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Santeria is a religious practice similar to Vodoun. The religion centers around ancient African gods who have been assimilated as Catholic saints. 'Santeria' comes from the Spanish word 'santo' meaning saint; practitioners are called 'Santeros' (female, 'Santeras').

Like Voodoo, Santeria came to the Americas with the millions of black slaves from West Africa, principally from the Yoruban tribes along the Niger River. Forced to convert to Catholicism, the slaves continued their religion in secret, passing along the ancient traditions either orally or in handwritten notebooks called 'liretas'. Gradually, the Yorubans began to see what they believed were the incarnations of their gods into the Catholic saints and syncretized the two faiths. Soon the Spanish and Portuguese slaves' masters became interested in the Yoruban magic and begun practicing Santeria themselves. Today, any large city with a large Hispanic poulation has many Santeros as well as devoted Catholics because many practice both religions or a combination. New York, Miami, Los Angeles and the countries of Cuba and Jamaica are Santeria strong holds. Brazilians practice it under such names as Candomble, Umbanda, and Quimbanda. A.G.H.

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