EKPE = ABAKUA: The Voice of The Leopard

                          ***The Sacred Language of the Abakua…

       “The goat that breaks the drum will pay for it with his hide”


Abakuá is an Afro-Cuban men’s initiatory fraternity, or secret society, which originated from fraternal associations in the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon. Known generally as Ekpe, Egbo, Ngbe, or Ugbe among the multi-lingual groups in the region, these closed groups all used the leopard as a symbol of masculine prowess in war and political authority in their various communities. The term Ñáñigo has also been used for the organization’s members. The creolized Cuban term Abakuá is thought to refer to the Abakpa area in southeast Nigeria, where the society was active.

The first such societies were established by Africans in the town of Regla, Havana, in 1836. This remains the main area of Abakuá implantation, especially the district of Guanabacoa in eastern Havana, and in Matanzas where Afro-Cuban culture is vibrant.

Abakuá members derive their belief systems and traditional practices from the Igbo, Efik, Efut, and Ibibio spirits that lived in the forest. Ekpe and synonymous terms were names of both a forest spirit and a leopard related secret society. Members of this society came to be known as ñañigos, a word used to designate the street dancers of the society.  The oaths of loyalty to the Abakuá society’s sacred objects, members, and secret knowledge taken by initiates are a lifelong pact which creates a sacred kinship among the members.

The duties of an Abakuá member to his ritual brothers at times surpass even the responsibilities of friendship, and the phrase “Friendship is one thing, and Abakuá is another” is often heard.

One of the oaths made during initiation is that one will not reveal the secrets of the Abakuá to non-members, which is why the Abakuá have remained hermetic for over 160 years. Aside from its activities as a mutual aid society, the Abakuá performs rituals and ceremonies, called Plantes, full of theatricality and drama which consists of drumming, dancing, and chanting activities using the secret Abakuá language.

Knowledge of the chants are restricted to members of the Abakuá but Cuban scholars have long thought that the Abakuá expresses their cultural history through their ceremonies. Other ceremonies such as initiations and funerals, are secret and take place in the sacred room of the Abakuá temple, called the Famba.

Prejudice about the Abakuá dates back to the colonial era, and stems from the negative propaganda associated with the fear of slave uprisings. It was compounded by the secretive nature and mysteries surrounding the culture… While Abakuá members do use some of the same phrases that their Ancestors did in Africa, it is only for religious purposes, not for everyday oral or written communication. Some of these expressions have become popular sayings, such as -Ekue mbori aborekin ñangue, which means “The goat that breaks the drum will pay for it with his hide.”

However, sometimes people use refrains from the Abakuá moral code that can cause misunderstandings. The concept of Manliness depends on a subjective interpretation, and that depends on one’s cultural education and on psychological and sociological factors such as a person’s family, school and community. Some Abakuás view it as being – a good father, son and brother.

 The expression that refers to – cleansing honor with blood, advocates being ambia koneyó – sincere friends and solidarity among Ecobios – Brothers in religion. The Abakuá’s roots go back to the slave trade. The Carabalíes – people from the Calabar region of Africa who were brought to Cuba maintained their legends and their secret societies from Africa.

The rhythmic dance music of the Abakuá combined with Bantu traditions of the Congo contributed to the musical tradition the rumba.


The antecedents of the Abakuá or ñañiguismo are in the secret society that existed in Nigeria, Calabar. Its organization and content have the roots in the African legend that tells the story of the violation of a secret by a woman: the princess Sikan. She found the sacred fish Tanze and reproduced the roar in the sacred drum Eku. The ñañiguismo cannot be separated of the African believes about the existence of Ancestor (spirits), that’s why in all the ceremonies they are called to guaranty the development of the ritual according to rigorous liturgical norms. Its symbolic representation is the Ireme or Diablito.

All the activities of the cult are made in the temples. In all the rituals are used lines and graphics known as Ekeniyo which are an ideological graphical system of signs to immobilize and attach the representation of global events. These symbols are painted with yellow and with yeast and they are divided in three categories: the Gandos, the Signs or Anaforuanas and the Seals.

The ñañigismo has several hierarchies. The Indisime is the applicant to enter into a potencia, the Obonekué is an already initiated man. The Plaza is a everlasting hierarchy with a relevant position in the juego. This person is in charge to preserve and to make follow the norms and ritual and social principles. The Iyamba, Mokongo, Ekueñón, Nkrikamo and Nasako have the title of Plaza. Only men are admitted in the secret society Abakua.

Reference Sources: Efiong Bassey = 

PALO = Bantu – Congo – Cuba

El Kimpungulu: Corpus Santoral Del Palo Monte Mayombe Belief System & Rituals… “Una Nganga De Siete Rayos Zarabanda Del Palo.”

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

Reference Sources: Wikipedia = Nicholaj De Mattos Frisvold = www.palomayombe.com = Ralph Alpizan = Marco Candelaria =