Cuba is in for another whirlwind year, according to the island’s babalawos

A babalawo in Havana holds the annual Letter of the Year, issued by Afro-Cuban priests, which outlines predictions for the new year.
A babalawo in Havana holds the annual Letter of the Year, issued by Afro-Cuban priests, which outlines predictions for the new year. AP

Corruption, robbery and the squandering of public funds are among the predictions for 2017, according to Cuban high priests known as babalawos.

The so-called “Letter of the Year 2017,” issued in Havana on Tuesday, also warns that only one king rules the population and contains ambiguous messages such as “no hat can be more famous than the crown” and “I have everything and am lacking everything.”

The annual prediction, highly anticipated by followers of the religion, is an interpretation based on predictions of the orishas or dieties.

The Yoruba religion was brought to Cuba by Africans from the Yoruba region who were taken as slaves to the island by Spanish colonizers. Over time, the religion merged with Catholicism, resulting in a religious syncretism that unites the Yoruba deities (orishas) with Catholic saints. The Virgin of Regla, for example, is Yemaya in the Yoruba pantheon — the deity tied to this year’s Letter.

The Yoruba religion, more commonly referred to as Santería, Regla de Ocha and Ifá, has spread across many countries including the United States, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Panama, Spain and Brazil, among others.

The Letter of the Year began to be published in the late 19th century. It is intended to offer guidance and recommendations to believers of what the orishas foresee and what the faithful must do in order to do well and to avoid difficulties.

Since last year, the Letter of the Year has been issued in unison by the Yoruba Association of Cuba and the Commission of the Letter of the Year Miguel Febles Padrón, the two main groups of the Yoruba religion on the island. Prior to the unification, there were discussions about differences in methodology and rites used to obtain it.

Last year, the Cuban babalawos predicted an increase in the global migration crisis and social outbursts. For the island, they forecast an uptick in foreign investment and recommended dialogue as “an important tool to resolve conflicts.”

The “Letter of the Year 2017” offers recommendations on health, meals, alcohol and drug use and ethical and moral values ​​to meet. It also recommends paying attention to “the possible proliferation of acts of corruption, theft and squandering of public funds.” And it warns about concerns with the environment and pollution.

Among the sayings contained in the Letter: “A single king rules the population” and “It is a mistake not to learn from the mistakes made.”

“Ifá's forecast, which is being made in Cuba, in Miami and elsewhere in the world, serves as a guide for seeking balance in society,” said Obá Ernesto Pichardo, president of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé church in South Florida.

According to Pichardo, the interpretation of the Letter depends on the knowledge of the group of babalawos that performs it, “of the talent that is gathered doing the analysis,” and the result that is published reflects the consensus of the group. Therefore, there are several interpretations depending on where they are made, and those interpretations reflect different socio-political realities, he explained.

“In Cuba, for example, the primer interprets the hot topics of Cuba, and the same thing happens in Miami,” Pichardo said.

The Letter issued by Miami babalawos offered prophecies for the United States. Among the recommendations: avoid arrogance and foul language in an effort to contribute to love and reconciliation; and beware of questionable web sites and applications.

The important thing, Pichardo said, is to focus on the universal message transmitted by the Letter. This year, the main message is the imbalance that exists in the world, where there is a predominance of vices.

“Every day more people are marginalized, there is more inequality, aggravating the disequilibrium in politics and the economy, in health, religion and the environment,” Pichardo said. “We have to resolve the conflicts of this imbalance.

“For example, if a person is not taking care of his health, neither Christ nor Buddha nor Olofin will save him,” he said. “The details [of the Letter] is not in the socio-magical element, but rather what the human being must do.”

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