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Helpful Guide for the Urban Palero

By Tata Nkisi Lucero Viramundo

A doorway to Palo from the graphic arts perspective.
Callejón de Hammel in Havana, Cuba

The roots of Palo are not in cities, and are definitely not rooted in urban North America. We are removed from the ability to gather many of the sacred plants and woods that grow freely in Palo’s homeland – rural Cuba. This can provide some interesting challenges. Yes, there are botánicas – online and brick and mortar, but for some things the visceral experience of going into Nfinda to gather medicines for nsalas is much more gratifying. In the first part of this series, I want to give some pointers and tricks I have learned from being a Palero in a city. This applies to more than just Palo too.

1. Know what you are looking at!

While we can’t go and find everything in the natural areas within and around our cities, we can always find some of them. For example, lets take the Laurel (for those of you who get the reference, this is where i buried my secret :-). There are many varieties of Laurel in North America, and many of them have something in common. However, if you are used to buying palos in small dried up bits, you may not recognize it. You new best friend is Google Images. Bookstores will often have field guides based on regions as well, and these are pretty cheap.

Laurus nobilis, very useful in Palo.

2. Tools!

Gathering raw materials can’t be done solely with hands. I have a number of useful and inconspicuous things in the trunk of my car just in case i see something. Plastic bags, empty water bottles, an exacto knife (with a pull saw attachment), a very small gardening shovel, tissue paper (for wrapping fresh plants in), and a Swiss army knife, complete with scissors. Having a collection of useful tools can make cutting, digging, loosening much easier…especially when you need to be quick and sneaky.

3. Be mindful of your neighbors – especially…

Being as how Palo is a religion that practices animal sacrifice, it is important to keep this out of the eyes and ears of our neighbors – especially when no one else around us understands what we are doing. Noise complaints, police, evictions, ostracism, scared looks – nobody needs that. Just be quiet, clean, and courteous. Also, the first track of Midnight Marauders by a Tribe Called Quest has some great parts for hiding certain kinds of sounds. This works very well if you live in an apartment.

Stay tuned, there is more to come…

Tata Nkisi Lucero Vira Mundo

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