18/02/2011

Palo Mayombe and the Barbarous Civilization



Last month a mother was charged and indicted on charges of cruelty and neglect of a child she tried to rescue from death threatening illness. For her the solution was found in the traditional faith Palo Mayombe where body, soul and spirit were made subject for healing. As the sensationalist reportage tells, the mother ‘exposed her daughter to the bloody rituals of the Palo Mayombe faith’. The nature of these bloody rites consisted in receiving some cuts to the body where medicine was placed and to consume the heart of a chicken that had been offered to the spirit of healing. The child also witnessed ‘the decapitation of a goat’. When the police went to the paleros house they found the following horrors:    

“Dolls, a shrine, religious statues, bones, machetes and bundles of sticks bearing numbers and names were among artifacts found at the home. The items, some of which had blood and animal hair on them”

The defence was of course one of religious freedom, which the judge denied. Instead it was all about the unsanitary conditions, the cruelty of exposing the child for a ‘primitive’ ceremony and the prosecutor was even making a point of the importance of having ‘paleros’ being given state licence to do their bloody rites in sterile surroundings. 
The defence argued that what the child went through was as important as baptism for a Catholic, but to no avail. If we look at the comments given to this smear campaign there is one that is particular interesting, one reader suggests that African rites should stay in Africa and not enter the civilized world. It is quite absurd to see these colonial attitudes still in great vigour and how the people presiding over law are judging from xenophobia and prejudice – as they say because it is not civilized. Not much have changed in terms of attitudes since the middle ages. It is just that nowadays xenophobia is given other names and explained away in quasi academic dialogues as ‘something other’, that don’t belong. I want to remind that the Christian philosopher Montaigne already in 1580 writing about cannibals – a great horror amongst his contemporaries saw things different. He was of the opinion that consuming your enemy in an act of honouring the enemies memory and continue his life cycle was far less barbarous that burning people for religious and theological difference. As he said: "One calls 'barbarism' whatever he is not accustomed to. This is exactly what is happening with Palo Mayombe, in particular, these days. The other is seen as barbarous because the more the world is clashing in people gets saturated in xenophobia.
Vodou has over the years become more accepted because the community itself has contributed to this by sharing more, opening more and also academic studies upon the cult has helped in bringing some nuance to this distorted common consensus. It seems that the zombies and pins of Vodou have now been given to Palo Mayombe as the new holder of true evil. Some police departments are even training their officers particularly in persecuting paleros under the constant suspicion of performing human sacrifice at every opportunity they get. How foolish can foolish get – and how fearful can fear get? Pretty much it seems.
The news report itself is oozing of prejudice, just in the description of the paleros home where some of his horrible items, such as sticks, machetes and bones had blood and animal hair on them. This only speaks of xenophobia and a greater cultural alienation from nature. Maybe we should bring back as an value that you only eat meat if you have battled with the game? That is the reality of nature – while the sanitized civilization raises cattle with hormones and kills them without rite, without sense of sacredness. They are just bags of meat. For me that is quite disgusting – and if that is civilized, I prefer to be a barbarian that honours nature and all she gives by plant, animal and companionship.
This particular case is not only allowing us law murdering justice – but it also speaks about how progress is not a quality, but solely a movement in a given direction.  When people say that African customs do not belong in civilization – I think this is more a consequence of our modern civilization not belonging in nature. We have created a fearful, paranoid social monster that constantly measures self in the condemnation of the other. We have progressed towards a world where bugs, leaves and the natural cycle of the world is turning more and more alien for people, a world where the majority of foolish opinions establish dictatorship in democratic condemnation of any minority  That’s a great progress! If we don’t move ahead but stand still, we are per definition retrograde – and this is what has happened with tolerance and public opinion. It is still a xenophobic greedy mob that moves the minds of the majority, as is evident in this case – where this attitude was actually moving the whole proceeding. The case was really one between sanitized and sterile civilization vs. Brutal, dirty and cruel savages.  It all was resting in prejudice and xenophobia, a foolish refutation of the other on accounts of its ‘barbarous’ ways. 

The misconceptions about Palo Mayombe is graver than I thought and the barbaric foolishness amongst law enforcement and civilians at large scary in its proportions. It seems to me that this fear, paranoia and cruelty projected upon Palo Mayombe are a form of scapegoating. It has become a social symbol for wickedness and evil that upon attack gives naturally the opportunity of light the torch of fear upon all other ‘non civilized’ faiths. The situation is sad, troublesome and disturbing and I hope that by divulging the metaphysical concepts underlying the roots and practice of Palo Mayombe that I can contribute to turn this ill tide and make opinions less foolish and paranoid. At least this is how I see that I can better support a beautiful and intriguing cult and religion from defamation and distortion. I also believe the palo community need to consider that we might have contributed to these misconceptions by being too comfortable in our shadows and allowing idiots to do the propaganda.  
     
Palo Mayombe can be ordered from Scarlet Imprint by a click.   

The article in question can be read here: