Cuba, a magnificent year?*

This article, by the famous Cuban writer, was originally published in Portuguese in Folha de Sao Paulo and is reproduced in Spanish and English thanks to an agreement with IPS Cuba.

For Cubans, believers and atheists, number 17 has magic connotations, definitively cabalistic. In the spirituality of those born on this island, the first connotation of the number dates back to December 17, the Day of San Lázaro, a very venerated saint and famous for miracles, rejected for decades by the Vatican and that, among the believers of the increasingly more popular Afro-Cuban religions, is identified to the orishaBabalú Aye, also powerful and given to working wonders. For gamblers, it is an especially attractive number. For common people it is a number full of an unexplainable magnetism. In short, 17 is not just any number.


As many know, perhaps the first cultural and spiritual action of each year in Cuba is the announcement of the so-called Letter of the Year, a prediction of the Yoruba rites brought to the island by African slaves and through which the Yoruba priests or Babalawos give a panorama of the near future based on the consultation of their oracle.


Since this is a year that ends in the magic number 17 and that, in the convulsive current events, opens with more questions than answers for all the planet’s inhabitants, many Cubans, believers and atheists, were waiting with special interest for the famous prediction. What’s curious is that despite the initial expectation, at the end of the predicted period no one remembers what was announced 12 months before or bothers to compare what was predicted with what happened. But at the moment of being announced the esoteric forecast, many assume it as the dose of hope and warnings that the Letter of the Year usually summarises. And the expectation grew on this occasion because of the famous number: because of the 17 and because the digits of 2017 add up to 10, the start of something.


The custom of consulting the oracle of the orishas has accompanied the Cuban religious and mystical life for almost two centuries and comes from the Yoruba kingdoms of the current Nigeria, where that divination practice is still conserved. For some reason, although that tradition became rooted in Cuba the same did not occur in other countries and regions where the orishas are worshipped as is the case of Salvador de Bahia, in Brazil, or in Puerto Rico, where there exist diverse forms of prediction and divination, but of different characteristics and not so timely as the plan of the year that it initiates, dictated every January by the Cuban and even some foreign Babalawos who travel to Havana to participate in the event.


This ceremony of prediction consists in a series of consultations that a group of experienced Yoruba priests make to the magic Ifá table, the oracle that knows the future and that expresses itself through a complicated binary numerology through the orishaOlofi, which has the secrets of the creation.


For this 2017 the Cuban Letter of the Year announced that the regent orisha would be Oggún, owner of metals, and that at his side would be the popular Yemayá, the lady of the seas. Among the predictions and warnings, the document drawn up by the priests, with a very pragmatic sense and proper of the historic moment, asks believers and non-believers to pay special attention to the cases of corruption, theft, squandering of public funds and, at the same time, helping to strengthen the economic and sociocultural changes.


According to a renowned Cuban Babalawo, if the warnings by the higher powers are taken into account, the cabalistic 2017 will be able to be “a magnificent year,” at least for Cuba, since the development of the economy will be strengthened thanks to Oggún, as the owner of metals, who will facilitate the necessary machetes to clear the forests that separate men, lands, nations. But, realistic and less metaphorical, he specified that the successful result of such a possibility is not in the hands of the orishas, but rather in the human will to do. For this, he added, it isnecessary to be flexible, since no one can shake a friendly hand with a closed fist.


For the Cubans the prediction of the Yoruba oracle has clear legible connotations in the political and even daily reality: the new relations with the United States – not by chance established on a December 17, the Day of San Lázaro – and the need to expand and take advantage of that proximity that could be capital for a better development of the island’s depressed economy, which contracted 0.9% in 2016 and which aspires to a discreet 2% growth even in a year considered having magical and favourable connotations like 2017…. Now it would have to be seen, in the next days, weeks, months, if Donald J. Trump, already as president of the United States, understands a bit of the African oracles and if the fists on both sides are opened or, on the contrary, they remain closed, unable to shake hands. (2017)


*This article was originally published in Portuguese in Folha de Sao Paulo, on January 14, 2017.

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