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.
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