The word "palo" ("stick" in Spanish) was applied to the religion in Cuba due to the use of wooden sticks in the preparation of altars, which were also called "la Nganga", "el caldero" or "la prenda". Adherents of Palo are known generally as "Paleros", "Ngangeros", or "Nganguleros". Membership is by initiation into a "house" or "Temple". The organizational structure follows the model of a family. During slavery when blood families often were broken up by slave holders, this model was particularly significant and taken literally.
How is a person introduced into the religion and become a Palero ?
A person becomes initiated and reaches the first level of Palo as a ngello, The Palero is one that has received the ritual scratches, and learned a basic knowledge about the Prenda or Nganga. Which is the foundation used during Palo ceremonies.
The ritual scratches are received during a ceremony called ‘The rayamiento’ also called the Nkisis Nganga.
There are different kinds of rayamientos, a Bakofula, tata Guanche, Lindero, Mutambre, Marikilla, Guardiero Nganga, Father Optional Nkiza Tata, Mother, Father, Godmother Nganga, and Nyayi Giabola.
A Palero starts in the religion by learning how to greet his foundation/prenda correctly.
He will also learn the name and branch of the house of his sponsor or Godfather. His name in the religion
and also some basic African Congo vocabulary, some songs and the different herbs used in religious worship.
The person receiving the rayamiento should not have had any kind of sexual relationship for several days prior to this important ceremony.
This Palo religion is based solely on nature and our natural surroundings, such as plants, herbs, sticks, soil, rocks and various types of water. Including water from rain, sea, a river, a lake and ponds, streams and creeks. It also includes the moon, the sun and the different seasons. The Palero is a connoisseur of nature.
There are many types of herbs and all are used for different purposes. There are some that strengthen, others that remove curses and witchcraft, others are for specific tasks or to obtain the delights of a desired person. There are also some herbs that work to destroy and that is why a ngangulero must first develop some working knowledge about these many herbs.
One finds out they need to the initiated into Palo through a consultation by a Palero, The Orishas, or an Ifa consultation. There are certain signs in Yoruba and Ifa that suggest the person needs the rayamiento ritual. Another way is during a spiritual mass, in which a spirit has brings the message via a medium to the person needing to fullfill this obligation.
Once a person is directed towards a rayamineto and initiation in Palo you must always ask the Prenda or Foundation to see if you are accepted as an initiant. If the Prenda rejects you, you must go to another Palero to see if his Prenda is more accepting. Don’t take this rejection as an offense. It may be due to some incompatability that the spirits that dominate this foundation sense, and they see that it would be better to move on.
There are certain people who think of Palo as the dark side of the Santeria. This is a mistake because Palo has little to do with Santeria, or Ifa, and is instead the traditions that derived from a differnt group of Africans, different tribe members that came to the new world as slaves and brought us theier oral traditions. Their religion is as valid as Santeria or Ifa.
Santeria, Ifa is a syncretism of the ancient Yoruba religion with Roman Catholicosism, Palo is not.
Tata nkisi (Nganga father) is the priest of the Palo religion. He directs and executes the ceremonies of the religion, He has for example the power to feed four legged animals that are needed for a particular ritual or ceremony. There are of course some rituals that even a recent initiant can perform on his own.
The Nyaya nkisi is the godmother of this religion. She may have godchildren of her own, but it will have to depend on the tata nkisi who performs the ceremonies needed to initiate her godchildren into the religious family group. She may also come before the Foundation or Prenda but only as long as she is not menstruating at the time. Because no woman should enter a room where the Prenda resides under those conditions.
Some ceremonies are performed before the Prenda for people that have yet to be initiated into Palo, some Palero’s do not suggest this should be done. However people sometimes comes with immediate needs, and must instead make a promise to fullfill the rayimiento after an immediate need is completed.
There are several branches of Palo. Among them the Mayombe, Briyumba and Kimbisa.
Although there are some rituals they all do, they sometimes do these rituals in different ways.
One common practice is the prohibition against ceremonies conducted during a women menstral period
For example if a women reaches her period before any Palo ceremony, that ceremony must be delayed until she is once again clean.