Santería & Afro-Cuban Culture

Cuba's prominent African-influenced culture is one of the nation's defining characteristics. African culture brought by slaves and developed within the context of the Spanish colony has had a profound impact on religion, music, and indeed, virtually all of Cuban society.

One of the most salient aspects of Afro-Cuban culture is Santeria (also called Regla de Ocha). Frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted as a religious cult or form of voodoo, Santería is in fact a major syncretic and animistic religion that, by most estimates, has a greater following in Cuba than does Catholicism. Its practice is not restricted to Afro-Cubans or a certain socioeconomic class.

Havana's Casa de Africa museum, Obrapía 157, between San Ignacio and Mercaderes in La Habana Vieja (tel. 7/861-5798), has exhibits on Santería for those interested in learning more. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from 9am to 1pm. The Museo de los Orishas, Prado 615 between Monte and Dragones (tel. 7/863-5953), uses mannequins and performance to explain the Santería saints and practices. Through local contacts, Spanish-speaking visitors can sometimes arrange for a santero or babalao (high priest) to perform ritualistic divinations.

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