Ned Sublette - Oya


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Cuba has a number of "folkloric" groups which play traditional Afro-Cuban music and dance. The word folkloric could mislead you: they're not recreating anything. They're living it. The following pictures were taken at a series of performances of sacred Yoruba dances. You will sometimes read that santeria, as the Yoruba religion is popularly known, is a mixture of African and Catholic religious traditions. Don't believe it. Santeria is the great religious tradition of west Africa with a thin veneer of Christian disguise. Yes, master, we worship your gods. The orishas are the deific figures of the Yoruba religion - beautiful and sometimes capricious protectors. Each has his or her own rhythms, characteristic dances, attributes -- and colors. Cuba in black and white loses something, because color has significance in Cuba. Yemaya, the mother of the seas, dresses in blue and white and has a dance that resembles the motion of waves. Ochun, the goddess of beauty, love and fresh water, is gold and amber and has a coquettish dance, with provocative movements and laughter. Ogun, the god of iron and war, wears green and black, and has a dance that mimics the swinging of his machete. Et cetera. Though these pictures were taken at costumed folkloric performances and not at ceremonies, there is something powerful that is inherent. The dancers are believers and when they impersonate the gods they do it with their whole hearts. Santeria is a danced religion. Oya is the warrior goddess whose color is a complex of nine hues; she is the owner of the cemetery and fights alongside Chango. This dancer is a member of the Conjunto Folklorico Nacional, performing in concert with the orisha-rock group Sintesis at Havana's Teatro Mella. In the air she brandishes her characteristic horsehair fly whisk, called an iruke.
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