HAVANA, Aug. 17th (IPS-CUBA) Some followers of Afro- agree that you can omit animal sacrifice from rituals,
which is in line with the very origins of these animist religions and closely tied to Nature and its elements.
On August 9th, the issue was raised and discussed during the conference “Regla Olosa-Ifa without animal sacrifice” headed by Babalawo (Ifa priest) Raufe Montalvan, a spokesperson for the movement that is slowly growing in this Caribbean country with 11.2 million inhabitants.
Sacrifice of will
The roundtable took place at the Casa Tomada Mirarte, an independent and community project in the capital’s Marianao municipality, whose objectives involve increasing the value of contributions made by the Afro-descendant population and deconstructing racist and discriminatory discourse which persists within society.
Before dozens of attendees, Montalvan explained that he began this process of modifying sacrifice rituals around 2009 when he began to ask himself many questions and reflect upon the points that he found contradictory and studying a great deal about the origins of religious practices.
He noted that these religions come from Africa, from tribes with a culture that was developed centuries before Christ, and were brought over to the Caribbean island by slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries, and have evolved with syncretic expressions.
“What was community-based in Africa, became personal here. It was impossible for everyone in the village to have a goat to offer their (orisha/deity) Eleggua because there was only one in the entire place and everyone went there to pay tribute,” he pointed out.
He realized that the initiation ceremonies he had taken part in when the time came for the sacrifice, the deity accepted another form of sacrifice, instead of using animal’s blood, he offered a juice or symbolic fruit to the orisha.
Montalvan spoke out against practices which involve aggression to any species, such as banging nails and rails into royal palms and ceiba trees, or putting out sacrificed animals that then rot in the street, next to day-care centers, schools, institutions or homes, with the risk of diseases spreading and pollution that comes as a result.
“You can pick up a chicken, clean yourself and in doing so, you are no longer a rapist, thief, crook. Can a bath, external purification resolve my problem? he wondered when talking about the “sacrifice of will” concept which he defends.
“The real sacrifice needs to be of one’s will because problems lie within one’s conscience, within oneself. Change needs to come from the inside. However, how willing are we to sacrifice our will?” he asked, leaving the audience to meditate upon this.
Several participants voiced their concerns and thoughts about the subject in today’s national context.
Gretel Montes de Oca, the ballet dancer and animal rights activist, asked the extent to which the increase in Afro-Cuban religious practices influences, or not, the absence of an Animal Protection Act in Cuba, which citizens have been demanding for years.
According to the activist and poet Afibola Sinufola, blaming religions with African roots for the fact that the State doesn’t want to approve this Act, “forms part of the internalized racism that permeates every institution and the population on the whole.”
“It’s a lot easier to blame a religion which comes from Africa and justifies it because many people say: how are you going to tell these “black people” that they can’t kill a goat?” she weighed in.
In researcher Ileana Hodge’s opinion, the problem lies in excessive animal sacrifices with the proliferation of santeria and the reasons why people want to be initiated.
“Another factor is animal welfare, there are many people who throw animals out on the street and they aren’t santeria priests necessarily. For example, there are people who have pets and they then drown or throw out their babies onto the street. It has more to do with educating society than with religion,” she argued.
She also pointed out that there is a more progressive line of thinking in some social groups as “we are becoming aware of Nature. Humans, not santeria priests, have put it in danger.”
Myrna Padron, the coordinator of Casa Tomada MirArte, stressed that “we are preparing activities so we can go into religious homes and places of worship and talk about these issues, to create a dialogue to raise awareness. Whether we sacrifice animals or not, being the best human beings we can be is the most important thing.”