Bring Back the Fines

Fines: The Reward for Shameful Conduct
One of my first lessons upon coming to practice the Way of the Orishas or Santería was the concept of ‘multas’ or fines. Since our practices are based on oral tradition, for me every opportunity to listen to elders talk about how things were back in Cuba was always a welcome treat. So when the subject of fines came about one afternoon, I seized the opportunity to volunteer to bring a round of coffee to keep the chat going.

This is how I came to hear for the first time about Cabildos de Nación and their role in the development of our modern ilé orishas. Cabildos, literally a town council based on the Spanish model, were mini neo African monarchies or ‘kingdoms’ founded in Cuba as early as the 16th Century. The Cabildos de Nación, made of African-born slaves and sanctioned by the Spanish government and the Catholic church, were intended as mechanisms of control over slaves who congregated in them as a religious fraternity. Each cabildo was dedicated to honor a Catholic saint. But really, the Cabildo had many other functions that were not the intended by the Catholic Church. Slaves were resilient and improvised quickly, thus, for them the cabildos became a place of protection and freedom within their repressed lives. These groups were ruled by a hereditary king and had other officials who helped the ruler to organize its members. There is much to be said about Cabildos, but for the purposes of this article, it is important to point out that these cabildos in due time would transform into the ilé or house structure under which we currently function, but that is another story.

It was from this structure that the concept of fines emerged. When a person crossed the line, the king or queen of the cabildo could impose a fine for the infraction. Godmothers and godfathers, which are the modern equivalent of ‘queens’ and ‘kings’ of ilés, can impose a punishment or fines when godchildren break rules. Fines can be anywhere from bringing a small gift to the orisha such as a candle to feeding the head orisha of the house birds or even a four-legged animal, depending on the infraction.

In my years in Osha, I have never had to pay a fine, I have not even come close to hearing “If you don’t mind the rules I will fine you,” I guess I have done fairly well staying out of trouble. But what troubles me is that I have seen plenty of conduct that merits a fine, yet I have seen no elders stepping up to the plate and punishing misbehaved oloshas, oluwos and aleyos. Take for example a batá I attended some years ago in Texas. There was an olosha supposedly mounted with Aganjú, but in the middle of the possession the olosha ‘mounted’ stepped on a sharp object and said “oh shit”. In the ‘good old times’ a person committing such infraction, faking a possession, would have been humiliated in public, but nowadays no one bothers to call fakers out.

Of course that is an example of a big infraction, but there are lots of small infractions that go unchecked. In the last twelve months I have followed closely the lives of several iyawós, most of them have blatantly violated the rules established and they have not been called on the carpet by their godparents. I have in good conscious pointed out the errors and told them to sit with their godparents if there were things unclear to them or not established from the start. I could have established a fine, call their godparent and point out what was going on. This would have created a difficult situation that would have humiliated both the iyawó and the godparent. Instead, I relied on the maturity of an adult iyawós to correct their conduct. Here is a list of infractions I have seen as of recent and even before that:

1. Drinking and asking for drinks at public osha events.
2. Getting readings with a priest other than the main godparent or the oyugbonakán and without the presence of either.
3. Misinterpreting the itá and adjusting the realities therein recorded to fit their purposes.
4. Going out after dark.
5. Failing to keep mirrors covered.
6. Badmouthing godparents and elders in public and in private.
7. Participating or instigating gossip.
8. Getting involved in fights (I was always told to stay out of quarrels and potential hot heads).
9. Wearing revealing clothes in public and in private with company at home.
10. Self-promotion to scout for future godchildren.
11. Refusing to salute elder priests.
12. Soliciting prostitutes.
13. Smoking.
14. Violation of the celibacy rule imposed by the godparents.
15. Taking photos of themselves and splattering them online.

The list goes on but these are the main ones that grant mentioning. I will comment on some of these violations. Some may argue that there are iyawós that can do karioshas even before their year is up. I just wonder what the wisdom behind a baby raising another baby is. Don’t we tell our teens to avoid having sex and conceiving because they will ruin their lives? Is spiritual life except from this logic? What can an iyawó teach another if they are barely just learning to crawl? With regards to getting involved in gossips and/ or instigating them, I was told early on that every iyawó had to remain as cool as possible. I have yet to see edification in gossip or gossip as a way to cool down orí. Perhaps I am wrong and gossiping is a form of ebbó? Give me a break! Seriously, that is one of the lines I hear even old Santeros say, that those who speak ill about them are doing them a favor. Where there is smoke, usually there is or was fire. If someone speaks ill of you, analyze why your name is on the tip of wagging tongues and what behavior you could be engaged that must be modified.

The year in white is for reflection and analysis, not to run around breaking rules and shaming godparents.

Likewise, what has happened with the surprise visits responsible godparents pay to their iyawós? In this society where Karioshas are dime a dozen as soon as a new godchild is crowned the prior seems to be left aside like a tattered doll. Some godparents need to stop and think, realize that reputation is their most valuable asset and that each iyawó needs to be under watchful eyes. If they commit infractions by all means, fine them.

I have always said that the best way to learn about this religion is by listening, after all would hear how someone got fined for breaking a rule, for being disrespectful or for infractions to Ilé rules, people would start perhaps minding more what they are doing.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

11 Replies to “Bring Back the Fines”

  1. You are 100% right. The person that made Ocha on me told a story about an elder who had been disrespected by a godchild and she took the godchild’s sopera (with the Orisha inside) and broke it on the head of the godchild. Don’t know if that is a true story or not, but it definitely put the fear of God in me and the others that heard that story. A few years ago I saw an Iyawo of Obatala in a bar at night, drinking, dressed in BLACK. Can you imagine that? Needless to say things did not go well for him & he ended up in prison for 10 years. What people forget is that the ORISHAS also see these acts of disrespect & if the godparents don’t punish the ones committing such acts, THEY DO. Better to be punished by godparents than by the Orishas.

  2. I paid my fine to my Yubona i was 2 candles to Yemaya and to my Godfather de Cofa 2 yames and 2 candles for Orula. Never again in my 55 years as a Santera I had to pay a fine. I learn my lesson. I was 6 years old but today I remember the event likes i was yesterday. The funny part is that we went to my Godfather to paid my fine and every time that one of the older’s stop me for the blessings, my Godmother told the person about the problem and that i was going to my Godfather house to paid my fine. So even if I want to said never happen in Cuba People remember I remember old. My Godmother and Yubona Rest in Peace never mention the situation. I agree is better to be punished by godparents than by the Orishas.

    1. Maria,

      Your candid answer and the way you describe it makes me almost picture it crystal clear in my mind. I can imagine that at 6 years of age it made quite an impression. I have to say, children raised in Santería are truly blessed.

      I only wish I would have had that opportunity. I have given it to my children, they have such long life ahead of them and a mama hen like me to reinforce all the teachings from their wonderful godparents.

      Ashe for you big sister,


  3. I have been fortunate to have had Santeros in my life who have called me on minor infractions. My present godfather complains about his godchildren but, does not impose penalties for infractions, large or small. So what is accomplished or, learned by complaining without discipling? On the subject of multas, it would help if the person who imposed the multa explained what the infraction was, if there is any doubt on the part of the offender. In this manner the person learns what is expected of them, and why. It also renforces for the elder what they expect of themselves.

    1. OmiAiyé,

      I agree with you. I think it is parammount to keep ethic standards, by this I mean. A godparent should address issues directly with the godchild involved and not vent the issues with other members of the Ilé because it creates a bad environment akeen to promoting gossip.

      Please do not take this as a criticism towards your godparent. I am just simply pointing out that matters need to be resolved diligently and if an example needs to be made for the ilé at large, the godson who committed the error should be informed that the case will be shared as an example. It is not a case of public humiliation, but rather of leading by example.

      Sometimes there could be leadership opportunities even in difficult circumnstances.

      Thank you for posting.


  4. Hello,

    I agree with fines. I am a serious guy and I don’t like people monkeying around with rules. If you can’t obbey rules then do not come to Santeria. There is a reason why it is called REGLA DE OCHA. If you break rules you will pay. The goat that breaks the drum head will pay with its own hide.


  5. I understand that there are rules and regulations….but sometimes there are things that others dont understand because they werent present at someones ita. If you see someone in black, how do you know that this isnt part of an EBO??? How do you know that that the iyawo has a second job, that is why they are out after dark? You should talk to the iyawo, or godparent for clarity.
    What will fines do anyway? Will giving an orisha a “gift” solve anything? Before someone is initated, rules and regulations of the ile should be discussed. If that person cannot maintain the rules of the ile, then they shouldnt be trained into priesthood. Anyone can obtain money to be INITATED. It takes training to become a PRIEST.

    1. Omoniké,

      I agree with you in various points. (1) People who are not fit should not be initiated, but it happens. However, there are many human beings that are a poor excuse for the use of the air they breath and the space they occupy and still they are alive. They have a purpose. I am not advocating for initiating people who are not fit. However, the reality is that sometimes the best of candidates once initiated transform into a different person. No one can predict the outcome of an initiation or the changes it will elicit on the initiated. So it is a delicate matter to select future initiates, one I take very seriously and that must receive a perfect support from my head orisha.

      (2) Imposing fines. This should not be a random process and it should involve communication. Do you think a responsible elder would simply impose a fine without asking? Applying a corrective measure involves intelligence and also the courtesy of talking to the elders of the person. So I do think fines have a purpose.

      (3) Do fines solve anything? Yes they do. They can be used to correct and imbalance and to remind the initiate of the experience. If parents do not correct children or accept the advice of other family members then we have a world of unmannered and unruly people. Ask yourself this question, if you commit a transgression, do you not deserve to offer reparations?

      (4) Money and initiations. I do agree, money is not and should never be the parameter of admittance for initiation into Orisha. However, those who live from the religion and do not want get a regular job will continue to profit from it as they see fit. I have a job that is unrelated to my religious practices and I always will because I can and I want to remain unbiased about acceptance. No amount of money can buy anyone admittance into my house if my orisha does want them of if I consider they are not fit.

      Thank you for participating, I really appreciate the points you have raised.



  6. I’ve been fine money just for be a few minutes late for a rogation. Never mind the reason was authentic. But in d house it was a power trip thing. I was a iyawo helping out a friend.

    1. Ochunsita,

      🙁 power trips are not fun. Fines need to be applied judiciously for truly meritory reasons. When we have so much technology for communications a simple call to alert folks on being late should have avoided this. Don’t you think?


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