Thank you for this important post! I am a UK/Jamaican who has taken the path of Regla de Ocha (aka Santeria) which is a form of Yoruba traditional Orisha religion as it is found in Cuba. I meet many Nigerians who are scared of Orisha, scared of traditional forms of spirituality. One Naija friend who is a committed Christian told me: “You don’t know what you’re dealing with. These are dark forces!”
I think that in the 21st century it is incredibly sad that these colonial notions of African spiritual practices are still held by so many Africans and so many in the Diaspora. For most people African forms of religion are seen as evil, mindless savagery, dark Satanic rituals, bloody madness…Voodoo!!
As I said to my friend, it is inconceivable that every community on this planet Earth can have forms of religion that are respected and viewed as legitimate, yet somehow EVERY religious practice that comes from Africa is seen as dark, evil, satanic etc… This damaging, false viewpoint is a product of colonialism and racism and I believe it is is one of the central reasons why so many people of African descent have feelings of worthlessness and ugliness. According to these ideas we are all fundamentally, at our very core, in the very depths of our soul, evil people intent on darkness and savagery. It is no wonder we all bleach our skin, straighten our hair, reject our own ways. This is insanity.
My experience of Cuban Orisha devotion is full of light, life, community, joy, empowerment and blessings. Like several other African forms of religion I have researched it contains many elements that are cross-cultural: reverence for the ancestors; reverence for Nature; a class of priests who go into trance; divination practices to assess the quality of the time and so be better equipped to act in harmony with it; consecrated ‘power objects’ that form the basis of shrines and altars that are enriched and activated through prayer, music, and offerings of flowers, fruits, fire, water, various foods and animal sacrifice.
I applaud you for this site and for this post in particular. A global conversation needs to take place so that we can rid ourselves of the hateful, destructive colonial images we have inherited and restore our ancestral legacies and basic self-respect. Not with outdated, 20th century Afrocentric approaches that idealise everything African, but rather with new eyes, modern sensibilities, taking things on their own terms without sentimentality or romance.
African spirituality – particularly the Ifa and Orisha devotion that I know about and practice – is full of mysterious wonder, community blessings and personal soul enrichment for those curious, or brave, enough to explore.