Fermina Gómez Pastrana, the curious and forgotten story of the first Cuban santera who gave Olokun’s secret.

The story that I bring you today is not only interesting, but also characteristic, the identity of our people. Cuba is a country intensely marked by religious syncretism, it is part of our culture, part of our identity. Here Christian religions are unified with those of African origin, a mixture that makes us who we are. Let us then know the legend of Fermina Gómez Pastrana, a woman who dedicated her life to the study and practice of the Yoruba religion, a woman chosen by the saints to transmit what had never before been revealed on our Island.

Born on October 12, 1844, Ferminita, as she was called as a child, was brought to Cuba with her mother to work in the cane plantations. Both became the property of white men surnamed Gómez, hence she received her name. While still a child, she suffers the loss of her mother because of the hard work African slaves were subjected to. His last wish was that his daughter be initiated into African religious cults and customs. This was fulfilled by the relatives who were left with the care of the orphan girl and to start she received the so-called Santo Parado, a ritual now known as the seat of saint. In this ceremony, the Orisha at the head of the family is given to him, in this case Oshún, with a hand of snails and Elegguá.
Between the ages of 25 and 30, Fermina began her own entry into the Yoruba world, since she was crowned Oshún by an African santero known as Ño José.

Some time later, the well-known African santera Ma Monserrate González, originally from Egbado (a city that was part of the Oyó Empire) welcomes her as her godmother (we do not know how this relationship begins) and transmits all her knowledge about the Orishas Egbados. It is at the hands of Oba Tero (name of the saint of Ma Monserrate) that Fermina receives the Olokun, a ritual reserved exclusively for the Babalawos, becoming the first person to receive it on the Island. For those who know little about the Yoruba religion, Olokun is the orisha of the ocean and represents the sea in its most fearsome state.

He is the Orisha of the ocean, he represents the sea in its most terrifying state, he is androgynous, half fish half human, compulsive, mysterious and violent.

Later, Oba Tero “turned the gold”, which means putting another saint on his head, in this case, Monserrate crowned Yemayá and Fermina was renamed Osha Bi (orisha is born). This is how Gómez Pastrana begins her life as Iyalosha (Osha’s mother, santera godmother) and being the first santera on Cuban soil to receive Olokun’s secret, her fame is rapidly on the rise. Her intelligence and her charisma gave her notoriety in the city of Matanzas, she was close to the most famous babalawos of the time who respected her as one more.

Years later, he founded the Cabildo Egbado, where the traditional Santeria brought by African slaves was practiced. Many amazing qualities are attributed to Osha Bi, among them, the power to make herself invisible when she was in the saint’s room, only if she wanted, was it possible to see her. Her knowledge of the Yoruba religion was irrefutable, she was aware of the most secret cults and her leadership in the Olokun cult made her famous and in demand throughout Cuba.

It is said that many politicians and businessmen of the time approached him to ask for his favors. On one of these visits, Fermina, together with a niece and a goddaughter, prepared a huge Olokun, five feet tall, to favor a politician in his career. And, as indeed, what Fermina gave never failed. The politician was only on the rise and he was in the public eye for many years. Likewise, thousands of Cubans from all over attended his Olokun ceremonies. The celebrations began on September 24 and lasted three days, where common rites and rites were practiced only for those chosen. During the ceremonies the Ilú Olokun (orisha drums) were played, a ritual begun by Fermina, as well as performing the dances for the orisha with masks.

Fermina kept her Olokun in a closed room. Her altar was made up of seven fabrics of different shades of blue, surrounded by sand, starfish, reefs, stuffed seahorses, mangrove and some fishing instruments, all honoring the orisha. Another of her contributions to the cult of Olokun and that is maintained today, is to feed the saint on the high seas, a rite that had her antecedents in Africa. The first time she executed it was in 1944 and a large number of babalawos attended.


Anonymous source.

Leave a Reply