The Media and Palo Mayombe

Nsala Maleko,

Above is a link to a video clip from the television series Oddities, on the Science Channel–an otherwise excellent show that has fallen into the same trap that nearly every media outlet that comes across Palo falls into. They do a quick google search, read the nonsense website that has been on top of the google search results for “Palo Mayombe” for years, and treat it like gospel truth. This is of course just speculation–I don’t know exactly what they did for research, but whatever they did was obviously superficial. In the defense of the persons on the show, they sought out a local spiritual practitioner to aid them in identifying the Nganga that they’d come across….this woman, while perhaps quite knowledgeable in other spiritual traditions, showed herself to be ignorant of the truths of Palo spiritual understanding. Of course, no actual Paleros could be found…in NEW YORK CITY….to consult on this matter. Right?

What I find especially offensive about how our religion was portrayed is that we weren’t given the same respect that other religions regularly receive from television and other media content producers. If you came across a Jewish scroll, you wouldn’t take it to the local new-age bookshop and ask them to tell you what it was. If they could tell you the basics, you would do the bare minimum and consult with someone from that community about it’s nature and use. With Palo, the media seems to think it’s fine to consult parties who aren’t directly involved with the religion and treat them as if they are experts.  A holy religious object–an Nganga–was treated with amazing amounts of disrespect and subjected to penetrative scrutiny that was terrible to watch. Can any of you imagine your nkisi being treated this way? It’s time that people treated African-rooted religions with the same basic respect they treat Abrahamic religions. We aren’t all the same, we don’t all have the same practices, and an expert in Santeria is NOT necessarily an expert in Palo Mayombe. Palo is not a “branch” of Santeria, it’s time that it was treated as it’s own tradition.

I have nothing but respect for Lukumi and it’s good works–my own Tata Nkisi is also a Santero, crowned Yemaya–but if I read one more report about police consulting local Santeros about suspected “Palo Mayombe” cult murders or whatever, I’m going to scream. It’s maddening; if they consulted someone who is actually familiar with Palo methods, the majority of these news stories alluding to Palo as a black magic “cult” would realize that their impressions where entirely incorrect. Where is the Santero who tells police that Palo is “medicine”, that the Priest/Priestess works in service to spirit and community?

The link above leads to a story packed with this sort of nonsense, from which I quote:

A baby bundled in bloody white blankets, just hours old, was found by the banks of Lake Mohegan in Fairfield March 14, 1986.  The boy was strangled and abandoned, and left for passerby to find.  Surrounding Baby Doe were signs of a sinister motive.

Fruit and coins littered the crime scene.  Police believed those clues pointed to the Occult.  Specifically, a little-known religion called Palo Mayombe, known to ritually use human remains. Researchers involved with the case say Palo Mayombe is a dark offshoot of the Santeria religion.  Santeria is a mix of Afro-Caribbean and Catholic faiths.

Where to even begin? Traditionally, the Catholic Church uses remains of it’s holy dead in altars. The relics of dead saints are venerated and treated as powerful spiritual objects…as they should be. No one alludes to Catholicism as being “known to ritually use human remains”.  This is a prime example of African based religion being “othered” and treated as a foreign and dangerous thing. A few candles and coins, and a poor dead baby is part of a Palo Mayombe rite? Leaving coins, candles or fruit as offerings for spirit is part of nearly every single modern religion alive in the West, let alone their esoteric counterparts (Islam in particular does not use candles in mosque or as offerings…esoteric Islamic practice is an entirely different matter) . Catholics light vigil lights when praying for the intercession of saints, Jewish folk light candles to welcome Shabbat on Fridays, and Western magic outright offers candles, coins, and fruit (including in Wicca and other Pagan traditions) as offerings to spirits being worked with. We certainly do use mpemba and leave fruit offerings and the like to spirit….why is it that a murdered child makes these offerings now in the domain of Palo, as opposed to the work of a murderous bastard from any American ritual practice?

The very fact that the “researchers” call Palo an “offshoot” of Santeria makes it clear that they aren’t truly researching Palo and learning anything of truth about it. Lukumi is a proud and beautiful Yoruba-rooted tradition, and Palo is rooted in Congo practices. Calling one the “child” of another is insulting to both. Hopefully having a reasonable and learned opinion about Palo available on-line…which is one of the aims of this site and the American Society for the Preservation of Palo Mayombe… will make a change in some of the ‘results’ these researchers are getting.

We certainly bear some responsibility for this; as a community some of us spend entirely too much time talking about doing malefic works, and no-where near as much time speaking of the healing and positive works that we do as part of our daily work. Our spiritual baths, our skills as excorcists, our counseling work that addresses deep mental wounds from abuses experienced in life by our clients…these things are a Palero’s true work. Even malefic works should be viewed from the perspective of healing a wrong situation, correcting negative behaviors. The image of a healer isn’t quite as bad-ass as that of an ndoki sorcerer, but Palo is Medicine. This is the truth of Mayombe practice, and something that would be evident to the media if it ever bothered to communicate directly with Paleros.


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4 Responses to “The Media and Palo Mayombe”

  1. Sala Malongo … Great post this is the type of writings we need to show the ignorance being portrayed in the media.. Tata Musitu

  2. Nsala malecum and thanks for posting this. This kind of misrepresentation in the media is exactly the kind of thing that colors the reactions of police, judges, social workers who encounter Palo without knowing about the truths of the religion.

    WRT the Oddities episode, the woman in the New Age shop who i.d.’d the nganga was Migene Gonzalez Wippler ( She is knowledgeable on Ocha, but (as you saw) seems to subscribe to the Oooh-spooky-evil interpretation of Palo. IMHO, she should know better by now, but so it goes. I imagine the show’s crew went to her because her books were as far as they got for research.

  3. David Sosa says:

    I am glad you can show a good face and represent your relgion and practices justly. I joke sometimes in conversation with ffellow ATR practitioners and yet I mean it, perhaps we should encourage education before eleckes. Have people formaerly educate themselves to a degree on what it is (conceptually) they are getting involved in prior to any steps of initation. There are hardly anyone to interview for a proper perspectives on these practices because some people who practice do not even try to grasp what it really is they practice, the fundamental whys and hows, or more importantly where…. where did this start? where do the African come from that practiced this tradition? How has it adopted and why? What is some of the terminology, its meaning, and how does it apply? There is key information in those answers. You guys are doing well, keep it up.

  4. I told myself after watching the Oddities video clip that my kids needed to see this. Being young and firmly rooted in their own initiations to AfriKan practices they would become fired up easily. We have to be educated and to continue to educate others.

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