Palo (religion) - Syncretism


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 syncreticization with Catholic imagery. The name Palo Judio literally means "Jewish Palo", but the term "Jewish" as used here does not refer to the Jewish religion; rather it is metaphorical shorthand for "refusing to convert to Christianity", that is, in the case of Palo, "purely Congo African." It is important to note that because of European economic pressure the Kingdom of Kongo had officially converted to Catholicism while still an independent nation during the late 15th century and that the African-Catholic syncretic movement extended well into the era of slavery, reaching its height under the leadership of Kimpa Vita (1684 – 1706), who promoted Saint Anthony of Padua as "a second God." Thus it is obvious that much of Palo Cristiano's Christian syncretism, as well as Palo Judio's resistance to Christian syncretism, originated in colonial Africa, not Cuba, Puerto Rico or other places in the Afro-Cuban diaspora.

The identity of the Nkisi is further clouded because authors, either outsiders to the religion or coming from houses of Palo Cristiano, have attempted to associate the Nkisi with the Orishas of Santería, a different religion. Thus the entity "Nsambi Munalembe" (also known as "Nsasi", "Siete Rayos" and various other names) may be said by these authors to be the equivalent of Saint Barbara in Catholicism or Chango (Shango) in Santería.

Because of Kardecian syncretism in 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 also through possession, and may give direct advice.

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