The eyes of the world will be focused in the months and years to come on the evolution of the relationship between the United States and Cuba. The intent of changes announced under the current Obama administration have already started a ripple of effects at many levels. Of chief interest to me as an olosha is the impact that this re-establishment of relations will have in our Santeria community at large.
If you have been following The Mystic Cup, you would realize that I have never been one to mince words or to shy away from expressing my concerns and ideas. In this case I have some areas of concern which deserve careful consideration and discussion amongst the leaders of our religious houses, no matter if they are Ifa or Osha-centric.
Perception is Reality
On January 2, Oba Ernesto Pichardo gathered media in Miami to announce that the Church of Lukumí Babalú Ayé (CLBA) will be fostering open relations with over 500 fellow oloshas in Cuba. The Church seeks to open the door for equal treatment to Oloshas as initiates with regards to the freedom that other churches have to carry on their missionary and religious work in neighboring island. The conference also served to announce this year’s Letra del Año in Miami, which is a yearly reading used by Oloshas to guide their actions with the advice of the Orishas.
The Letra del Año is determined in many countries including Cuba. The Island, the bastion of the Orisha religion in the Americas, could not fall short in announcing the most expected results of the yearly reading. This time the reading highlights the importance of socio-political changes between the United States and Cuba.
There were two media powerhouses that reported on the Cuban Letra del Año announcement: Reuters and AP. However, I will not limit myself just to those two, I am also going to analyze coverage done by local newspapers and TV stations in Florida.
Let’s start with the lack of professionalism and disrespect exhibited by the editors of the Associated Press. Let me highlight the deficiencies of the article which even lacks a byline.
- The opening paragraph does not mention which is the group that called the press conference. Last time I checked, Who, What, When, Where, Why were of importance when reporting stories. There were two groups that called for a conference, one in Miami and one in Cuba. Attention to details, and, proper reporting generates credibility.
- The word babalawo is placed in quotes, this denotes a lack of respect for the religious status of an Ifá priest. Have you ever seen an AP story using quotes for the words “Bishop” or “Minister” unless they are questioning the validity of the rank or initiation? The appropriate course of action is to use italics for a word in a foreign language. By the way, this is as stated in the Associate Press Manual of Style and I do keep a copy on my desk.
- On the same paragraph there is the use of a question mark that in my appreciation denotes either lack of proper editing, or a nonchalant attitude towards the information presented by the Ifá priests who determined the Letra del Año. I leave you to that consideration.
- The skimpy paragraph mentions the intent of a restoration of ties between priests in Cuba and the U.S. However, the reporter falls short on doing proper reporting by omitting the fact that the Church of Lukumí Babalú Ayé had a conference on January 2 and that the conference in Cuba amplifies the message of unity.
- The stroke of genius comes in the form of a closing paragraph that truly denotes how media continues to perpetuate the ignorant concept that Orisha practitioners are in fact all syncretic in their practices. We are not a mix of Roman Catholicism and African Yoruba. African Yoruba is not a religion, it denotes a people.
Talk about irresponsible journalism, the AP has truly done it this time. However, if we do not raise our voices to point out these ‘tiny’ monstrosities, we will be all guilty of continued to have our image shaped by outsiders.
In any case, here is the original link, feel free to read it and leave a little comment to the AP editors if you feel as I do and like to protect the image of our religious practices. I am also posting the article so you can see the reasoning behind my comments.
—Beginning of AP’s Story—
Cuban Santeria Priests Welcome Closer Ties With US
HAVANA — Jan 3, 2015, 3:55 PM ET
A group of Afro-Cuban Santeria priests said Saturday the path is clear for improved dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba following the two governments’ announcement of plans to renew diplomatic ties.
The “babalawo” priests’ annual “Letter of the Year” also foresaw dangers of epidemics, conflicts, environmental imbalances and the loss of religious or political leaders ? general projections that have been common in past such Letters.
Lazaro Cuesta, one of the founders of the Commission of the Letter of the Year, said the planned restoration of ties, announced on Dec. 17, with the U.S. opens a period “of hope for all the world.”
“Our Cuban brothers who are there (in the United States) will avoid being victims of the walls that separated us until yesterday,” he said. “Those walls collapsed to create a bridge.
The commission represents about 1,000 babalawos and is independent of the government. Another Santeria group, the government-recognized Yoruba Association issued its yearly message on Thursday. It did not mention ties with the U.S. and urged people to “avoid social indiscipline.”
Santeria is a mix of Roman Catholicism and the African Yoruba.
—End of AP Story—
Continuing to break down the day’s coverage of news, let’s take a look at how Reuters, another media powerhouse reports the story. Reuters is of importance because a lot of newspapers and Internet media pick up stories done by them and replicate them all over the world. The same is the case for the Associated Press stories. In the case of Reuters, the reporters are listed and their story is free of huge mistakes. However, let me point out a few things that could have been reported better.
Opening paragraph fails to establish who these priests are. Credibility is key and the writers should present a context. Who, What, When, Where and Why…remember?
- On the second paragraph there are two factual errors. Cubans are not the only ones who honor the orishas and there are far more than 3 million around the world that are involved into what the media calls Santeria.
- On the fifth paragraph there is a huge mistake: Baba Eyiogbe is not a deity, it is an odú. However, it is even worse to attribute such faux pas to one of the most respected awós, Lazaro Cuesta.
Here is the original link followed by the article: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/03/cuba-new-year-predictions-idUSL1N0UI0EH20150103
—Beginning of Reuter’s Story—
Cuba’s Santeria priests hail U.S. detente in New Year forecast
By Rosa Tania Valdés
HAVANA Sat Jan 3, 2015 2:45pm EST
Jan 3 (Reuters) – Priests offering New Year’s prophecies from Cuba’s Afro-Cuban religion urged old Cold War foes Havana and Washington to continue rebuilding relations, and forecast that detente would bring economic benefits in 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced last month they would move to renew diplomatic ties, potentially paving a way to end decades of hostility.
Many on the Caribbean island eagerly await the annual forecast from the Santeria religion, which is practiced by 3 million Cubans and uses animal sacrifices to contact Yoruba deities originally worshiped by slaves brought over from Africa.
This year the priests, known as babalawos, predicted more conflicts between nations worldwide, the deaths of religious and political leaders, ecological strife and storm surges, as well as fatalities from inter-generational struggles.
One of the priests, Lazaro Cuesta, said building bridges for dialogue was key for the coming 12 months.
“All those who are involved in that, in all aspects of life, are called to victory,” Cuesta told a news conference in Havana. “Those who put up walls and break down bridges are doomed.”
The priest said the ruling deity, Baba Eyiobe, is applauding the rapprochement announced on Dec. 17 by the U.S. and Cuban governments.
Cuesta said Baba Eyiobe was telling world leaders, particularly those in Washington and Havana, “to use their heads as a fundamental basis for relations, their own intelligence, and not to be influenced by the past, nor by circumstances created by some ill-intentioned people.”
He added: “God wants the dialogue to continue for everyone’s benefit.”
The Santeria priests said one of the slogans for 2015 chosen by the faith was: “Wisdom is the force that moves the Earth.”
They also prophesied that 2015 would offer economic benefits thanks to the Cuba-U.S. talks, but gave no other details. Cuba said in December that it expects GDP growth of 4 percent in 2015, following years of economic slowdown. (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Adams and Gunna Dickson)
—End of AP Story—
Local coverage of the CLBA news conference had good and bad reporting. The exception was El Nuevo Herald. Kudos to Alfonso Chardy for having his facts straight and writing with respect. Here is the link to the article: http://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/sur-de-la-florida/article5371977.html#/tabPane=tabs-228efa30-1. El Nuevo Herald also provided a video which allows visitors to obtain more background on the importance of the announcement. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMjPg168iDs&feature=player_embedded
So sad that the comments done by the readers (here is the link http://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/sur-de-la-florida/article5371977.html#/tabPane=tabs-228efa30-2) reflect so much ignorance and lack of courtesy. These are the Christians that think of themselves as high and mighty but cannot be civil on a public forum and exhibit the respect and tolerance that they would demand to have afforded if the shoe was on the other foot.
America TeVé, a Miami TV station, also covered the conference live, however the anchors cannot help themselves and interjected their ignorant jokes. Attention News Anchors, if you do not want to look like a bubble head, shut up and stick to introducing your story with dignity. Please, by all means take a look at the video, it is in Spanish, but I have translated the dialogue in question so you can see what outrages me.
The male anchor, Juan Manuel Gaos: “…some have been mounted by the Santo in this beginning of the year Olance, no?”
Fortunately reporter Olance Noguera had the intelligence not to follow the lead of the anchor who was trying to be “funny” and make light of an important story for the Orisha community. He continued to report with dignity and introduce his story from the field.
In the story, which is actually pretty fair and balanced, reports Ogbe-Sa (8-9) as the Oddú ruling in Florida. One of the refrains associated to the oddú says, “If the perception others have of me does not kill me, not even a king can kill me.”
I rest my case, perception is king. If we want to be perceived properly by the world we need to start by examining and questioning the way in which media reflects our actions. Furthermore, we need to be cognizant of who we place in front of a camera or to give an interview. Fortunately, the spokespeople that reporter Noguera selected for his story were eloquent, but this is not the case all the time.
Brothers and sisters of stone and blood, perception is reality. Take care of your actions, think carefully before you express yourself in public, but most important, let the head lead the body and act according to your rank and status. What you do or not do reflects on all of us and this year can be a turning point for our religion if we do not take care of portraying ourselves with dignity and propriety.
To those who are leading, lead on. To those who are good at questioning the actions of others looking in, continue to raise the right questions. To those who like to talk and not think before speaking, keep quiet until you know what to say, who to say it and when.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá