Throughout the developing world, and arguably in portions of the developed world, there is a tension between religious organizations and tourism. On the one hand, many religious organizations desires a legitimate opportunity to present their faith and traditions to those interested. On the other side are the governmental bodies seeking to draw tourist dollars by creating a cultural spectacle (See http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=11&int_new=62842#.UcZtlBbfzVu)
In Cuba, this balance is being negotiated right now between their federal government and the Santería religion. In recent years, as the country started opening up to a wider range of tourism, the government started promoting Santería as a Cuban cultural and religious tradition, giving it official status through the creation of the “Asociación Cultural Yoruba de Cuba” (Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba).
At first glance, this appears a positive, as the religion was given official status and a platform to speak. However, not all were positive, especially with the inclusion of the word ‘cultural’ in their organization’s title. The government’s move has increased tensions within their own group, and between the government and other religious groups.
Adrian Hearn, in his book Cuba: Religion, Social Capital, and Development (2008), outlines some of the impact on several levels. On an artistic level, many new works were produced, and the general art forms from the Santeria tradition came to the tourist eye. Their traditions were also on display, with tourist shows and presentations that walked through their worship practices – including some sacred rites involving animal sacrifice.
Hearn continues to outline the negative side, viewed from those inside Santeria’s religious leadership. There is a split there, with many saying this is watering down their religion, making them a simple tourist side-show with sensational experiences for hire. Others say that this is an amazing opportunity to grow their impact and teach the world about their faith. Both sides argue about the finances.
From personal discussions during a trip in May of 2013, this author heard that the emphasis that the Cuban government has put on Santeria has caused many who are not involved in the religion to resent both the practitioners and the government. They said that it was distorting tourist’s views of Cuban realities and cultural traditions, giving a single viewpoint that does not reflect a significant portion of the population.
The tension, between finances and faith, is not unique to Cuba. Many governments exploit indigenous religious and cultural practices in search of the tourist dollar. So, the question then becomes, “Is it possible to properly balance faith and tourism.