On this day (Dec 17) every year, more than 15,000 Cubans on the island walk or drag themselves for many miles to El Rincón de San Lázaro/Babalu Aye to fulfill a promise made to Him and light a candle in His honor. This day is very very special to most of the Cuban diaspora as well. Last night in Hialeah/Miami tons of people awaited the day with parties in His honor and today the San Lázaro church in Hialeah will be overcrowded for many blocks with people waiting to drop off flowers and light a candle.
The news that the US and Cuba are resuming diplomatic ties gives us more to celebrate on this day. ¡Aché para todos!
i walked 30 kilometers yesterday. i woke up at 2am, after sleeping 3hours, and walked 30 kilometers. i don’t know what that translates to in miles, as i think ignorance is necessary for my sanity in this instance, but i know its a lot. too much in fact. as though i forgot that that’s probably like walking from the valley to l.a. far.
my legs are a wreck. my quads want to run away from my femurs; my hamstrings want to separate into playable parts; my feet wanna slap each other in the mouth for complaining so much; my shin muscles want to collapse to the floor and sit cross-legged in pouty protest; my toes want to cry wah wah wah all the way home. you know when you’ve been standing all day and your feet and legs do that intense achey thing where you can’t move around but you cant sit still either? well imagine that times 1,000. my butt doesn’t even wanna look at me right now its so pissed off. but it was totally worth it. it was worth it to be a part of the yearly pilgrimage that an estimated 5,000 cubans make to the city of santiago de las vegas to honor and pray to the patron saint san lazaro (catholicism) / babalu aye (santeria). it was worth it to practice meditating through the pain of walking so far. worth it to cry at times from witnessing the expressions of pain and fatigue on the faces of those crawling and dragging themselves along the hot concrete; to wonder what promises people had made in exchange for the miracles san lazaro had completed for them. it was a super intense day, but amazing.
for the last two months i’ve been walking the streets of havana, photo and video documenting my friend luis manuel’s san lazaro project. maybe you could say it was my training leading up to the 30K. i’m pretty sure i could draw a map of havana with my eyes closed right about now as much as i’ve walked around this city. i’ve walked through main streets and back streets, alleys and passage ways, and i’m feeling like i know havana pretty well. luis manuel, the same friend of the renegade mickey mouse sculptures of last time, has been doing a project dealing with santeria and faith. he’s built a 7 foot tall sculpture of a black san lazaro, which in yoruba is also known as babalu aye.
san lazaro/babalu aye is the saint/orisha that represents the downtrodden and sick. he is a saint of miracles, more so than the others, and in cuba people look to him for support when their needs are most dire. in san lazaro the people reflect their own daily struggles and ask for financial solvency, improved health and good fortune. in their darkest hours people promise things to san lazaro in the hopes that he may be more apt to complete whichever miracle they may need from him. they promise things such as making the pilgrimage barefoot, crawling the 3km from the the entrance of the city to the rincon, or dragging themselves along the ground from their home to the church as recompense for their blessings. all of these forms of payment we saw when we were there. during the last two weeks of december people sit on busy corners or walk through neighborhoods collecting money to donate to the rincon (the rincon is the church dedicated specifically to san lazaro, and the populace donates and prays for blessings with their monetary sacrifice). on the 17th of december hoards of people make their way to the rincon to pay homage to san lazaro/babalu aye and to give back to him in sacrifice whatever miracle he gave to them.
the state estimates that about 5,000 people make this pilgrimage yearly, but it felt more like 10,000 to me. hundreds of thousands of people dressed in purple and straw sacks (the colors/materials of san lazaro) walked to and from the church. there were about 10 of us that left out of el cerro yesterday at around 3:30am. a group of documentary film students from the university of havana chose to use luis manuel as their protagonist in a documentary they’re doing on spirituality in cuba; their crew made up the bulk of the group. outside of those six were luis and his friend, and me and my spanish friend olalla. it took us about 7 and a half hours to walk from havana to el rincon, having us arrive there around 11am. we took small breaks to rest and to eat snacks in between, but in total we didn’t rest more than an hour. like i mentioned before there were people paying back their promises in all kinds of way. people literally sat or lied on the hot ground and dragged themselves to the church. others crawled on hands and bare knees and feet, arriving at the church bloody, tired, and shaking. there were people in wheelchairs, on crutches, with apparent sicknesses and hidden ones as well. and there were also people who go for the special day, to pray for their things when the season is ripest. luis’ san lazaro was very well received.
luis’ objective in this project was to highlight the culture of spirituality around san lazaro amongst the people. he wanted to nourish their faith through this huge impressionable object. luis wanted it to disappear as a fine art object and to function solely as a religious one. he assumed, which was true, that people would believe that san lazaro granted him a tremendous miracle, and that he was walking around for 2 months with a 7 foot tall san lazaro sculpture collecting money to pay the saint back. however, luis doesn’t practice santeria nor is he catholic, so the piece doesn’t function for him in the way it functions in the mind of the people. it is a work of art, a sculpture that he made out of paper, paint, clay and wood. the fact that he is an artist and not a believer turns the action into a performance, placing it in an artistic context rather than, or perhaps in addition to a religious one. the fact that he made san lazaro black, when he is usually represented as being white, also creates a dialogue around race. this was probably the second most commented on aspect of the piece outside of its size. lastly, luis plans to use the money collected to help repair a home for children with mental health challenges rather than donating that money to the church. this also complicates the work of art further and removes it from traditional religious behavior.
people responded to his sculpture in all kinds of ways. they showed awe at how well it was made or how big it was. babies cried and tried to run away from it while others kneeled down and prayed in front of it. some where appalled by the fact that it was a black san lazaro and others applauded its negritude. but no one ever questioned who the sculpture represented, and many placed money in the basket and prayed for themselves and their loved ones.
taking a hot shower and being home in my bed and sleeping helped me dissolve away all the hard parts of the walk. now all that’s left is to go through the 600 photos and videos i took (literally 600). it was definitely a new and interesting experience for me, that will indelibly alter my view of cuban spirituality. wish you all could have been a part of it.
(journal e-mail sent to friends and family on 12/18/2012)
BabaluAye is the Orisha who governs epidemics and heals infectious diseases. Though originally associated with smallpox, many of today’s worshippers appeal to BabaluAye for healing from HIV/AIDs. His colors are brown, black, and purple. His number is 17. His symbols are two dogs and crutches. He is portrayed dressed in burlap. He is offered white wine, popcorn, sesame seed candy, and a variety of grains, beans, and seeds. -http://www.babalublog.com/archives/001249.html
(FOTOS) Bienvenidos a San Lázaro, el cementerio más inquietante del mundo
El cementerio de San Lázaro es uno de los más grandes de Europa del Este. Situado en una colina en Chisinau (Moldavia), cubre unas 200 hectáreas en las que hay aproximadamente unas 300.000 tumbas. Algunas de las lápidas están en ruso y otras en rumano y muestran la variedad lingüística que hay en el país. La tradición es que los familiares visiten el camposanto todos los fines de semana para mostrar su respeto a los fallecidos. La gran mayoría de ellos son cristianos ortodoxos.
The children of Babalu Aye are given rigorous promises and sacrifices of flogging. Very charitable and responsible care for the well-being, both physical and mental, of the people in their environment. They are also very generous and altruistic, giving free of charge not only understanding, affection and comfort, but also material goods. Needy and helpless, people both physically and spiritually, come instinctively to them, for those who will always have the most appropriate words and laid hands.
Congressmen Tear Down Fence in Protest of ‘Extreme’ Security for Peña Nieto Inauguration
PRD Congressmen and local residents take down part of a huge fence that has sealed off San Lázaro, Mexico’s congressional building, since at least Sunday, which many consider extreme, as part of security measures in the lead up to Enrique Peña Nieto’s inauguration on Saturday.
“Congress is not an [army] barrack,” wrote Congressman José Ángel Ávila.
Many on Twitter and Facebook have pointed out that such measures have never taken place so many days before an inauguration, and the fact that many in the media have ignored citizen complaints of the wall, something not done in 2006 with Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s take over of Reforma Avenue.