Palo: African Ritual in Cuba

Cuba – August 2009

The Palo religion (Las Reglas de Congo) is a syncretic religion which developed amongst the black slaves brought to Cuba from the Congo basin (Africa) during the colonial period. Palo, having its roots in spiritual concepts of the indigenous people in Africa, worships the spirits (of humans, plants, rocks,…) and the natural powers (thunder, ocean,…) but due to the forced evangelization, Palo can often give them faces and names known from the Christian dogma. According to Palo, some spirits may reside in altars (vessels filled up by magical objects called la prenda) and these are used to work with and to be asked for a help during the lithurgy.

The Palo ceremony is led by a priest and consists of singing, dancing, drumming and sometimes an animal sacrifice. The Palo magic rituals can work for both - good and ill, depending on the intention of Palero. The difference between good and evil in Palo ethics is whether the motivation is for social (community) benefit or personal gain. Although there have been strong religious restrictions during the decades of the Cuban Revolution, some sources say that the majority of Cubans consult their problems as bearing children or curing illness with practitioners of some Afro Cuban religion.

Photography by Jan Sochor
Music by Los Muñequitos de Matanzas – “Bantu”, De Palo Pa' Rumba (2009)

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Copyright © 2015 Jan Sochor. No photographs and text may be used or reproduced in any form.