Ethics and the Orishas: The Impact of Drugs, Alcohol and Sexual Promiscuity on Initiations

Unbalanced by Alcohol?

Early mornings are great for soul searching. It is in the quiet moments of the morning when I first elevate my prayers to the Orishas and seek their guidance and blessings. This morning, my thoughts gravitated towards a complex subject: Ethics in Santeria.

The complexity of human emotions and interests drive us, initiates, to either embrace tradition or to modify it to suit personal or collective needs. I am not much for the modification of traditions, unless said traditions are flawed and have no logic in their practices. Only then, I will seek a consensus with my elders and the permission of the Orishas to amend practices in the most direct and unobtrusive way possible.

One issue I have been pondering for a while is how the righteousness of our acts as initiates impact the life of those people under our spiritual mentorship, particularly, acts that are born from poor choices. I see the relationship between godparent and godson/daughter as a sacred one, and as such, our actions as initiates must be as beyond reproach as possible if we are to be upheld as models for our godchildren and for the community at large.

Within the realm of reproachable behaviors in our society there are several that aggravate me most and can have a direct bearing in the results of initiations: Drugs, Alcohol and Sexual Promiscuity.


In my ilé (orisha house) drugs are not condoned. There is in fact a zero tolerance when it comes to any activity related to illegal drugs. I will simply not undertake as a godchild or even do a reading for anyone which I know is linked to drugs. Experience has demonstrated over and over, that drugs only bring with them chaos, legal problems and murder.

Beyond the fact that drugs are illegal, they also render a priest incapable of performing properly in a ritual, much like alcohol would. However, consumption of alcohol is a subject that will be explored on its own.

Other religious cultures use drugs to induce a state of trance and spiritual communion but since I do not belong to those cultures or practices, they are not for me to judge or criticize.

However, if there is something I have learned with my elders is that the body must be kept clean of drugs because it is a consecrated vessel to the orishas who may manifest as they will through it. As an Olosha, I can certainly attest to the fact that oloshas do not require the use of drugs to manifest the power of the orishas in their bodies. Quite the opposite, drugs hinder the body by opening it to negative spiritual influences, not allowing the olosha to protect himself from said influences. It interferes with the very energies being raised to call the orisha down to earth.

Trance possession or the ability to be a ´horse´ for the orishas is an honor. Not every initiate is meant to be a ´subidor´ or to be mounted. There are various elements that trigger trance possession. Through the manipulation of energies using sacred music (Anyá consecrated drums), motion (dance) and lyrics or the suyeres that are intoned by an akpwpón (singer), the orishas are called down to earth to share with their children.

Prior to a Wemilere (batá drumming with Anyá or consecrated drums), there are preparations required for trance possession. A ´subidor, ´ or a Santero that has demonstrated the ability of manifesting the orisha through trance possession is invited to dance for the orisha in whose honor the drumming is held. Prior to the Wemilere, the olosha in question must observe a state of physical cleanliness that includes abstention from sex, drugs and alcohol, and should actively seek a state of meditation and reflection. His or her body is a vessel for the orishas and must be kept clean for proper manifestation.

The batá is only one of various examples of why drugs and Santería do not mix. A huge no-no for me is having any use of drugs before or during initiations.

During a Kariosha or any other initiation, it is expected of an officiating priest to exhibit full control of the ritual and to direct the officiating priests that are collaborating in the initiation. Can anyone retain self-control and command the respect of his or her peers while under the influence of illegal drugs? Think about it. If you have a cold and you take an over the counter medication that makes you drowsy, does it not hinder your ability to function? If that is just with a medication sold without a prescription, imagine the level of impairment that a drug user would bring to the mix in a sacred ceremony. How can an obá oriaté perform properly with a body sullied with drugs? Furthermore, what would be the impact on the iyawó of having said person touch their head and transfer part of their ashé or spiritual energies onto them…for life?


This is one of those proverbial sticky subjects of the Orisha religion. On one hand, otí (rum) is used liberally at various stages of Kariosha, but on the other hand, it too has a profound impact on any person who is officiating under its influence. There is such a double standard about the use of alcohol that it is hard to draw the line.

Instead of moralizing on the subject, let me enter a territory that I have not seen addressed in public before: Alcoholics and initiations.
What is a responsible godmother or godfather to do in case of a godson or goddaughter who is a recovering alcoholic and is about to be initiated as an olosha? The very omiero (sacred herbal water) that the iyawó will consume for 7 days will contain alcohol.

First the godparent must understand that alcoholism is an illness and an addiction. Second, he or she must decide to act either on the best interest of the iyawó, to act out of custom and tradition, or to come to a happy medium. If the ceremony carries on without changes, using alcohol no matter the consequences for the iyawó, the godparent will have failed to understand the fundamental needs of a human being struggling with a dangerous and life threatening disease. Is this then a suitable match for a godparent-godchild relationship? I think not.

Alcoholism indeed poses a complex moral and religious challenge that can´t be ignored. It is crucial for a godparent to understand that for a recovering alcoholic, any amount of alcohol ingested will be unacceptable as it unchains a series of chemical reactions in the body that are at the core of the illness and addiction.

Here is my recommendation in this case. I would simply abstain from using alcohol in the omiero that would be ingested by the iyawó. Some of the omiero can be set aside for the iyawó before ´seasoning´ the rest of it basins with rum. Furthermore, I would keep any alcohol locked away from the iyawó, no matter how strong the will of this person may be. Also, I would not serve alcohol, as it is customary in many houses. Sometimes alcohol is served once the ceremonies are concluded and people are busy plucking chickens, skinning and gutting goats or cooking on the kariosha day. Alcohol is often times served as well during the Dia del Medio (Throne Day). What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Out of respect for the iyawó all must abstain—after all it is the iyawó who foots the bill for the initiation and the money for the alcohol would come out of that budget. No one will die out of missing some booze for a few days, and if that is the case, perhaps they should pay a visit to Alcoholics Anonymous as soon as possible. In any case, karioshas should not be an excuse for free liquor.

There are other instances where alcohol is used; the rule of thumb should be to address the needs of particular members of the ilé and of the household as a whole before allowing the socially acceptable consumption of alcohol to drive behaviors. It is time that as a religious community we take a critical look into the problem of alcoholism and stop any behavior that is detrimental to our ilés. We must become more sensitive to bullying and peer pressure as it relates to alcoholic consumption and while at it, revisit the ´ true need´ for the use of alcohol in ritual circumstances.

Sexual Promiscuity

If drugs and alcohol are difficult subjects to tackle…try addressing sexual promiscuity. What is sexual promiscuity and why is it important to avoid it in our religious practices?

Sexual promiscuity is normally defined as casual sex with many partners, no matter the sexual orientation of the activity. In short, such behavior will expose an olosha to a variety of energies that are undesirable prior to initiation as he or she cannot possibly account for the spiritual development or spiritual and physical cleanliness of each partner. Those energies are dragged into ritual space by any olosha. This is a complex subject which I intend to explore in a separate post in the near future. However, for the purposes of this essay, I will narrow it to the impact of sex prior to religious initiations in the orisha community.

It is expected that every person involved in a kariosha, or in any other initiation, abstains from sex for a minimum period of 24 hours prior to initiatory rites taking place. Notice the word minimum. In the past the abstinence period could extend for a year prior to kariosha for the future iyawó. Why the abstinence? Sexual energies are hot and they linger upon our bodies, mind and spirit. When entering ritual space in the Santeria community, those energies are useless and detrimental as we need cool mind, hands and bodies to transfer ashé to the initiate and the tools to be consecrated.
I have heard first account stories of oloshas who had their obá oriaté involved in sexual acts the night prior to kariosha. What exactly is the impact of said energies in the iyawó? There is no hard and fast rule about the outcome; however it is sufficient to say, since I don’t want to betray the confidence in which of these stories was shared with me, that the iyawó in question did not have a stellar itá as it was plagued by osogbos and hard oddús. Was this coincidence? No. Some of the osogbos had to do directly with the obá oriaté and some with the main godparent. I believe that the orisha is exact in its communications through the diloggún and will mark the life of the iyawó and those present in such a way as for them to learn the lessons they have set on their paths, be it collective or individual lessons.

In conclusion, the process of transference of energies or ashé is one that is impacted by the actions and choices of officiating oloshas prior and during initiation, therefore it is imperative to select wisely who participates in the process and to be clear about the preparations they must observe.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

PS. What was I saying about drugs not mixing with Santería. The Orisha does not like that junk and will indeed teach hard lessons eventually to those who think they are too smart to be cought. See the following article:

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comments 27 people have left their opinions, what is yours?

27 Responses to “Ethics and the Orishas: The Impact of Drugs, Alcohol and Sexual Promiscuity on Initiations”

  1. Esudina says:

    Thank you for sharing, Omimeji; I’m of the mindset that alcohol should NEVER be served during any religious ceremony, regardless of who is initiating it. Nowadays, all you see in drummings & ceremonies are unscrupulous “priest/esses” that only want to imbibe & open their big mouths. I’ve seen fights break out, screaming matches in Igbodu, drunks falling down & even people who are so drunk that they do not even realize that they just put down a glass of rum in front of Obatala…I NEVER serve any alcohol, except a small bottle of rum for the Ayan drummers, and when that’s gone, you can get a glass of water or juice…same thing goes for any drugs. I’ve been to drummings where the Alayan go out and smoke some joints before the fundamento, or as they refer to it: “smoking Osayin”; It’s appalling. They all seems to find it cute. Needless to say, at the same drum, knives were pulled out, fights broke out & in the end, it was one big osogbo. Unfortunately, many ile seem to condone this sort of behavior, even encourage it, which makes the problem even worse….

    • Omimelli says:


      Ashe! Thanks for adding to what I wrote with vivid examples.

      I have had oloshas not only want liquor but demand particular brands. I was honestly offended by their their brazen demands. I can’t serve alcohol at all on events and I won’t.

      As far as smoking ‘Osain’ that is absolutely a no can do and it is flat out a disrepect to bring illegal drugs to any orisha event.

      The issue is that there are not enough people with the ‘cojones’ to simply escort trouble makers outside of a Wemilere or whichever festivity they maybe about to ruin.



  2. misha says:

    very good article…i have seen so many people in magical traitions …with drink..drugs and sex problems…I beleive that this gets in the way…as you said clean mind and body is the way forward…i have seen people say they are initiates…but do not keep a clean home let alone clear altar…

    • Omimelli says:

      Hello Misha,

      Cleanliness is next to godliness. :-)

      I agree, all good things start with a clean home, a clean heart and mind and a clean body to house them.


  3. Liz says:

    In my ile we do not allow the consumption of alcohol during ceremonies or drummings (with the exception of the drummers and even then it’s limited and I have always wondered where that custom stems from??). Oti (and oti se -wine- to a certain extent, altho I’m not sure about the properties of wine per se)is a powerful substance and I was taught it’s ache is hot(along with epo, pimienta de guinea, and blood), therefore, volatile and it should be RESPECTED. It’s usually used to stimulate/activate, give heat and strength to the dead and Orisha and is usually tempered or cooled with omi tutu, onyi, efun, ect,. In a ritual or ceremonial context it’s a substance used in offering and is just as sacred as the other “seasonings.” So if you would’nt go around casually sipping on epo or munching on cacao, during a ceremony, then you shouldn’t be casually sipping on rum. At least that’s my understanding. The orishas would never condone nor force their children to do something detrimental to their health and well being so if someone has a drinking problem, slight modifications and exceptions can be made. In an another forum, a while back, a priestess had suggested that inidividuals with drinking problems, when attending to their warriors, could pour some rum into a spray bottle and mix it with a tiny bit of their saliva to spray it on the warriors instead of spraying the rum from their mouths. Stll, if having alchohol in the house would be a problem for the person well then Elegua,egun and everyone else who takes rum will just have to understand and take alchohol free servicios and ofrendas until, maybe a godparent can bring some, offer it and leave with the bottle. This is not the norm but if handling rum or wine is going to lead to a relapse then it has to be worked around.

    • Omimelli says:


      It is good to see that some houses are sensible and keep rules.

      I have wonder as well why drummers need to be fed alcohol, you would think they need plenty of cooling liquids to avoid dehidration while playing and sweating, not rum or whiskey or whatever they are given.

      I guess it would take an omo Anya to explain if there is a reason why they need to have otí while they play.

      I suspect there is really no reason…just like the lunch table set before them (before the bata starts) stems from Ifa practices and not really from any other rituals.

      The spraying of Otí from a bottle, I have seen that used in my ilé but frankly, it is still a temptation for an alcoholic. It is best not to have otí at all.

      I am told that cravings for alcohol can be horrible and dealing with a progressive illness that can lead to dementia and death, all temptations must be avoided at all cost…that is if we truly love our brothers and sisters dealing with this disease.


  4. Oshun Kayode says:

    Good post and interesting to discuss. I also don’t allow the consumption of alcohol before or during any ceremonies ( with the exception of the Exception of Omo Anya’s during a tambor). For some reason Aleyos and Olorishas alike find it difficult to understand. In the case of an alcoholic and the religion, it is best also to avoid alcohol completely. The Orisha/ Egun will understand completely if the individual has to avoid alcohol for their own health and well being.
    The difficulty is when dealing with an alcoholic or drug addict who comes to you for help but then is in denial about their consumption of drugs/alchohol. Very tricky. I would never knowledgeably crown anyone that had not worked on becoming clean first and fighting their addictions. Have had alot of personal experiences with addictions and alcohol abuse. Have seen the demise of an alcoholic who carried on abusing drink after Kariocha. ( Obatala) . Very sad.

    • Omimelli says:

      Oshun Kayode,

      I am very glad that you shared your experiences. It is particularly important the point that you bring up, work on addictions (flaws of character) before you come into the kariosha room. There is one elemental reason why this must be done.

      The process of kariosha will highlight the good/bad in the person. If the future iyawo has made a point to improve upon his or her character, there will be less negative traits that will be amplified and more positive traits augmented.

      The orishas themselves exhibit both negative/positive traits in each avatar, therefore, it is in the hands of the future iyawo to seriously improve the outcome of the initiation.

      I really feel for the children of Obatala, I have seen so many of them plagued by alcoholism and alcohol abuse.


  5. Chris Ochun says:

    This was very well put. Ashe to you.

    • Omimelli says:

      Hello Chris,

      Thanks! I tell you, it was not an easy subject to boil down to a short essay. I am glad you liked it.


  6. Awo Ifagbemi says:

    Very good article, the ocha ile I am still affliated with, does not allow oti being serve during a bembe. Now, I have seen it done during a palo toque and eggun bembe. I am so glad that you had bought up the point about sexual conduct, because number one alot of iyalocha and babalocha do not really understand. How we must constantly repurify ourselves, in order to maintain the ashe that we were ordain with during initiation. When you are constantly purifying yourself, than you do create a room for the spirit of sexual deviant to manifest within you. Especially when you are receiving an orisha, you are supposed to be abstain from sex, at least a minimum of one week. During that week you are suppose to be taking alot of spiritual baths, rogacion prior to recieving the orisha. Now, too many short cuts are giving room for alot of spiritual misconducts.

    • Omimelli says:

      Awo Ifagbemi,

      Ashé! Your contribution is very valuable. I have observed that a lot of folks that are single and get initiated as oloshas do not really pay much mind to how important is to have a sexual partner that keeps spiritual hygene. It is so very important to take care of our spiritual body and to do regular cleansings.

      Some people are literally leaches and take away energy (sexual and otherwise) from iyawós and from those who do not know how to shield themselves and to select partners properly.

      Abstinence before an initiation is for me part of the process of initiation, it shows self-mastery over earthly desires.

      Modupue babá.


  7. Oni Sango says:

    Today we are seeing the same problems that infect secular communities infesting / infecting us as well, along with Babies(spiritually,morally,physically,emotionally,mentally,knowledgeability,immaturity) giving birth and raising Babies.Today morals, scruples, respect, plain common courtesy, pride are all considered old/old fashioned, these things have left with our grandparents and some cases godparents.

    As for Tradition, that has crossed over with our Elders. Sadly the argument used today to justifiy and support this lack of behavior, break from Traditional Ways and Tradition itself. One time too many I’ve heard too many young people (older ones too) use the Misunderstood, Misrepresented Notion of ” Syncretism ” as the basis to support this/their misguided ideas that “this is the now, that was back then /we have to go with the times/this is modern times/Change is Better than Tradition…

    This Notion of Change by Africans/False Ideas of The Blending by Africans during the period of Enslavement is used to supports, The Unscrupulous Behavior, Lack of Proper Dress Code At Functions, Profanities, Gossiping, Bad Talking of Others, Disrespect in/ of Sacred Space/Igbodu, Disregard for Protocol, Unethical Behavior and Practices etc.. This new liberalism / Change With The Times (BS) within our communities is slowly eating away at the FABRIC CALLED TRADITION -OUR ANCESTORS / EGUNS ,SACRIFICED SO MUCH FOR, PUT UP WITH SO MUCH (BS from outside, ENDURED SO MUCH HARDSHIPS FOR,FOUGHT SO HARD FOR SO.. That Today we can Embrace and Love Egun/Orisa as they did.. Is now once again under Attack only now it’s coming from Inside/Within..This time it looks like they will Succeed, where the Enemies (Church/Roman Catholic & State) of Africans, Egun and Orisa couldn’t during Their Enslaving….Those who now are in positions to influence the young minds brought to them by Egun and Orisa, have to now educate them, not just on Egun/Orisa but those that brought/gave Egun/Orisa to us…. Elders Including those who are knowledgable need to take a stand when others are in appropriate, disrespectful or just plain don’t know. Keeping in mind there’s always a respectful way to deal with every situation if we truly hope to make a change.

    I know this seems to not directly addressing to topic posted here but I believe it is the way to help bring bout The Changes Necessary. we have to go back to Tradition, this means understanding, respecting, who our Ancestors Were, Why they did what they did. Truly understanding the circumstances, climate, conditions, that forced them to do the things they did.. Bottom line is ” How can You Respect, Honor What Is _ If You Can’t Respect, Honor Who Gave You What Is ” …

    • Omimelli says:

      Oni Shango,

      You may think that the subjects you bring do not relate directly to the post, but they do. When we depart from tradition, we indeed allow for the fabric of our religion to be eaten away by the moths of greed, immaturity, lack of courtesy and all the other things you mentioned in your comment.

      I hope that everyone that reads the post takes the time to also read your comment as it has good solid thinking and heartfelt desire to preserve what we have been handed by our ancestors.

      Thank you brother,

      Omimelli (who by the way, was born with an oní Shangó like you as twin).

      • Oni Sango says:

          ALAAFIA NI .Thank you so much for your thoughtful and valued words not only to my response but the entire Articile… I truly believe in what I have expressed .. I wasn’t born into this way of life, so for me I am so honored and grateful to my EGUNS for opening up those doors.. I’ve been a lover of things African and I truly believe that Our Ancestors were some of the Most Amazing People,to have gone thru so much, to have suffered so much to ensure the survival of this Beautiful Simple but yet Completely Amazingly Way Of Life … And to see it being made a Mockery Of ..Truly Hurts … I’ve had similar discussions in the past the positive feedback and understanding you have shared is rare indeed.. Modupé .. ( like you I’m an ibeji,and have ibeji)……

        • Omimelli says:

          Oni Sango,

          Ibeji…I always wanted to have a pair but I was blessed with two boys some years apart instead…maybe when I get grandchildren I will have ibejis.

          Keep the joy in your heart and those who make a mockery out of our believes shall fall down like dominoes.

          Ashe o, iré o.


  8. Iyawo Shango says:

    Modupe Elders,
    I appreciate reading this essay/thread. I hope I am not out of line by chiming in as “children are not suppose to but in adult conversations”. I know I am still a baby in ocha but to me, the Egun and Orishas are my life line and strength. It’s their ache and iré that propels me forward and helps me grow. In my eyes that’s one of the biggest “highs” one could have.

    I have been taught that good character (iwa pele) also means being responsible. I have translated that in part to mean stay away from illegal drugs (and activities), make sure I am sexually and emotionally mature, monitor and temper my alcohol intake (and I enjoy a good drink) and to honor the wisdom of our ancestors. They established these traditions and rules because they dealt with some of the same issues and didn’t want us to have to go through those same hardships. Are some of the rules strict? ABSOLUTELY!! and they are suppose to be so that rituals are done right, no one gets hurt and our tradition thrives.

    I feel the same way Bro. Oni Sango feels “to see it being made a Mockery Of ..Truly Hurts … “. Society already tries to make us out to be ignorant devils because of our rituals, I refuse to give them any more ammo!

    • Omimelli says:

      Iyawo Shango,

      In this forum we are all equals. I am not one for ranks or for pulling ranks. As a matter of fact, I do not believe that there are high or low priests in this religion. We are all special, needed and unique in our own skills ans ashé. Having said that, thank you for participating and for showing that we indeed have new initiates of worth developing.

      I say developing because you are in a process of reinitiation. Once you get that Orisha seated inside of you, the process of learning to deal with yourself, to live with your itá and to live in a religious community as a new full initiate is a re-initiation process of sorts.

      Stay true to your faith, stay true to traditions and remember always that you must honor the King Shango by acting righteously always.

      Modupue Iyawo


    • ONI SANGO says:

      ASHE,ACHE,ASE O … To you both..ALAAFIA IYAWO Y OMIMELLI,May you both be continually Blessed with Health,Wisdom,Humility and Compassion.. To Iyawo as in life age is JUST a marker of time that reminds us of how long we have been here.My personal thoughts here, our time as a IYAWO is for the rest of our lives.I know year-7 dys…i’ll always be a IYAWO :)

      • Omimelli says:

        Oni Sango,

        Alafia! Thank you for stopping by and giving us some of your time to read our ideas and share yours. I agree, we should always keep the iyawo dress in our hearts for the rest of our natural life. I miss being an iyawo, it feels good to be special and cherished by the ile and the community overall.


      • Iyawo Shango says:

        Adupe Oni Sango.. If growth and learning is continuous how can one really ever out grow Iyawohood :-)

  9. TALABI says:

    Modupre, wow on point I am a firm believer that all Obattala children should not drink or encourage drinking or drug use in their Ocha house. It is a complete disgrace and shame that we get Initiated inorder to change our lives and restore health, however there are some who continue the old distorted ways expecting different results. P.S. regarding the sex subject I have heard horror stories where the Godfathers of the Iyawo were engaged in sex while the initiate was still under the Throne.However I continue to work on the faith that this beautiful religion bestowed on me some time ago. Maferefun Ocha.

    • Omimelli says:

      Hello Talabi,

      Very good point you make. People want changes but they are unwilling to change themselves first. They think Kariosha will ´fix´them as if it was a miracle. If that was the guaranteed result from each kariosha, we then would be the non plus ultra of miracle workers, would we not?


  10. Alafia S. says:

    I’m so glad I read this article. Both my parents are prominent Ifa priests but allowed me to grow in an environment where I was able to come to my own truths. Since my religious environment was hugely guarded, I am still extremely unaware of a lot of what goes on nowadays (I am horrified by some of the above comments). Thank you again for your blog and all of the wonderful topics that nobody seems to want to touch. It’s almost like i’m re-learning my world.

  11. Mari says:

    I am very happy to have come across this blog and look forward to reading more. I am in a relationship with someone who is a child of Obattala. One of his taboos is alcohol, yet he drinks and has to drink beer or wine, sometimes both and he claims he is not an alcoholic. I am afraid for him because he does not remember what he does. Again, thank you for this blog. I love him, and want to be able to understand his religion and be mindful.

  12. Oni Oni Yemaya says:

    Happy to have come across this post and to see that others are keeping traditions alive. I was initiated 2 years ago but grew up in the tradition. My Mother is an elder, (40 yrs)who is very strict in keeping with tradition. So much so that she refuses to use disposable plates, cups and utensils at tambors or any occasion were priests/esses, and especially babalawos are present. Only serves on real tablewear. She would not dream of serving alcohol at a religious event, insists that anyone who is a part of ritual or ceremony abstain from sex at least 2 days prior. Her Iyawos conduct and attire must be impeccable at all times. I could go on and on, but my point is she has been shunned by the younger, modern generation and even many elders who have been convinced that the new ways are easier and more convenient. Because she upholds the traditions she was taught, rarely does anyone call on her anymore. Instead of wanting to learn from an elder they simply do not want to be called out on their lack of knowledge and respect for traditional ways. She recently went to a tambor for the eggun at which several iyawos were dancing in front of the drums, cleansing themselves with Florida water, smoking cigars and drinking rum. When she reprimanded them, their padrino told her she was living in the past and that she should mind her own business. No one else bothered to say anything. If we are afraid to stand up to those that are willing to drag our beautiful religion through the mud. Where will we be 10, 20 years from now? Will it be a completely different religion?

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