World

At Havana market, Cuban Santeros offer thanks for year's blessings, ask for prosperous 2014

  • Santeria priests or babalawo add the finishing touches to the Eshu-Elegbara statue, on the eve of a New Year's ceremony at the Cuatro Caminos market in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. Cubans gathered Monday in Havana's most important market to give thanks for the year’s blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014, singing ceremonial songs in the Yoruba language and spitting rum at the 2-foot-tall statue of Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce and also a protector of the universe. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

    Santeria priests or babalawo add the finishing touches to the Eshu-Elegbara statue, on the eve of a New Year's ceremony at the Cuatro Caminos market in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. Cubans gathered Monday in Havana's most important market to give thanks for the year’s blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014, singing ceremonial songs in the Yoruba language and spitting rum at the 2-foot-tall statue of Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce and also a protector of the universe. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)  (The Associated Press)

  • Cuban followers of the Santeria faith gather round the 2-foot-tall statue of Eshu-Elegbara, at the Cuatro Caminos market, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. Followers sing ceremonial songs in the Yoruba language and spit rum at a the statue of Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce and also a protector of the universe, to give thanks for the year’s blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

    Cuban followers of the Santeria faith gather round the 2-foot-tall statue of Eshu-Elegbara, at the Cuatro Caminos market, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. Followers sing ceremonial songs in the Yoruba language and spit rum at a the statue of Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce and also a protector of the universe, to give thanks for the year’s blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)  (The Associated Press)

  • A woman delivers a rooster as an offering for Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce, and protector of the universe, during a Santeria ceremony at the Cuatro Caminos market, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. Cuban followers of the faith gathered in the market to sing ceremonial drums, beat sacred drums and sacrifice animals to give thanks for the year’s blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014.  Two goats and two roosters were slaughtered and their blood used to bathe the 2-foot-tall statue of Eshu-Elegbara. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

    A woman delivers a rooster as an offering for Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce, and protector of the universe, during a Santeria ceremony at the Cuatro Caminos market, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Dec. 30, 2013. Cuban followers of the faith gathered in the market to sing ceremonial drums, beat sacred drums and sacrifice animals to give thanks for the year’s blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014. Two goats and two roosters were slaughtered and their blood used to bathe the 2-foot-tall statue of Eshu-Elegbara. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)  (The Associated Press)

Cuban followers of the Santeria faith beat sacred drums, sacrificed animals and sang ceremonial songs in the Yoruba tongue Monday to give thanks for the year's blessings and ask for prosperity in 2014.

About 200 believers and onlookers thronged Havana's most important market, Cuatro Caminos, for the ceremony dedicated to Eshu-Elegbara, the deity associated with markets and commerce, and also protector of the universe.

"This year was good, it was prosperous," said Victor Betancourt, a "babalawo," or Santeria priest.

In a central courtyard at the market, people sprayed rum from their mouths at a 2-foot-tall cement-and-stone statue of Eshu-Elegbara, crowned with spiral shells. At its base, they left offerings of coconut, watermelon, candy and flowers.

Two goats and two roosters were slaughtered, and their blood used to bathe the icon.

Administrators at Cuatro Caminos authorized babalawos to erect the statue in the patio for the first time this year.

"These offerings have been made here since 1996, but now we've gotten them to let us put it up permanently," Betancourt said.

Cuban Santeria is a syncretic faith mixing Catholicism and African traditions that were brought here long ago by slaves. It is the island's principal religion, with millions of followers.