Cult to Chango

One of Africa's most devastated regions as a result of slavery trade was Bantu. A diversity of tribes, dialects, traditions and customs characterize this ethnic group, a reason why there's no way to precisely trace the origins of some Caribbean nations today.
By and large, religious practices hailing from that African region do not correspond to any specific ethnic group of the Bantu civilization. On the contrary, it has pieced itself together by taking dregs from one group or the other, a process that makes some of its elements like liturgy and gods- hard to track down in time. In some cases, Yoruba influence has served to strengthen these patterns. However, their history, geography and deities respond to an entirely Bantu world.
The Regla Conga or Regla de Palo is the widest conception there is about Bantu-origin cults that derived into Briyumba, Kimbisa and Mayombe he latter is also used to name the Regla de Palo. This one used the basic elements of the Palo Monte, yet with some rituals that certainly make a difference. Its main feature is the presence of brillumberos or the cult of the deities belonging to Regla Osha, which are ordered in a certan hierarchical system in line with material objects. In the Kimbisa Regla is marked by a strong syncretism and tolerance toward Congo elements the Regla de Osha, spiritualism, Catholicism and Abakua secret societies. Out of the Bantu-origin creeds, this religious manifestation keeps ritual conceptions linked to Nganga, animism toward plants, the waters, the earth and the influence exerted by ancestors and spirits.
Paleros (priests) work with soil, sticks from the hill, animals and all kinds of plants and objects that serve as salvagers for their participants. Natural forces and its living elements are key during Congo rites. They, alongside the gods, serve paleros as an expression of their ritual language.
Conga liturgy is very complicated. Its essence and core are represented by the Nganga that concentrates a magical force capable of meeting all the establishments within the same ritual code. It introduces several elements acquired from the physical, social and historical environment. An assortment of sticks from the hills either medicinal or poisonous- are used in the religious composition, as well as a variety of animals handpicked in keeping with their qualities: pismires (always laboring) and red-bottomed ants (always attacking or willing to assail), just to name but a couple of examples. At the same time, it adds elements from the inorganic world, like soil from the graveyard, volcanic rocks or pebbles.
The content of the Ngangas earthenware or iron casseroles- vary in line with those who use them and the circumstances the compositions are made under in their condition as the center of the magical forces. However, there's one element that cannot be ruled out: the human remains of the nfumbi (dead person) which come to add vitality and strength to the batch of elements deposited in the casserole. Thus, it's important to say that the centerpiece of the Nganga is the matari (stone) as a direct reference to Inzambi, the one that empowers and harmonizes the composition. The nfumbi, for its part, animates all natural elements. It's also good to point out that an alliance between the owner of the object and the nfumbi is established. This alliance will mark the fate of both the entire blood family and religious mates. As it's been proven above, in the conception of the Nganga, the nfumbi plays a major role. This is, in a way, the tool used by priests that allows them to face up to the predicaments of life and death.
The Ngangas are inherited once and again under strict norms and guidelines kept in secret. They form linkages just like a family- because a new object is made out of the dregs of another one, that is, the godfather. This object or garment is not handed over during the initiation ritual, but only when the new practitioner has acquired a certain level of knowledge and has shown an ethical behavior in accordance with the system codes.
Divination or guessing is one of the basic elements of Regla Conga. To presage and contribute to a better life is key in this kind of cult. For this purpose, priests use mpake or mpaka menso, a horn containing some magic elements inside and whose mouth is covered by a mirror. Priests read through the images that show up after smoke has been blown onto it. They also use necklaces with guessing amulets, alongside cigars and sugar cane rum.
As in other religious manifestations, the Regla de Palo also possesses a hierarchy. The Tata Nganga is the owner of the Mother Nganga, that in turn derives into other lesser Ngangas. He's a recognized member who initiates other practitioners in this religious cult and makes contributions to other Ngangas. He's also empowered with divination. He practices his rites through the tradition inherited from his ancestors. The Mother Nganga is powerful, too, and is entitled to help the Tatas in the liturgical process. The godmothers are the aides of the Tatas during the rituals, especially when it comes to gratings or initiations. And last on the list come the godfathers, empowered with the same attributes bestowed on the godmothers.
Among the top celebrations during the Regla Conga, we can mention the so-called gratings or palero baptism, the habilitation of the new garments, cleansing acts, promised offers, healing rituals and others. In the case of the initiation ceremony, newcomers are grated as priests cut hollow crosses in their skin with knives and jackknives, usually on both sides of the chest or breasts, on the back and on the shoulder bones. There are several ways to cut the slits, always performed with the accompaniment of chants and mimicking. This act allows the newcomers into the palero shrine house. It's nothing but a pact signed with the dead, with Nzambi and the religious family.
Congo dancing peanut, cassava, hoe stick and stick- can be performed in any shrine house, during the initiation ceremonies and festivities to honor a certain deity. For its part, Congo chants are brief and their lines continuously repeated. Melodically speaking, their singing is not that complex, yet they are embellished with rhythmic beauty. Chanters also recite long stanzas with a view to invoke the supernatural forces or hail the Tata Ngangas or Tata Nkisis.
High on the hierarchical order of the Regla de Palo, we find sacred graphic symbols known as signatures- to label the spirits and ancestors priests ask for permission to conduct their different ritual ceremonies.
When a signature is made, worshippers believe they stand for supernatural powers that respond to the efficiency of a work well done. Each and every of them acquire a specific personal function for every initiated person, used to identify their fundaments Ngangas- and to the eyes of the other believers. On the other hand, it expresses a relationship between the guarding spirit and the one the pact has been signed with.
The commonest elements in the signatures are the primary ones, present in nature and in social reality. Each signature expresses a range of experiences that outlived centuries of cruel exploitation. In the same breath, supernatural forces also possess a set of signatures. They are drawn on the floor, on the walls, in the casseroles and on the doors in huge circles and straight lines.
Like other existing religions, there's one Supreme God for paleros, an almighty force that created the universe and that is known as Nzambi, Zambi, Nzambia or Mayimbe, a divine being from whom the mpungos or magical forces emanate. It's good to bear in mind that in the strict Conga conception, the mpungos are represented by non-bodied beings that never take any anthropomorphous shape at all. In the Congo cult, there's always a supreme need to reach out to the universal god, to such an extent that for some experts this cult could be considered a monotheist manifestation.
Practitioners worship the souls of their ancestors, of the dead and the spirits of nature that dwell in trees, rivers and seas. Establishing a hierarchy among these supernatural entities or mpungos is a hard jog to do taking account of the good deal of designations they could possibly have.
However, some of the basic mpungus in the Congo cult are the following:
Tiembla Tierra (Earth Trembles): Master of the earth and the universe. This is the one that can control the four cardinals points, it executes all the mandates of Nzambi. He cannot be invoked through vain petitions, otherwise that can make him angry.
Lucero Mundo, Khuyu (World Star): It opens and closes the pathways and is the master of crossroads. Equivalent to Eleggua in Regla Osha.
Sarabanda or Salabanda: God of iron ore and the hills. It's a must-have in the Nganga. Closely linked to Seven Rays that breathes life into him and helps him solve practitioners problems. It's present in all Congo rituals. Equivalent to Oggun in the Regla Osha.
Siete Rayos (Seven Rays): One of the most important gods in the Regla de Palo. He's the warrior used in the toughest and quickest witchcraft works. Equivalent to Shango in the Regla de Osha.
Madre de agua. Siete Sayas (Mother of Water. Seven Skirts): It symbolizes the unity of the world, what spurts out and universal maternity. Widely common in all Conga sects, master of the sea and the rivers. Equivalent to Yemaya in the Regla de Osha.
BrazoFuerte (Strong Arm): He's the one that carries the world on his shoulders and crosses the stormy rivers. This is warring and winning deity. Equivalent to Aggayu in the Regla de Osha.
Chola, Madre Chola, Chola Awengue (Mother Chola): Master of fresh watercourses, rivers and gold. Highly venerated among Congo worshippers. He's sometimes mixed up with the master of the sea. Equivalent to Oshun in the Regla de Osha.
Tata Pansúa: It counts on many followers. God of the sick and miraculous medicine man. Equivalent to Babalu Aye in the Regla de Osha.
Centella (Lightning): Master of thunder and lightning. Equivalent to Oya in the Regla de Osha.
Lufo Kuyo: It doesn't have too many followers, but he's the god that as many worshippers put it- put you in prison and gets you out of jail. Equivalent to Ochosi in the Regla de Osha.
Bután or Bután Fuyé: He's the medicine man and physician of the hills. Equivalent to Osain in the Regla de Osha.
Kisimba. Mpungo, Kabonga: The wise man, the deity of divination. Equivalent to Orula in the Regla de Osha.
The Regla Conga or Palo Monte is a religious deeply rooted manifestation. Its ritual or theological system ingrain deep conceptions despite being a practice in which several different practices from different Bantu ethnic groups concur. This has brought about a direct influence on other African-origin religions currently observed in this region.