The growing popularity of one of Cuba’s most widely-practiced religions has contributed to the country’s most recent economic boom.
According to Fusion, Santería, a syncretic religion that experienced a major boost in popularity in the 1990s due to the country’s economic crisis, is responsible for the gradual expansion of capitalism, Internet productivity and a surge in tourists who are coming to the island in the hopes of becoming Santería priests (santeros).
The average price to become initiated into the religion in the country ranges from $1,000 to $3,000, and the initiation ceremony includes a sacrifice of live animals, dance and “the mixing of an assortment of holy plants for seven days.” In the U.S. and Europe, becoming a santero could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.
The accessibility of the Internet has also made becoming a santero much simpler, as those studying to become priests are able to use e-books to study whenever they can.
“Today, most santeros have a laptop because they study the e-books and software to become santeros,” the site reads. “It’s through educational software that people are learning now: Santería 2.0. And, of course, they are commodifying it.”
While some may not fancy the idea of someone profiting from religion, many followers of the Santería faith do not see an issue with it, as it serves as means of survival in a country that views struggle as an opportunity.
“We are living in a place where there is a lot of struggle and necessity,” said Neviz Ayón Samé, a woman who believes she was cured of an illness at a young age thanks to a santero. “People who become santeros are often waiting for a foreigner to come from the outside so that they can make money. You can’t survive with what the government pays you, so santeros do whatever it takes to survive like charge tourists a lot of money for their services and, in a way, are obligated to do these illegal things. It’s all about survival.”