Showcasing the art and ritual of the African and African-diaspora religions

Statue of an African spirit

Catalog Number: H006


33.0 x 13.0 x 9.0 cm


13.0 x 5.0 x 3.5 in


Religion and Denomination: Espiritismo (Caribbean)
Country of Origin: United States
Materials: pigment
Usage: N/A
Detailed Description of Significance:

Espiritismo is a religion found throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America, and in the United States. Although European spiritism emphasized communication with the spirits of family members and renowned figures, in the Western Hemisphere, the religion has great overlaps with both Santería and Palo, two other Afro–Diasporic practices. All three religions have mutually enriched one another with elements inspired not only by Europe but also Africa. Espiritismo practitioners, known as spiritists (espiritistas) are particularly prevalent in Brazil, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

In the spiritual hierarchy of Espiritismo, the Judeo-Christian God presides over lower spirits, such as the guías (spirit guides), who in turn occupy the rank just above the spirits of the dead. This old man represents one common class of spirit guide, the African (negro or congo). As an archetype, he may also be called “Negro José” in Puerto Rico. His rippling muscles reflect his life spent working on the plantation, and his aged features bespeak the wisdom of the African ancestors. In Puerto Rico, African spirits are powerful warriors known to have a particular disdain for sorcery. In the related religion of Umbanda in Brazil, Africans represent kind-hearted, wise house servants.

This statue includes many elements common to Espiritismo figures of Africans. Before use in Palo, these African figures must undergo a special initiation, which includes the addition of ritual clothing, beads, and incisions. In this figure, such elements have been sculpted as part of the design.