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Also known as Las Reglas de Congo, the Palo religions are a group of closely related traditions that originated among Central African slaves in the Spanish colonies of the Caribbean.

Palo branches (denominations) include Mayombe (Mallombe), Monte, Briyumba (Brillumba), and Kimbisa.

When the religion came to Cuba, it was referred to as palo, which means "stick," and was a reference to practitioner's use of wooden sticks in the preparation of altars, which were known as la nganga, el caldero, nkisi, or pino nuevo. Generally, the Palo religions are known as Palo Mayombe, Palo Monte, and so on.

The roots of the Palo religions are in the BaKongo religion of the Congo Basin of Central Africa, and was influenced by other faiths, particularly Catholicism, after coming to Cuba, and later to other Spanish-speaking countries in the Caribbean. The liturgical language of the Palo religion is known as habla Congo, bozal, or lengua, and is a mixture of Spanish and Bantu.

Palo clergy are known as Paleros, Tatas (men), Yayas (women), or Nganguleros, while Palo initiates are referred to as ngueyos or pino nueva.

Common characteristics of the Palo religions are a veneration of the spirits and a belief that the earth and nature possess various powers.

Natural objects, particularly wooden sticks, are believed to be infused with the powers of spirits. Some spirits, known as Kimpungulu (singular: Mpungu) inhabit sacred objects, called Nkisi (Enkisi, Inquice, Inquise). These spirits are well known in name and deed and are often given anthropomorphic qualities. While the Kimpungulu are powerful, they are ranked below Zambi (Nzambi), the Supreme Creator. Thus, Palo is a henotheistic religion, meaning that its adherents worship a single supreme god without rejecting the existence of other deities.

The practice of Palo is focused on its altar, la Nganga, a consecrated vessel that serves as a microcosm. Each Nganga is set apart for a specific spirit (mpungu) and is often believed to be inhabited by a spirit of the dead, who is rarely a direct ancestor of the object's owner, who acts as a guide to the religious rituals that are performed with the Nganga.

Wooden percussion instruments and drums are used in Palo rituals.

A number of divination methods are also used in Palo religions. One of them, Chamalongos, uses thrown coconut or mollusk shells, which is usually preceded by a complex ritual. Another, known as Vititi Mensú, involves a light trance state, induced by tobacco, that enables a spiritual vision, and uses a sanctified animal horn capped with a mirror.

There is no central authority figure in the Palo religions. Beyond the denominational branches, practitioners meet in temple homes known as munansós, which are headed by an experienced elder priest or priestess.

Because the Kingdom of the Kongo adapted Catholicism in the 15th century, its native BaKongo traditions were combined with Catholic beliefs, forming a syncretic religion even before it came to Cuba with the slave trade. In Cuba, it was known as Palo Cristiano, which uses the crucifix and images of Catholic saints to represent the Kimpungulu, or as the Palo Judio, in which there is no Catholic iconography. Although Palo Judio means Jewish Palo, the term does not refer to Judaism but to a refusal to convert to Christianity. A functional equivalence translation would be "purely Congo."

In Palo, the higher gods are known as Nzambi and Lukankazi.

The Kimpungulu are the lesser deity of Palo. Named Kimpungulu include Nkuyu (Cuarto Vientos, Kbuyu, Lubaniba, Lucero, Lucero Mundo, Mañunga, Nkuyo, Remolino), who is the deity of roads and forests, as well as a guide or balance. Nkuyu guards the entrance to cemeteries and is a guardian of the moon. He is syncretized with the Holy Infant of Atocha, a Roman Catholic image of the Christ Child.

Another is Kengue (Mama Kengue, Pandilanga, Tiembla Tierra, Yoia), the Sky Father, the creator of all life, and the deity of knowledge and justice. He is associated with the Virgin of Mercy, which depicts a group of people taking shelter beneath the cloak of the Virgin Mary.

Sarabanda (Rompe Monte, Zarabanda) is a strong and willful deity, associated with Saint Peter. A Nganga dedicated to Sarabanda must be made of iron and have three legs.

Others include Chola Wengue, Gurufinda, Kalunga, Kimbabula, Kobayende, Mariguanda, Nsasi, and Watariamba.

Sites associated with the Palo religions are appropriate for this category, or one of its categories, whichever is the most relevant. Purely informational sites may also be submitted.


Palo Mayombe



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