This article brings together three distinct, yet articulating, ethnographic perspectives on the effects and affordances of material things, in particular human substances, in the Afro-Cuban religious practice of Palo Monte, a complex of Bantu-Congo inspired traditions. The authors argue that Palo Monte engenders ontological forms that are irreducible to either ‘matter’ or ‘spirit’, thing or idea, but instead predicate their agency on a hybridity that necessarily encompasses objects, human bodies, and spirits of the dead, as well their bones. Palo both takes a notion of embodiment to the extreme – objects become bodies, bodies become spirits, and spirits become objects – and questions its limitations, since for practitioners spirits are unconfined to their materialization, but may appear in dreams, for example. Furthermore, Palo experts deal inherently with processes of physical, social and spiritual disassembly (as well as assembly), asking of us to rethink essentialist concepts of agency, intention, and personhood.
- Palo Monte; Afro-Cuban religion; spirits of the dead; matter; human substances; bones; agency; transformations; effects; personhood; vitality