From West Africa to Brooklyn: Yoruba Religion among African Americans
Mary Cuthrell Curry
Over the past three decades a quietly growing phenomenon has been part of the religious scene in the Western world. The Yoruba religion of Africa has become a part of communities and countries from which it was previously absent. This religion is intimately bound up with the cultural traditions of the people who practice it. They have taken it with them as they have migrated from Africa to Cuba to North and South America and, most recently, to Europe.
This chapter examines the reproduction and transformation of the Yoruba religion in the United States, using African American practitioners of this religion in Brooklyn, New York, as a case study. It is based on four years of field research, during which time I participated in religious activities and conducted intensive interviews with seven leaders and thirty members.
The Yoruba religion (also known as the Religion or Santeria) is spreading rapidly in the United States as a result of Cuban immigration and efforts on the part of African Americans to import it. Structured as a mutual aid organization, it provides a support network to obtain jobs, places to live, and help in times of trouble. Its rituals offer intimate community to uprooted people who talk directly to the gods and who believe that the gods respond with advice about their problems.
The Yoruba religion's presence in the United States is the result of a two-stage process of migration: (1) the huge influx of Yoruba slaves to Cuba in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and (2) the emigration of Cuban refugees after the revolution of 1959.
Sections of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, and Ghana constitute the ancestral home of the Yoruba people. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a long civil war in this region resulted in the selling of war captives as slaves, who were taken