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Afro-Cuban Regla de Ocha

Lukumi is one of many Afro-Cuban religious practices thriving in Cuba and internationally today. Each Afro-Cuban religious system is closely connected to West African ethnic heritages of enslaved Cubans, maintained by the existence of cabildos -- mutual aid societies -- during slavery in Cuba. Each cabildo was linked to a Catholic Saint, based on the model of cofradías that had African membership in Spain before the Transatlantic Slave Trade begun. These ethnic identities remain integral to Afro-Cuban identity and include Kongo/Congo (Bantu/Rep. of Congo), Arará (Dahomey/Benin, Togo), Abakuá (Calabar, Nigeria), and Lukumi (Yoruba/Nigeria).

While each religious practice has a distinct cultural identity, the links between these systems and their practices are what make Afro-Cuban. Each is practiced separately but complimentary to one another, and amazingly, similar sets of practices share these relationships in other African descended cultures such as Brazil and Haiti.

Ultimately the energies invoked through ritual and initiation define each religious systems relationship to one another and their boundaries. There are also overarching ideals that pertain to Afro-Cuban religiosity as a whole and so are shared throughout each religious practice.

While many great Afro-Cuban religious artists were intiated in many systems, not everyone has a path to initiate in multiple practices just because it is possible.

Lukumi is a growing approach to orisha practice in part because of its powerful musical ritual tradition which has always attracted international artists, musicians, intellectuals and researchers. Orisha religious practices are prominent throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and U.S. Lukumi has historically been organized by elders of from main " family trees" of initiates (who have ramas/branches) very intimately linked to Afro-Cuban neighborhoods in Havana and Matanzas.

While Lukumi is a national Cuban and international practice today, bembe mezclado and distinct Afro-Cuban practices developed in Cuba's east, the Oriente. This is linked to the legacies of Afro-Caribbean and Haitian descended communities that are powerful influences in eastern Afro-Cuban religion and folkloric performance.

Lukumi is a system with two major components: ocha and Ifa. Each has its own initiations, divination techniques and priesthoods that in many instances work together. Varying philosophies in the Lukumi community are based in the ritual history of a particular family tree. This heavily dictates the ritual protocols for communities which are shared when within the same ramas/branches and lineage of initiates.

Lukumi theology maintains that the world is created by God, Olofi, who through the creation of the natural/material world also births orishas and humans. Orishas are the only spirits that communicate directly with Olofi and humans -- they powerfully manifest through natural elements (rivers, oceans, mountains, forests, rain, thunder, wind, etc), divination and ritual possession. Orishas are also associated with colors, behaviors/tempermants, numbers, foods and energies. They are represented in human form, raw natural elements and materially in soperas that only initiated priests can receive.

In addition to orishas practitioners venerate ancestral and other spirits of the dead that accompany one in life. Certain ceremonnies are specifically for ancestral spirits called Eggun in Lukumi religion. Many Lukumi practitioners also require their family of initiates to develop relationships with their ancestral spirits through Spiritism or espiritismo. This practice mixes Catholicism, Native American, Kardecian philosophy and African beliefs that focus on elevating dead spirits to a spiritual space where they can directly influence the lives of their descendants positively. This is done through prayer, rituals and giving "light" to the spirits of the dead who are channeled by elder, experienced espiritistas (mediums) who have undergone the coronación/coronation ceremony.

Lukumi ceremony initiations include:
Marking the Head/Guardian Angel (automatically done during mano orula ceremony); Warriors; Eggun (Ancestors); Elekes; "Mano Orula" (Awofaka/Ikofa) and Kariocha.
If one has gone through the kariocha ceremony they may have a path to become an apprentice to become an Oba/Oriate or pass additional initiation to become an Ifa priest. Since there is no one uniform way to initiate into Lukumi, with the help of a trusted friend, family member or godparent one receives divination consultations to determine the best path of initiation. No two people are alike in Lukumi, a beautiful aspect of this practice that also contributes to its controversies surrounding initiation fees, finding a godparent/godchild relationship that is lasting, or experiencing incomplete, incorrect or invented ceremonies. Reputable community priests are creating various alliances to combat common abuses of power and incorrect ceremonies and information. Through our performance work, Lukumi Arts strives to present authentic representations of Lukumi culture and religion. Please check out our links to other reputable sources on Lukumi religion in our LukumiNews section!