This CANNOT be learned in a classroom!

Esto NO se aprende en una aula!
This CANNOT be learned in a classroom!

Recently I have received several inquiries from Palo initiates regarding my upcoming course Palo: Theoretical and Practical Approaches. Everyone wants to know if I am “teaching Palo” in a classroom and if so is this even possible?

The purpose of my class is to clarify common misconceptions that the community has erroneously adapted in regards to Afro-Cuban traditions. We must respect and be greatful to our elders and forefathers for the preservation of these traditions, but we must also recognize shortcomings and attempt to make changes to rectify it.
How did Palo Develop in Cuba?

I have heard countless Tatas and Yayas speak of the foundations of Palo in Cuba. Many of those Tatas and Yayas are people I highly respect as practitioners but I also recognize that there is no basis for the historical claims they make and ideas they implement into practice that are guided by their own political agendas. Many are taking mythical accounts literally. For instance, Palo was not established in Cuba by 7 Congo kings that brought a different nkisi to each province in Cuba. This would be, well, impossible. Also, there weren’t 7 Congo dialects that were brought to Cuba. Slaves and their descendants that were labeled “Congo” included anyone that spoke any language of the Bantu language family. There exist over 250 different Bantu languages with over 500 dialects. I am certain that there were more than 7 reached Cuba during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. What developed in Cuba among the Congo was basically a lingua franca with a strong Kikongo base. This doesn’t mean that mythical accounts have no value. We will discuss them and explain their value. The use of the crucifix in Palo ritual is not a result of brainwashed and beaten slaves, this has its historical reasoning that has nothing to do with current ideas about the relationship between Catholicism and oppression of African religion.

Palo “borrowed” a lot from Lucumi.

This is a statement that is often made. It is unlikely that the largest group of slaves that were in Cuba (Congo) for a longer amount of time borrowed a great deal from the Lucumi. The influence that “Congos” had on Lucumi practice has always been disregarded, until now. For example, Saints were not used as a veil to hide the worship of the Orishas or any other spirits for that matter. The use of Saints was a Lucumi adaptation of “Congo” practices that began in Africa.

Palo is nothing more than witchcraft.

I will show that Palo was purposely maligned in the beginning of the 20th century by Lucumi practitioners who had political motives and why this rift created tensions that still exist today between Lucumi Babalawos, Oloshas and Palo initiates and has led Congo traditions to its current degenerite state. Sadly enough today the general consensus, even among initiates, is that Palo has become nothing more than a tool used to do witchcraft. A religion that had to bear the weight of slavery and once had a rich history of liturgical song, narratives (kutunguagos) and secrets believed to help aid those who were ill – both physically and spiritually – has dwindled down to this. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My research began years ago after a calling to be initiated almost 20 years ago. The first time I laid eyes upon an nkisi I knew I had found my home. After hearing the music I felt a wholeness that I had never experienced. My goal is to help preserve this tradition, nothing more. Palo cannot be learned in a classroom or book. To learn Palo you must experience it because Palo truly is man’s encounter with nature. However, we can become familiar with concepts, music, plants and better understand where we came from in order to make sure we know where we are going.

Nzambi Lukutare

Oscar Guerrero
Tata Nganga
Kimbisa con Mayombe
Santo Cristo Buen Viaje