Santería branches emerge from the structure of Cabildos* and there are various branches from which interconnected houses emerge. Some of the most known branches are identified by colorful epithets: The Culos Verdes (“Green Ass”) which loosely translated means hillbillies or country bumpkins, La Pimienta (“Hot Pepper”) and El Trapito (“The Little Rag”). There is history behind each of these names.
The Culos Verdes, as per William Mudro** is a substitution for the designation previously known as José Pata de Palo who was born in Matanzas, Cuba and migrated to Havana in the late 18th Century and where he was considered a güajiro, jibarito o simply, a country bumpkin.
La Pimienta (where I come from) is also known as El Trapito and La China de Maximiliano. Its founder, the matron of a brothel named Aurora Lamar (Obá Tolá) distinguished herself not only for her passion to the orisha but for lending money to prostitutes to do yoko osha. Her house was in located in a place called Ataré which is nothing other but the Yoruba-Lukumí word for Guinea Pepper. Lamar was a daughter of Aganjú an orisha known for his hot temper and representative of the fiery core of the earth.
As to El Trapito, well that name comes from ritual innovation. The story goes that during one of the yoko oshas a soup tureen broke and they had to improvise using a rag to contain the fundamentals of the orisha in the process of crowning. Therefore, in one of the houses from what came out of Lamar’s Pimienta house, using a rag to contain the fundamentals of the orisha became the norm.
It is important to point out that the designations of branches is a fluid process, and this brings me to the subject of the emergence of new houses right here in Puerto Rico and in other places where Santería is found.
The House of La Palangana
There is a tendency for misguided invention in our religion, at that is no secret. If you have read enough of my articles you have by now probably realized that I do not support those who want to create and recreate patakís, rules and traditions to suit their selfish needs of power and hide their ignorance. This sad state of affairs was part of my conversation with my godfather Yeguedé. During our conversation I told him about a few alarming new trends that I am hearing about from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico and the United States and from other places, which point to further blatant and knowing corruption and degradation of tradition in many Santería houses. Wisely, he reminded me of the expression “Esta es la casa de la palangana, donde cada cual hace lo que le da la gana” (this is the house of the wash basin where everyone does as they please, in other words they have no regard for tradition and rules) which he had hear out of the mouth of a particularly feisty olosha daughter of Oshun known to both know for her colorful personality.
How do you know if you belong to a Palangana house? Simple, does the expression “En mi casa se hace así…” or “In my house we do it this way…” tends to be the closing line to arguments about things that do not quite fit the rules? That is the equivalent of justifying processes not understood based on acquired habits.
Although belonging to a Palangana house is not a badge of honor, there are worse evils that can visit well intended neophyte or an ignorant olosha. Behold the mighty House of Sancocho!
House of El Sancocho
The word Sancocho in the Boricua (Puerto Rican) context means a ‘stew’ where any ingredient can be added, but it can also mean the leftover food scraps use to feed swine. Take your pick, either lacks status and that is precisely what the Sancocheros (followers of Sancocho houses) are doing to the Lukumi practices; denigrating their status.
Making Santísima Muerte part of the Lukumí pantheon? No problem. Not enough time to prepare properly for an osha? No problem, money rules where traditions fall. Not enough training to perform in rituals? No problem, just wing it and repeat like the parrot while others take the lead. So long as there is the ‘apparent’ blessing of the orisha, anything goes. These are the folks who stop at nothing to make money, who care about nothing but status and having more and more godchildren (which they by the way either not train or train in the arts of further rule-breaking).
A word of warning, sometimes the orisha tests followers’ iwá pelé by allowing them enough space to commit travesties because they understand the nature of some human beings who are stubborn, proud and ill adjusted to tradition. It is all part of the learning process and of developing good character. Do you push the boundaries further to the point of breaking tradition? Or do you adhere to tradition and do what is right?
This is the question every olosha faces when developing their character, a process that is not done until death.
I leave you with a colorful expression: Chivo que rompe tambor con su cuero paga. The goat that breaks the drum head shall pay with its own hide.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá
*For more details on this please refer to http://blog.themysticcup.com/santeria/fines-past)
**See Santería Enthroned, by David H. Brown, page 102.