The subject of gays in in the Cuban ramas of Palo is a touchy subject. Discussions merely mentioning the fact that thriving gay paleros exist is to incite the most vicious of arguments and bring out such ugliness that it’s no wonder to me that it’s usually buried way underground.
But the simple fact is that they do exist. They practice. They thrive. They do readings, build ngangas, counsel people, heal the sick and bring justice to those that do wrong. We cannot ignore this, even if we wanted.
The fact that men are the ones that do the birthing of ngangas brings a duality of the spirit into the forefront. How does a man give birth if he is not inviting the Divine Femeine within him? If he is in fact, not becoming woman? It is practiced fact that in many households that women cannot even be present when a Tata is building an nganga. But again, an nganga is birthed from another. BIRTHED, not constructed. I have always questioned: Why is it that a woman does not build an nganga? If an nganga is in fact birthed, should a woman not build it as she builds the child within her? Have the man come and “plant the seed”. Help to create the life by combining the essential elements within the cauldron and let her do the construction of the nganga as she builds the child in her womb. A man does not build the child. His job is done when the seed is planted. The woman holds the child. It draws energy, nutrients, blood nourishment and every else that it needs through her. She is the one then who births it, who gives the child it’s first sacrifice, it’s first taste of blood. She is the gateway and it is she who opens those gates to the first pathway a child ever journeys, the birth canal. She is the first crossroads this child ever visits.
But I digress, this is about gays. But the fact of the matter is, that gays are in touch with their sacred feminine. They embrace it. They are sacred in countless pre-christian religions as those that can access all genders and paths. They can See as those who view life solely through a single gender cannot. They see all paths leading from the crossroads.
When I (and my husband with me) entered into Palo, many years ago, I was taught that gays were not allowed access to Palo. I was taught that any ceremonies or initiations done when a homosexual was present were considered invalid. All ngangas built in the presence of a homosexual were “built wrong” and needed to be rebuilt “right”. That ngangas would “stop working” if a homosexual was presented in front of them and that the ancestors of the house would be “angry and turn their backs”. I heard that “the ancestors hate homosexuals because they do not have children”. “They are imbalanced, and our religion is too much for them”. I also could not help but notice the endemic homophobic comments and jokes told by the many Tatas. It occurred to me then that it was not all due to spiritual matters, but I was not at the point that I was questioning the rules yet. Over the years and further exposure to the culture in which most of Palo is immersed, I began to see where much of this thought process was coming from. If one looks back into the history of Central America, one notices that most of it was settled by the Spanish (hence Spanish being the main language of Palo). The Spaniards brought with them their religion, which was primarily Roman Catholicism. And the Spaniards, unlike the British, encouraged the conversion of their slaves to their religion. Thusly, it is logical that the descendants of those slaves (and natives) would be strongly influenced by Catholic Dogma.
Now, let me say, that I am not writing this to be disrespectful to these Elders that brought me into the religion, initiated me and taught me. I am, however, aware of the concept of “respeto” and the roles of men and women in Latino culture. Palo might have come from the Congo, but for five hundred years, it has been in Cuba and that is where it has been shaped by the Spaniards that brought the slaves and converted them to Catholicism. Palo is a religion also shaped by the will to survive above all else. It has morphed itself into a form that can both be hidden and in plain sight. It can appear both harmless and terrifying. It had to, in order to survive. So the concepts and dogma of Catholicism became part of Palo and brought with it the disempowerment of both women and homosexuals. The Congolese who survived the journey of the Middle Passage brought with them what knowledge they had about their spirituality. The spiritual leaders were usually elderly and were either killed, left behind or perished before arrival in the New World, and the survivors did not have the extensive knowledge necessary to pass on. Over the centuries, it has become unrecognizably different from its Congolese origins as the Congolese have themselves. Christianity and Islam have become entrenched and the older pre-Christian system has been mostly either warped or forgotten.
So the concept of pacts with ancestors being broken over the issue of initiating LGBTQ people due to them not being accepted by the ancestors of the house is just not true. The Ancestors don’t go back simply to the Middle Passage. They extend beyond until the beginning of life on the planet, to when the first primal being crawled out of Kalunga’s waters and breathed its first breath of air. With all of those thousands of generations, one cannot say that LGBTQ people did not exist, thrive, reproduce, pass on and then become elevated by their descendants and give their strength to the next generation.
Much of my Work is done with the Forgotten Dead, of which are Legion. I will be so bold to say that while we in Palo are supposed to be keepers of the Dead and the Ancestors, that we have also forgotten. We have forgotten to the point where we deny the very fact that these ancestors exist. When we forget, we do not elevate and so these Forgotten wander, voiceless, nameless, hungry. Is this not in itself a breaking of aa sacred oath? Do we not lessen our strength by denying them elevation? How dare we, as healers, as warriors, as Paleros pick and choose the pacts given to us by Nsambi to keep?
BUT…. Most Initiates do not ask their godparents these questions regarding the rules and tenets of the religion. It is disrespectful to question and could possibly even lead to punishment. This is what I was taught as well. But we were abandoned by our house. And by the Tata of the house that has since adopted us, we were told that we were from the house of Ill Wind. And indeed, all of us are named for a violent act of nature. But sometimes it takes a violent act of nature to cleanse and renew our beloved forest for regrowth and renewal.
Nsambi is above all. That the bakulu of the house are the deciders of who they want brought in. Out of the people brought to us, no matter what their sexuality, they have been brought to teach us, bestow us something or bless us. Some of these lessons, like those of the bakulu have been harsh, but all of them have been needed. How do we learn the things needed if we deny those Spirit has brought? As what many have said previously regarding the topic: “”How do we as flesh take it upon ourselves to flatly deny the gifts that Spirit is trying too give us?” Could that be what has been decreed? That Spirit brings a person that is needing initiation, that his ancestral line is supposed to be added to the house and that in denying that addition to the lineage is what weakens the Bakulu and ultimately has them turn their backs? Nature abhors a vacuum and will forever try to correct an imbalance. What if, instead of keeping Palo balanced and adhering to the bakulu’s wishes by not initiating LGBTQ, we are instead contributing to the imbalance by denying them their place in the natural, sacred order of things? By denying them acknowledgment as ancestors we are denying them elevation and by doing that weakening ourselves in a time when we need as much solidarity as a people and as a spiritual path as possible because Spirit knows this world is in desperate need of wisdom and healing.
I’m not asking for hundreds of years of hard won and preciously kept tradition to change overnight. I’m not demanding that houses initiate LGBTQ people. I am, however saying that they exist and that they are part of the natural order of the world that we have made oaths to protect and serve. I am saying that they have a place in the religion. I am saying they take and keep the same pacts and oaths to the Nkisi and to Nsambi as we all do. To deny this is to deny the past, to deny the Bakulu, to stand before your Muertos or Spirits or whatever you choose to call them and say “I deny you exist.”
It is long past time for us to light a candle and call these ancestors out of the water and welcome them to our table.
Yayi Nganga Tormenta Kalunguera