La Ceiba: The sacred tree of the Yorubas of infinite roots in Cuba

The myth states that the most appropriate day to plant a ceiba tree is on November 16, the feast of San Cristóbal, patron saint of Havana

It is well known that the belief of the sanctity of the ceiba is transmitted from generation to generation in Cuba and there are many who, besides honoring its majesty, fill it with amulets and offerings.

This tree whose beauty fascinates even those who do not believe in its divinity, stands the same in fields, squares or parks of the whole Island, because where the popular tradition is born or sowed it prohibits cutting it down or using its thick branches to make firewood.

Due to its cylindrical shape and the height it reaches, giving it slenderness, it is logical that together with it there is freshness and protection; hence, perhaps you experience an almost magical feeling when you contemplate it, feel it and smell it.

Considered blessed, it is said that the rays do not strike her and are resistant to strong winds, and whoever knocks her down must face divine punishment.

And it is that in the Cuban popular imagination, where a ceiba is erected, the place becomes in turn a sacred place, and it is not strange to observe that during certain celebrations there are people giving it three turns in the opposite direction to the hands of the clock, asking for wishes or leaving pennies among their roots.

Also, they are seen adorned with chickens, bananas and other offerings, because it is the symbol that unifies different religious creeds that congregate to perform rituals around them, which validates the cultural syncretism of the country.

It is magical to observe how, in spite of the different beliefs, the faith unites at its feet the Cubans who ask each year, mainly, health and prosperity, becoming, where it is, in motive, cause and reason of solidarity and social empathy .


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According to Mayan cosmogonic legends, the tree opens its major branches to the four cordial points, and in this way joins the fourfold deity that governs the winds and rains.

Meanwhile, one of the Cuban myths that exists around her tells that one stormy night a woman ran desperately through the mountains with her son in her arms, crying out to the gods for protection from rain and lightning; and that when approaching a huge tree the trunk was opened and the mother, next to the small one, could take refuge in its interior.

It is said that his cult was brought by African slaves Yorubas to the nation, in whose culture sacred trees were worshiped, and that in addition to his contact with Catholicism, emerged the religious fusion that enriched the deities and sanctities, with several points of contact and that on many occasions they also mix with other beliefs such as voodoo.

Enclosure of the orishas according to the legend of the insula, its scientific name is Ceiba pentandra, native of the tropical zones and one of the most representative trees of the Cuban flora.

The eminent geographer Esteban Pichardo (1799-1879) in his book “Near-reasoned provincial dictionary of Cuban voices and phrases” he called “giant of the fields (…), which with a hundred open arms seems to threaten the heavens.”

Innumerable mysteries are woven around the ceiba tree, which is done with the same fervor adored by different religions, because its history is very broad.

Even for the Chinese brought to Cuba during the colonial period, and today for their descendants, is the throne of Santán Kón, his version of Santa Bárbara; while for the peasants in general it represents the tree of the Virgin Mary.

Up to 60 meters high it grows in some cases, and as everything has a virtue for its mystical strength, it is said that it can make infertile women fertile.

A whole ritual accompanies the ceiba in the largest of the Antilles and sacred par excellence for the believers and practitioners of the Rule of Osha, the act of planting it constitutes an indissoluble commitment between the tree and the man, in which he swears to take care of it while live, since his health and happiness will depend on it.

Once the plantation is finished, which must be before noon, there will be a party in which animals will be sacrificed.

The myth states that the most appropriate day to plant a ceiba tree is on November 16, the festivity of San Cristóbal, syncretized in the Rule of Osha by Aggayú, orisha owner of the volcano and the mighty river, and patron saint of Havana. 


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