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Palo Mayombe


Palo Mayombe is an Afro-Cuban religious tradition that focuses work with spirits of nature (the Nkisi) and spirits of the dead.  In Palo, many of the Nikisi live in Ngangas, or spirit pots.  They can also be called upon via firmas, or spirit signatures.  Palo Mayombe has its origins in the Kongo, and has more in common with Haiti's Petro line of Vodou than it does with Lukumi, its Cuban neighbor.  The Nkisi are considered by some to be 'hottest' and fastest working of all spirits.


The Nkisi are manifest forces of nature.  Whereas individual Nkisi do have personalities, they aren't given a mythical history in the same way that the Orishas are.  While there are stories of Obatala getting drunk while creating humanity, there are no similar stories about Tiembla Tierra, Obatala's parallel in Palo.  Nkisi are also more strongly tied to the dead than the Orisha.

Here are a few of the Nkisi and their associations:

Name Associations
Lucero crossroads, communication
Zarabanda iron, war, work
Siete Rayos
lightning, dancing, drumming
Tiembla Tierra
mountains, mysticism, psychic powers
Mama Chola
rivers, love, money
Centella Ndoki
wind, cemeteries,
Madre Agua
ocean, childbearing
Palo Fuerte
justice bringer
Tata Fumbi
master of healing and disease
the herbalist

Note:  These Nkisi are from my line/Rama, which is a Brillumba/Corta Lima line.  In the Mayombe line, for example, the only Nkisi are Lucero and Siete Rayos.



There are two initiation levels, Tata/Yaya Nkisi and Tata/Yaya Nganga.  A Tata or Yaya Nkisi can work with their mother and father nkisi, whereas a Tata or Yaya Nganga can work with any of the Nkisi and can initiate, provided that they have their fundamentos.  The fundamentos are the fundamental Nkisi of a line, which are Lucero and either Zarabanda or Siete Rayos, depending on your Rama.  

What tends to happen is that you become interested, find a House you want to work with, and get an "investigation."  What the investigation turns up is whether you can join the house, to what level you are to be inititated, and who your spiritual parents are.

As a way of seeing how or if Palo's going to work for you, I'd also suggest getting some work done by your potential initiators before getting initiated yourself.  This should help demonstrate the efficacy of the system, or at least your potential initiator's ability to work it.  Why join their House if their spirits won't work for you?

Other than being initiated yourself, the only way to get the Nkisi to work for you is to do so through an initiated Palero/a.


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