The animals and the orishas

The animals and the orishas

Heritage & Traditions

Gabriela Santiesteban

Very diverse are the aspects in which the magical-religious popular beliefs are manifested in different times and latitudes of the world, including those of the Afro-Cuban Regla de Ocha or Santeria, a whole worldview deeply rooted in nature.

Plants, minerals, colors, ornaments and symbols made by the hand of man - or woman - ... accompany the orishas (deities) of the Yoruba pantheon, originally from Nigeria, attributes among which are not lacking animals, companions of the human being through its history. 

The most common and useful for human survival since time immemorial are those most quoted in the legends of the Rule of Ocha, which constitute guides for the rites of homage to deities.

The goat, for example, is an offering to Elegguá, the god who clears or obstructs the roads, and the ram, called agbó, belongs to Chango, lord of lightning and fire, and to Yemayá, who commands the sea waters.

This last oricha dominates the species that inhabit the oceans and Ochún, goddess of love and sweet waters, reigns over those of the rivers; fish are her messengers par excellence. Birds play an important role in the imagination of Yoruba origin.

The dove, eiyelé, belongs to Obatalá, origin of everything alive on Earth, and is a symbol of peace and purity; Adié is the hen and other varied species are dedicated, especially to Ochún; akukó, the rooster, belongs to Chango; Pepeyé, the duck, is the largest bird in the cult of Yemayá and the goose is also of this goddess of motherhood ... At both extremes, due to the popular significance they imply, the beautiful peacock —owoniyé or agüé— was first from Yemayá, but Ochún also likes it, while the tiñosa or kolé aura, despite its bad reputation, is Messenger of the goddess of love and highly appreciated in works of Santeria.

There are several different species linked to these cults, in which characteristics are attributed to animals in their way of being and acting typical of the human being. And so it is also considered, with some other variant, in other slopes of beliefs from Africa, such as Palo Monte, of Bantu origin, and Voodoo, from the western coasts of that continent.