By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Yoruba religion: I am a priest in the Afro-Cuban tradition many know as Santería, yet we ourselves know as the Lucumí faith ("Bad Mojo," by Jim Schutze, February 22). I am also an author who has written and published extensively regarding this religion under a pen name, cháni Lele. This is a faith that finds its most ancient roots in the Yoruba of Nigeria. It was brought to Cuba during the illegal phase of the slave trades in the 1800s, when ancient Oyó, the capital of the Yoruba kingdom, was decimated, its inhabitants kidnapped and taken overseas to Cuba. It survived in the Cabildo societies based on Catholic practices first put into place in the 14th century in Seville, Spain.
You need to define and separate your terms more extensively, because what you have written is a hodgepodge of ridiculous nonsense when describing these religions. First of all, Santería as an Afro-Cuban religion does not find any roots in Mexico. There are practices there named "Santería," however this is a name given to folk-based Mexican beliefs loosely structured on the "Catholicism of the people." Mexican Santería has nothing to do with the Lucumí religion as practiced by the physical and spiritual descendants of the Yoruba. It is more proper to call what we do "Regla de Ocha" or "Lucumí."
La Santisima Muerte, which you wrote about extensively in your article, is a folk-based practice of Mexican people. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Lucumí faith. I've been practicing this religion since 1989, and until last year, I've never come across this "saint" in any of my religious practices. It is true that botanicas sometimes carry this image; however, it is because botanicas cater to the spiritual or religious needs of the population they serve. In cities that have a large Mexican presence, you are going to find images and materials used by practitioners of Mexican folk beliefs. But, this still has nothing to do with Lucumí.
Palo Mayombe is also another Afro-Cuban religion, and indeed, the cauldron that was found in the forest does sound like the nganga of the mayombero. Neither that cauldron, nor Palo Mayombe, has anything to do with the Lucumí faith. The comparison of nkisi, the spirits of Palo Mayombe, and the orishas, the gods of the Lucumí faith, is a comparison borne of poor anthropology. One has nothing to do with the other.
What disturbs me about this piece is that you associate Afro-Cuban religions, especially my religion, Lucumí, with a covert, ominous criminal presence. I daresay that you will find criminals in all sectors of society. Afro-Cuban religion does have a large presence in Hispanic populations (for the record, I am Caucasian, yet I choose to practice this religion). However, the Hispanic population is still a minority in this country, and crime runs rampant throughout the United States. If these policemen and DEA agents were truly observant, they would find that they are also busting and arresting Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and practitioners of many faiths.
Your article makes it appear that all people among our ranks are deviants, responsible for all the drug-related woes in this country. You should be ashamed of your biased, poorly informed reporting.
Winter Park, Florida
Jim Schutze responds: Mr. Myers makes some good points, but it's not like there are rules for this stuff. When I hear these religions are virtuous and innocent, I do wonder where I can go see families skipping up the sidewalk to attend their weekly voodoo ceremony.
Meddling councilmen: I have read with interest the articles Jim Schutze has written about the Byzantine goings-on at the present Dallas City Hall, particularly the city's "War Against the Car Wash on MLK" ("Cheese Holes," February 15).
I worked for the city of Dallas during the 1970s, at the time when one issue of Time magazine called Dallas "the city that works" and lauded it as the most well-run large city in the United States. City employees regularly received generous cost-of-living allowances every year then, and in one year, there was so much money available to do that "COLA" that the big issue around City Hall then was how to divvy up the money fairly. The outcome was that some of the very lowest-paid employees got much bigger raises, percentage-wise, than department heads did.
My main point is, however, that my fellow co-workers, many of whom had been with the city for 20 years or more, told me that it was against state law and, I think, the city charter as well, for a member of the city council to have business dealings with any city employee in the manner these people are doing with the "regional police officials" as described by Mr. Schutze this past week. How is it they are getting away with it now? Everything is supposed to go through the city manager's office whenever a member of the council wants something done. State law required it as a condition of having the council-manager form of city government, presumably to prevent precisely the kind of thing the present council members are now doing.