Interviewer: Yann W. Tanoé
Interviewee: Daniela De Armas
Topic: Lucumi/Santeria – religions of African Origins
(occupation / title / where you are from, hobbies, interests, inspirations)
My name is Daniela De Armas and I have a name that I received when I was initiated which I use during ceremonies. I am a musician and I have worked as a musician and teacher of music in different capacities over the last 30 years. I don’t have much time for hobbies, but I like to spend time in the countryside , my the sea or travelling. I love art, theatre, cinema and live music and yoga and just spending time with my granddaughter and with my family.
YT – To someone who doesn’t know what Lucumi/santeria is about, share 3 facts about it.
It’s a way of life that can be traced back to the Yoruba People but this particular way of practising has its roots in Cuba.
The main goal is to try and live a life which is as close as possible to what your destiny had mapped out for you when you were born. We spend our lives trying to do the best we can with the path that has been designated to us.
We use tools of divination to find out whether we’re on the right path and in alignment with our destiny, and we have various ways of doing work to help us when we go out of alignment.
YT – Tell us about the origins of the spiritual path.
Just answered that above!
YT – Tell us about the three most common misunderstandings about the spiritual path?
1. That we practise witchcraft. That is very annoying
2. That we worship multiple Gods. That is not true. We believe in one God.
3. That our tradition is similar to Wicca or any other new age practise. This is not a new age practise. This is an Old Tradition that has been practised for thousands upon thousands of years. There is nothing new age about our practise.
YT – Is lucumi a more of a spiritual path, a religion or a faith?
I always say this is a way of life. Or all of the above!
YT – What are the similarity between Christianity and Lucumi/Santeria?
I don’t know enough about Christianity to tell you, but there are universal truths that unite all faiths, and we do believe in one God.
YT – How important are music and dance in Lucumi?
All our prayers are sung We sing Oriki (our Prayers) in all our ceremonies and whilst communicating with God, ancestors, and the Orishas which are deities that communicate between us and humankind. Dancing features a lot! We have public ceremonies where drums are played and there is singing and dancing and everyone is invited.
YT – Tell us a little about your musical passion and your choir?
I am a third generation (as far as I know) musician. Music is a big part of my life. I was brought up in a house which housed rehearsals and played all sorts of music. My grandfather was a musician, singer, violin player and also a Choir director! My father a singer/ songwriter. I have been a musician almost all my adult life, I trained as a classical musician as a young child. I love all music. I started the Choir ( London Lucumi Choir) since it blended my love of the Music of our tradition with my love of arranging vocals. Singing in a choir is great for all involved. Health benefits galore!
YT – Where has your choir taken you thus far (key places/ events)?
We have performed on big stages, Barbican Main Stage, for example, to small venues. Every time we perform is an honour and a pleasure. Here is a time line:
YT – How has the choir created opportunities to help you to raise awareness about the spiritual path?
My motivation is not to educate or raise awareness. I am not interested really in educating via the Choir. The Choir is open to all and is a vehicle for people to sing together and to feel better about themselves. Not everyone walks the path or is interested in going beyond the Choir although I am sure it has some physical and spiritual benefits to being in it. I give minimal information at gigs and in choir rehearsals. This is not an evangelical path and I don’t preach to anyone, I don’t believe the path is for everyone and we believe that everyone has free will and free choice. I use my personal Blog to write about the religion, so that people who are searching will have some resources and good information since there is a lot of misinformation. If people are interested in having a deeper understanding regarding the way of life that I follow, then I am available for questions in a different capacity.
What would you say enabled Lucumi/ santeria to survive slavery till today?
I would say that it has the ability to be flexible and to adapt to change. That has been important. I also think it was meant to survive. It has survived Slavery, persecution, communisim and so many attempts to eradicate it. Although it has been marginalised in the past, I have no doubt that the fact that along the way, those that were not from African backgrounds, in Cuba, found solutions within divination and this is also why it has survived. It is a very practical path.
Have you seen a shift in the way in which the world perceives the religion over the past 10 years?
For good and bad. In Cuba it is probably the most practised religion and it is legal and open and that is good. However, It has become almost a thriving business now. Necessity has meant that people are getting initiated when they don’t need to, for money. There has been a commercialisation of the tradition which is sad. There also has been a lot of appropriation and people being quite curious without being respectful. Still, the same myths exist and there is still bad publicity surrounding this path also. I live in a bubble though! I don’t know how much the whole world really has shifted! Difficult to reach an unbiased conclusion.
In your opinion, what role will Lucumi/santeria play in the rehabilitation of the African identity worldwide? Do you think it has started on that mission? If so why?
There are many many branches of the Orisha religion all around the world, but there are also other African based traditions and paths. This one is not the only one. I don’t think that Lucumi on its own will be pivotal. I do think there is an interest in finding out more about African Traditional Religion and spiritual practises. I think the reason why it is integral to African Identity in that it is a different way of experiencing the world and communicating with the world which makes it so much more than a religion. It is cultural and it is a mindset. Such things a reverence for ancestors, nature, the elders, is fundamental in all African Traditional Religions. A good film that looks at this, is http://ancestralvoices.co.uk/films-books/ancestral-voices-2/
Where would you direct anyone who may be interested in learning more about Lucumi/Santeria? What advice would you give?
There is not one answer! It would depend. I would say do some research first. Read some books. But also first steps first, make sure you pay attention to your ancestors. If this is for you, your ancestors will guide you and show you the way. This blog post may help! https://oshunschild.com/2016/01/27/i-am-interested-in-following-the-path-of-orisha-what-do-i-do-about-it/