Please click on this link to see Yemaya, Goddess of Sea dance in Bali Spirit Festival 2010 by Dr Adrian Hearne on percussion and chants & Christina Monneron dancing

Unlike slavery in North America, African slaves in Cuba were kept together in tribal groups. So instead of being utterly dispersed against other tribesmen with their own traditions, a certain degree of continuity amongst some survived the cultural displacement. In addition to this, slaves were able to form Cabildos, local authorities which were originally designed to maintain the main church in central squares of colonial towns. Within cabildos, membership also followed naciones (regional African groupings).

Over-represented amongst slaves in Cuba are the Yoruba people from modern day Nigeria, Benin and Togo in West Africa. Each Cabildo was associated with a specific Catholic Saint and Afro-Cubans used these saints to express (openly or discretely) their devotions to Yoruba spirits, Orisha. Thus the Yoruba religion and Catholicism co-existed to their mutual benefit. Certain Saints became personifications of the Orisha over time; whether the Orisha were superficially disguised as saints to avoid further interference from the Church, or became naturally assimilated of their own accord, spirit and saint have come to symbolise one and the same in Santeria - literally 'the way of the saints'.

It has been argued that in the New World, the fundamental role of mysticism in the Yoruba religion has been overshadowed by occultism, where worship is directed to the Orisha, and the greater religious doctrines of the Yoruba religion, such as transcendence, have become obscured.

Santeros and Santeras see the Orisha as being able to fulfil a person's destiny through a personal relationship with the Orisha and devotion in the forms of divination, sacrifice, spirit mediumship and initiation.

Male babalawos, the priests of Santeria, interpret divinations on behalf of the Orisha Orula / Ifa.

In ceremonial mediumship, the Orisha are called down to join their followers in dance and song where they may deliver personalised messages, warnings and advice to members of the community.


Elegua - the Orisha of Destiny, guardian of the crossroads, remover of obstacles, the beginning and the end, also represents the inner child (colours: Red & Black)

Yemaya - the Universal Mother Goddess Orisha of the Oceans, giver of life, divine feminine, creative power (colours: Blue & White)

Ogun - the Orisha of Metals, work, the warrior of truth (colours: Green & Black)

Oshun - the Goddess Orisha of Love & Sensuality, of abundance, the freshwater rivers and all that flow (colours: Yellow & White)

Chango - the Orisha 'King' of fire, drums & dance, thunder & lightning, divine masculine power & virility (colours: Red & White)

Babalu Aye (San Lazaro) - the powerful Orisha of healing, from the depths of dis-ease, we have the power to heal our selves (colours: Purple & hessian)

Other Orishas include:

Obatala - the Universal Father Orisha of the mountain, wisdom,  purity, tranquility, peace (colour: White)

Ochosi - the Orisha of the forest, the hunter, the truth seeker & warrior of justice (colours: Blue & Yellow)

Oya - the Goddess/ Warrior Orisha of the winds, storms & the cemetery gates, the bridge between life & the after-life (colours: burgundy red & nine colours of the rainbow)

The Yoruba people span modern day Nigeria, Benin and Togo in West Africa. The term Yoruba is a general catch-phrase essentially used by outsiders for a diverse family of people with a common language who form the kingdom of Oyo. (The Anago, Awori, Egba, Egbado, Ekiti, Ibadan, Ife, Ifonyin, Igbomina, Ijebu, Ijesha, Ketu, Kwara, Ondo, Owo, Oyo and Shabe people, who refer to themselves primarily according to their ethnic idenitity rather than the more generic term of Yoruba).

In the Yoruba religion, similar to Christianity, the central God Olorun/ Oludumare/ Olofin has a prophet son Orunmila who was present in conscious-divine form when Olorun created all things. Born to humble West African parents between approx 4000-2000BC, Orunmila was a poor and crippled child but expressed divine wisdom and attributes.

The Odu, sixteen Ancients, or Elders, revealed themselves to Orunmila and are now considered to be his heavenly disciples. Orunmila travelled across the African continent teaching Yoruba wisdom, ritual and transcendence, and built his temple at the sacred hill of Oke Tase in the city of Ile-Ife. In deified form, Orunmila acts and speaks yet has no physicality and does not communicate directly to humans - the Orisha Eleggua acts as intermediary between humans and Orunmila as well as humans and other Orisha.

The Orisha, created by Olorun, share passions, character flaws and desires as do their own creation, humans. When conflict arises among them they must govern themselves; when the Orisha manifest their cruelty, their peer Obatala (who created humanity) is called upon to mediate.

'Orisha' is the combination of two Yoruba words, Ori, the reflective spark of human consciousness (literally 'head') Sha (to select, choose); others prefer to derive it from Ri (to see) and Isha (selection, choice), forming 'one who sees the cult'.

The Santeria and Orisha sections of this page are approved by Christina Monneron, a practising Santera in Coffs Harbour, NSW, Australia.

Amira, John and Steven Cornelius 'The Music of Santeria: Traditional Rhythyms of the Bata Drums' White Cliffs Media USA 1999

Hagedorn, Katherine J. 'Divine Utterances: The Performance of Afro-Cuban Santeria' Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London 2001

Karade, Baba Ifa 'The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts' Samuel Weiser Inc. America 1996

Ember, Melvin and Carol R. Ember (Ed) 'MacMillan Compendium Cultures of the World' MacMillan Library Reference New York 1999

'MacMillan Compendium World Religions' Simon and Schuster MacMillan New York 1987

Nunez, Luis M. 'Santeria, A Practical Guide to Afro-Caribbean Magic' this may be read online at

Sacred Texts: The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa this may be read online at

Cuba, Lonely Planet 2000