Santeria in Washington, DC

January 4, 2000

Source: The Washington Post

On January 4, 2000, The Washington Post published an article on the presence of Santeria in the Washington, DC area. Santeria, which now attracts several thousand adherents in the region who cross ethnic, racial, professional, and religious lines, became a more visible presence in the Washington area about 20 years ago, when the Mariel boat lift brought Cubans to the District. Santeria is an Afro-Cuban faith with roots in the Yoruba region of Nigeria. The religion began when West African slaves who were brought to the New World were forced by Spanish colonials to worship as Catholics. The slaves eventually adopted many of the Catholic saints because they were able to see characteristics in them that were similar to their own African gods. Along with the veneration of saints, Santeria also incorporates a belief in divination, spirit possession, and the sacrifice of animals to appease the gods. There are about 12 high priests, or babalawos, in the Washington area and there are at least 6 botanicas throughout the area that sell products for Santeria worship, such as herbs, candles, ceremonial pots, and animal parts used for potions. Although many people who practice Santeria consider themselves to be Roman Catholic, Santeria is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church because the Church is against all forms of divination. 72-year-old Eloy Hernandez, one of the high priests in the Washington area who is a Cuban immigrant, said that he wants to establish a temple for people to gather and worship: "Why is it impossible for us? Is it because of the type of religion it is or the color of our skin?"