In 1969, two years after I was born, the first Black woman was elected to the U. S. Congress. Her legacy inspires me. Her words move me to action. Her quote about standing by the sidelines echoes within me, particularly as I work to contribute along with many responsible olorishas to shape the Lukumí religion's legacy in the Americas and the world.
Many know me since the 90's when I helped to found the now-defunct Organization for Lukumí Unity (OLU). Its rise and fall in itself is a rich story, which I may recount later. Sufficient to say that even as I prepared to make kariosha back then, I had the backbone to voice my opinions and inspire olorishas to come together, even if I was yet not ordained.
For those who know me in person because of decades of work in the Orisha community, and for the countless others who can attest to my opinionated and staunch point of views about upholding traditions, know that I don't mince words.
So, let's have it. I am sick and tired of the shenanigans of people who have not the foggiest idea of what it is to truly devote themselves to the Lukumí religion. I will not stand by on the sidelines and watch as ignorant, greedy, self-serving, and arrogant people appropriate a rich religious system and bastardize it beyond the point of recognition. I promise you this rant will not be brief; it will not be sweet, and it will not be delivered from the scholarly self-aggrandizing pulpit many like to spouse. I will cut to the chase and save you the colors of grey.
The Cultural Blender
Based on my observations, the number one culprit of the Lukumí religion's devolution comes cultural re-interpretation of the Lukumí religion. The second culprit is exploitation, and the third, arrogance.
People who are not raised in or around Lukumí practices and follow a "converting" trend tend to interpret and filter this religion through their existing cultural, national, and racial lenses. That is natural. However, if left unchecked, it has dangerous implications. A person trying to learn about religion from a pre-conceived religious notion is drinking a cup of coffee from a half-filled cup of orange juice. One must make space to learn properly and not filter new concepts through pre-existing perceptions.
Plainly said, a person who wants to start to practice the Way of the Orishas in Mexico will approach it from a vastly different perspective from a Midwestern Anglo-Saxon background or even from an Afrodescendant person living in the U.S. In either case, one must empty the cup first, at least as much as possible.
In Mexico and other countries with strong shamanic practices, there is a tendency to fuse Lukumi elements with a shamanistic perspective, a part of their religious ethos. Do we end up preserving Lukumi traditions? Not entirely. Thus, the sancocho or stew pot we see emerging.
Re-interpretations of religion are not only done through cultural and ethnocentric filters but also generational filters. I will quote a few recent examples, but this is a conversation that must include your points of view and examples as well; thus, the comment area is open.
Exploitation goes hand in hand with ignorance. Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok have sharks. They shamelessly offer phone numbers and WhatsApp conversations to "help," right! The only way to help others is to uproot the weeds choking the goodness in the Lukumí.
Arrogance is an issue. If an Olorisha sees an issue, he or she should address it. Otherwise, they are standing by on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. We owe it to our Egún and to our pacts with Orisha to stand up and defend the legacy we have been entrusted.
I know that the examples I will list with illustrations and links will not cover all of the good, the bad, and the ugly plaguing us, which can be found regardless of country, age, and race. Reducing the issue of devolution to those three factors will do us no favors.
While many may practice the Lukumí ways in Mexico and other countries properly, kudos to them for toeing the line, there is a growing trend of spousing commercialist and predatory approaches that must continue to be addressed. This behemoth amalgamation of local folk and shamanistic practices are detrimental to the Lukumí religion because they reinterpret Santería to the point of dangerous dilution.
Music with a Punch
El Conquistador is one of those voices who touch many. He is raw and unfiltered, and his social criticism of the Lukumí ranks has merit. His Santeria diss is worth listening to because he exposes how some Olorishas treat their godchildren like businesses. Here is part two as well. His voice carries a punch and a couple of expletives. He also opens up the conversation about folks who appropriate religious concepts like Blaque Witch YaYa.
With her Youtube channel, this lady sees fit to use Lukumí patakís to create a false narrative and mystique that resonate with a new generation who undoubtedly is ready to be led by someone with a self-proclaimed lack of discipline. In the past, I have brought up the example of Blaque Witch YaYa in forums with olorishas who plainly expressed that Orisha takes care of shysters. Yet, she still is spewing out nonsense faster than I can say ashé. Blaque Witch YaYa continuously spins creative interpretations of Lukumí Pataki, and her boyfriend Baron claims he can determine orisha alagbatori with Tarot cards!
What is most offensive is that she has the audacity to insult devout Olorishas for having the discipline to run proper houses, houses she petulantly scorns. People of exploitative nature find myriad excuses for appropriation and do as they please because they are allowed to go unchecked. Translation, being a free spirit, un-initiated serves her. She can market her happy-go-lucky personality and make money as she pleases.
Not sure if to laugh or cry…
Last night, on the Palo Mayombe, Briyumba, Kimbisa, Santeria Facebook forum, a gentleman from Mexico claimed he has Oshun, and he brought it down himself! Furthermore, he claims that Ogun told him he is powerful. What is wrong with this picture? Furthermore, what is wrong with the folks who support him with stupid comments?
This illustration is from another interesting post found on Santeros Exposed Backup and Santeria, Yoruba, Santeros, Babalawos y Religiosos del Mundo (the group is hosted from Mexico) has what is being described as an Elegua oro Oshun.
In this video found on Sancocheros y Estafadores, we can see the ultimate interpretation of a "Tambor." Another video on Youtube by Irawo Arawa Osha has a collection of Top Five travesties. I can't vouch for the insults and issues exposed there, but it is entertaining to watch.
As you can see, it is clear that we have an issue we must continue to address as a community. Social media has accelerated problems, it has exposed them, but they were there all along.
What is your perspective? Where do you see the Lukumí religion heading? Will we be unrecognizable in a decade or two?
There is much more to address. We are being dismantled bit by bit. An influx of revisionism, blatant commercialism, inventions of all shapes and sizes are all part of the conversation on the table. As I work on this article some friends have reached out to list other cases of abuse towards our religion in Atlanta, New York, and beyond. Thus the importance of using the comments below and include your version of the story because my voice is but one.
Remember that under the advice of this year's Letra del Año, Ikafún, sometimes we have to do what we don't like to do. In this case, leave the comfort of silence and take a stand against what is wrong. Standing on the sidelines is no good when we must uphold traditions.
I leave you with some music to inspire you by El Huerfano.
Oní Yemayá Achabá
 For that matter, also of Palería— a Mexican constructed word when used to describe Palo Mayombe.