A university student, Nakia Brown, writes a touching personal memoir detailing how studying the Yoruba/Ifa spiritual practice in Cuba through one our curated Programs helped to heal her wounds of grief. She participated in a Summer 2016 Program at the University of Baltimore entitled “Guillén, Hemingway, Hughes: Cuban Literary Arts and Cultural Historiography.”
She writes: “As a part of the study abroad program, which was organized by Diaspora Travel & Trade, I traveled to Cuba in 2016 for two weeks to study the Yoruba religion. Cuba was colonized by Spain in the 1490s and the first Yoruba people arrived there in the 1500s. Originally, each orisha had their own group of expert practitioners. However, due to the slave trade, the knowledge of all the orishas had to be shared between practitioners and unified to sustain the practice. Not many orishas survived this. According to religion and society professor at the University of Matanzas, Andres Rodriguez Reyes, out of the hundreds of orishas, fewer than 100 orishas are widely known in Cuba today. Commonly, only about 11 or so orishas are widely recognized throughout the African diaspora.
While a great deal was lost in slavery, we found ways to cleverly preserve our past. Afro Cubans syncretized their orishas behind Catholic saints. Oshun, the owner of beauty, femininity, love, and sensuality was syncretized with the Lady of Charity. Changó, the owner of fire, lightning, war, drumming, and dancing, was syncretized with Santa Barbara. Today, however, the Yoruba religion is no longer a clandestine practice. It's woven into everyday life—from the streets to the bars—making Cuba a perfect place on this side of the world to dive deeper into the practice and see its cultural perseverance up close.”