Sunday, April 13, 2014

Focus on African Religious Roots Opens Rifts Among the Branches

The worshippers flock from Miami, Venezuela, Brazil and other far-flung destinations on their pilgrimage into the heartland of the tribal faith.
Alexandre Texiera Ramos flew from São Paulo to Lagos, then drove five hours to this dusty, teeming West African town along the banks of a hallowed river. For six days, he embarked on a series of rituals, from herbal baths to drumming ceremonies in forests sacred to this ancient faith of deities and divination.
In Cuba and South Florida, the religion has evolved into a distinct offshoot widely known as Santeria but called Lukumi by followers. In Haiti, elements of the tribal beliefs are famously known as voodoo. In Brazil, Ramos studied a variation called Candomble.
Whatever the names, at the root of them all is Nigeria’s Yoruba tribe. When members were forced into slavery hundreds of years ago, they brought their beliefs to the Americas. Now followers like Ramos — in a world made smaller by the Internet and social media — are increasingly looking back to Africa to reconnect with the roots of their faith.
Ifayemi Elebuibon, the high priest of Osogbo, welcomes a stream of devout believers to his temple.
“They discover many of the ceremonies they are doing, something is missing,” said Elebuibon. “They want to do things in the authentic way.”
Said Ramos, who concluded his trip by paying homage to Elebuibon: “Everything was really intense. It was incredible because you’re in a touch with a divine being, with something higher.”
In South Florida, Santeria has often been belittled by uninformed outsiders for its mysticism, ritual animal sacrifices and colorful deities. And scholars point to an emerging wave of “traditionalists” as evidence of the increasing worldwide popularity of religions spun from the Yorubas.
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