author photo

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

Offerings to Yemayá?

October 10, 2009 | Print Print |

By Dmitri Prieto

Photo: Caridad

Yemaya is the orisha of the seas. Photo: Caridad

On occasion adherents of the Yoruba religion make offerings to the Orishas: deities of African origin.  Each deity is related to some element or force of nature, which is why the Yoruba religion (like many other ancient beliefs) is often celebrated as a medium for communion with the environment, with those entities for which modernity, in its ascent, has lost respect.

It is a medium for seeking possible spiritual solutions to current environmental problems.  I have read many texts about this and Yoruba practitioners themselves often proclaim the validity of this notion.

Yemaya is the orisha of the seas.  Therefore offerings to her are associated with the sea. Offerings to other orishas can be found in other locations. For example, in Cuba it is not uncommon to find objects placed at the base of ceibas trees or royal palms.

Each orisha has its own history.  Every act of worship is linked to one or more personal biographies.  Religions like Yoruba strongly focus on the possibility of obtaining assistance in solving concrete problems of daily life.

A few days ago I witnessed an unusual act.  I do not know how odd it really is.  I don’t think there have been any studies on it.

In a spot on the mouth of the Havana Bay, where boats enter, on the sidewalk were tourists pass quietly, a man was preparing to place his offering in the bay.

He threw the offering into the sea, and then continued the ritual on the waterfront.  He was nearly hidden.  His profile was visible from the outdoor restaurant where I sat with a group of friends.

The thing is that the offering was thrown into the sea in a typical plastic bag.  I have no idea if the offering inside was something Yemaya will appreciate.

But I do know for sure that plastic bags are not biodegradable; so they are virtually eternal. It is the worst kind of pollution.

I do not know if the practitioner was unaware of that fact or if he knew and didn’t care.

Today, ancient religions are practiced by large segments of the Cuban population, transcending racial stereotypes and education.  So a believer’s actions do not have to strictly adhere to the belief as such.

But the colossal inconsistency of the offering to Yemaya that I witnessed alarms me.

The predatory lack of environmental awareness that is dragged along the ground of the spirit: another paradox of our common education; of this complex Cuba in which we live.


What's your opinion?

  • http://www.rootsandrooted.org Roots and Rooted

    What you saw is not normal. Most ritual work requires all natural materials. In the case of Yemoja/Yemanja/Yemaya we are even encouraged to avoid using tap water when doing ritual work, unless unavoidable.
    Lots of possibilities:
    (1) Being sloppy.
    (2) Comes from an environment where polluting is acceptable or common and has become a part of his total life experience
    (3) He was concerned with onlookers and rushed to throw it all in, leaving the bag on accidentally.
    (4) Or in very rare cases, he was asked to offer something in a way that it might “never perish or rot”.

    Please keep in mind that most Ab’Orisa do not use non-perishable materials in offerings. I know the media portrays us as illiterate, socially backward and “devilish” but its usually to their own benefit and based on their own racist stereotypical views about diversity.

    Lets recall that 100yrs ago sailors put notes into bottles & case them into the sea.

  • http://www.greatyoruba.com ladi yoruba

    Dear Mr. Dmitri Prieto,

    Your short articles on the Yoruba religion and practitioners in Cuba is quite interesting. that has been a revelation in some part, to the undying strength of Yoruba and west African ways from the centuries gone by. However, i am from the source of Yoruba religion and i felt that though we are “faithful in that which is small” considering the rich liturgy of the universal culture, but we can also check to see if we have good standing, what if the Yoruba ancestors were once monotheist, whose descendants gradually became apostate, living us the present system of things? that’s why we must always see to what we do and what others says.