Ocha-Ifa, also known as Santeria, Regla de Ocha, Regla Lucumi, or Lukumi, is a syncretic religion of West African origins developed by the African slaves in the Americas, most notably in Cuba and Brazil. The religion infuses elements of Catholicism with traditional African spirituality. Practice includes ancestor reverence and the worship of deities from the Yoruba pantheon coupled with idolization of Catholic saints. In some cases, Indigenous American spiritual practices were also incorporated into the religion.
It is said that Santeria was developed as a way for the Africans to preserve their ancestral religious beliefs under the oppression and devastating conditions of slavery by using Catholic saints to represent their own African deities (Orishas). When the slaves arrived in the Americas, they were forced to abandon their ancestral religious traditions and accept a new faith. Many were baptized by force by the Catholic Church.
Under the guise of Catholicism, African slaves were able to maintain their religious practices and transfer ancestral knowledge to their descendants. The Ocha-Ifa communities continue to thrive today. Although no longer under slavery, the descendants of African slaves continue the syncretic practice of associating Catholic saints with the Orishas, as Catholic beliefs have been so deeply integrated into the religion. In Cuba, the words santo (saint) and Orisha are often used interchangeably. It is common practice for a practitioner of Santeria (santero/a) to be baptized in the Catholic church as part of the initiation process into the Santeria religion and many santeros also self identify as Catholics.