A Spiritual Tour of Cuba

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Drummers at Templo de ObaKoso, preparing to play the ‘Tambores de Guerra’ (war drums) for Chango rituals in Palmira, Cuba. Photo by Greg Landau.

It has become common for African Americans to travel to Africa –especially Nigeria—for initiations and festivals marking the holy events and places that are part of the mythology of the indigenous traditions. But descendants of Africans in other places in the diaspora caused by the Atlantic Slave Trade maintained  traditions as well and Cuba is one of them.

The Roots of Our Orisha Faith Cuba Tour is a unique 12-day journey that focuses on bringing religious practitioners from the U.S. to meet their counterparts  in Cuba as well as researchers and historians from within the Cuban religious community.

It can be said that Cuban culture is African culture, so pervasive is the influence of the formerly enslaved Africans on island life, especially music, food and art. As recently as two generations ago, African languages were still spoken among the descendants of the enslaved, while religious rites are still conducted in old versions of  Yoruba and Congolese.

Christina Velasco of the city of Alameda has visited Cuba at least a dozen times, traveling with her husband, Greg Landau, to do research on music, to witness initiations and even one time to see the Pope.

She’s been on cultural tours and attended folkloric demonstrations aimed at tourists, but she’s also been to lesser-known strongholds of tradition, the places the Cubans themselves regard as key to maintaining authenticity. “I wanted a trip focusing on bringing the U.S. community to Cuba,” she said, that would also coordinate meeting priests and priestesses in several African traditions.

The 12-day journey, from January 23 to February 3, 2020, starts in Havana with an excursion to nearby Regla, where a museum displays artifacts of Lucumi, as the Yoruba tradition is called in Cuba.

In the city of  Matanzas, lectures on the differences in the styles of initiations and deeper understanding of the spiritual lineages will be presented as well as a private concert with the internationally renowned Los Munequitos band.

Also in Matanzas, a Tata, an expert in the tradition known as Palo Mayombe, which is sourced in Congolese traditional practices, will give a lecture.

In Cienfuegos, travelers will visit the Templo Babaluiaye for the Yoruba deity of smallpox. In Soroa, the highlight is a greenhouse where many of the herbs used in ceremony are grown.

In Palmiras, travelers will be treated to a presentation of the Tambores de Guerra, or War Drums, used in rituals for Chango, the deity of fire.

Throughout the 12-day trip, the character, influence, presence and knowledge of the Africans is emphasized. In Soroa, the visitors will learn about the Cimarrons, or runaway slave towns whose descendants still populate the area.

Although the Trump administration has imposed travel restrictions, the purpose of this trip as a religious excursion is permitted.

Visitors will travel the island on an air-conditioned bus with a dedicated driver, stay in private homes, dine in private eateries and be led by a bi-lingual guide.

There’s room for 30 people and prices range from $2,960-$3,260, excluding airfare. Velasco says the guide is holding low-cost airline tickets until Nov.23, 2019. An orientation via video-conference will take place in December.

For more information, please go to: Rootsofourfaithcubatour.com

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