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The word aguanile originates in the West African Yoruba language. The nation of Cuba was heavily influenced by Western African religions and languages when colonists and settlers brought African slaves to the country. In particular, those of the Yoruba religion brought the gods and demigods of their lore—called orishas—and eventually...

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The word aguanile originates in the West African Yoruba language. The nation of Cuba was heavily influenced by Western African religions and languages when colonists and settlers brought African slaves to the country. In particular, those of the Yoruba religion brought the gods and demigods of their lore—called orishas—and eventually developed a distinctly Afro-Cuban religion known as Santeria.

Over time, the Yoruba-derived Lucumi language developed a word that was meant to honor the demigod Ogun and pay him respects, particularly in cleansing rituals. Aguanile, sometimes spelled “agguanile,” is meant to convey the meaning “cleanse yourself” or “cleanse your house [or possessions].” This calls upon the idea of sacrificially purifying oneself before Ogun and has been extended to the generic concept of holy water.

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Aguanile is a word derived from the Yoruba language, which is originally of West African origin and later came to Cuba. The Cuban religion of Santeria developed after slavery brought many West African natives to the island, and with them came many Yoruba traditions. The word “aguanile” is associated with one of the demigods, or orishas, of Santeria—in particular the demigod of war and metal, Ogun.

The word is formed by the two halves “aguan” (or “agguan”), which means cleansing or cleaning, and “ile,” which refers to a person’s house or home. It is used in chants and incantations worshiping the demigod, as a call to offer a holy sacrifice to curry the demigod’s favor. Because of the association with water, sometimes the word is also used to mean “holy water” or similar ideas.

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Aguanile is a Yoruba word incorporated by the Afro-Cuban Santeria religion. Yoruba is a West African language. The population of Cuba is culturally mixed, and it is also mixed in the religious field, where various liturgical beliefs converge. Santeria is the most important religion of African origin brought to Cuba by African slaves. The slaves managed to keep their religious beliefs alive: they demonstrated resistance toward their masters, and they also cunningly managed to identify their Orishas with the saints of the Catholic religion thanks to some common characteristics.

The Orishas are demigods (human beings who did great things in life and, once they died, were awarded the rank of deities) who personify nature and act as messengers of the primordial divinity. There are about four hundred Orishas in the original Yoruba religion and about forty in Santeria, of which only about fifteen are known by the majority of the faithful. The Orishas recall Greek mythology with its various anthropomorphic deities who both fight with and protect each other. The mythological accounts of the Orishas, often in contradiction with each other, are called “Patakìn” and are of considerable anthropological interest.

Often the word “Aguanile” is accompanied by “mai mai” (water). In general, the word is originally written with double “g” (“Agguanile”) and appears in the songs dedicated to the Orisha Ogun. “Agguan” means cleanliness, and “ile” generally refers to dwelling places or property. Depending on which Orisha is venerated, holy water is used to clean the house or the property; hence, people use the expression “Aguanile mai mai.” We could interpret this phrase as “Please purify my house and all my earthly possessions,” or, more broadly, as “Please offer me spiritual cleansing.” The use of holy water to bless people's houses is frequent among Catholics, too.

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Generally, the vocable “aguanile” (originally written “agguanile”) is used in Yoruba chants in honor of the Santeria orisha Ogun. “Agguan” means cleaning, and “ile” means house, property, plot of land, and so on, so that “agguanile” would be “cleaning of your home or cleaning of your earthly possessions.” However, there are other interpretations which indicate that the word “aguanile” translates to “Nile River” or “holy water.” Either translation is correct, and each translation involves spiritually committing oneself to a higher power.

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