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What ritual elements of Africa change in Santeria?

Santeria Ritual Elements

Many of the experts on the Yoruba influence in America agree on one point:

Although the African slaves transferred to this continent lost their freedom, they maintained one of the most fundamental human rights, the ability to create culture.

While it is true that they were forced to participate in Catholic rites, they decided to practice their religious tradition under the guise of Christian symbols.

Thus secret practices were produced that combined Christian beliefs with African ones and indigenous ones with their own ritual elements.

That is why today it is practiced in the manner of dissimilar territories, the Santeria. There are Yoruba rituals in the Caribbean region, and especially Cuba, Puerto Rico, also in Venezuela, Mexico, and cities like Florida and New York.

Meanwhile, candomblé is practiced in Guyana and northern Brazil, and voodoo in Haiti.

The first element that differentiates the practice of African religions from the American one is that in America two traditions and different beliefs come together, giving way to an intense cultural mix.

America, cradle of Yoruba rituals

We should know that Orichas in African religion, they represent an aspect of life, such as justice, war, waters, health, and also natural forces and energies such as the storm, thunder, and the sea.

They are revered with Yoruba ritual elements such as music, offerings, dances, special foods and prayers, and are manifested through priests or priestesses who possess ohabitan temporarily.

However, the slaves from the Yoruba people had to adopt Catholicism in the Spanish colonies of America.

And that is why they syncretized their gods with the Catholic saints, so Olorún was Jesus Christ, and the Orishas were represented by saints or virgins as Yemaya and the Virgin of the Rule, Shango it's Santa Barbara and Oshun It is the Virgin of the Charity of the Copper.

In the Rule of Osha (Santeria) practiced in Cuba and the Caribbean, as in Africa, there are hierarchies and specific rituals for the Orishas are celebrated, such as the sacrifice of animals, direct communication with the deities, offerings, healing and divination.

African ritual elements substituted in the practices Santeras of America

Now, we must bear in mind that there are numerous ritual elements of santeria and not only the syncretism of their deities, which have changed in practice from Africa to America:

Places to perform rituals:

The first thing we must clarify is that most of the ceremonies and religious touches in Africa were carried out under the open sky in the middle of the jungle, but in Cuba and other Latin countries they were adapted to closed and small places.

Offerings and Addimús:

Also, some of the ritual elements like the animals and fruits that are used in the offerings, they have had to change.

Although the different types of Addimú (offerings) include numerous ingredients of African origin, the fact is that in Cuba novel foods have been transformed and added such as:

  • sesame,
  • cumin,
  • peanut,
  • okra,
  • rice,
  • sweet potato,
  • corn,
  • pumpkin,
  • c sugaraña and others, due to the mixture of Creole foods that remains on the Island.

Ritual animals:

Also in America, ritual animals originating in Africa, such as the okete, have been exchanged for some autochthonous ones such as the hutía.

Likewise, in the African territory it was more common to use river fish in offerings to the Orishas, ​​but in Cuba they are used from the sea and the river.


Similarly, we must bear in mind that in Cuba candles have been given a preponderant role as Yoruba ritual elements and not so much in Africa.

Currently, a ritual, a ceremony or work dedicated to the Orishas and deities is not conceived where this powerful religious element with great spiritual value is not present.

And it is that on the island Santeria acquired Catholic and spiritualist aspects that added the candle as an object of purification and light.

Fortune telling:

Another ritual element that changes in Santera practice in America is the art of divination, which, although it is done in the same way, its predictions must be adapted to the social context of the territory in which it is practiced.

Like those previously mentioned, there are many other ritual elements African religion that have been transformed into American practice, due to the intense process of transculturation present in most of the countries of the continent.

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