Central Africa in the Caribbean






Courtesies & Rites of Passage



Religious Cosmology & Praxis



Associated Religions






Pleasurable Leisure : Dance & Music






Language Legacy








Cuban Koongo











Courtesies & Rites of Passage



Moral Values & Social Etiquette












Moral Values & Social Etiquette


p. 108 good persons posthumously considered

"Good persons are praised, given a good burial and posthumous renown." (Laman 1962, 3:257)




p. 114 custom attending praegnancy : zieki

"protective devices are worn in Koongo ... by pregnant women; the charm consists of

"three black seeds (zieki) around the loins to ensure the correct formation of the [child's] limbs. ...

[p. 349, n. 3:3 "Probably cognate with Jamaican jiggey ... or jeggey, ... "a talisman consisting of ... seeds, used by the myal or obeah man" (Cassidy and Le Page 1967). ... Of relevance also is ... that "A person who has swollen feet or arms, or a backache, goes to a man or woman who has been initiated into the great secret society of the Country-of-the-dead, and buys a special charm (jeke) made of black plaintain seeds (Strelitzia), which are threaded on a string and tied around the affected part" (Weeks 1914, 238)."]

On the same girdle with the zieki is a small sea shell (nanga) which is worn to prevent miscarriage" (Claridge [1922], 95)."

Claridge 1922 = G. Cyril Claridge : Wild Bush Tribes of Tropical Africa : ... Pagan People In Tropical Africa, ... Their ... Heathenish Rites and Ceremonies ... . London : Seeley, Service & Co; Philadelphia : J.B. Lippincott. (reprinted NY : Negro Universities Pr, 1969)

Cassidy & LePage 1967 = Frederick Cassidy & Robert LePage : Dictionary of Jamaican English. Cambridge Univ Pr.

Weeks 1914 = John Henry Weeks : Among the Primitive Bakongo : ... Their Habits, Customs & Religious Beliefs. London : Seeley, Service & Co; Edinburgh : Ballantyne Pr. (reprinted NY : Negro Universities Pr, 1969)

pp. 113-5 customs attending childbirth

p. 113

"among the descendants at the Central African enclave of Piaye in the south of St Lucia, it is the practice for persons to cry at the birth of a child because of an overwhelming sense that its life would be full of obstacles."

{Or would this be done to fend off jealousies of the part of harmful spirits who might otherwise harm the child?}

"Among the Nganda the ... nganga bounces the child above his nkisi and then takes

the mother by the little finger,

{in order to ensure that the child's prospective guardian angel will hear (for the little finger is the auricular 'ear'-finger) that the mother is consenting that the infant be protected by a guardian angel?}

her mpidi basket on her head and along with the child, and they go to the crossroads,

singing E, nsongi nzila! "The guide, who shows the way." ...

{invocation summoning the infant's guardian-angel to assume the duty of guiding that child through life?}

(... MacGaffey 1993, p. 37)"

"During the Nsundi naming ceremony ... the child is given its name.

The mother's work basket (mpidi) is then blessed and medicine put into,

{The "medicine" is an offering to the spirit of the basket, to induce that spirit to accept responsibility for the child's welfare.}

and the mother with her child is led ... to a nearby stream. "On the bank they invoke Bunzi, Manzanza and Nakongo", who are minkisi ... .

{Deities are often considered (by tribes in Africa and in Papua) to abide in houses at the bottoms of rivers.}

p. 114

... After the child has been named, "each nganga must sew a little futu-basket of cotton and put into it a medicine {talisman} that he mas carved. From eight to twenty of such bags may be tied to the child's body, to prevent its being bewitched" (Laman 1957, 2:10-13)."

"In Cuba the child of Central Africans was taken by seven priests, nganguleros, who swore on his head -- pledged kisi malongo -- so that he would not die ... . ... A sacrifice of a cock and an opossum was made. ...

p. 115

(Cabrera [1979], 24 ...). ...

A Trinidad ritual was to roll the baby from one person to another over a bed".

MacGaffey 1993 = Wyatt MacGaffey : "Eyes of Understanding : Kongo Minkisi". In :- Astonishment and Power. Washington : Smithsonian Institution Pr. pp. 21-103.

Laman 1957 = Karl Laman : The Kongo, Vol. 2. Uppsala : Studia Ethnographica Upsaliensis.

Cabrera 1979 = Lydia Cabrera : Reglas de Congo : Palo Monte, Mayombe. Miami : Peninsular Pr. (reprinted Miami : Ediciones Universal)




p. 116 trial marriage

"Among the Ovimbundu ... engagement was in reality a trial marriage, during which a young girl and boy spent their evenings together and slept together ... (... Childs [1949], 112-13)."

Childs 1949 = Gladwyn Murray Childs : Umbundu Kinship & Character. Oxford Univ Pr. (reprinted London : Internat African Institute & Witwatersrand Univ Pr, 1969)

pp. 118, 120 customs attending weddings

p. 118

"A performance event called kwekwe [p. 349, n. 5:5 : "the source word hay have been kwe-kwe (Ko), an onomatopoeia for something cracking ... . The musical accompaniment for kwekwe songs is made by stamping the feet on floorboards."] ... occupies the mights for about a week prior to the wedding itself. Kwekwe dancing takes place inside a house, since the percussion ... is actually made by the stamping of the feet of the male and female dancers who move in an anti-clockwise direction, singing songs with sexual innuendos and bawdy actions."

p. 120

"The day after the wedding feast the bride removes the red dye. ... About midday men bind her with bush-rope and carry her in that condition to her husband's house." (Johnston 1908, vol. 2, p. 680)

"in Koongo the bride's body is coloured bright red with tukula, which is camwood paste, while her face is painted white. In Guyana the bride is dressed in white with a red salo, or cotton cloth, around her waist."

Johnston 1908 = Harry Johnston : George Grenfell and the Congo. London : Hutchinson.

p. 121 wedding-dance; first nights after wedding

"At this "bridal ganda" in Guyana, ... a sequence of male partners seize opportunies to dance with the bride. ... It is the drummers who signal the need for a change of dance partners by interrupting the rhythm they are playing. Another male partner now steps into place, ... "dancing her out". ... In the end, ... the bridegroom ... is similarly "danced" by females".

"the bride ... slept the wedding night at her parents ... . This somewhat resembles the practice among the Ovimbundu, whereby the bride sleeps the first three nights after the wedding at her parents' home, while the groom sleeps at his (Hambly [1934], 180)."

Hambly 1934 = Wilfrid D. Hambly : The Ovimbundu of Angola. Chicago.




pp. 124-7 customs attending deaths

p. 124

(in the Maroon town of San Basilio in Colombia) "For San Basilio funerals, the singing of the call-and-response lumbalu` is ... canto de muerto 'dirge' ... from lu- (Ko) ... collective ... + mbalu (Ko) '... remembrance ...'. ...

The lumbalu` ... is a musical death rite ... . Around the corpse are assembled professional mourners, drummer and singers to intone -- amidst ... soulful wails ... -- the religious chant of the lumbalu`."

p. 125

"Trinidad Koongo dirges carried plaintive melodies and bore words such as :

... Peace! the breath dies

My countryman is labouring (in death-throes)".

p. 126

"At the kutumba wake in St Lucia, "men sing in a groaning manner, the women in a piercing high tone, often with their hands over their heads in supplication ..." (Simmons 1963, 47)."

"Beckwith ([1929], 85) reported that a wake occasion in the Santa Cruz mountains was called the bakinny ... . This word, however, is a derivation from bakunu (Ko) 'the spirits of the dead ...'. The word baquini` occurs as well in Santo Domingo, denoting a wake ... . ... As for the Jamaican occasion, "they build a bonfire ... . ... They 'dance Calimbe' in an antic caper upon a pair of sticks held horizontally".

p. 127

"Among the Kumina adherents in Jamaica, drumming is performed at the graveside ... . If drums are not played, it is believed that the duppy ["ghost"] will "ride someone bareback", that is, will haunt somebody. The Kumina people also observe a "tombing dance" some years after the burial, at which time the grave is cemented over. For this occasion, "you build the Kumina dance the Friday night and tomb the African [on the following] Saturday morning. ... But some of them {souls of the dead} are so stubborn they still come out and dream you ["appear to you in dreams"] ...", so the tombing has to be repeated."

Simmons 1963 = Harold Simmons : "Notes on the Folklore of St Lucia". In :- Edward Brathwaite (ed.) : Iouanaloa : Recent Writings from St Lucia. Castries : Dept of Extra-Mural Studies, Univ of the West Indies. pp. 41-9.

Beckwith 1929 = Martha Beckwith : Black Roadways : a Study of Jamaica Folk Life. Chapel Hill : University of NC Pr. (reprinted NY : Negro Universities Pr, 1969)

p. 128 kandalala

"In Jamaica the Koongo method ... was to wrap the corpse in a length of cloth called kandal < kandalala 'a long length of cloth for a shroud'. Another name was makutu ku.

The wrapping was done "in such a way that it would plug up all the orifices ... .""

{Plugging (with cotton) of the bodily orifices is part of standard Muslim praeparation of corpses for burial.}

"in Koongo, very important people were swathed in so many folds of native cloth that the corpse became a ball (Laman 1957, 2:90). ... there was a time in the palenque San Basilio in Colombia, when the body was buried "dressed in very much cloth" (Schwegler 1992, 75)."

{This was also the case for antient mummy-bundles in coastal Peru` (which is arid, resulting in well-praeserved mummies).}

Schwegler 1992 = Armin Schwegler : "Restos de tradiciones religiosas bantu`es ... negro-colombiana". AME`RICA NEGRA 4:35-82.

p. 128 basket-coffin; boat-shaped coffin

"In some ... parts of Koongo, the funeral of an important male involved burying the basket coffin in the marshy bank of a river ... and then allowing the water to flood the site, which had been dammed for the purpose of creating a grave (Torday [1925], 192-93). The use of a basket coffin ... seems to be the reference of the lumbalu` dirge which sings : ... 'gently the basket(s) has dropped down' (Schwegler 1996, 2:612-17 ...)."

Cf. "the boat-shaped coffin adopted among some of the Suriname Maroons (Counter and Evans 1981, 313) and imaged in one of the "Palenque de San Basilio's" funeral dirges [Schwegler 1996, vol. 2, pp. 617-8] : ...

the oarless canoe goes away ... without oar and without paddle".

Schwegler 1996 = Armin Schwegler : "Chi Ma Nkongo" : Lengua y rito ancestrales en el Palenque de San Basilio (Colombia). 2 voll. Frankfurt : Vervuert Verlag; Bibliotheca Ibero-Americana.

Counter & Evans 1981 = S. Allen Counter & David Evans : I Sought My Brother : an Afro-American Reunion. Cambridge (MA) : Massachussets Institute of Technology.

pp. 129-30 interrment in niche to side of grave-shaftpit; so as to hindre revenant ghost from projecting fleshly (body) during visits to the living

p. 129

"in palenque San Basilio ... graves were dug with a lateral cavity adjoining the vertical

p. 130

hole, thus making for an L-shaped chamber, a practice recorded for the coastal Bantu of the Cameroons (Schwegler 1992, 61). In the early part of the twentieth century the Accompong Maroons in Jamaica ... extended the rectangular burial cavity backwards under the ground. ... She was struck by the resemblance between this practice and that of the "tunnel grave of the Dutch Guiana {Surinam} Bush Negroes", another community of Maroons. She commented :

... Then the spirit is thwarted and a playful one {spook-ghost} can't bring the flesh back if he {or she} chooses to return amongst the living. (Dunham ([1946], 88, 91)"

p. 131 the 3 parts of a dead person

"the Koongo believe that a dead person consists of three parts :

the part which is eaten by bandoki 'witches';

the part that is transformed to nkuyu 'ghost'; and

the shed skin that remains in the grave, pupu."

p. 131 visits by the dead to the living

"The deceased, as spirit, remain in their graves for six to ten months, during which time "they change their skins and acquire a fair appearance like albinos". ... When deceased persons have become bandoki :

they wander about in the palm groves, the woods and the vilages ... at night-time ... . ... The good {ghosts} may also visit the villages to see how their survivors are looking after their children and possessions ... . (Laman 1962[,] 3:14, 15)"

p. 132 spirits in tree

"The gravesite tree is therefore "a sign of the spirit ...". ... Akishi (mukishi sg.) means 'ancestral spirits'. ... "In this tree is concentrated the powers of a houngan or of his family" ... . These powers fade over time ...; this is why the tree is renewed each year during the December rite to the loa called Gran Bwa 'great tree'. The tree itself is forked, which allows Gran Bwa and other deities to play and gambol in its branches when they possess the houngan and other members of the family. ...

After a hole has been dug,

a cross is outlined within it by ... flour, and this is circumscribed by a circle. [p. 350, n. 5:16 : "See pp. 140, 167."]

{The cross circumscribed by a circle is a well-known AmerIndian symbol. ("CICS")}

This geometric sign is then reinforced ..., as a neutralizing agent in the event of sorcery against the family, with sesame seeds."

"CICS" = "Cross in a Circle Symbol". http://www.warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-american-symbols/cross-circle-symbol.htm

pp. 133-4 kinda & makunu

p. 133

"While only male Maroons go to the grave sites, the kinda tree is the locus of the communal feasting, dancing and drumming ... . ... .

... the sacred nsanda rubber-tree is a kiyaazi (... sign of dignity). No one may break off a leaf ... nor may it be wounded with a knife. ... The nkinda protective power exists in the animals from ...

p. 134

the kinkonko-soul, and the nsanda-rubber tree ... planted in the enclosed court ... is a ... sign of dignity. ... (Laman 1957, 2:145, 150)"

pp. 135-6 soul is hidden in conch in sea

p. 135

"the grave mounds are covered with conch shells ..." (Pigou 1985, 139). ... The conch is "both and enduring", ... word play on zinga ... '... to perdure, to move in a spiral path', in one of the names for the nether world, kutwazingila 'where we shall live'. "Thus people in the olden days hid their soul in these shells with the prayer : '... When you leave for the sea, take me along that I may live forever qith you'" (MacGaffey 1986, 77)."

"The loa or deities in Haitian belief are ... living ... beneath the "island below the sea". ... they "share this residing place with the spirits of certain categories of the dead" (Courlander 1960, 19). A few years after a death, the vodun community holds a ceremony ... to reclaim the soul of the deceased from "the waters of the

p. 136

abyss" (Deren [1953], 27)."

Pigou 1985 = Beverley Pigou : Attitudes to Death in Jamaica ... . MPhil thesis, Univ of the West Indies, Jamaica.

MacGaffey 1986 = Wyatt MacGaffey : Religion and Society in Central Africa : the BaKongo of Lower Zaire. Univ of Chicago Pr.

Courlander 1960 = Harold Courlander : The Drum and the Hoe. Berkeley : Univ of CA Pr.

Deren 1953 = Maya Deren : Divine Horsemen. London : Thames & Hudson, 1953.

p. 136 shamanic recovery-and-restoration-to-the-body of the health (for a sick person)

"in the Jamaican mayaal ritual that seeks to recover the "stolen shadow" of a sick person ... at a sacred tree, ... after oblations are made to the spirits that surround the tree to release the shadow, "a white basin of water is held up, and as soon as the released soul falls into it, a cover is clapped over, and some one runs home with the captured soul and restores it to the owner by binding about his head a cloth dipped in the water" (Beckwith [1929], 144-45)."

p. 136 souls of the dead go to dark forest

"Johnston (1908, 2:643) also mentions a Koongo belief that the dead went to "a country of dark forest". In Koongo, this is called mfinda ... in the cosmology of of Cuban practitioners of the Mayombe or palo religions. For them, the cemetery is campo finda 'the territory of the dead'".

Johnston 1908 = Harry Johnston : George Grenfell and the Congo. 2 voll. London : Hutchinson.


Maureen Warner-Lewis : Central Africa in the Caribbean : Transcending Time, Transforming Cultures. Univ of West Indies Pr, Kingston (Jamaica), 2003.