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Santeria, A syncretistic Caribbean religion

Number & locations of followers

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bulletAborisha is a term that refers to both the worship of the Orisha, and to the individual worshiper.
bulletCandomble Jege-Nago is a Brazilian religion with some similarities to Santeria. It is divided into in various traditions, reflecting the different nations of origin: (Angola, Efan, Fon, Ijesa, Ketu, etc.).
bulletLa Regla Lucumi is still another term used to refer to the religion.
bulletLukumi is also a synonym of Santeria; it is related to a Yoruba word meaning "friend". It is used to refer to both the religion and the practitioners of Afro-Cuban  worship of the Orishas.
bulletMacumba is sometimes used as a synonym for Santeria. In fact, Macumba refers to a group of Brazilian religions: Candomble, Umbana and others. They had their roots in West African Aboriginal religions, but evolved separately from Santeria.
bulletOrisha: a "...spiritual being or presence that is interpreted as one of the manifestations of God." 1
bulletQuimbanda is a synonym for Macumba.
bulletRegla de Ocha (The Rule of the Orisha) is the proper name for Santeria. Ocha is an abbreviation.
bulletSanteria (The Way of the Saints) is the religion's popular name. Quoting an essay on "The Lukumi Tradition" by Afolabi:

"The name by which the religion is now most commonly known, 'Santeria,' is a pejorative term first applied by the Spanish to the religious practices of the peasantry. It was used as a derogatory reference to the unusual amount of devotion and attention paid to the Catholic Saints, often in preference to Jesus Christ. This term was again used in Cuba to identify the 'pagan' religion. The Yoruba devotion to the Orishas, who were often referred to as 'santos' ('saints') by both slave and slave-owners, was mistakenly seen as the 'fanatical' worship of demigods and the neglect of 'God.' Therefore, the opprobrious and demeaning term 'Santeria' was extended to the religious practices of the so-called 'savages.' Only in recent years, after having the label applied by outsiders for an extended period of time, has the term begun to be used by members of the religion." 2

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Location and numbers of followers of Santeria:

Santeria is currently concentrated within:

bulletCuba and other Caribbean islands.
bulletThe Hispanic population in Florida, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, New York City and Los Angeles.
bulletArgentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela. 
bulletFrance, and the Netherlands.

It had been actively suppressed in Cuba since the communist revolution - particularly during the 1960's. However, oppression has now largely ended, and the popularity and practice of Santeria exploded in Cuba during the 1990's.

Estimates of the number of followers of Santeria in North America have covered a wide range:
bulletAccording to Adherents.com, various sources have predicted:
bulletFlorida: 60,000
bulletU.S.: 800,000
bulletNorth America: 500,000 3
bulletJ.E. Holloway, the author of "Africanisms in America" estimates:
bulletNew York City: 300,000 4
bulletEgbe Lukumi estimates:
bulletU.S.: over 5 million. 5
bulletThe "American Religious Identification Survey, (ARIS)" by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York computes:
bulletU.S.: 22,000 6

We suspect that the ARIS survey is reasonably accurate. It involved telephone interviews of over 50,000 individuals. Apparently only five of them responded that their religion is Santeria. An unknown number of Santerians probably refused to answer the question. If we assume that three refused to answer, then one might estimate that there are a total of 35,000 Santerians in the U.S.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. From "Santeria Religion 101," at: http://www.santeriareligion101.com/
  2. An unmoderated forum, alt.religion.orisha discusses of African-based and derived belief systems throughout the African Diaspora. This includes: Candomble, Fon, Hoodoo, Palo, Santeria, Yoruba Orisha and Voudun (Voodoo). Some of the topics include: recent books, scholarly articles and tapes, ethnography, information on acquisition and use of herbs in ritual practice, ritual music, instruments and dance, divination systems, the changing role of traditional practice in modern times, the law and repression of ritual practices.
  3. "Santeria," Adherents.com, at: http://www.adherents.com/
  4. J.E. Holloway, "Africanisms in America: Blacks in the Diaspora," Indiana University, (Reprinted 1991), Page 122. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. Cited in "Exploring the Culture of Little Havana," at:  http://www.education.miami.edu/
  5. "Religious Movements" at: http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia quote a Santeria reference Egbe Lukumi, http://www.egbelukumi.org/ as saying that "It is estimated that the number of practitioners of Lukumi Orisha Worship in the United States surpasses five million."
  6. "American Religious Identification Survey," by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, at: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_studies/aris.pdf This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from:   

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Copyright © 1995 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-MAR-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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