Matthew Belanger

new media artist

Dolls, Demons & Deities

This 10 minute documentary, a collaboration between Jane Tuckerman and myself, depicts Santeria practice in Havana, Cuba, which few outsiders have had an opportunity to see. Beginning with footage of present-day Cuba mixed with traditional Cuban music, the viewer is then brought into a divine ritual where drumming, dance, and chanting bring about possession followed by celebration. A young man then receives his fortune as the documentary draws to a close.

The Santeria religion as it is practiced in Cuba, originated in West Africa and was brought to the New World during the slave trade. Santerias believe in one god, Olorun (or Oldumare), who is the source of spiritual energy that makes up the universe, the source of "Ashé". Olorun interacts with the world through emissaries, or Orishas, who rule over every force of nature and every aspect of life. Communication between Orishas and humankind is accomplished through ritual, prayer, divination and offerings.

Trance possession is an important element of Santeria. During a bembe or drumming party, the Orisha will enter the body of the priest. Once "mounted" by the Orisha, this possessed individual is able to act and speak as the Orisha.

When Africas first arrived in the New World as slaves they were typically baptized by the Catholic Church, and their own religious practices were suppressed. These people developed a syncretistic religion, substituting each Orisha with a corresponding Euro-Christian saint. This allowed them to retain tradition under the guise of conformity.