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HAVANA – 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.