As inflamatory as the article is, this is the kind of thing that we
cannot afford, especially in the era of avian flu and the like. We
need to stress amongst ourselves that we need to be more responsible
when disposing of ebo and teach our godchildren accordingly.
This reporter also needs to be more responsible when writing her
stories. Maybe we might want to let her know this.
Posted on Sun, Apr. 02, 2006
UP FRONT | SANTERIA
A Kendall hot spot for Santeria
In an East Kendall neighborhood, graceful homes along a quiet
suburban street stand in stark contrast to the Santeria-inspired
animal sacrifices that take place nearby.
BY TERE FIGUERAS NEGRETE
Mornings bring a certain kind of dread to the neighbors along a
quiet Kendall road off Miller Drive -- even to those who long ago
resigned themselves to the piles of dead roosters and disemboweled
goats and the unearthly odors that have become a constant fixture in
this suburban enclave.
''It's Halloween every day,'' said Carla Savola, pointing at a
roadside tree where a headless chicken hangs from a branch, spinning
on a black ribbon like a macabre piñata. ``And everywhere, there is
the smell of death.''
The stretch of road along the CSX railroad line, and the tracks
themselves, have evolved over the years into a hot spot for Santeria
practitioners to dump sacrificed animals that are a cornerstone of
their AfroCaribbean religion.
Joggers on their way to nearby Tropical Park sidestep the familiar
bundles of plastic shopping bags, knowing that they contain blood
offerings to Santero gods, or orishas. Neighborhood dogs and
adventurous children have been known to bring home the odd skull or
And on a recent afternoon, the carcass of a snow-white goat --
gutted, drained of blood, sun-bleached bones poking through the
hide -- disappeared into a cloud of chalky dust and fur as several
thousand tons of locomotive came barreling down the rails.
Neighbors say they have nothing against Santeros, just the furred
and feathered relics they leave behind.
''I've known Santeros, and I've had Santeros as clients,'' said real-
estate agent Larry Salas, who has lived across the street from the
tracks for more than a decade. ``But you have little old ladies
pulling up in cars with a trunk full of dead animals, tossing them
onto my street. It's disrespectful.''
Some neighbors are taking the matter into their own hands. A few
have made a point of confronting the mysterious visitors who show up
with drums and bags of dead animals in the dead of night.
Others, like Savola, who sits on the Kendall Community Council, have
peppered railroad and county officials with pleas to clean up the
rotting livestock and piles of pottery shards, with spotty results.
And still others have learned to avail themselves of the dubious
perks that come with living within a stone's throw of this
particularly Miami-Dade County phenomenon.
Salas, who has invested several hundred thousand dollars to build a
dream home on a second lot next to the CSX line, makes a point of
collecting the cloth-wrapped coins that litter the area behind his
Then he walks to his neighborhood coffee joint, plunks the pennies
on the counter -- and offers a sardonic thanks to his nighttime
'I say, `Gracias, babalao!' '' said Salas, laughing. ``And then I
drink my cafecito.''
It's not the babalaos, the high priests of Santeria, however, who
draw the faithful to Southwest 82nd Avenue Road.
''It's Ogun, the god of war and iron -- and therefore rails,'' said
Rafael Martinez, a professor of anthropology at Barry University.
Martinez has created a course for local law-enforcement people to
foster better understanding of ritualistic religions such as the
Santeria of Cuba, Brazil's Palo Mayombe and Haitian Vodou. All are
amalgams of West African belief systems brought to the New World by
enslaved blacks and the Christian beliefs of colonial masters.
Martinez is familiar with the neighborhood off Miller. He often
takes police officers enrolled in his classes to the site for field
''We pick up specimens, as long as they don't smell too bad,'' he
Train tracks, and the mystical powers attributed to the iron in the
spikes and rails, are integral parts of Santero symbology.
Sacrifices to Ogun are often left along the railroad tracks. And the
actual railroad spikes are popular items at both brick-and-mortar
botanicas and online purveyors of Santero paraphernalia.
Reports of religious offerings interfering with rail lines have made
sporadic headlines over the years, usually in places less accustomed
to Santeria than Miami.
A commuter line in New Jersey was briefly shut down in 2003 after a
pin-studded gourd, believed to be a religious offering, was
discovered along a CSX track -- triggering a response from several
emergency agencies and bomb technicians.
A bag of beefsteak and pennies held up a train in Palm Beach county
for more than an hour in 1996 after a police officer spotted a
woman, a practitioner of Santeria, leaving it on the tracks to rid
herself of illness. And a few years ago, a spate of headless
animals -- chickens, doves, goats and pigeons -- found on several
rail lines prompted extensive newspaper coverage in Portland, Ore.
UNIQUE TO MIAMI-DADE
In Miami-Dade, however, the offerings to Ogun generally pass
''I've heard stories, but it's not something that comes up on a
frequent basis,'' said Brian Nicholson, spokesman for the Florida
East Coast Railway, which, like the CSX rails, runs through Miami-
CSX spokeswoman Meg Scheu said the Miller Road neighborhood is the
only site along the company's 1,700 miles of Florida rails that has
a problem serious enough to warrant complaints from neighbors.
''We operate in 23 states east of the Mississippi,'' Scheu said.
``We have issues like debris, or wild animals But this is obviously
So what makes Savola's and Salas' neighborhood so attractive?
It seems that in fast-paced Miami-Dade, even those who practice
ancient rites covet convenience.
''It's right by a major roadway,'' Professor Martinez said. ``You
drive in, do your sacrifice, and you're out in 10 minutes. A lot of
Santeros will try and be discreet, and go to an isolated place. But
some people are just in a hurry.''
The U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned animal sacrifices in 1993 after a
landmark legal challenge from a well-known Santero priest and
Hialeah activist, Ernesto Pichardo.
Pichardo says that live sacrifices made to Ogun on the rail lines
are rare, and that even then, practitioners should take pains to
travel to an isolated area -- for religious and practical reasons.
''This should be done in a remote area,'' said Pichardo, noting that
the deity is also considered a god of the woods. ``A few trees
doesn't cut it.''
There are strict rules that govern the disposal of animals
sacrificed, Pichardo said. Some are cooked and offered to the gods
at an altar, or eaten by the faithful. Others, like those that
appear in Savola's neighborhood, must be placed at significant sites.
That can prove tricky, Pichardo said, quoting a Santero adage: ``Do
not invoke the wrath of the supernatural, nor that of thy
But religious mandates always take precedence, he said.
''If the cost of throwing a chicken at a railroad is that I get
arrested, fine,'' he said. ``It's not something I'm going to waver
on. That's the struggle of balance. This is very much a Miami
Both Pichardo and Martinez note that some items found on the tracks,
such as the headless chicken dangling from a tree, are not typical
of Santeria, but could be garden-variety hexes or spells.
Dumping animals is a misdemeanor under the county code, and
violators typically have to be caught in the act, according to the
Miami-Dade Police Department.
Savola says residents frequently call police, but the visitors take
off long before officers arrive.
Neighbors complain that their requests to have the area cleaned up
on a regular basis get mired in red tape. While CSX is responsible
for maintaining the area along the tracks, its crews are not
equipped to dispose of dead animals. And county workers technically
are not allowed to clear out private property, although Miami-Dade's
Team Metro unit has done sporadic cleanups along the tracks, Savola
Scheu, the CSX spokeswoman, said the company is trying to work out a
deal with the county that would allow county workers to access the
That would still leave the issue of animals disposed along county
roadways, such as the the plastic-wrapped creature discovered by
Monday-morning commuters March 14.
Listed only as a ''large animal'' on the police report, the sizable
bulk and strong odor prompted fears that it was human remains.
''I just wish that they find somewhere else to do it,'' said
neighbor Kurt Olson, whose wife stumbled on the police scene.
She wasn't the first in the Olson household to encounter Santeria
firsthand. Olson's school-age daughter, enamored of animals and
aspiring to become a veterinarian, once brought home a goat skull.
''I let her keep it, but only after I dumped it in a bucket of
bleach,'' Olson said. ``She took it to school for show-and-tell.''