Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Blanca Mestre as Ochún in the Agüero Sisters

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Blanca Mestre as Ochún in the Agüero Sisters

Article excerpt

One of the many interesting elements in Cristina García's novel The Agüero Sisters (1997) is her use of Santería, also known as La Regla de Ocha, in the construction of the narrative. From the sixteeth to the ninteenth centuries, the Yoruban slaves brought elements of West African religions and cultures to Cuba, but were unable to practice them as the Spanish empire had engaged in a strong conversion mission to Catholicism. The slaves responded by devising their own religious codes whereby they identified their African gods and goddesses, with the "santos" of the Catholic religion, thus giving birth to Santería. González-Wippler defines Santeria as "a system that seeks to find the divine in the most common ordinary things" (Santeria: The Religion 23). It is based on the representation of the deities or Orichas or their signifiers; for example their iconic images and identifying objects called atributos and secretos (attributes and secrets) which function as their metaphors and metonyms. González-Wippler explains that "To the Catholic worshiper, the image of a saint is the ideological representation of a spiritual entity who lived at one time upon the earth as a human being. To the Santero, or practitioner of Santería, the Catholic image is the embodiment of a Yoruba god" (Santería: African Magic in Latin America 3-4).

Orichas or orishas are deities who have different personality traits, which are often contradictory. They can appear as male or female deities depending on their path, patakí, avatar or camino which can be good or bad. According to Excilia Saldaña (1987) the path, avatar or camino can be defined as "one of the moments in the life or in the trajectory of an orisha,... as an aspect of the physical personality of the deity, like a fact [or action, event, hecho] or an anecdote" (122). Santería has survived much religious persecution throughout Cuban history, showing its resilience as it continues to be an integral part of Cuban life on and off the island, as well as part of a literary tradition. This Afro-cuban religion is an important element in Latino writing in the United States, as depicted by Cristina Garcia's first two novels, Dreaming in Cuban (1992) and The Agüero Sisters.

In her second novel, The Agüero Sisters, the author weaves many elements of Santeria in a creative and artistic manner, creating a complex religious layer which plays an important role in the unfolding of the narrative. García introduces the reader to the oricha gods and goddesses such as Ochun/Oshun, Change, and Yemayá, as well as to their attributes, likes and dislikes; to rituals such as sacrifices, cleansing (or limpiezas) and healing. Magic elements are linked to the characters of Blanca Mestre and Ignacio Agüero in the form of spells or ebbós, omens or agüeros, charms or amuletos which offer an interesting reading of the novel.1 The reader is introduced to the Santeria's active supernatural power of ache which according to Eugenio Matibag "comes from a divine source and can be invested into objects" (11) and to the very special ceremony of divination through the diloggún or sixteen shell divination ritual. In brief, the author presents all these elements as an integral part of the Cuban cultural landscape.

This essay seeks to explore the embodiment of the legends, paths, patakís, or caminos of Ochún/Oshún, the oricha goddess of love and honey, in the character of Blanca Mestre in The Agüero Sisters. It also suggests that García makes use of the elements of Santería for a few specific purposes in this novel, especially the shaping of the character of Blanca with specific reference to the Yoruba goddess exists perhaps, in order to offer a supernatural means of resolving the tensions between characters, particularly between the two sisters, and thereby suggesting a source for the reconciliation and healing of the Cuban society as a whole. The process of the development of Santería in Cuban society, as described briefly above, indicates that it exerts a powerful influence on individuals, involving as it does ancestral memories of African religion and having survived the efforts to suppressed it. …

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