become Christians. They simply synchronized their orishas with Catholic saints. Syncretism is the technical name. You would recognize the more familiar term Santeria, ‘the way of the saints‘.
Older Americans like me enjoyed old black-and-white I Love Lucy television shows in which Desi Arnaz (Lucille Ball’s husband) played a role natural for him – Cuban band leader. His most memorable song was Babalu. A video below is a brief 1946 performance of this once very popular song often played to conga line dancing.
There are over 400 orishas (orichas) including Babalu, Osun, Ogun and Chango. African slaves in Cuba didn’t want to forego their traditional pagan relgions to appease Catholic masters, so they synchronized orishas behind Catholic saints. For example, Yoruba practitioners synchronized Chango (Shango) behind Santa Barbara. [Bit of trivia: Chango is male, Santa Barbara is female.]
Watch movements in this dance to Chango. Recognize the Conga line dance?
I close with the chorus to Babalu.
Yo Quiero pedir (I want to ask)
Que mi negro me quiera (that my black man will want me)
Que tenga dinero (that he has money)
Y que no se muera (and that he doesn’t die)
Ay! Yo le quiero pedir a Babalu (I want to ask of Babalu)
Ay! un negrito muy santo como tu (a little black man very holy like you)
que no tenga otro negro (that no other has)
y que a mi me quiera. (and that he will want me)
If you haven’t lost interest by this point, listen to the progeny of Desi and Lucy Ball Arnaz, their children Desi Jr. and his sister Lucie talk about Babalu, development of Conga line dancing and their dad.