What Are All Those Beads About

image of several bead strands in different colors and patternsNow and then when I am out I may receive comments regarding the many coloured beaded necklaces I have around my neck. It is nice thing until I have to stop a person from reaching out and touching. At that point the word that always comes to my mind is “Awkward” as I have to stop someone from touching the beads and explain that they are actually religious objects which cannot be touched.

Living in Canada most of us are aware of the major mainstream religions. As diverse Canadians many of us may even be aware of a couple of not so main stream religions and practices. However, very few here are aware of traditions coming from Africa into the Caribbean, traditions which many are familiar with in the United States but are foreign to the majority of Canadians. Because of this I usually find myself being looked at like I have two heads when I explain that my beads can’t be touched and then even more so when I provide the answer to the question “Why?”, with I am a Priest in the religious tradition of Lukimi, or Ocha, and my beads are religious in nature.

Lukimi, or Ocha was first brought to Cuba, to other parts of the Caribbean, and to North America by Africans. Africans who brought several traditions to these lands after being kidnapped and sold as slaves as part of the Slave Trade. This tradition is one in which people will die for as love of the Orisha can be fierce and that is due to the fact that the love the Orishas have for us is immense, which makes them more than deserving of such faith and devotion. Many have suffered and died for this faith. It was this kind of love which allowed Lukimi, or Ocha, to survive in the new world.

So many are unaware of Orisha in this world but Orisha aware of them, and they are there regardless if one believes in them or not. Orisha is part of nature, a part of our nature and works with Creator. Orisha does much for humanity regardless of humanities awareness or not. So when the Africans were forced to come to the new world they found ways to keep their faith and love of Orisha alive. Practices were kept close to the heart with rituals and sacred ways being passed down through oral traditions and everything kept in secret.

When one comes to Lukimi, or Ocha, they come to this religion as they have received a calling, no one is recruited in this tradition. Actually a special spiritual reading must be completed to discover if this is the correct path for an individual at this point in their souls progression. Once this is uncovered, if it is uncovered, one of the first initiations as part of an induction into the religion, is to receive collars of the Orisha called Elekes. This brings an individual under the protection of Orisha and thus begins their path. Each Orisha is represented with particular colors and has their own patterns of beaded necklaces, Elekes. The colors of some of the most common Orisha are;  Eleggua – Red and White, Orula – Yellow and Green, Obattala – White, Yemaya – Clear and Blue, Chango – Red, and Ochun – Yellow and Amber.

When an individual receives their Elekes they have a responsibility to take care of them. The Elekes are only to be touched by themselves and the Priest, the Godparent, who gave the Eleke to them in sacred ceremony. The Elekes may not be worn while drinking alcohol, bathing, swimming, or during sex. They must be handled with care and love, kissing each Eleke individually before putting it on and upon removing it. The Eleke hold energy and connection to Orisha so they have to have rules to protect this.

Two bracelets, one with white and red beads and the other with red and white and clear beads.There is another piece of beaded jewellery which may be seen in this religious tradition and it is called  the Ide'(ee-dae). This is a beaded bracelet in the colors and pattern of an Orisha, which is worn by a priest of that Orisha, the Olorisha. This bracelet is worn on the left hand and is received only after the priest has undertaken serious ceremonies in which they receive several Orishas and enter the priesthood. This is nothing to be taken lightly here as this path is full of responsibilities. As part of the process the priest must undertake a year of dedication being dressed completely only in white coloured clothing, must not touch anyone or be touched for a full year while following a number of other restrictions.

So to answer the question “What are all those beads about?” I hope I have been helpful in providing an answer. Even though the religion of Ocha, or Lucimi, is not really known in Canada it is a very old religious tradition, a sacred path which is filled with beauty, wisdom, and filled with ways of love and connection to Creator, in which wearing the Elekes, the beaded necklaces, are only a small part of.

Ocan Iya Aña
Rev. Eileen Casey Gonzalez