On the return trip from NYC, Oyugbon turned around in his seat and said to me, in full view of Padrino, “mira, XXXX, this is the guy I wanted to introduce you to. Padrino, he’s a smart guy, very intellectual…and he’s committed. I want to help him get juramento but he needs Guerreros and Mano De Orula. Can you help him with that?” Padrino looked over at me with non-committal eyes and responded, “veremos…give me a call and we’ll discuss it”. I waited a week to give him a call and finally placed it. After a brief greeting, we got to business. “What are you doing tomorrow? I got to go by your city tomorrow to handle some business…give me your address and I’ll see you at 6:00”. At 6:00, the doorbell rang and here was padrino, but this time in a full business suit, very reminiscent of Oyugbon. He was not wearing any Elekes or Iddes. As we proceeded to talk about peripheral issues, he finally popped a question I wasn’t expecting. “And why do you want to join this religion?”. The quiz-like, almost dismissive tone took me by surprise. “You know…I don’t know how to answer that. Some people join religions because they feel lost or empty inside, but I don’t. I’m very happy. I have everything I need: a great girlfriend, a great home, steady income, and I’m happy in my music. I guess I’m joining this religion because for a long time, it was a world that was around me and that I wanted to know more about, but it wasn’t possible for me to know about it because I was a light-skinned guy…you know…for the most part, all the rumberos and tamboreros who were members of the religion were negros from Loiza, Carolina, Santurce, San Juan etc…and while I hung out with them, that wasn’t my living reality. And, I met Oyugbon and wanted to be involved with the batas. That’s really the connection that ties me to it.” He quickly responded, “yeah…but race has nothing to do with it. My padrino in Cuba is as light-skinned as you and has green eyes. Olodummare does not see race…we’re all part of his creation. That’s good that those are your reasons, because this isn’t a religion to make money. Quite the contrary, in this religion, you probably spend more money than in others”. He chuckled a little while I thought to myself, “oh shit…don’t tell me that….”
He proceeded to ask me for a glass of water and began to sit on the floor of my dining room near one of its walls. The sight was so unusual….here was a guy in a full business suit settling himself down against one of my walls in the dining room. “Um…you don’t want to sit on the seat here…on the table?” “no no, this is fine. Don’t worry…do you have the water?”. I figured he’d prefer the floor for some reasons so I proceeded to get him the water. When I returned, he was pulling a metal chain with 8 circular coconut shells out of a small pouch that he had carried in his pocket. With it, he pulled a white stone and a blackened-brown seed of similar size. He touched his forehead with the white stone, whispered to himself and then started to tap the chain, “otalosiguayu”, and then grabbed the black seed, “oyumakunlo”. He grabbed both items, shook them, and then separated them in front of him, one to his right and one to his left. “ifareo….adache”. He dropped the chain….picked it up again…and dropped it again. “Ok…this ekuele is speaking to me. We can proceed…grab a chair, sit over here, and put your feet without shoes in front of me.” He grabbed the glass of water and began, “moyugba….moyugba wa olofin, moyugba….”. He recited for about 4 minutes straight in lightning fast Yoruba….I couldn’t imagine how he could remember so much in another language. I don’t remember much about the remainder of the procedure, except that he consulted a deity regarding whether or not he should give me Guerreros. Apparently, the deity had responded that Guerreros would be a beneficial step in my life. He proceeded to divine which was my Eshu. It turned out to be Eshu Aye, the one that lives inside a conch shell; an Eshu of abundance, that lives near the sea, and that is the world traveler. As soon as he was done gathering all the information needed, he gave me some advice that came from the “sign”, and confirmed that yes, Orunmila concurred that I was doing well. He would call me when they were ready.
Two weeks passed and we arranged to meet at his apartment in his city. By then, it was full winter and the weather was below 30 degrees. He was married to an American woman who, while she accepted him and his religion, wasn’t necessarily interested in being anywhere near it. He was careful to do his work when she wasn’t around, out of respect. We went outside to his slightly underground balcony at around 10 P.M. at night. He climbed up the side of his balcony to the main grounds of the apartment complex and looked around. Once he was done, he stepped down into his balcony and responded, “you can’t be too sure…I don’t want people looking…let’s get this done.” He placed various objects on the floor: a conch shell filled with cement and with a weird face on it, a small metal cauldron with various metal objects inside, and a cup with a rooster. He then pulled his own set, though his metal cauldron was HUGE, and had machetes, sticks, and other stuff inside. What followed is quite the interesting story…but a secret initiation which I can’t speak of. However, suffice to say…the way it was done was the most interesting issue. Unlike what I assume the experience would be in a temperate climate, we did this in below 30 degree weather. We were both freezing and all I could think of was: “man…if other Santeros saw us now….”, as I chuckled at the surrealness of it all. When it was all done, I had my own set of Guerreros by the side of my home door that evening. With the advice of my padrino and from documents I had studied, I knew what I had to do to maintain a schedule of attention to my first Orishas.
A month later, Antonio, another man, and Oyugbon arrived at my door for my scheduled juramento. I had cleaned out my garage, bought the necessary items, and prepared mentally for it. I had heard rumors and whispers of what would occur inside and knew it would be hard. After 10 grueling hours, I had exited my garage an omo-anya and a month later, I was presented to the batas at a significant gathering (over 40 Santeros present) in NYC. Pedro Martinez, the outstanding Afro-Cuban percussionist and akpwon, was one of the players and the akpwon of the ceremony. I was in the company of NYC’s best Latin percussionists…many were members of various groups in the city. They were gracious and welcomed me to the fold, as we exchanged numbers and facebook contact info. Hey, this is modern Santeria…none of this email stuff.
Some time passed before we could effect my Awofaka (Mano De Orula). Padrino had some personal problems and had to resolve them before we could continue with my initiations. We had gathered in Long Island at the home of some Jamaican initiates and received my Awofaka after three days of ceremonies. I was heavily anticipating what Orisha would claim my head and what my ITA would say. When the moment came, I was dying of anticipation (two others had gone before me and taken 4 hours to get their readings). Padrino sat against a wall with a wooden, circular board with white sand inside and brown shells in his hands. He instructed me to sit in front of him, proceeded to do various preparations and then asked me. “What Orisha do you want?” I thought the question was odd….did we get to choose? I hadn’t really put much thought to it…but all of a sudden, the song, “Que Viva Shango” started singing in my head…it was the only recognizable Orisha name that I could remember quickly. “Shango? I guess….” He proceeded to throw his seeds in his hands, picking them up from the right one below the other one. Once in a while, he’d stop, use his fingers to mark a line or two lines in the sand. When he was done, he asked me, “what do you have in your left hand?”. The white stone was there. “Yep…you’re a son of Shango”.
He proceeded to quickly mark another sign on his own and when he was done, he exclaimed, “osalofobeyo” (Osa Ogbe). He remarked, “musical objects are born in this sign. The person has a talent with his hands”. He grinned and looked at the other perplexed babalawos. One of them said, “is this one a musician?” He nodded, “yep.” “hahaha…Orula never fails….NEVER fails…many musicians born under Osa Ogbe”. My padrino was concerned though. “Osa Ogbe also marks the seperation of the Awo from the godson…because of inattention from the Awo….hmmmm”. I kept quiet….I had felt my padrino had not been paying much attention to me, but I had resolved to keep my concerns to myself, since I knew he was going through some personal problems of his own. Felt unwise to pester him about when I was going to get my initiations.
They proceeded to find out if I came osogbo or ire. To my dismay, I came osogbo….osogbo ika araye (negativity because of enemies). They asked me if I had had any conflicts recently. I quickly remembered that I had been kicked out of my first musical group because of differences with the director…something that had never happened to me in my entire musical career. “There you have it. Osalofobeyo is a sign where the person brings their own problems because they can appear arrogant. He creates his enemies. You need to moderate your behavior. When performing…go perform…when done, take your check, and go home. No gossip, no discussions. And if you have to discuss something, always with a lot of tact and patience. Don’t give any room for people to think you’re arrogant”. It was advice my own brother had given to me a month earlier. I knew what Orunmila spoke of was true. I was resolved to be a lot more careful in my dealings with people.
They began to prepare to pack up when I remembered something. “Um…what did it say about my future…do I become a Santero or a Babalawo”. Padrino squirmed a little, “well…your signs are signs associated with a path to Ifa…but”. Another babalawo interjected, “ask Orula, asere…he’ll know”. Padrino was tired from a long day of consulting but he reluctantly sat again and placed the Ota on my head, “Orunmila, does XXXX have a path to Ifa?” He began throwing the seeds again and marking the sign. When he was done with most of them, the other babalawos started giggling. “hahahaha…asere….we have ourselves a future Oluwo here….hahahaha”. Padrino was still working the seeds but he let out a resigned, “yes, mano….”. When he was done, he placed the seeds in the jicara, and laid back against the wall, looking straight at my eyes, as if to say, “great….look at the predicament you’re putting me in.” “Yes, you have a path to Ifa…”
I couldn’t believe what had occurred. After 2 years of development within the religion and after entering it mostly through my interest in the bata drums, here I was finding out I was a son of Shango and that I had a path open to become a babalawo. Padrino was speaking to other Oluwos, “this one right here. This one kept asking me to do his Mano De Orula…been wanting it for months. And I’ll be honest with you. I wasn’t going to take you as my ahijado. Nothing bad about you, but I already had bad experiences with godsons in Puerto Rico and I wasn’t looking to get another godson. I have my own life to lead. But, Orula told me to stop rejecting people from my door and then after that reading, I met you. So…I felt I needed to. But…nada…don’t worry about it. Just stick close to me, be humble, study, and if you want to become a babalawo, I’ll take you to Cuba to do it, where it’s cheaper.”
For a decade I had wanted to visit Cuba….I loved its music and its political history was somewhat of a hobby for me. I had read various groups on the Revolution, its leaders, its successes and its weaknesses. I wanted to visit the island before the Revolution had ended. “Let’s go…when could you do it?”, I asked Padrino. “January…you have time in January?”. Funny enough, I had been recently laid off. Had no time obligations. “January’s fine…we’ll do it then.”
I was on the path to complete my journey….
Awó Ogbe Ate