Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Palo Monte, or Regla de Palo Monte, is one of the main currents in Cuban popular religion. The main variant of Palo Monte is known as the Regla de Palo Monte Kimbisa, based on cabildos –or associations- of former slaves. Followers of Palo Monte are known as “paleros”.
Though often spoken of as a syncretic religion in and of itself, it is assumed that Palo Monte is a constituent part of a wider religious complex that includes Cuban Santería, (popular) Catholicism and spiritism.
Palo Monte has its roots in the Congo basin of central Africa, from where large numbers of African slaves were brought to Cuba. Accordingly, a large part of Palo liturgy (chants and invocations) is a mixture of the Spanish and Kikongo languages, though it includes elements of Yorùbá, Arabic, and French.
The Palo belief system rests on two main pillars: the belief in natural (“earth”) powers, and the veneration of the spirits of the dead. Thus, natural objects, and particularly sticks (hence the word “palo”, meaning “stick”), can be infused with powers, often linked to the powers of spirits. These objects are known as “nganga” and are the physical centre of Palo rituals. Manipulation of the "nganga" is often considered a form of magic (particularly "black magic") and thus highly secretive.
A certain number of spirits are well-known in name and deed, and are factually venerated as gods. These spirits find their equivalent in the orishas –or gods- of Santería and the Catholic saints. Thus the spirit “Bomasere” (also known as “Nsisi”, “Siete Rayos” and various other names) is the equivalent of “Changó” in Santería and Saint Barbara in Catholicism.
The number of followers of Palo Monte in Cuba is not known, though it is assumed that a slight majority of Cubans, particularly in the African-influenced cities of Havana, Matanzas, and in the Eastern provinces, believe in all or part of its principles, especially in conjunction with Santería.
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