The Lucumí people are an Afro-Cuban ethnic group of Yoruba ancestry that practice La Regla Lucumí, Santeria Religion and worship the Orishas.
Lucumí Traditional Healing
Lucumí traditional healing practices are rooted in the spiritual influences of America, Europe and West Africa.
Having a strong spiritual component, these traditional healing practices also use the pathways of the herbalist, psychologist, ethicist and that of a respected spiritual medium interceding between God and human beings.
Cuban traditional healing practices as ethnomedicine, which taps on the biodynamic chemical properties of certain plants, from which some commercial drugs were derived, such as the cardiac medications, digitalis, quinine, and curare – chemicals causing neuromuscular paralysis.
I categorize Cuban ethnomedicine as having health specialists, which are el yerbero (the herbalist), el curandero (the curer), el santero (the religious healer) and el conocedor (the botanist).
Cuba is one of the regions in which a great deal of ethnographic and ethnobotanical research has been conducted.
Lemongrass or caña de limón is used for low blood pressure and anti-inflammatory effects. Thyme tea and castor oil are used to speed the delivery of babies and the broomweed (Corchorus siliquosus) induces the quick expulsion of the placenta.
Herbs are also used to create a trance possession using the hallucinogenic properties of Datura metel and Datura stramonium (both have scopolamine and atropine, causing amnesia), the psychoactive ingredients from the cane toad (Bufo marinus).
Aside from being herbalist, Santería traditional healing practice has a spiritual aspect. Santería has a holistic approach, acknowledging the connection with heart, mind, and body. In Santería, the world flows with the primal life energy called aché or growth, the force toward completeness and divinity.
Aché is the current that Santería initiates channel so that it empowers them to fulfill their path in life because aché is connected to all that has life or exhibits power; aché comprises blood, grace, and power.
When a person is sick, the healer thinks, interprets and reacts, considering the illness not just a physical dysfunction but also an interface with suffering and bad luck in life brought on by the activity of bad spirits.
Santería has a “strong element of spiritism and santeros have the power to communicate with spirits asking for guidance to improve the situation of a person consulting.
However, in general, the Santeros of the Regla de Ochá primarily turn to religion as their practice to address personal challenges and identify means to improve a situation.
Many people may go and see espirititas who don’t see a Santero. Also, espiritistas may work hand in hand with Santeros.
While psychotherapy tends to use mostly allopathic principles, spiritism uses homeopathic principles that aim to reduce the anxiety or permit the patient to acknowledge pent-up emotions, unexpressed guilt or repressed behavior through catharsis meant to release emotions the patient may not even be aware of.
Healing can occur when the spirit medium assists the sufferer to come into harmony with the spirit world so as to change his or her physical condition, emotions, way of life or destiny.
The reputation of espiritistas was tinged with negativity, being accused of witchcraft because they deal with health through the unfamiliar paradigm of the spirit world, which was not understood by either the medical doctors or the Catholic priests.
Consequently, espiritistas or traditional healers of Santería and other Latin American cultures working with healing through the spirit world are attacked as “works of the devil” from the pulpits of the Catholic Churches and labeled as “quackery” from the journals of the medical profession. This unique system of knowledge is appreciated as ethnopharmacology or ethnomedicine.
Aligning and harmonizing with the forces of nature, practitioners of the Regla de Ochá invoke on the guidance of Orichás.
There are three foremost orichás that are predominantly concerned with folk-healing, however, other orichás may be invoked to help a person with a specific problem.
These main orichás are: Osaín, the orichá of the herbs; Babalú-Ayé, the orichá of contagious and epidemic diseases; and Inle, the patron of physicians. Osaín is the patron of curanderos or traditional herbal healers, also called Osainistas.
Osaín is embodied in the omiero, which is a combination of “blood from sacrifices offered during the ceremony and juices extracted from herbs that are sacred to the Orichás with water (from rain, rivers, or seas) honey, aguardiente, powdered eggshell, corojo, and cocoa butter.
The forest has everything that would maintain a robust health and keep a person away from malevolence, no spell will be able to work without the sanction of Osaín, the master herbalist commanding the healing secrets of plant life.
Osaín is syncretized with Saint Joseph, Saint Benito or Saint Jerome. Babalú-Ayé is revered by its victims and survivors like smallpox, leprosy and skin diseases. Babalú-Ayé has become the guardian of those with HIV/AIDS.
He is syncretized with Saint Lazarus. Inle is the patron of physicians, known as a healer who favors scientific methods. Inle is ranked as one of the orichás that is approached for very specific health issues. Thus, Inle is also known as the protector of homosexuals and feminosexuals.
Aside from the use of herbs and divination, the Santería traditional healing is achieved through rituals that include animal sacrifice, offerings, altar building, music, dance and possession trance.
When the patient is a child, the Santero uses the curative system known as santiguo, which means “to heal by blessing”. Perceiving health problems, most Santeros recommend that the client seeks a medical doctor.
Parallel to the medical treatment, the patient might be prescribed some herbal teas, cleansing baths or a special diet from the traditional healing practice.
Sometimes, a Santero might advise a client to receive omiero, whose efficacy is widely disputed by many in the medical community.
An omiero is a sacred mixture that is made for specific Santería ceremonies and to embody the orichá ruler of herbs, Osaín. Most clients who see Santeros would never be told to drink it.
Santería traditional healing is just one of the many traditional healing practices used in Caribbean and Latin American cultures.
Traditional healing practices are practiced side by side with mainstream medical practices through the Cuban healthcare system. Traditional healers recognize but do not compete with Western medicine.