Lucumi Tradition

The word Lucumi refers to the Afro-Cuban manifestation of Yoruba in Cuba and on the North American continent, as well as to the practitioners of Yoruba in those regions. During the latter half of the 18thcentury, a large number of enslaved Africans were taken to Cuba from the home of the Yoruba in southwestern Nigeria. These Africans were indigenous to the Yoruba kingdoms of Oyo, Egbado, and Ijesha and brought the beliefs, traditions, and philosophies of Yoruba to Cuba.
There was diversity to the traditions of Yoruba. In Africa this diversity was seen in the regional variations among the Oyo, Egbado, and Ijesha. However, due to the European slave trade, and many years of interaction between the diverse groups, the groups merged in the Americas to form one common tradition. The result of this unity was the religious practice of La Regla de Osha Lucumi (which translates as “The Rule of the Lucumi Orishas,” or the rule of the Lucumi deities). This unification of various Yoruba traditions in Cuba did not in any way affect the theology and metaphysics of Yoruba-speaking people in southwestern Nigeria or the regional variations in their traditions.
Although the elders of this community were enslaved, they still managed to organize and standardize the ceremony and ritual of the present Lucumi tradition. This organized effort addressed the new geographical and social realities that practitioners of the religion faced in the Western hemisphere. Because of the favorable climate for African social and political integration in Cuba, the Yoruba in Cuba were able to maintain much of the ritual and ceremonial integrity of the religion. However, on the continent of Africa, British colonialism fostered Christianity, Islam sent jihadists into West Africa, and internal conflicts decimated the Old Oyo Empire of ancient Yorubaland. Thus, while the fundamental principles of the Yoruba tradition are adhered to by all practitioners throughout the African world, including continental Africa and the diaspora in South America and elsewhere, there are some rituals and ceremonies that have disappeared over time.
Yet Lucumi remains a strong tradition in Cuba. Analysis and comparison of the Yoruba chants, initiations, rites, and aesthetics show that Lucumi manifestations are the preserved form of the traditions of Old Yoruba. Because the social and political changes that have taken place on the continent of Africa have affected the modern day expression of the Yoruba tradition, researchers now claim that Cuba holds an older expression of the religion in the Lucumi tradition. There also are many similarities to Yoruba found in the Xango tradition of Trinidad, the Candomble of Brazil, and the Santeria of Puerto Rico. In addition, the Lucumi tradition itself has spread outside Cuba to Venezuela, Panama Colombia, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain, Virgin Islands, Curaçao, Canada, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Sweden, and Great Britain. Today the Lucumi tradition is the most widely practiced form of Yoruba. In fact, in the United States, 90% of the orisha worship originated with the Lucumi tradition in Cuba.



Further Reading

  • Babatunde, Emmanuel. (1992). A Critical Study of Bini and Yoruba Values Systems of Nigeria in Change. Lewiston, NY: Mellen. This is a scholarly presentation of the culture of the Bini and Yoruba people.
  • Curry, Mary Cuthrell. (1997). The Making of Gods in New York. New York: Garland. This book is based on a dissertation about the nature of African religion in New York City.
  • Murphy, Joseph. (1988). Santeria: An African Religion in America. Boston: Beacon Press. This is a good introduction to Santeria and various forms of Lucumi.