“Saints & Santería” – Dillon O’Hare

Religion is a very important part of every society. Every society has multiple cultures, which translates into many more religions. Some religions work well together, and are capable of existing, even flourishing, in each other’s presence. Other religions clash, making it near impossible live in the same area as the other. In some cases however, two or more religions exist in the same area and there is no issue, no effect on the other. I am a catholic, which is a rather large religion that is popular among other countries.

For my project, I am studying the relationship between Catholicism, the dominant religion on the island, and Santeria, a more local religion. I came to Cuba with almost zero knowledge about Santeria. All I really knew is that voodoo may be involved with Santeria because of its roots in New Orleans. There is just a large African influence in Santeria that comes from the large number of the slaves that were brought over to work in the cane fields during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Even though slavery was abolished in Cuba in 1886, the former slaves continued to practice Santeria, which is why Santeria is a common practice today. After arriving, I quickly found out that there are many parallels between the Santeria and Catholicism. A clear example of this is the fact that the catholic saints and the orishas of Santeria are basically the same characters. The orishas are actually saints, converted into something that satisfies the needs of Santeria. The fact that the two are so similar, but so different at the same time is something that is just very interesting to me.

While here in Cuba, I intend on continuing to practice my faith in Catholicism, while trying to experience Santeria at the same time. Already having a good knowledge base on Catholicism gives me a head start on finding the similarities and differences between the two. Another interesting aspect of my research is going to be finding the way the government treats the two religions, both separately, and as a group. This research is a fast track to experiencing the culture here in Cuba, which ultimately is one of my goals while I am here.