Many African religious and spiritual practices are deeply rooted in connection with the dead and the ancestors. Various religious spectacles or rituals are often carried out as links to the spirit realm. Not many religions exhibit the rich and deep African spiritualism like Palo Mayombe. It is an African religious belief and practice that hailed from the ancient Kingdom of Kongo. It was exported first to Cuba and Puerto Rico along with slaves from this region in the 16th century. The spiritual practice has since been embedded into Latin American spiritualism. It became very popular in Cuba and widely practiced in places like Brazil (known as Quimbanda), Suriname, and the United States etc.
Like other Africans originated religions, Palo venerates the spirit of the dead as well as the spirit of nature and the Supreme Being The word “Palo” is the Spanish translation for Stick. Stick is one of the natural objects associated with Palo Mayombe. The altars are mainly made of wooden sticks. A Palero is essentially a Palo Mayombe faithful. Becoming a Palero is not just in the name, but embracing Palo Mayombe as the way of life. There are levels of growth and spiritual consciousness to be attained as a Palero, the first is Ngello. A newly introduced person must first undergo ritual scratching. He must then learn the basic vocabulary of the people of Congo, the names of the godfathers and learn how to greet in Prenda. An individual needs to be favored and approved by the spirits before he can undergo the process of becoming a palero. Paleros must not disclose their power and secret of the religion to the public. Spiritual works and consultation are strictly through referrals.
Nganga is a respected and very powerful Palero. He has the power to convey messages back and forth to the spirit world. They have the power of divining the cause of misfortunes, to guide against the spread or future occurrence. And also get solutions to these misfortunes straight from the dead. They are great herbalists and physicians that heal sicknesses and afflictions with herbs and other natural objects, also through the guidance of the spirits. They often diagnose and provide solutions to more illness and faster than modern medicine. Babaganga (the plural of Nganga) are known as the protectors of human against witchcraft and invoke the spirits in physical objects, nkisi.
In Palo religion, no natural item exists without any purpose. The herbs especially are used for healing, invoking and other purposes. The belief in the power from the natural objects is one of the cornerstones of the Palo Mayombe. Many objects come with the power that can connect humans to the spiritual world. The spirits, Kimpungulu resides in and often manifests through natural objects. The religion has various forms of divination for connecting to the spirit world and to receive instructions/messages from the dead. The most popular is the Chamalongos practice by trained Paleros using seashells. They get clear “yes or no’ answer from the spirit based on their consultation.