El Kimpungulu: Corpus Santoral Del Palo Monte Mayombe Belief System & Rituals…
Palo, also known as Las Reglas de Kongo, is a group of closely related religions which developed in the Spanish Empire among Central African slaves with roots in the Congo. A large numbers of Kongo slaves were brought to Cuba where the religion was organized. Palo’s liturgical language is a mixture of the Spanish and Kongo languages, known as Lengua. During the late 18th-19th century, Palo began to spread from Cuba to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, and Latino communities in the United States.
The branches of Palo include Mayombe, Monte, Briyumba, and Kimbisa. The word “palo” (“stick” in Spanish) was applied to the religion in Cuba due to the use of wooden sticks in the preparation of altars, which were also called “la Nganga”, “el caldero”, or “la prenda”. Priests of Palo are known as “Paleros”, “Ngangeros.
The Palo belief system rests on two main pillars: The Veneration of the Spirits of the Ancestors – The Belief in Natural/Earth Powers.
Natural objects, and particularly sticks, are thought to be infused with powers, often linked to the powers of spirits. These objects are known as “nganga” and are the ritual focus of Palo’s magical rites and religious practice. A certain number of spirits called Kimpungulu (singular: Mpungu) inhabit the Nkisi (sacred objects; also spelled Enkisi. Kimpungulu are well known in name and deed, and are venerated as spirits. They are powerful entities, but they are ranked below the Supreme Creator Zambi or Nzambi.
Roots of Palo Mayombe go back to Kongolese sorcery, the warrior and leopard societies, and the impact of the Portuguese Mission. The original African faith is carried in chains across the abysmal waters of Kalunga and it flowers in Cuba as a New World Creole religion and cult. Yet Palo Mayombe can only be truly understood in the light of a highly developed African cosmology.
The magical head of Palo Mayombe in its three-legged iron cauldron has implications. The Misa Espiritual suggests one way in which we can forge that vital connection and resurrect both our dead and ourselves. In Palo Mayombe the golden vein of fire still transmits the ancestral wisdom and transforms the Paleros into true spiritual warriors who are the walking dead.
The main practice of Palo focuses upon the religious receptacle or altar known as a Nganga or Prenda. This is a consecrated vessel filled with sacred earth, sticks (palos), human remains, bones and other items. Each Nganga is dedicated to a specific spiritual Nkisi. This religious vessel is also inhabited by a spirit of the dead (almost never the direct ancestor of the object’s owner), also referred to as “Nfumbe”, who acts as a guide for all religious activities which are performed with the Nganga.
Various divination methods are used in Palo. Chamalongos uses shells of various materials, often coconut shells. A more traditional method, Vititi Mensú, is a form of envisioning, using a sanctified animal horn capped with a mirror. There are many spiritual branches, or Ramas, that have developed through the ages such as Briyumba – this branch has separated into branches such as Siete Briyumba Congo; the branch born when seven Tata’s from Briyumba combined their ngangas to create an Nsasi Ndoki.
Religious syncretism can be seen in some houses of Palo, called Palo Cristiano, with the use of the cross and images of Catholic saints as representations of the Nkisi. However, in other houses, called Palo Judio, there is no syncretization with Catholic imagery. The name Palo Judio literally means “Jewish Palo”, but the term “Jewish” as used here does not refer to Judaism; rather it is metaphorical shorthand for “refusing to convert to Christianity”, that is, in the case of Palo, “purely Congo”.
Many houses of Palo, a spiritual Misa is often held before the initiation, in order to identify the main spirits which will help to develop one’s life. These guides often speak through possession, and may give direct advice.
The highest level of the pantheon in Palo is occupied by the supreme creator God, Nzambi. The Kimpungulu (singular: Mpungu) are spirits encapsulated in sacred vessels (Nkisi). Other spirits that can inhabit the Nkisi are Nfuri (wandering spirits ), Bakalu (spirits of ancestors), and Nfumbe (anonymous spirits).
Higher Gods: Nzambi – Lugambe – Kimpungulu – Nkuyu – Kengue – Kobayende – Mariguanda – Gurufinda – Kalunga – Chola Wengue – Kimbabula – Watariamba – Nsasi – Sarabanda