Santería is also known as Regla de Ochá, La Regla de Ifá or Lucumi is an Afro-American religion of Caribbean origin that developed in the Spanish Empire among West African descendants.
Santeria is a Spanish word that means the “worship of saints”. Santería is influenced by and syncretized with Roman Catholicism. Its sacred language, a variety of Yoruba is the Lucumí language.
Santería is a system of beliefs that merges aspects of Yoruba religion brought to the New World by enslaved Yoruba people along with Christianity and the religions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
The Yoruba people carried with them various religious customs, including a trance and divination system for communicating with their ancestors and deities, animal sacrifice and sacred drumming and dance.
The need to preserve their traditions and belief systems in a hostile cultural environment prompted those enslaved in Cuba, starting from as early as 1515 to merge their customs with aspects of Roman Catholicism.
This religious tradition evolved into what is now recognized as Santería.
The colonial period from the standpoint of enslaved African people can be defined as a time of perseverance. Their world quickly changed.
Tribal kings and their families, politicians, business and community leaders all were enslaved and taken to a foreign region of the world.
Religious leaders, their relatives and their followers were no longer free people to worship as they saw fit. Colonial laws criminalized their religion.
They were forced to become baptized and worship a god their ancestors had not known who was surrounded by a pantheon of saints.
The early concerns during this period seem to have necessitated a need for individual survival under harsh plantation conditions.
A sense of hope was sustaining the internal essence of what today is called Santería, a misnomer (and former pejorative) for the indigenous religion of the Lukumi people of Nigeria.
In the heart of their homeland, they had a complex political and social order. They were a sedentary hoe farming cultural group with specialized labor.
Their religion, based on the worship of nature, was renamed and documented by their slave owners.
Santería, a pejorative term that characterizes deviant Catholic forms of worshiping saints has become a common name for the religion.
The term santero is used to describe a priest or priestess replacing the traditional term Olorisha as an extension of the deities. The orishas became known as the saints in image of the Catholic pantheon.
In order to preserve and shield (mask) their traditional beliefs, the Lucumí people syncretized their Orichás with Catholic saints. (As a consequence, the terms “saint” and “orichá” are commonly used interchangeably among practitioners.)
Spanish colonial planters who saw the enslaved African people celebrating on saints’ days did not know that they were actually performing rituals related to Orichás and assumed that they were showing more interest in Catholic saints than in the Christian God — hence the derisory origin of the term Santería.
The historical veiling of the relationship between Catholic saints and Orichás is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of santeros in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are also Roman Catholics, have been baptized and often require initiates to be baptized in Roman Catholicism as well.
The spread of Santería beyond the Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean including to the United States was catalyzed by the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
In 1974, the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye became the first Santería church in the United States to become officially incorporated.