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social sciences

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Santería and Vodou  
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Cuban and Haitian migration has resulted in Santería and Vodou communities in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries. Their membership has expanded beyond their original ethnic and national constituencies to include converts from mainstream Western religions. Although sexual minorities drawn to these traditions have encountered homophobia in some circles, leading to the establishment of gay templos, many others have found acceptance and a spiritual home within the faith.

Conner and Sparks devote the heart of their study to interviews with gay devotees in the U.S. and Cuba, as well as with Brazilian- and Haitian-born gay men and lesbians residing in the U.S. They cite numerous glbtq artists who sought the orishas' influence, including poet Audre Lorde, who considered herself a daughter of Ellegguá; Haitian painter Hector Hyppolite, a Vodou houngan; celebrated Cuban writer José Lezama Lima; and transgender writer and actor Max Valerio.

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Conner relates a story told by a gay initiate who reported that another devotee, who did not know about his sexuality, became possessed by the orisha Shangó, who said to him: "Do not use whom you love as a reason to be afraid of me." The significance of this anecdote is that Shangó, whose association with machismo has sometimes caused him to be seen as unfriendly to gays, is here depicted as an accepting and reassuring "voice" to a gay man.

Tradition and Adaptation

Scholars Matory and Clark, who examine aspects of gender fluidity in New World expressions of Yoruba religion, discern allusions to these traits in the Yoruba language. For example, both males and females possessed by an orisha are said to be "mounted," the term also used for the passive role in sex. The orisha is regarded as taking the male role, regardless of either the orisha's or the devotee's gender. Initiates undergoing affiliation with an orisha are called "iyawó," which also means "bride"--again, regardless of either the orisha's or the devotee's gender.

Some Yoruba traditionalists vehemently oppose such semantic associations and the implications drawn from them. Scholar Oyeronke Oyewumi, as quoted in Conner and Sparks, objects in particular to applying Western gender paradigms to traditional Yoruba culture.

Conner's presentation at a 2003 Havana conference on glbtq associations in Yoruba religion was denounced by Nigerian religious officials who view homosexuality as a foreign aberration, despite overwhelming evidence of same-sex relationships that long pre-date contact with the West. (It should be noted that traditionalists also object to Catholic influences in orisha worship.)

Against the objections of purists, however, African diasporic religions have adapted to New World contexts with remarkable resiliency. They will likely continue evolving and reaching out to an ever-broadening base of membership, including glbtq devotees who find particular relevancy in certain orishas.

Ruth M. Pettis

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social sciences >> Overview:  Anthropology

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social sciences >> Overview:  Indigenous Cultures

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Today's glbtq spirituality movements must be seen as part of a long history in which gender-special people were considered sacred to their tribe or family because of their obvious spiritual gifts.

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A major Latin-American literary figure, Cuban José Lezama Lima included problematic homosexual passages in his two best known novels.

literature >> Lorde, Audre

The work of African-American activist and writer Audre Lord was greatly influenced by her lesbianism.


Brandon, George. Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Cabrera, Lydia. El Monte. Miami: Ediciones Universal, 1975.

Clark, Mary Ann. Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule: Santería Ritual Practices and Their Gender Implications. Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, 2005.

Conner, Randy P., with David Hatfield Sparks. Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Participation in African-inspired Traditions in the Americas. New York: Harrington Park Press, 2004.

Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

De La Torre, Miguel A. Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004.

Lescot, Anne, and Laurence Maglorie, dirs. Des Hommes et des Dieux. Videorecording, 52 minutes. Watertown, Mass.: Documentary Educational Resources, 2002.

Matory, James Lorand. Sex and the Empire That Is No More: Gender and the Politics of Metaphor in Oyo Yoruba Religion. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Morad, Moshe. "'Invertidos' in Afro-Cuban Religion." Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide 15:2 (March-April 2008): 26-28.

Vidal-Ortiz, Salvador. "Sexuality and Gender in Santería: LGTB Identities at the Crossroads of Santería Religious Practices and Beliefs." Gay Religion. Scott Thumma and Edward R. Gray, eds. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Rowman Altamira, 2004. 115-138.


    Citation Information
    Author: Pettis, Ruth M.  
    Entry Title: Santería and Vodou  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated July 31, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  


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