Flotsam

Practitioners of Palo, an Ancestral African Faith, Say Their Religion Is Unfairly Maligned by Activists, Media

The first thing you notice when approaching Candelo Kimbisa's house in Hialeah is the Marlboro Red smoke that swirls around the porch and clogs his foyer. "Don't worry," he says, proffering a cigarette with a smile that reveals three gold teeth. "Spirits love tobacco."

Although the back half of the humble home is spotless (and smoke-free), the portion facing Hialeah's East 27th Street is dedicated to religious observance. There's a small room filled with cups and cigar-wielding dolls -- familiar hallmarks of Santería, or Lukumi as it's known to the faithful. But adjacent to that is the space Kimbisa has reserved for Palo, a more obscure Afro-Cuban religion that employs human and animal remains in its rituals -- and has recently become the target of an activist's attacks.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.