Arquivo da categoria: Cuba

Conversations with the “dead” – Palo Monte, Cuba

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Y8QfVZUhQE

Ana Stela Cunha

Everybody knows the saying that in addition to reflecting the idea of Cuba as being a typical “criollo”, product of a “ajiaco” (Ortiz, 1968) of cultures introduced by dozens of ethnic groups of “African” origin besides Iberian colonizers and a few “natives”, in other words the same tripod “Indian, European and African” that supposedly makes up the “hybrid” identity in other lands of the Americas, the saying brings up an interesting question: why “Congo” and “Carabalis”, precisely the historically most despised and feared ethnic groups, would be the forming of the Cuban “genesis” and not the so-called “Lucumis” (or Yorubas) or even the “Araras”?

Here I´m proposing an incursion into the world of the Congo ”muertos”, a “category” within the many possibilities (or “comisiones”) in the world of the deads of Palo Monte.
They are everywhere, this is a fact that no religious people in Cuba doubts. They inhabit our homes, eat the same food as we do (often without salt, that is true), follow us to parties (whether religious or not), on the streets, in our everyday tasks, and ultimately, they share our world. Nothing more natural in a place where the concept of death is not denying of life but the continuation of it.
Nevertheless, it is not an easy task to communicate with the “dead”, either because they communicate in very different ways, or because not every “human being” is able to communicate with the spirits. Thus, the language used in talking with the dead is almost always mediated by a religious man (medium), in a different way than he uses in common language, with marks and specific interactions very distinct from those observed in day- to- day. (Rappaport, 1979, Schieffelin, 1985).
Although other types of communication are possible (and I am reporting here only to the Cuban universe), this paper will deal with a certain type of “charla” (chat): the one between the “muerto” interacting with the consultants, through the medium.
Therefore, I shall focus my attention on a special type of communication, including verbal language, articulated through a medium, a channel of communication between them that, far from being neutral, acts as a central figure in this communicational dynamic. As Bakhtin says the very substance of language (…) does not consist of an abstract system of linguistic forms (…) but the social phenomenon of verbal interaction, conducted through the utterances (1987: 109).
This kind of statement leads us to think about other issues, such as: Who is the agency? Who masters the communication in these moments: the “muertos” or the medium? How is this interaction between them and how is negotiated the agential?
Many times we hear from Cubans religious, the phrase “Dice el muerto …”, starting a prediction, this carries an agential ambiguity because the predictions are from the “muerto” who rides and modalizes the religious, in an interaction that grants the agential to both simultaneously.
Therefore, it is important to question who are the religious speaking with the dead and who are the dead who are speaking. In which situation they communicate, or need to do it? What is the role of this conversation for the “development” of both “muertos” and religious? Addiionally, how is the talk of “muertos” responsible for building a “Congo,” identity or, more broadly, an “African” identity ?

In Cuba, there are few religious who are dedicated exclusively to Palo, which works better as a “prerequisite” for entrying into religious life, and when they do they are mostly practitioners of the so called “Palo Mayombe”, ie a path (branch) within the “Regla”. As I was told by one palero I interviewed:
“Es recomendado que toda persona que incursiona por la religión tenga su prenda de Palo. Todo babalawo tiene su prenda. Dicen que el Palo es caliente pero ellos se refrescan en el Palo”. (L, 57 años).
The practitioners of this “Regla” have a very unique relationship with “muertos”.
While santeros (practitioners of the Regla de Ocha) celebrate their “egguns” venerating them and loving them, the paleros work with and for the “muertos”, living and being part of their day-to-day. However, this category “muerto” in this context is quite broad, covering not only the muertos “Congos” (and Africans) but also other “comisiones” (such as Indians, gypsies, Arabs, etc.). Many paleros name as “muertos” also the “spirituality” that dwells on the rocks (mataris), herbs, earth, and also in the “palos” (sticks), which in fact gives name to this regla Palo Monte).
Working directly with “muertos”, Palo Monte found in Cuban Spiritualism (especially the so-called Espiritismo Cruzado) an ideal partner. There is not today in Havana, a sole Palo house that does not work with elements of Spiritualism (eg, hold masses of research before any initiation) and even ontologically they are productive dialogues, since extremely fluent. . The idea of “spiritual context” and “spiritual guide” permeating the idea of formation of the human being is another strong example of this dialogue, which invites us once again, to review the categorization of the tight classifications in the religious frame called “Afro -Cuban ”
Having a “spiritual guide” (a spare spirit in our framework comprising some spirits, family or not) “Congo”, or at least a spirit of this framework that has strongly marked this identity is paramount to a Palero.

Ki-nani? “Muerto” or “spirit”?

For a good understanding of language is necessary, first, take into account the speaker and to whom he speaks. If the terminology “muerto” and “spirit” seem to be indistinguishable to refer to entities that are no longer with us, for the paleros this epistemological distinction is quite clear: “muertos son los perros de prenda, los espíritus materializados que trabajan para nosotros”, points out Nelson, a Palero of the rama “Mayombe “.
Inhabiting the “Nganga”, the “muerto” is also called “nfumbi,” while the “spirits” are almost always classified as being in a “higher” degree, according to Kardec concept of “spiritual degrees” (Kardec, 1962 ).
“Cuando se habla de espíritu es en relación a los ancestros o guías espirituales (Ta José, Ma Francisca etc.) estén bozalisados o no, pero que cumplen la función de guías o protectores y que no cumplen ordenes sino que son “consejeros”, points out Tata Nkisi Kiensi, another palero.
This distinction is marked in the very form of calling one and another category. While to the “perros de prenda” (muertos) are given particular names, according to their specific personality or their “skills” (such as Severina Masca Hierro Escupe Sangre, Cosita Buena de la Madrugá, Bryumba Congo Cabamundo) to the “spirits” are given generic names as Ta Jose, Mama Francisca, among others. These generic names, however, work as “nicknames” for their real names are a secret shared between them and the medium (religious) who receives them.
Sometimes the “spirit” after “appear” to the religious takes years without telling his real name and cannot even reveal it. To hide the name of their “protective spirit” (or “spiritual guide”) is also a way to protect themselves from enemies, as a person has, by the word, the power to take possession of this spirit of his spiritual cord, making spells and destabilizing their life, etc.. Likewise, hide the personal “firm” is a way to protect themselves against enemies.
Thus, relations with “muertos” and “spirits” are in fact very different: while the “muerto” has a much more carnal relationship with Tata or Yaya (religious Palo Monte), the “spirits” accompany them in a more sublime way, directing and assisting the work of religious, but never running them directly.
As Luis, a palero, santero and spiritualist of Lawton in La Habana said:
“Demoré cerca de 12 horas para montar mi prenda, que trabaja para la salud, para el bien estar del prójimo. Mi muerto fue quien dijo como deberia montarla, pues es una prenda con nfumbe, prenda de Siete Rayos. La firma, las piedras que llevaba, las hierbas, todo fue mi muerto que me lo dijo. Fui a ver un palero mayor, que me indicó muchas cosas, pero monté todo por la indicación de mi muerto”.

Here, Luis refers to his “muerto”, but not the one that lives in his “nganga,” but to the one of his spiritual cord, or what would be ontologically classified as “spirit” (even though the denominative term is “muerto”, both for one and for another, which would attest a non parity between the signifier and the signified). However, although the “nomenclature” is not distinct, the ontological conceptions are. In the spiritual Masses, for example, the so-called “muertos” (which are actually accordingly the palero cosmogony, spirits higher than these, and therefore they are “spirits” and not “muertos”) speak to their mediums, including providing guidance on the spiritual state of the “consultant”.
“Dice mi muerto que tu tienes un espíritu de perro de prenda”, said at one point of a mass of investigation the “spiritual” guide of one of the spiritualists that was “doing” the mass to a person before “rayar-se” into Palo Monte.
That is, in the universe of Palo, the name is always the same: “el muerto”, but the setting – the meaning – is very clear and distinct second different contexts and establish an almost metaphorical relation in the sense of cognitive metaphors, ie of conceptual domains that establish ontological relations between them. (Langacker 2000, Lakoff, 1993).
The purpose of this discussion (to conceptualize the generic distinct ontologies, such as “spirit” and “muerto”) (there are other common names such as Kalunga, among others) is to try to understand, first of all, the identities. While the “perros de prenda” and “muertos” hardly express themselves with an articulate speech, when mounted on their horses – only mumble a few words – the “spirits” Congos yes, give advice, statements, and make predictions, speaking in a trance through the same horses. This is the “language” that I shall call “ritual language” (as Spolsky, 2007 and Cunha & Pilar, 2011). and that will be the object of observation in this text Thus, even if I call “muertos” the “spirits” (as the paleros do) is important to make clear to what kind of speech I reported here, because, as Ochoa (2007:14) states: “If Palo can” identify ” the dead at all, it is as an ambiente mass, immanently turning out versions of itself “.

The language

When he worked Palo, Teo would speak and sing to his prendas in Palo Kikongo. He would praise the prendas with songs that called them by name (…)” (Ochoa, 2007:62).

“Cuando hablo con mi prenda tengo que hablar en la lengua del Palo, en congo. Es más efectivo, porque fue esta la lengua que ellos nos enseñaran y nos dejaran como herencia, es decir, si tu quieres hablar con un alemán, tu tienes que hablar alemán. Si tu quieres hablar con un portugués, tu tienes que hablar portugués. Así es con el Palo: si tu quieres hablar con los congos, tienes que hablar congo”. Vicente Trujillo, palero de La Habana (set/2007).

No, esto de decir que tu tienes que hablar la lengua para hablar con el muerto es tontería… si ellos son espíritus, muertos, ellos no tienen lengua, ellos entienden el chino, el cubano, el español, el francés, lo que sea, ellos si lo que tienen que tener sintonía con la persona con la cual ellos van a trabajar.” Pepe, palero, ogba, Poey, La Habana. (Mayo 2007).

Treating language as a form of identity can be a way too open, because in addition to numerous modes of language (gestures, sounds, colors, and many others), this is intrinsically related to a time and space, circumscribed by the societies that regulate them (unconsciously) (Poplack & Tagliamonte, 1991; Hymes, 1996).
So, I will discuss here only the “language” (oral), a type of articulated language, sign system that enables communication between individuals of a linguistic community, even if he is aware that the identity characteristics are almost always beyond the morphosyntax, having done so a cut for analysis. As Spolsky points:
“There are other markers of ethnic identity, such as food, or clothing and religion. But language has a special role, in part because it organizes thought and in part part because it stablishes social relations” (Spolsky, 2004: 57).

Anyway, I think the language is one of the most significant and fundamental formas os externalization of a desired ancestry (in this case, Congo), albeit it is at the same time limiting, since the “muertos” express themselves in many ways other than only through articulated language.
In the discourse of many paleros spirit, the “muerto” is a fluid entity, without race, sex or color, and the language, in this case, it would be almost a “dress”, giving it identity and personality, as the statements above points out. Hence the need, according to one of the statements above, to “speak the language” of these “muertos” with whom they want to communicate, ie, to achieve an understanding with the “Congos,” we must talk “Congo.”
As Mary Douglas points out in his text Purity and Danger (1966), the word is capable of creating thoughts and the rituals, perception (apud Cayubi Novaes, 2006). Thus, other forms of language, which we call “sensory complex” were evidently taken into account in my notes, as well as all linguistic manipulation (which we call “agential”) made by the “muertos”, showing us the relationship between them and and the mediums and between the mediums and objects.
Below, I outline the evidence points of a possible rapprochement between ritual language studies and linguistic contacts in the formation of the “African” religious field.
The text shall be divided as follows: in first place a brief description of the “language” spoken by “muertos”, trying to characterize it as a specific “Congo” language and then I shall look for the relation between this morphosyntactic characterization (elements of morphology and syntax of languages, from a descriptive perspective) and elements of this ancestral identity (who talks and how he does).
I think it is important that description exactly as it will give us a dimension of one of the ways of “constructing” identities. Then I shall try to relate the linguistic data with the data that I called previously the “sensory complex” in an attempt to cover this set of actions that are necessary for the formation of a “muerto” identity. I deal with identity here as one of the possibilities of “being.”
Thus, in this game of linguistic memories and recreations, and arguing that such “creations / innovations” emerge from the daily religious practices, whether through gestures but above all through language, the epistemological debate about concepts like “innovation”, “creativity” and “impromptu” walk towards what Jackson (1996: 4) points out: “(the world) is always in the making, (…) rather than ready-made.”
Therefore, not only the linguistic data will be colected but it will be taken into consideration the performance, the ritual, the environment, musicality, and other factors.
Conversely to the “Regla de Ocha” (or Santería), which has its prayers and chants in the “Yoruba language, the prayers and “Mambo” (songs) of Palo Monte have strong overlap with the Spanish and an alleged “purity “(lengua) is more or less present according the branch, the house to what the religious belongs and the activities he develops (if religious initiation, birthday of the dead’s party etc) Thus, the so-called “Spanish Bozal” runs through all the Regla. more or less intensely:
“Even today, when the orichas speak during spirit possession, they incorporate markers of both Lucumí and heavelly exaggerated bozal Spanish, evidenced in “errors” of grammar and pronunciation, wich may minimize the intertextual gap between past and present “original” speakers of Lucumí (i.e, amcient spirits and orichas) by highlightingtheir old fashioned African Bozal voices” (Wirtz, 2007, 111)

The data presented here are basically referring to the lines of “muertos” (spirits) who present themselves as “Congos,” in spiritual masses, in tambores, in rayamientos (religious initiations), but also data of mambos and rezos data were used in some situations because in the “Yoruba/Lacumi” universe the oral language has a very intense etimological production. In the universe “Bantu”, in contrast, there is a “creep” as in Ocha, which requires a more intense performance and a device for the most extra linguistic construction of identity (in this case, “Conga”).
During one of the many spiritual masses that were part of this ethnography, the presence of “conga” is felt as the call of the “comisiones.”
A mass can be made for doing a “spiritual investigación” to someone who will initiate religiously, or to give notice to its cordon of something received in the religious universe, or there are still Masses for the familiar spirits, and so on.
They are usually two or more spirits that lead the Mass, sitting one on each side of a table placed as an altar, which contain a spiritual boveda (7 or 9 cups of water, candles, pictures of some Catholic saints, crucifix inside of one cup of water, flowers and a “palangana” with water, flower petals, cascarilla and perfume. People (assistance) will be seated in a circle that closes with the table and in the case of a mass of spiritual inquiry, the “investigated” sits, without shoes, at the table.
The spiritualists start the mass by reading passages from the “Book of Médiusn” (Kardec, 1831), with prayers for the dead, for the desperate, for the lost souls, etc.. After completion of the reading, begin to sing preyers that will be the conductor of all the performances to be observed then. At this point, each participant will go, in order, to the Bovedas, cleans up with water of the palangana, rubbing perfume on the hands, ask for the spirits of his family and spiritual cord. At this point a specific smell of perfume, flowers and candles takes of the environment (usually using a Cuban colony called “Las Siete African Powers”) and the preyers follow dictating the order of the mass.
They start calling the spirits in well known preyers such as:

“Si la luz redentora te llama buen ser
Y te llama, com amor a la tierra
Yo quisera vera este Ser
Cantando al verbo al divino Manoel
Oye Buen ser, avanza y ven
Que el coro te llama y te dice ven!”

Right now the mediums of the table begin to see the spirits that accompany the person being investigated (in the case of the mass of spiritual inquiry), or to report how they see the spirit to whom homage is paid (in case of a Mass for a family member). They start taking notes, always asking for “el permiso de la mesa” to describe a spirit that they see, or give a messaget that they listen.
People from the assistance that have a spiritual development confirm the views of the spiritualist, saying, “Light” for each description / prediction of this.
It is a moment of exchange of informations and spiritual knowledge. There are spiritualists who have vision, hearing, but not “pasan el muerto”, ie do not go into trance. Others do. I will treat both cases here, because even those who do not fall into a trance transmit messages. Of course, for the purposes of language, the speech of spirits (Congo) is the main interest, however, for the good understanding of part of this religious dynamics, we must also “hear” other forms of spiritual reception.
The preyers follow, sometimes accompanied by instruments, but most keenly palms. They then begin to sing preyers to the African commission, as the one I transcribe below:

“Madre Francisca te estoy llamando, Madre
Madre Francisca donde tu estas
Mama Francisca Reina africana
Reina africana, tu son Lucumí”.

Of course, the order of these prayers varies from house to house, that is, not necessarily the mass starts singing to the commission of the African spirits. Often the spiritualist is mounted by a Congo spirit without the need to call them through prayers, but these are more than a call, are the action of intent.
I will use as a composition of this ethnography numerous fragments of masses, with the intention of giving a broader picture of the moment when the Congo spirits are present or begin to arrive, but my attention is centered on a special Mass held on 18 February 2011 in Habana Vieja, in honor of San Lazarus as “cierre del year” (closing the liturgical calendar of the house). On this particular Mass they start singing to the Congo spirits. The spiritualist of the house, a lady of about 50 years, always sitting on the left side of Boveda, remains with her eyes closed at this time. Her hands shake, her feet follow the rhythm of clashing prayers, which despite being sung in spiritual masses are often “mambos” (songs of Palo Monte).
Gradually her whole body starts shaking, and between intensifying roars, moans and spasms the Congo spirit is coming .
The pace of the prayers accelerates, more dynamic mambos are sung, part of the assistance clap their hands while some others emit loose cries . E.S., the other spiritualist of the house, seek out the straw hat, the stick and lits tobacco (cigar) to O., the medium spiritualist.
With body movements forward and backwards (sitting), the spiritualist makes clear that the spirit has came, uttering very quietly the phrase:
“Nsala Malekun” (this is the greeting of “Congos” in Palo Monte)
At this moment another spiritualist welcomes her, in the way the “paleros” do (shake hands crossed, touching the left shoulder with rights).
The environment is very effusive now, but as soon as the Congo spirit begins to talk, welcoming the assistance, all fall silent listening to his advice. It’s an old “Congo”, who welcomes the gift (Nganga) that is, on this day, under the spiritual Boveda because by the morning it had given to “eat” to her, in behalf of the health of everyone in the house (religious and blood).
So not only the speech will initiate a personification of the “Congo” spirit but an entire atmosphere, which is translated into music, rhythm, smell (the assistance starts to receive tobacco and a “jícara” of rum, with which should “clean up” the environment, spraying [soplando] a shot against the floor).
The smell of tobacco is par excellence the odor of “muertos”. Allied to all this there is the perception of rhythm, which marks the entrance of the “comission” at the mass. After following with some advice to some many people, doing some “cleaning” in other (with tobacco smoke (cigar) on the body, or with a red cloth (the color that represents the Siete Rayos in Palo Monte (the same divinity that represents Shango between the Lucumis).
This spiritualist in particular presents a speech that reminds us a lot to the “Spanish bozal” very predictable and frequent. Some of these linguistic features (in morphosyntatic terms) are enrolled below, with examples also from fragments of other houses, just to give the real extent of the use of “Spanish bonzal”, which somehow characterizes the Congo identity.
To focus on a specific case, I will describe a mass in particular, focusing my attention on the arrival of a spirit Congo. This Mass was a spiritual inquiry. Below I shall try to describe fragments other masses, with the intention of giving a broader picture of this moment.
Therefore I bring here a few fragments with the intention of illustrating the corpus used. The transcripts of the speaches are orthographics and the sounds represented in parentheses were not produced. I am representing the aspirated ones through the letter “h”.
Fragment 1 (Mess of spiritual investigation, a palero house, santero and spirituualist, in Lawton, Havana 3 / 2007)
(Muerto) Nsala Maleku!
(Public) maleku nsala!
(Muerto): Dice a mi caballo que en lo Ocha y en lo del babarawo el va tene(r) que hace(r) un obria con un pargo garande a Obatala, pa(ra) quita(r) to(do) loh ehpinu de su colazón. Como soy? y que la(s) ehpina de:hte pehcao asa(d)o el va involube(r) en un pañuelio balanco po(r) ocho dia y ocho noche, en luga(r) alto del munansio, dehpue va lleva(r)a una lomia y da(r)selo a Obatala. Como soy, por Dio?

Fragment 2: (Spiritual Mess, a palero and santero house, Los Pocitos, mayo 2009)
(Muerto): Hay una persionia, un pantarón, que esta haciendo te daños, burujería… El tiene caldero bajo pisio, bajo ntoto, teria, si? y con ehto ehtá haciéndote daños… porque a ella le guhta los finio… las cosa finia… si ahora le doy uno saia asi, como la mia, de loh congo, ella no se lo vihte… porque a ella le guhta la cosita de calidad.. de loh que tiene simbo, ahan? Y el pantarón ehte no se lo puede dar… (…) Hay que rimpiarse con doh palomitas balancas…

Regarding to the structure of this “language”, we can observe constancies of production at both the phonological level as the morphosyntatic. At the phonological level we have:

a) Elimination of syllabic coda (apocope):
‘to’ (todo) ;
– Verbs in the infinitive, the so-called “apocope” is a rule:
“rumpê” (romper)
b) Insertion of vowels in final syllables (apêntese)
“munansio” (munanso), “obria” (obra), “garabatio” (garabato), finio (fino)
Here is an instance of double insertion in the same word: persion (persona)
c) exchanges between / l / r and between /r / l:
rimpiarse (limpiarse), pantarón (pantalón), Babarawo (Babalawo)
colazón (corazón)

The exchanges between the consonants /-l and /-r are also attested in other varieties of Spanish (Peninsular and Latin American) and Portuguese spoken in the communities of descendants of slaves in the countryside, the so-called “Quilombo” (Cunha, 2008 Oliveira, 2011). Also in areas of the Bantu language the same phenomenon is attested both by the historiographic literature (Johnson, 1990, Chatelain, 1889) and by current data, raised among the Bakongo and Bayombe, for example, the lexical borrowing from the Portuguese language and its phonetic accommodation in the local language system.
Fofolo (fósforo), felo (ferro/hierro), figula (figura).

Some of the data collected, however, are not specific and unique to the lines of “muertos”, but are widely used and verified in the “Cuban Spanish” (hereinafterCS), such as apocope, and lead us to further discussion , about languages in contact. (Valdes Acosta, 1999, Deschamps Chapeaux, 1967, Granda, 1994, Schwegler, 2006).
On the other hand, the historiography attests that these data justify a very early perception that the Spanish spoken in the colony was different from that spoken in the metropolis, as Peter Espinola published in 1795 in “Memorias de la Real Sociedad Patriotica La Habana” an article entitled “Sobre los defectos de pronunsiación y escritura de nuestro idioma y medios de corregirlos” (sic) on the same date Jose Maria Peñalver publishes a paper which shows the need for a dictionary to recognize the importance of thinking about the “voices “ ” Cuban “or ” Creole “.
For now, I would like to highlight that, although there are language features that are part of the so-called Cuban Spanish speaking, there are many others that are unique to the “language” of “muertos”, who identify themselves as “Congos,” for example, the apêntese.
Therefore, “choosing” certain forms to characterize his lines, these “muertos” certainly had as ballast previous models of language, which remained in a the collective memory until now. On the other hand, following the dynamism inherent in language, patterns are reconfigured and seem to be in constant compliance with a parameter of what is “Congo”, today.
The historiography points to some examples, such as the same exchange of /-l and /-r and vice versa:
“It has four or five variations among the different tribes and has been variously represented by wester writters, l, r or d” (Johnson, 1930:18).
“Sometimes a kind of half plosive sound occurs , akin to l, but also to d and r, and wich must still be more closely investigated”. (Meinhof, 1932:9)
At the morphosyntatic level what is observed is:

a) Establishment of the standard syllabic CV (consonant-vowel) in:
locked syllables:
“burujeria” (brujeria), “garande” (grande), “balanco” (branco)
ii) consonant complexes
ïnvolube(r)” (envolver) (to envolve)
b) Loss of gender and number agreement:
“Yo ponto uno saia” (yo pongo una saia)
“Lo noche son bueno” (Las noches serán buenas)
“Dice a mi caballo que en lo Ocha” (dice a mi caballo que en la (regla) Ocha)
c) Use of morphological marks of 3rd p. singular in place of a 1st P. singular:
“Yo va deci(r) un cosita pa mundele” (Yo voy decir una cosita..)

Thus, the structural identifications announce who speaks the language, but other features will make clear to those present that a Congo spirit is arriving.
To begin with the way the medium calls them: noises with the mouth, touching the floor with the hands and at the same time doing signs with his fingers calling, as if calling a dog, an animal. Is this “materiality”, “rudeness” conga, which is still reflected in the need for a “translator” to be understood, a person of the religious house (or an insider) that can translate to the consultant (and to the other people present) the indications and predictions. In the texts presented hereto can be observed that the “muerto” uses certain ways to certify that he is being understood, as in the text 1, in which after each argument he asks: How am I, how am I, by God?
In the text 2, the “muerto” uses facial gestures and other conversational markers (ahan, si) to certify that he is being understood, especially after the use of Conga words (“ntoto”, “simbo”). Thus, the language, through the lexicon but also through phonetic / morphosyntactic traits is one of the key elements for the identification of a “Congo” spirit “.
There are even all the clothes, necklaces, signatures, gestures, ultimately, a whole surrounding universe which refers to identity “Conga” and that is shared by the Cuban religious community. Even the mambos are very clear as to the origin and manner of the Congo, as in the mambo cited below, that define precisely the Congo identity according the Cuban religious ontology, ie, be “Congo” in Cuba is not being from a specific geographic area of Africa, it is more than this, because the Cuban “congo” comes from Olodumare, as in the mambo (1), yet sometimes it is Lucumi (Yoruba) as defined by mambo (2):
(1) Yo vengo de Ina Ina,
Yo vengo de Olodumaré
Cuando un Congo viene a la tierra
Tiene puesto sus collares.

(2) Ayumi, ayumi hay un congo lucumí
Ese congo, ese congo, ese congo es lucumí
Ayumi, ayumi, hay un congo por ahí
Ese congo, ese congo yo lo quiero para mí.

“En Cuba, el que no tiene de Congo tiene de Carabali”

(In Cuba, who does not have something of Congo has of Carabali)

 

Everybody knows the saying that in addition to reflecting the idea of Cuba as being a typical “criollo”, product of a “ajiaco” (Ortiz, 1968) of cultures introduced by dozens of ethnic groups of  “African” origin besides Iberian colonizers and a few “natives”, in other words the same tripod “Indian, European and African” that supposedly makes up the “hybrid” identity in other lands of the Americas, the saying brings up an interesting question: why “Congo” and “Carabalis”, precisely the historically most despised and feared ethnic groups, would be the forming of the Cuban “genesis” and not the so-called “Lucumis” (or Yorubas) or even the “Araras”?

This photo essay will treat of the identity formation process and its religious manifestations (Edwards, 2009), proposing an incursion into the world of the Congo ”muertos”, a “category” within the many possibilities (or “comisiones”) in the world of the deads.

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For a long time the anthropological/linguistic production of the Cuban religious reality tried to make clear the distictions between the so called “Reglas” developed in the island, having as ballast for such distinctions a historiography of the ethnic groups that arrived there over four centuries of slavery coming from the most different areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

In fact, the categorizations are not limited to “Reglas” because when it comes to Palo Monte, for example, what is sought is “classifications within the classification”, looking for to distinguish epistemologically distinct “branches” – that several authors insist as being three and sometimes five, such as Bryumba, Kimbisa, Mayombe, or Malongo or Chamalongo (Cabrera 1954, Fuentes & Schwelgler: 2005, Bolivar & González, 1998).

In Cuba, there are few religious who are dedicated exclusively to Palo, which works better as a “prerequisite” for entrying into religious life, and when they do they are mostly practitioners of the so called “Palo Mayombe”, ie a path (branch) within the “Regla”. As I was told by one palero I interviewed:

Es recomendado que toda persona que incursiona por la religión tenga su prenda de Palo. Todo babalawo tiene su prenda. Dicen que el Palo es caliente pero ellos se refrescan en el Palo”. (L, 57 años).

The practitioners of this “Regla” have a very unique relationship with “muertos”.

While santeros (practitioners of the Regla de Ocha) celebrate their “egguns” venerating them and loving them, the paleros work with and for the “muertos”, living and being part of their day-to-day. However, this category “muerto” in this context is quite broad, covering not only the muertos “Congos” (and Africans) but also other “comisiones” (such as Indians, gypsies, Arabs, etc.). Many paleros name as “muertos” also the “spirituality” that dwells on the rocks (mataris), herbs, earth, and also in the “palos” (sticks), which in fact gives name to this regla Palo Monte).

Working directly with “muertos”, Palo Monte found in Cuban Spiritualism (especially the so-called Espiritismo Cruzado) an ideal partner. There is not today in Havana, a sole Palo house that does not work with elements of Spiritualism (eg, hold masses of research before any initiation) and even ontologically they are productive dialogues, since extremely fluent. . The idea of “spiritual context” and “spiritual guide” permeating the idea of formation of the human being is another strong example of this dialogue, which invites us once again, to review the categorization of the tight classifications in the religious frame called “Afro -Cuban ”

Having a “spiritual guide” (a spare spirit in our framework comprising some spirits, family or not) “Congo”, or at least a spirit of this framework that has strongly marked this identity is paramount to a Palero.

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The entry in the Palo religious world is through the “rayamento,” an oath (blood pact) between the neophyte and a “muerto”, born of this relationship a “ngueyo” (“pino nuevo”). This oath is given on a Nganga, so a family bond begins to form, not only between sponsor (Tata / Yaya, the largest in religion) and godson, but also between him and the “muertos” of the religious house.

A person “raya” (swears, starts himself) for different reasons: pre-requisite to be a saint (start in Regla de Ocha), trouble with police / law, leaving the country, to resolve a situation of litigation, to prevent damage of witchcraft, for health or because a “muerto” of his spiritual cord belonged to Palo Monte (practiced this Regla), or was “Congo” and he needs to serve him to the proper development of his personal life.

It is noteworthy that, unlike the Regla de Ocha, in which initiation occurs primarily by health needs, in Palo initiation is taken to “solve problems” with the law, litigation, because rayar (start) in Palo Monte means firmness and development, two very important concepts in Cuban religious universe.

On the other hand, to initiate in the Regla does not mean he will necessarily “work” in religion, in short, become a religious master, working with the “Caldero”, or “Nganga,” the receptacle, that other than parts of a dead (skull, in general), also receives water from different sources (river, sea, streams), stones, soil from several places, besides the “palos” (sticks), properly, which actually give the name to the called “foundation “.

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Here, within this receptacle, dwells a “nfumbi”, a dead materialized through parts of a deceased (as the skull bones, phalanges, etc). Dwell in the same housing “strength”, the vitality of “nkisi” (Siete Rayos, Mother from Water, Mama Chola, among others), and the so called mpungos. From this symbiosis of energy / material forces will be born “perro  de prenda” the spirit that will work with and for the Tata / Yaya. Many paleros work with several “perros de prenda” in his “Nganga”. They inhabit this place after they enter into a covenant between the palero and the “muertos” who will live and work there. Eventually they leave, to provide “services” to palero, for example, when a witchcraft (arrear el perro) is made.

With jesus and the devil: congolese religion practices and the christianity in Cuba and Brazil

For centuries, the history of Christianity has been located in Europe. However, it has been moving steadily southward. In this text I will explore the concept of religious in the “Lusophone Atlantic” (proposed by Sarró and Blanes, 2009 ), “highlighting historical and contemporary exchanges in this continuum and situating research within recent scholarship, regarding the ‘Atlantic,’ religious diasporas and contemporary Christianity. (Sarró & Blanes, 2009:52). 

Corroborating the views of the authors but going beyond, the scope of this project is not only the “Lusophone” but also other areas of the Caribbean and Latin America that experienced slavery, taking portent conceit extended as high than simply linguistic one. My intention is observer the flux of Christianities in conjunction with other local (congolese) practices across the Atlantic, specially Cuba and Brazil,offering an overview of the basic literature and some clues for further comparative analyses.

I will offer ethnographic data on the Palo Monte, an afro cuban religion of Bantu influence whose origin is attributed to the arrival of African slaves on Cuban soil, specially the “Bakongo”(Fuentes Guerra et Schwegler, 2005 ; Rojas-Primus et Schwegler, 2010) and Terecô, in Maranhão, Brazil, where the main “spirit”, Légua Boji Buá da Trindade comes from Cabinda and says that he is an “old angolan”.

My intention is to discuss the sense of “belonging” in two afro religions, in Cuba and Brazil, both having mythical ancestry as the current region of Congo and Angola (specifically Bas Congo), their religions practices and the types of Christianity that have thrived most successfully in the South (Fancello & Mary, 2012).