by Migene Gonzalez Wippler
The author unveils for us the strange and beautiful rituals that derive from the syncretism of Roman Catholicism, early forced on the Yoruba slaves of colonial Puerto Rico, with their own African nature religion. The book is Gonzalez-Wippler's labor of love, recounting lifelong first hand experiences of Santeria in the care of her Yoruba nanny, with an attitude of respect and reverence for this great faith.
The author tells of how her Maria gave her the first initiation of children in Santeria, on her fifth birthday, first taking her to church to say a rosary before the statue of the Mother Mary, then taking her to an isolated cove, anointing her lips with sugarcane syrup, and leading her naked into the ocean waves, chanting an invocation to the orisha Yemaya, whose symbol is the seven seas and who is the mother of all things living. Maria explains to the child that Yemaya wears another face of the Virgin Mary, with dark skin and kind eyes, so that people who look like her can recognize her and receive her blessings. Maria explains that by bringing the child to Yemaya in the ocean, she is showing her Our Lady in her full power.
There was another kind of Santeria on the south side of San Antonio, where i grew up. As a child, when I asked parents and Sunday school teachers about the celebrants; strange processions, the shrines in their yards, the unfathomable usages of Christian symbols, their exotic botanicas, I was told that theirs was a sort of backwards, superstitious version of Christianity. "Santeria Experience"; makes me wish that I had looked more closely and asked more questions, before it was too late.