“Never sleep with or date a married man.” 

That is my taboo or at least one of them.

On April 16, 2017, I became a practitioner of the Santería Lucumi/Lukumí tradition. For years I studied the tradition prior to becoming a practitioner. It was in Bocas Del Toro, Panama where I spent days by the ocean and in natural elements where I studied and connected with the tradition. Upon returning from my trip, I was excited to begin my journey.

The journey consisted of finding a Godparent and ilé who would guide me throughout the tradition. I also had to commit myself to the ways of the tradition. After a few months, my ceremony day was here. I received my full set of ilekes (beaded necklaces) for protection by the orishas and my new name, Alayo Eyinladé Iyanda.

 House of worship where practitioners of Santería perform ceremonies.

For me, a new name requires new rules of engagement. Throughout my journey in the tradition, there have been so many things I have learned about yourself and many things I still have to learn about myself. Many of these teachings come from divination and readings by a priest or priestess. Shortly after my crossing, I received my ita (life reading) as a practitioner. I knew that this is when I would get my taboos. For some reason, I was very excited to receive my taboos.

I didn’t look at taboos as a restriction to my life; I looked at them as protection for my life. Taboos are specifically connected to each practitioner. They can be temporary or permanent restrictions (subject to change after initiation to priest/priestess) placed on a person’s behavior, diet, and/or lifestyle. I knew that whatever my taboos would be they would be specific and for my benefit.

IMG: Ilê Afro-brasileiro Ode Lorecy. André Mellagi.

“Never sleep with or date a married man.” 

That was the first taboo I was given.

I chuckled a little because in my mind it was common sense. Of course, I wouldn’t sleep with or date a married man. However, I then realized somethings aren’t as black and white. What if he’s separated, technically he’s married. What if they have an open marriage, technically he’s married. What if it’s a threesome, technically he’s married. What if I want to, technically he’s married. No matter how I tried to look at this taboo, the bottom line was clear, and I now had to obey this restriction.

I didn’t receive a lot of taboos when I became a practitioner, luckily none of them related to food, but some were a little shocking. Did the spirits know that I was an avid thrifter? I can no longer wear clothes worn by others or let people borrow my clothes. The latter was fine by me. Did the spirits know I had a love for floating on a ship to various destinations? I can no longer go on cruises.
For non-practitioners I can understand how taboos can seem extreme. They are limiting your behavior, what you eat and your lifestyle. Personally, I understand that this is for my protection and if there is something that I don’t need to do that keeps me in a constant space of blessings rather than misfortunes, then I will abide by this. I have also committed my life to this tradition. A tradition that is not commonly known amongst my peers or those around me.

IMG: Santeria Woman (Cuba). Che Rosales. CCBYSA2.0

Many people learn about Santería Lucumi/Lukumí through traveling to places like Brazil, various Latin American countries, and mainly Cuba. The tradition was brought to Cuba and other places by the enslaved people of the Yoruban nations of West Africa, specifically Nigeria. If you have traveled to these countries and immersed yourself in the culture, you may have come in contact with practitioners, priest, and priestesses throughout the tradition. Many people recall getting a reading in Cuba or seeing dancers of the Orishas performing throughout the streets.

The tradition is all around us.

As we continue to travel and as many Black people learn about African spirituality there is a shift happening within our culture. Santería Lucumi/Lukumí conversations are happening in public forums, and as more practitioners speak on the tradition, we will continue to learn more and be protected through traditional spiritual practices, even if we can’t date or sleep with married men.


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