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The Lukumi Tradition
by Afolabi (with help from Ilari Oba)

A note on terminology:

The Yoruba slaves who were brought to Cuba throughout the slave trade and their descendants in Cuba and the diaspora were known as "Lukumi." The origins of the word "Lukumi" are still obscure, regardless of the certainty with which cases are stated by those who have made up their minds. Many believe that the term was derived from "Oluku mi" ("my friend") which was used by Yoruba speaking people to refer to their countrymen, and as a greeting for same. There is reference, however, in early literature, to the Kingdom of Oulkoumi or Ulkumi. Early scholars made use of the terms Ulkami, Ulkumi or Alkami to refer to the people who are now known as "Yoruba." The term "Yoruba" was originally applied to these people by their northern neighbors and taken as an official denomination for the people after British colonization. In any event, the term is now used to refer to both the religion and the practitioners of Afro-Cuban Orisha worship.

The name by which the religion is now most commonly known, "Santeria," is a pejorative term first applied by the Spanish to the religious practices of the peasantry. It was used as a derogatory reference to the unusual amount of devotion and attention paid to the Catholic Saints, often in preference to Jesus Christ. This term was again used in Cuba to identify the "pagan" religion. The Yoruba devotion to the Orishas, who were often referred to as "santos" ("saints") by both slave and slave-owners, was mistakenly seen as the "fanatical" worship of demigods and the neglect of "God." Therefore, the opprobrious and demeaning term "Santeria" was extended to the religious practices of the so-called "savages." Only in recent years, after having the label applied by outsiders for an extended period of time, has the term begun to be used by members of the religion.
In the latter half of the 18th century, large numbers of slaves were brought to Cuba from the region of Southwestern Nigeria which was and is the home of the people now known as the Yoruba. Most of these people were taken from the Oyo, Egbado and Ijesha areas. The vast majority of these men and women practiced the indigenous religion of their homeland, and many were members of the priesthood. They brought with them their religious beliefs and practices, as well as deep knowledge of the inner mysteries of initiation and other ceremonies.
While the basic theology and metaphysical worldview of all Yoruba speaking peoples was the same, there were still differences in practice from region to region. Over the years, as members of the diverse groups came together and merged religious traditions based on the commonalties of their beliefs and practices, the religion known as La Regla de Osha Lukumi (The Rule of the Lukumi Orishas) was born. In the early part of this century, in Havana, a reformation took place in which the most esteemed elders of our tradition came together to standardize the ceremonies and rituals of the Lukumi faith. This more focused and coherent set of practices spread throughout Cuba, then into the diaspora. They have stood the test of time and given us the religion we practice today.
Most of our religious dogma comes from the Old Oyo empire of Ancient Yorubaland. This empire, due to the internal strife that brought about its decimation, and the ensuing effects of slavery, Islamic jihads and colonialism, is now gone. The religion practiced by the slaves who were brought to the New World has undergone many changes in Nigeria, and, although we can see that our basic beliefs are the same, there are major differences in practice. Just as contact with other religions affected and actually benefited the religion in the New World, in Yorubaland the effect was exactly the opposite. Colonialism and monotheistic religions took a heavy toll, weakening the roots of the ancient religious traditions of the Lukumi/Yoruba descendants in the homeland. Currently, Orisha worshippers are but a slim minority of Nigeria's total population.

If we look, however, to Brasil and Trinidad, two countries which had virtually no religious interaction with Cuba, we can see that their religious traditions are very similar to those practiced in Cuba. Their chants, aesthetics and initiation rites bear striking similarities (and in many cases are identical) to ours. Often, these are similarities that we do not find in modern-day Nigeria. This is one indication that New World forms of Orisha worship are OLDER traditions which were born of a common ancestry and remained intact, rather than, as is often proposed by Neo-Africanists, the results of New World innovations.
The Lukumi tradition was the "pathmaker" in the US. It is the oldest tradition here, and the progenitor of the majority of the neo-African deviations which claim to practice a "more African" system of worship. Over 90 percent of Orisha worship in the US descends from the Lukumi tradition, yet there are many who claim not to even though they employ fundamental elements of Lukumi tradition, such as prayers, chants, herbs and bead patterns, and the services of members of the Lukumi faith, like animal suppliers, seamstresses, botanicas, priests, Oriates, etceteras, ad infinitum. In addition, the Lukumi tradition has spread to other countries like wildfire-Venezuela, Panama, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain, The Virgin Islands, Curacao, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Sweden and Britain- to make it the most widely practiced tradition of Yoruba origin in the world.

Be ALL this as it may, we must remember that, even in the times of the Old Oyo empire, beliefs and rites differed greatly from region to region in Yorubaland, as they still do. There is no "One True and Only Way", and there never was. It is important that all legitimate religions born of Yoruba origin and fostered by the environment in which they evolved be respected, and that their integrity remains uncorrupted. The Lukumi religion is but one branch on a very old tree, the trunk of which is the ancient tradition of the Yoruba speaking tribes of West Africa.

Copyright © 1998, Clayton D. Keck, Jr. - Afolabi, Oni Yemoja. All rights reserved.
Reprinted here by permission of the author.

  The Worship of Egun

This section will deal with the standard rituals for the honoring of the Egun. The way Egun is taken care of will vary from person to person according to their individual relationship with their own dead. This will change due to the preferences of the individual and of the individual's Egun, who will make their wishes known through divination or through dreams, mediums, etc.

Daily worship


Upon rising, after having saluted Olorun and Eshu, it is necessary to pour libation to Egun. This is done with omi tuto and iba. The aumba is tapped on the ground as the names of Egun are called in Iba and a prayer is offered to Egun to dispel
misfortune and to ask blessings for evolution.

The aumba

The aumba is also known as opa Egun (ancestor staff) or igi Egun (ancestor stick or branch). It is a staff which is used to call the Egun forth as well as to banish negativity. The style of the aumba varies greatly due to many extenuating circumstances
surrounding its receipt.

In some Odu, it is required that the aumba is made of a particular wood and that it be a particular height. There are also Odu which require specific carvings on the aumba, such as a two faced head.

As an homage to Nigerian Egungun masquerade, the aumba is often decorated with ribbons, strips of cloth and fabric. This is often done in "9 colors" to mark the ritual number of the dead.

Any staff can serve as an aumba, but it is customary to perform a ritual in the woods to feed Osain and the dead and to find an aumba in a natural setting. Bells are often added to drive away ajogun and osogbo while calling forth Egun.

The aumba is one of the essential elements of Egun worship. It is the staff that represents the presence of the dead, as well as the ritual percussion instrument which calls them forth.

Onje fun Egun (food offerings for Egun)

At least once a week (more often if possible), preferably when a meal is cooked for the whole family, the first portion of the food cooked should be taken out and given to Egun. It is customary to serve Egun on dinnerware which is cracked or chipped. The food is left for a short time, usually overnight, and discarded in the trash, yard or compost heap.

This can be done on the floor in the house, preferably in a place which is not heavy with the traffic of the living, such as the bathroom, basement or an isolated corner, or in the
backyard, preferably at the foot of a strong tree or some other isolated spot. It is customary in Cuba to propitiate the dead at a stand of banana trees.

The dead are propitiated in isolated areas because isolated areas are seen as a sort of middle ground between the silent land of the dead and the busy land of the living. While the areas are on this plane, they are not heavy with the activity common to the land of the living.

Following are lists of offerings commonly given Egun in the Lukumi tradition. Note that "foods and beverages your family liked" are included in the lists. Both those listed and those favored by your family are important, as tradition must be upheld for religious ancestors and adapted for those of blood relation.

Liquid offerings for the ancestors are:

Sugar water
Honey water
Molasses water
Black coffee
Coffee with sugar and milk/cream
Orange juice or sekete (a special sour orange juice)
Drinks your family particularly liked

Food offerings are:

Sweet potatoes or boniato
White yam balls
Food your family particularly liked

Oju Egun (the Egun shrine)

The Egun shrine can be as simple or as elaborate as one feels Egun likes it. If your ancestors were not showy people, chances are they are not into heavily elaborated shrines. On the other hand, the religious ancestors of the Lukumi faith are often heavily shrine oriented, and wish to see their altars in a more grand style.

Divination can also indicate the type of shrine that your ancestors want, or specific items that should be kept in the area set aside for Egun.

Egun shrines are ALWAYS on the floor. The ancestors are close to the earth, and they receive their offerings there.

On the less elaborate side, you may only see an aumba standing in a corner or in an area in the yard. Here is the place where food is offered and libation is poured, and that is that.

On the other hand, Egun shrines can contain pictures, statues, dolls, flowers, numerous food and beverage offerings that are refreshed frequently and many other accouterments. Some priests have special charms or vessels which are the focal point of their Egun worship. What is important is to remember that the Egun shrine should contain items relating to their ancestors ONLY, not to the guides or affinity spirits which are honored
through spiritualist disciplines.



· Ori is your own head. The relationship with Ori is the wisdom you gain and the feelings in the Okan (heart) can work in sync.

· Leek ceremony puts one on a path of becoming initiated. Saying, I am beginning my rites of passage to become closer to the Orisha that governs me. This ritual cleanses ones path and life, aligning the body and the Ori to ones spiritual path. To become a priest is an honor and privilege.

· Warriors: Eleggua is the first Orisha to come into ones home because of his ability to “fix” things. Eleggua goes nowhere without Ogun, and Ogun goes nowhere without Ochosi and Osun.

· Kariosha (initiation process): A devotee that has chosen this path goes into the Igbodu (sacred grove/priest room) and sits on the odo (throne). In the Igbodu the new initiate undergoes various rituals done to the body which enters them to God forces (Orishas) which has chosen to guide and govern them.

Initiation process Q&A

What happens? What does it do for one?

- Everybody doesn't need to be initiated. An initiate utilizes and maximizes the energies by following ones ITA, iwa pele, being obedient, and respectful. The toughest thing is giving control of your life; to gain more trust and using intelligence/logic but not to where you forget that an Orisha is working with you.

Discussion on Ase

- Introduced by discovering how the Yoruba related to this. Europeans tried to make Yoruba culture a written form of worship. Yoruba is an oral language as well as a tradition. Bishop Samuel Corruthers made the first formal attempt to make the Yoruba culture known to people of the New World; this view was from a Christian standpoint although he was from the Yoruba land.

- Europeans defined of Ase as the ability to have power, give command or power to something, as to say Amen.

- Yoruba defined of Ase as the life force, intangible force surrounding all things given by Olodumare. Can be within inanimate/animate objects. All things have a life force, alive or not.

- L'ase - to give power, command
- A'lase - someone that possesses authority
- Ase - to will power

· Ase: when undergoing the actual initiation process, Ase will be connected directly with the cosmic force of ones self.

· Esu & Ase: The holder of Ase by a decree of Olodumare. Esu is willing to share it with other deities. Esu reminds us that we continue to earn Ase and it can diminish at any given time. To stay in good standings we must have good character, work hard to acquire and maintain knowledge and lessons and take care of the Orisha. Esu has a phallic symbol of the penis because it represents change/procreative things.

· Ori & Ase: Ori is our true guardian Angel. Ori works with the Orisha. We all choose the Ori we have at the beginning of life. Our choice affects the level, and maintenance of Ase. A bad Ori means that one is not in tune to the cosmic forces that he/she should be aligned with. To improve an Ori, one should have readings, rituals and good standing of character, etc.

· Ase is not a neutral force; it is a vibrant energy. It also affects the way we speak, although we are learning and growing tom use our minds to change things. To understand the essence of what makes up a ritual (or things such as) is to posses an Afond'ASE. Distributed through sacrifices and offerings, one can sense the changes of energy. Everyone has an Ase - we all must acquire and maintain it though, then share and distribute it so that it can come back.

· Ase Authority:

· To have knowledge as well as the privilege to say the words. As said earlier Ase runs through, around, over, and under everything. Don't put letters on yourself by saying that your Ase can and will create. Ex: I don't have any clothes, etc. The awareness of Ase is included in prayers; the force responsible for all that flows above, below, through.

· As an alejo (uninitiated) we must have the Ase to help onesselve and our lives. As a priest we would have the Ase to help other people.


Esu: The Divine Messenger is the first Orisha that is called upon during prayer and during ritual. Esu transforms human language into Nature language and Nature language into human language. Esu is the power that opens the human channels of intuition. In his role as trickster, Esu is constantly forcing us to examine the spiritual consequences of our actions in the world. There is also an element of innocence in Esu’s Ase. He is the force that will push the spiritual seeker to explore the unknown. In dealing with issues that require courage, we can ask Esu for the clarity needed to understand our own actions and motivations, even when we make mistakes. Esu is the ability to effectively encounter the unexpected that is the true test of wisdom.

Ogun: The Orisha of Iron has many ritual functions in the religion. It is common to invoke Ogun as a source of protection and he serves this role. With regard to the issue of personal growth Ogun has the Ase to remove obstacles along the path of transformation. When prayer is addressed to Ogun to clear the path for growth is clear that Ogun will clear the path regardless of its source. Ogun is one of the guardians of truth. So if we believe that someone else is responsible for a problem that is actually our fault, 0gun will go to the source and not to the projection.

Oshosi: The Orisha of the hunt works in dose association with the Ogun. Often it is difficult to see what it is inside of us that are causing resistance to growth. Oshosi is asked to identify and illuminate the source of obstruction. Oshosi finds the shortest route to a given destination, while Ogun clears away the obstacles.

Shango/Oya: As natural forces Shango and Oya represent thunder and lightening. Oya opens the gates to the realm of death while Shango gives us the courage to walk through that door. This is true literally at the end of life, and symbolically each time we invoke initiation as a process of transformation. Oya is the force that ends a particular cycle. Shango is the source of the courage that is needed to admit the need for change.
Oya bring a point of change, while Shango will make the change.

Ibéji: The Orishas that are twins. They represent the change that occurs when the cycle of death leads to rebirth. Every form of rebirth comes into the world as a perfect balance between forces of expansion and contraction. These forces are symbolized as a male and a female child. Traditionally the Ibeji are associated with abundance. This is not simply the abundance of material possession; it is also the abundance that accompanies a deeper grasp of the mystery of Being. Ibéji represent personal growth resulting in the good fortune that becomes the foundation of a joyous life. The good fortune is physical as well as emotional.

Yemonja/Aganjü: Yemonja is the mother of fish, while Aganjü is the fire at the center of the earth. As the Mother of Fish, Yemonja represents the mother figure. She is the primal source for providing the emotional healing that is needed during any attempt at personal growth. The Yorubas say that there is no problem so big that it cannot be transformed by the power of the sea.

Aganjü is the primal Orisha of strength. In Ifa myth, Aganjü is the boatman who carries the travelers across turbulent waters. It is Aganjü who gives us the strength to handle pain, sorrow, anger and despair until it can be washed away by Yemonja.

Olokun: In Africa Olokun is the androgynous Orisha of the ocean. Olokun is often characterized as the mystery at the bottom of the ocean. It is at the bottom of the ocean that life begins the transformation into Orisha. It is the place where earth, air, fire, and water unite to form the link between the mineral realm and the animal realm. It is the place that links human consciousness with the consciousness of the earth. We pray to Olokun in an effort to grasp the Odu, or archetypes that form consciousness and that ultimately motivate the desire for growth.

Orümila/0shun: Orumila is the Spirit of Destiny. He is the ability to envision the lines of fate that create personal potential. Prayers to Orumila can ask that our perception of our highest good and our manifestation of our highest good become one.
Oshun is the power that motivates us to seek our highest destiny. It is from

Oshun that we get the sense of fulfillment that allures us to desire change. It is also the erotic power of Oshun that assures that our prayers will be heard. Passion is the force that motivates change.