A vast majority of the Dominican population is considered to be Catholic, however, the Creole religions of the Caribbean are often practiced in secret, making it difficult to count the number of followers. Officially, many of the people who practice these Afro-Caribbean religions consider themselves Catholics as well.
The Dominican Republic is not home to its own Creole religion in the same way that the social climate in Cuba gave birth to Santería or Haiti's history gave rise to Vodou (Voodoo). Still, brujería (witchcraft) is not uncommon on the island, and immigrants have brought their home religions with them, particularly those who have crossed the border from Haiti. The religious freedom in the country means Dominicans are free to practice whatever religion they choose.
Santería is thought to be one of the elements of Dominican folk religious life. This Cuban tradition came about through the combination of African beliefs and the imposition of Spanish Catholicism. Field laborers were given only the most basic introduction to the Catholic faith and "Creolized" the beliefs, mixing the Catholic practice of saint worship with the worship of many African gods and goddesses. Vodou came about in much the same way, but this occurred in what is now Haiti, a French-speaking nation.
The West African Yoruba tribe most heavily influenced the practice of Santería, though Vodou also incorporates some Yoruban traditions. The differences in these two Creolized religions comes from the specific African tribes that were transplanted to the islands of the Caribbean. One of the most important differences is that Santería includes possession rituals and beliefs, but Vodou includes the practice of magic.
The deities of both Vodou and Santería often have similar names, but both religions include the relation of African gods or spirits with Catholic saints. Both also feature the African belief in a main creator god who oversees the gods and goddesses that worshipers may contact – this helped to make the Creolization of these two religious systems easy as the African beliefs are essentially monotheistic.
Practitioners of these Creole religions hold ceremonies to contact the spirits and must put out offerings or use particular drum rhythms or dances to reach a particular Lwa (Vodou) or Orisha (Santería). Each of these deities has his or her own symbols, which are often associated with the symbols of particular saints. Altars are often created for a practitioner's patron Orisha or Lwa.
Because these religions were created to be undetectable under the guise of Catholicism, it may be a surprise to know how common these beliefs are in the Dominican Republic. It is extremely hard to track believers, but the rich history of the Caribbean and these strong religious observances leave much to be explored.
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