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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 229294 Find in a Library
Title: Santeria and Palo Mayombe: Skulls, Mercury, and Artifacts
Journal: Journal of Forensic Sciences  Volume:54  Issue:6  Dated:November 2009  Pages:1458-1462
Author(s): James R. Gill, M.D.; Christopher W. Rainwater, M.S.; Bradley J. Adams, Ph.D.
Date Published: November 2009
Page Count: 5
Type: Case Study
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This study involved the detailed analysis of medical-examiner records for two cases in New York City that were determined to involve the ritualistic practices of the Afro-Caribbean religions of Santeria and Palo Mayombe ("Palo"), which use skulls, animal remains, and mercury, raising suspicions of homicide and concern about toxic exposure (mercury).
Abstract: Santeria and Palo were created in the New World through a blending of African religious beliefs with Christianity. Santeria stems from West African religious beliefs (originating in the Yoruba region of Nigeria combined with Christianity). Its religious practices include animal and artifact offerings, dance, sung invocations, and the use of elemental mercury, which is believed to bring luck, love, or money, according to Caribbean cultural tradition. Palo is distinct from Santeria, but has incorporated much of its symbolism, such that the term “Santeria” has been used to encompass both religions. Palo has roots in the Congo, and was developed in the Caribbean by slaves from the Congo basin of Central Africa. In one of the cases examined in the current study, workmen who were cleaning a basement of a Brooklyn house in 2005 found two human skulls, animal remains, machetes, and ceremonial cast iron cauldrons. Police were notified, and an investigator was assigned to the case. In the second case, a fisherman found a human skull and several nonhuman bones on a rocky coastline of the Bronx in 2008. Police were called and an investigation ensued. This report of the two investigations describes three skulls and associated artifacts from two cases determined to involve the rituals of Santeria and Palo. The skulls were determined to be of no forensic significance, although they might have come from grave looting. Regarding the use of mercury in these practices, accidental spills, rather than actual ritual practices, are of greatest concern for practitioners’ health. 1 table, 7 figures, and 14 references
Main Term(s): Criminology
Index Term(s): Circumstantial evidence; Cults; Cultural influences; Evidence; Evidence identification; Forensic anthropology; Forensic sciences; Homicide investigations; New York; Poisons and poison analysis; Religion
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