Followers of the Yoruba religion will soon have TV and radio channels devoted entirely to them and believers of other religions that mix African faiths with Roman Catholic iconography. The channel will also serve those interested in learning more about la Regla de Ochá, better known as Santería.
South Florida-based Obaife Radio and Television was designed to reach a market overlooked by Spanish-language media and to forge a degree of unity among priests of the Afro-Cuban religions, according to founder José Montoya, a businessman and sometimes-controversial priest of the Mayombe and Regla de Ochá religions. The broadcasts may also help improve the image of their rites, often rejected in the West.
Programming is slated to begin in late October on cable, internet and broadcast TV signals. Its name, Obaife, means “king of the land of Ifé,” the ancient Yoruba city in southwest Nigeria that is home to the Ooni, the region’s traditional ruler.
“We want to tell our audience about our practices, especially the ethics of religion, because there's been a very negative image of our religion due to unscrupulous individuals and some people who are not even members,” he said.
“There is much rivalry among the different branches of our religion — a war between those who want to follow religion as it was during our ancestors' time and those who have adapted it to current times,” said Montoya, who is president of the Temple of Ministers Shangó Eyeífe. His new channels will represent both factions, he said.
Programming will include original documentaries, live rituals and debate forums, along with interviews in Miami and Cuba with prominent religious leaders and personalities.
Some of those are the decendants of slaves brought from Africa to Cuba who were forced to adopt Catholic practices in the New World but continued to observe their ancient rituals.
Montoya owns two television stations and four radio stations, with studios in Davie and West Palm Beach. He said he will change the names of two stations, Nocturno 99.7 FM and 80s Freestyle Radio 92.7 FM. Both can be heard from West Palm Beach to Cocoa Beach, on the Internet and on their own cell phone apps.
To expand his potential audience, Montoya said is also is negotiating with Comcast to distribute Obaife TV in northern Miami-Dade County, including Miami, Hialeah and Doral, and southeastern Broward.
He is waiting for FCC approval to operate a low-power religious community radio station in Miami-Dade, he said. The programming also will be available on www.obaifeteve.com.
Juan Manuel Casanova, a Miami priest and doctor of hypnotherapy, will host one of the Obaife TV programs. His section will be titled “Ciencias ocultas y santería” — Occult Sciences and Santería — and focus on a dialogue among believers of the separate branches of the Yoruba religion.
Differences in beliefs and rituals mark the gap between followers of the traditional Nigerian school and the so-called Criollo Cubans who follow the mixed versions handed down by their slave ancestors.
“That fragmentation gives rise to a lot of speculation and a lot of lies,” said Casanova, author of several books about Afro-Cuban culture.
“We don't want to force people to accept our position,” he said. “We want to establish an ethical line that would be good for Miami and Cuba.”
Follow Daniel Shoer Roth on Twitter: @DanielShoerRoth.