Culturalmente Imparando

The term ebò derives from the Yoruba language, an ancient dialect originating in West Africa and refers to offerings made in honor of an Orisha (or even Orixà, Oricha, Orisà depending on the language). The latter is a semi-divinity of the mythology of some African peoples (including Yoruba themselves) whose cult spread to other continents starting from the 17th century with the massive deportation of slaves from their native lands. As a result, these religious practices have mixed and adapted to new contexts, giving rise over time to very different rituals around the world, as happened in some communities in the United States, Brazil and the Caribbean islands.

It is precisely this variety that makes it difficult to uniquely explain the ebò ritual and its offering to Orisha. This can happen in different places, at different times and in different ways. However, in most cases the ritual is performed using food, fruit, incense or candles to offer to one's Orisha (in Yoruba mythology there are several hundred, each with its own particularity). A peculiarity of this African religious phenomenon is its syncretism, i.e. the joining together of apparently irreconcilable ideological elements. Thanks to the mixture of their own beliefs and those of other countries, there are cases in which the Orisha have their correspondences with the saints of Christianity. Examples of this fusion are the Cuban Santeria and the Brazilian Candomblé.

The concept of ebò/offer ritual is closely related to the concept of axé, that is, divine energy, great, immense and transcendental love of the divinity towards man. The purpose of religious practice is to create a sort of mystical vibration, a connection between the one who offers and the one who receives, in order to obtain from the latter a blessing. The elements to offer change according to the worshipped entity. In its most basic form one has to knock on the ground three times with the knuckles of the right hand, asking Orisha's consent to leave the offering. At the end one has to leave the semidivinity with an orikì (ritual greeting), consisting of taking three steps backwards, turning around and leaving without ever looking back, and without returning to the place of the offering for a whole week.

In the Cuban Santeria the ritual is also accompanied by singing and dancing to traditional music. In this case syncretism is created between elements of Yoruba culture and Catholicism imported/imposed by the Spanish. In fact, any person can aspire, through a special ritual, to become a babalawo, i.e. a priest. The journey lasts three months and once completed leads to the title of santero. In the Cuban version ebò is the final practice of this process, with which the aspiring priest purifies by becoming a santero and then, with a further path, babalawo. Between the two figures there is a religious hierarchy, but both are considered earthly spokespersons of the Orisha divinities.

In Candoblé (in the Bantu language, also a dialect of African origin, it refers both to an instrument and to a dance) the greatest religious human figures are the pai de santo and the mãe de santo, respectively a priest and a priestess. Unlike the Cuban Santeria, here there are other religious figures, such as the babaegbé, the iyaegbe and the axogun, with a more articulated hierarchy. The pai and the mãe de santo use shells for their rites, and sometimes even enter into a state of trance, as possessed by the divinity.

Sources consulted:

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  • L'Autore

    Mario Rafaniello

    Mario Rafaniello Vice Responsabile della rubrica “Culturalmente Imparando”. Partecipa anche all’entusiasmante progetto “Japan 2020” e si interessa di arte, cultura e letteratura.

    Laureato in Giurisprudenza e laureando in Relazioni Internazionali. Attualmente collabora con diversi portali online.



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