Yoruba culture is considered one of the richest elements the Caribbean cultural diversity is made up of. Its religion came to the New World in the collective memory of African slaves who passed it on orally to their offspring. Today, its philosophical richness is part of the spiritual heritage of the American peoples, even though it underwent a series of transformations as a result of its encounter with African and European religions. Those religions led to a kind of syncretism that eventually set up new visions of the universe and the matching of Yoruba deities with Catholic saints.
Regla de Osha (Rule of Osha) names the Yorubas religious system that gathers a set of beliefs and rituals based on adoration of the Orishas from the Nigerian saint shrine. Olofi, the supreme god, has rights over the other deities, yet he's not worshiped as the other Orishas are, who in turn are penciled in as the messengers of their Supreme Being.
The Orisha religion is linked to the notion of family. A religious brotherhood is established between godparents and their godchildren who are not family-bound. Each religious family has a functional ethnical origin that has grown thanks to a process of nonstop initiations in which the cultural foundations of the ancestors prevail. These structures don't reach great organizational complexity as it does happen in Catholic institutions.
For its part, the cult is observed in temple-houses, that is, in the home of the cult leaders where ritual elements are maintained, as well as the religious representations to be venerated.
The Yoruba saint shrine gathers gods of ambivalent character, designed to resemble man and endowed with a sense of justice and equity, with the same virtues they passed on to their peoples, with a concept of right and wrong, layered in specific domains for each and every one of them.
For practitioners of this kind of religion, the heart of the matter is the respectful cult of the Orishas through adoration, feeding and compliance with rituals in all dates of its liturgy. Each temple-house, each priest and each santero worships Orishas, takes care of them and conveys the information they received from their ancestors. Maybe that explains the differences between them, though the essence of faith, liturgy and religious practice have remained unaltered for centuries.
The highest hierarchy within the Regla de Osha is represented by the babalawo, endowed with the attributes of Orula the god of divination, for the conduction of guessing rites performed on the Board of Ifa and the chain. Only male individuals can be babalawos. Another major hierarchical post is the babalocha or iyalocha the santero or santera in charge of specific liturgies like guessing through either the diloggun or the Obi. However, the oriatés are the wise guessing experts that read and interpret the Diloggun made up of sixteen snail shells. They are the ones that find out the Ita (fate) believers are to cope with during their existence after the initiation. They also emcee anointing ceremonies. Another relevant figure is the oyubbona or yimbona, who leads persons to be initiated during all of their weeklong rituals until the whole process is completed.
African oracles mentioned before- have exerted a tremendous influence on the life of Caribbean religious communities with a Yoruba origin. Its use has caught on among believers and has marked their behavior. Consultations are frequent and range from the simplest questions and problems to the most difficult ones. A case in point is the yearend ceremony in the Ifa's most prestigious houses. The last three days of the year are reserved to forecast through rituals and higher level offers made to the Orishas- the social, natural and political developments for the coming year.
These three systems the Ifa divination complex, the Diloggun and the Obi- have played a major role in the perpetuation of cultural traditions and the language spoken by the African ancestors that also nourished these African roots.
Several religious ceremonies take place in the cult of the Orishas. Some of the most outstanding ones are those conducted to pay tribute to specific saints and appreciate a gift granted to believers. For their part, weeklong initiation ceremonies are also very important. Different rites are performed every day to prepare neophytes for the new life as practitioners. One day is particularly reserved for drums. The new practitioner should offer himself to the bata drum and dances in front of it in recognition to its meaning within the cult.
In the same breath, the itutú or mourning ceremony, as well as bembés or wemileres huge crowded parties for fun and entertainment for everyone- are also held. In the latter ones, bata drums are not used given their sacred character. These ceremonies are good for believers to strengthen their ties with the deities that rue their lives and try to strike a balance between good and bad with a view to meet their spiritual and material needs.
The spirit-fetish-magic relationship is a key player in the Yoruba religion given its propitiatory and boon-granting characte. In Nigeria, for instance, the otanes (stones) are object that stand for supernatural powers the Orishas are endowed with and so they are worshiped. Heed paid to spirits, ancestors, nature, the sun and the moon cannot be ruled out in the cult development. An esoteric kind of language and magic are used to establish communications between the deities and their worshipers.
In Nigeria, there are toughly 405 venerated divinities. In the Caribbean, that number varies depending on the context or the country, but usually it never goes beyond thirty of them. On the other hand, the representation of these symbolic elements is not uniform everywhere. This process lays bare both the loss and assimilation of cultural patterns undergone by a specific civilization when it gets in touch with a similar one.