Orlenys López Pintado

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Orlenys López Pintado

Cuba


Spanish

My name is Orlenys. I am from Cuba. I have been living in Estonia for approximately eight years. In Cuba, we have some traditions that relate to our folkloric and religious roots: I am talking about paleros or santeros (the term is used indistinctly).

Paleros are in touch with the souls of dead people. A big part of Cuban society sees this as something negative. It is said that paleros can put a spell on you and this can harm you. We call these magical activities brujerias – things related to witchcraft.

In Cuba, it is not unusual to find things involved in brujeria on the streets. It can be dolls, fruits, or headless dead animals. People say that if you touch those objects, the spirit living in them will be transferred to you, and the curses can damage your life.

Although popular tradition says that paleros are dangerous (and it doesn’t really matter if you believe or not, we all respect that belief), some of them can be good. It is because they can be a brujero (witch) but also a curandero (healer), a person who can help you with your life.

The palero is seen more from the negative side, because they make a deal with a dead person, usually with a dark soul. This dead soul can help the palero in his work in exchange for some goods. These goods must be put into the cauldron and it could be blood of dead animals, eggs, cascarilla as well as other products, depending on the dead person.

My experience with paleros (or better to say brujeros or santeros) was more on the positive side. I was around 10 years old, and I had problems with my stomach. I almost could not keep any food inside, I had many digestive problems, and the doctors didn’t know what to do. My mother was not a believer in that religion, I didn’t believe either. But we were at that point where you need to find alternatives to solve a problem, because apparently medicine was not able to solve it, and some doctors even told us that I was faking the condition. So my mother asked “Why not?”

Someone suggested to her this señor brujero who had made agreements with supernatural powers. I can’t remember his face, I only remember he was an older adult, maybe 50-60 years old. Maybe less, I don’t know.

His place was in a very rural area, almost in the middle of nowhere. To get to that place we had to take a bus, and when we arrived, the first thing we saw was a wooden house with a guano roof (roof made from palm leaves). I mean, it looked like a poor house, more like a storage room than a place where a person would live. There was also a big line and many people waiting.

With that palero, it was not like you have an appointment and come to a place where they are waiting for you. No, the señor dealt with people on a first-come, first-served basis. So, if you don’t want to stay the whole day, you better arrive early and get a position in the queue, and when it is your turn, you enter, and the señor listens to you.

We arrived early. The house was on a hill, with no other houses around, only some other people waiting to be listened to by that señor, by brujero. I was still a kid, and everything I had heard before about those kinds of people, was not on the positive side. So, before entering, I was scared, the whole thing was a bit terrifying. When entering, that first impression was still fear. In the house, there was one room with no windows, the floor was just soil. There was simply no floor, just the same soil as outside the house.

Everything was dark, the only light came from candles that were somehow mixed with the smoke from cigars, these Cuban cigars. The smell inside the house was a combination of cigar smoke and herbs, plus the smell the wood gets over time. It wasn’t a bad smell, but it was new to me. It was dark and you were like in a fog, you couldn’t see well. You could barely see the silhouette of the person sitting there. So, the first impression, as a kid, was just scary.

The person was seated on the ground. There were some ornaments, like plants, some snails, and some other ornaments, but they didn’t make much sense to me. There was also a cauldron in a corner, and some candles, but I can’t remember much more.

That person talked to my mother. He didn’t ask what issue I had, and out of the sudden he started talking to himself in a language that maybe was Spanish, or maybe not. It was like he wasn’t talking to you but to something else, so, you can’t understand what he is saying, even if you speak Spanish. He was communicating with something else. Something that was not there to be seen, something that would tell him what’s best for me. It was like he was in a trance. Then, the señor suddenly said something to my mother.

His recommendation was for me to drink an infusion of some natural herbs. Although I didn’t understand anything he said, the initial feeling of fear changed while he was talking. He didn’t do anything with me, but simply his way of talking gave me, let’s say, a peaceful feeling.

In the end, when we were leaving, my mother said “Why not?”, so we tried the remedies he recommended.

I don’t know if it was a consequence of this visit, but shortly after, in a few days, a doctor finally found the solution to my condition. It turned out that the previous doctors hadn’t done the necessary tests. I got the medicine and it helped me.

In the end, I can’t say if my problem was solved by the visit to that señor and because of this connection he made with some supernatural being. However, the solution indeed came some time after visiting him, although it came from conventional medicine.