Thousands Practice the Religion of Their African Ancestors in Secret

January 1, 2001

Source: Essence

In January, 2001, Essence published an article by Marta Moreno Vega on her grandmother (abuela), who was one of the thousands born to generations of Africans in the Americas who practice Espiritismo in secret. These African-Americans hide "their beliefs behind images of the captors' religions, masking their orishas [the African gods and goddesses of creation] with the faces of their enslavers' saints. For this reason," Vega writes, "my ancestors' religion came to be known as Santeria, the Way of the Saints." Vega was intrigued by her abuela's altar when, as a girl, she visited her grandmother's home in New York City. The altar was "laden with statues of...Catholic saints, an Indian chief, a Gypsy woman and African men and women. Many years later...I would discover that these were Abuela's ancestor tables -- her homage to our family's ancestral spirits and her religion's orishas. Her statues disguised the images of Yoruba spirits who had survived the terrible experience of the Middle Passage and entered the Americas in the hearts and souls of enslaved Africans...Born in a period when practitioners of African religions were imprisoned and persecuted for their beliefs, [Vega's grandmother] continued to camouflage her African religion with Catholic images." Vega says Santeria "has been misrepresented and maligned by mainstream religions and the media."