Chamba in the Morning

I love the smell of chamba in the morning!

Smells like a kick ass day!

I had been invited into a well respected Paleros spirit room where I had my first encounter with chamba.  The room was already thick with a smoky haze lingering just above eye level.  There was a definite bite in the air; a pungent, musty yet metallic smell that seemed to strike all of ones senses simultaneously. The Palero was clearly proud of what he had on display and he had every right. Two very large cauldrons, brimming with all manner of objects like a jambalaya, all mixed up but working together to make a magnificent whole. I was duly impressed.


He asked me if I wanted to greet the spirits with the chamba.  I had never heard of the stuff.  I was about to say no thanks but as I looked over to my Madrina, her steely gaze impressed upon me that no was a no-no.  So with much bravado, hiding my increasing trepidation, I grabbed the big, generic jug and prepared to spray the cauldrons from my mouth like I had been taught to do for the other spirits.  Once I had a mouthful, and I mean really full, my lips and tongue immediately started to burn. Now panic began to set in.  Moving toward the cauldron, the burning began to overwhelm me.  I breathed in what felt like my last breath and spewed this concoction as best as I could.  Chamba, spittle, phlegm and probably a little bile, dribbled and sputtered out of me. At least half of the spray landed at my feet, far away from the cauldron.  But, then I quickly realized that an unfortunate amount went over my upper lip into my tender virgin nostrils.  This was an OMG moment, if ever there was one! Coughing, sneezing and tearing, I ran from corner to corner within the room in search of fresh, chamba-free air.  Everyone else enjoyed my antics, laughing and joking in Spanish at my pain and suffering.  Apparently, the old Palero brought out an extra strong, well aged batch just for me, the Americano-Americano.  Nice! Yet, through tear soaked eyes, I could just make out the amused admiration of my loving Madrina.


So, what is chamba you ask? Chamba is an elixir used in Palo to get the spirits moving.  It is made with a strong liquor infused with assorted peppers, herbs and various woods.  There are many different recipes.  Some are general purpose, while others are specific for Rama/House lines or spirit requests.

These images are of my personal chamba stash.  I wanted to make these glamour shots because the interaction of the candle light, glass, shapes and contents inspire me and invigorate me.  This is the beauty of African Diaspora religions.  They have a strong otherness to them, but this does not negate its beauty.

The chamba, pictured in the Balvenie bottle, is made with a blend of two different recipes. One is made with 151-proof Aguardiente, the other, in the 10 Cane bottle, with 151-proof Barcadi rum.  I let these two steep and periodically pour them into my blended chamba.  Gives a real kick!  I am actually thinking of adding a third recipe to the blend using Cachaça.  Makes my eyes water just thinking about it.  The fourth bottle pictured, the 5-star Barbancourt bottle, contains a very strong liquor I received from a local Houngan here in Miami.  Very special, indeed!