Illustrated by Emilio Fernández Franco
Text by Mirta Pernas Gómez
Translated from the original Spanish by Alexis Cabrera and Gethin James.
See more artwork by Emilio Fernández Franco at http://www.studioimagesite.com
During its centuries of colonial life, that is, from the 16th to the 19th
centuries, the island of Cuba saw the arrival of hundreds of thousands of
men and women who came from Africa as slaves. With them came the rich, complex
spiritual world of mainly Yoruba mythology, full of enchantments, images
and guessing games. The orishas or deities, of what would eventually be called
Cuban Santería, had arrived! These deities could play, sing, beat
drums, smoke, laugh or cry, get annoyed, even fight among each other. They
were capable of both good and bad, just like humans. They were deities accompanied
by legends, stories and then more stories. These were magical, mysterious,
spicy anecdotes, and generally told about their strengths and weaknesses.
They were deities who inhabited a jungle. But the jungle could mean any piece of land, the simplest tree, the bush that rustles in the wind, or even the real jungle where leaves of silk-cotton tree, trumpetwood tree, cedar, mahogany and flamboyant tree get together and embrace; the real jungle where underground roots of jasmine, myrtle and sweet marjoram are entangled.
These deities of Yorubá mythology, part of Cuban Santería, represent both the power of nature and the source of human skills: Eleguá, who is able to open and close every road at his wish, is known either as a playful kid or as a wise old man. Ogún, master of metals, of the smithy, where arms and working tools are forged, is quarrelsome and Changó’s eternal rival, whom he never forgives for having once stolen away the love of his life. Ochosi is the hunter, master of the bow and arrows, who works with Ogún so as to afford to eat. Obatalá is sometimes a man, sometimes a woman. Of human intelligence, Obatalá is the essence of purity which dresses in white. Yemayá is the lady of the sea, of shores and depths, of quietness and curving waves. Orula is the master of divination; from him no hideaway is concealed, no corner is dark, no seed is unknown. And as it is with many other legendary characters, divine or human, they can be terrifying, like Ikú, the death that waits behind dawn. They can be astonishing, because they all possess magnificent powers. Mostly they love the night, and they hold the jungle in their hearts! Here are some of the orishas, deities of Cuban Santería. They are masters of imagination and messengers of fantasy. Make way! Here they come!