Matthew Belanger

new media artist

Dolls, Demons & Deities

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Dolls, Demons & Deities is a 10 minute documentary which reveals Santeria practices in Cuba which few individuals have had an opportunity to see. Beginning with shots of present-day Cuba and traditional Cuban music, the viewer is then brought into a divine ritual where drumming, dance, and chanting bring about possession followed by celebration. A young man then receives his fortune as the documentary draws to a close.

Dolls, Demons & Deities was a collaboration between photographer Jane Tuckerman and myself in 2000. Jane was responsible for the videography, and I served as the editor.

The Santeria religion as it is practiced in Cuba, originated in West Africa and was brought to the New World during the slave trade. Santerias believe in one god, Olorun or Oldumare, who is the source of spiritual energy that makes up the universe, the source of “ashe”. Olorun interacts with the world through emissaries, or Orishas, who rule over every force of nature and every aspect of life. Communication between Orishas and humankind is accomplished through ritual, prayer, divination and offerings.

Trance possession is an important element of Santeria. During a bembe or drumming party for the Orishas, the Orisha will enter the body of the priest. Once “mounted” by the Orisha, this possessed individual is able to act and speak as the Orisha.

When African slaves first arrived in the New World they were typically baptized by the Catholic Church, and their own practices were suppressed. They developed a syncretistic religion, substituting each Orisha with a corresponding Euro-Christian saint. This enabled them to retain tradition under the guise of conformity.