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

Statues of male and female African spirits

Catalog Number: H002


Man: 23.5 x 13.0 x 10.0 cm; woman: 23.0 x 13.0 x 11.5 cm


Man: 9.3 x 5.0 x 4.0 in; woman: 9.0 x 5.0 x 4.5 in


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

Espiritismo is a religion found throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America, as well as 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.  That is, many santeros and paleros also practice spiritism, and the boundaries separating spiritism from other traditions are unclear.   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 numerous 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 person represents one common class of spirit guide, the African (negro or congo). As archetypes, the male—also called “Negro José” in Puerto Rico—is often paired with a female counterpart. The pair’s aged features bespeak the wisdom of the African ancestors. In Puerto Rico, many African spirits are powerful warriors known to have a particular disdain for sorcery.  They have a similar use in the Brazilian religion of Umbanda , Africans represent kind-hearted, wise house servants.

These statues include 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 these figures, such elements have been sculpted as part of the designs. Nevertheless, the marks on the woman figure may indicate a past ritual use of some sort.