Central Africa in the Caribbean, 6.3-6.4



Manipulative Power : Ritual


p. 159 in Tobago : mamba spirit in wanga man

""At this dance this Wanga-man was ridden by a spirit from Africa named


{Dendroaspis ('tree-asp'), native to Koongo and to Angola.

The spirit prescribed the remedy and few months he was completely healed. ...

Cf. the healing snake, emblem of Asklepios.}

At Reel Dances and Congo Dances, [the old man] was ridden by the spirit Mamba", Mamba being a Koongo water spirit."

pp. 160-1 self-beating drums

p. 160

in Jamaica : "the "old Africans" could make drums beat by themselves, or rather, by unseen spiritual forces. Sometimes the drums would be covered by a sheet before the mystical sounds would emanate. One person narrated that

spirits in the form of two frogs played the drums one night.

{"the Burmans call it the Pa>-zi or the "Frog drum," ... displaying ... four conventionalized frogs near the rim" (KBDB, p. 16).} {Also indigenous to Burma is "the Kayah frog drum", whereof it is believed that " the beating of the frog drum will bring rain", and that "by putting one's silver and gold inside a frog drum and storing it in a crevice or cave, or burying it underground, one may ensure that one will enjoy that wealth in the next existence." ("DSFD")}

This type of feat is called "sala bilongo" ... ([Bilby and Bunseki 1983,] p. 46)."

p. 161

in Koongo : "If their drumming is up to the standards of a nganga ... then the animal that was named should come crawling from the open end of the drum ... . The very best drummers are ... able to cover the drums and make them sound by themselves. ... In such cases, it is understood that the power controlling the drums originates from an ancestral spirit belonging to the drummer's clan. Sometimes ... this spirit will manifest itself in the form of an animal, such as a snake, which crawls around in the vicinity of the drums until it is ready to return to the world of the ancestors. (Bilby and Bunseki 1983, 46-47)."

KBDB = Richard M. Cooler : The Karen Bronze Drums of Burma. E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1995. http://books.google.com/books?id=7MywXRwcCwcC&pg=PA17&lpg=PA17&dq=

"DSFD" = U Sein (transl. by Sao Hso Hom Mengrai) : "Dong Son - Bronze Drums". http://www.asianart.com/phpforum/index.php?method=detailAll&Id=65861

p. 161 in Cuba : [illusorily] rapidly-growing trees

"At sunset various groups got together to play quimbumbia {kimbumbia}, ... a Congolese thing. ... First they planted a plantain-tree in the middle of a circle drawn on the ground and then each magic-man cast a spell on the plantain-tree to make it grow fruit. ... The winner could eat the bananas ... . ...

{This illusory tree-growth also practiced in India, as part of, e.g., the "rope trick". It is apparently undertaken on another sub-plane of the material plane, whereinto the consciousness of performers and of audience-membres is temporarily transported.}

Whenever these groups wanted to play quimbumbia they got handfuls of magic sticks from the forest and tied them in bundles of five ... . ... (Montejo 1968, 142-43)"

Montejo 1968 = Esteba`n Montejo (ed. by Miguel Barnet; transl. by Jocasta Innes) : The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave. London : Bodley Head.

p. 162 Kumina rite for magically putting a person to sleep

"call the spirits with libation, saying ... 'Ancestors, come from yonder/your home. Come (to) police house'. Then the police would not show up in court because they would fall asleep until the case was over."

p. 162 benefit acquired by death

""A surviving twin is proud of the death of his brother or sister because ... It is ... part of the process of acquiring extra-normal powers" (Williams 1933, 43)."

{Proud of assisting the sibling to ascend to Heaven (ascension to Heaven being the automatic consequence of such dying of such ritualistic sacramental mechanism). The person who is successful in dying thus will be possessed of "extra-normal powers" in Heaven, and will praesumably reciprocate by granting some of such powers to the sibling who hath assisted such ascension.}

Williams 1933 = Joseph Williams : Voodoos and Obeahs : Phases of West India ... . London : George Allen & Unwin.



Ritual Eikones


pp. 163-4, 166 minkisi (plural of /nkisi/)

p. 163

""medicine hearts of the images ["which constitute nkisi, the objectification of spiritual force"] contain a live insect or an object from a grave that is possessed by a nkuyu ..." (Laman 1962, 3:74)."

"Similarly, after an nkisi is prepared in Cuba, some priests take it to the graveyard -- nfinda Kalunga ["forest of Death"] -- for three weeks and then to a ceiba [silk cotton tree (Bombax heptaphyllum)] or banyan in the forest -- nfinda anabutu -- for an equal length of time. When taken back home, it is fed cock's blood and spices (Cabrera [1975], 124).

Many Koongo nkisi are wooden carvings which represent the power of a deity.

Sometimes nails were driven into nkisi to rouse the spirit they contained to proceed on tasks ... (MacGaffey 1993, 76)."

{By such nailing prayers can be brought to the attention of the deity. (Cf. also the name /NAYLOR/ of a mystically-minded early founder of the Religious Society of Friends.)}

p. 164

"The way of every nkisi is this : when you have composed it, observe its rules lest it be annoyed and punish you." (MacGaffey 1993, p. 21)

p. 166

""powerful Congo Pe'tro paquetes" ... are described as "doll-like, round-bellied figures full of many magical and spiritual powers" (Dunham [1946], x). The paquette has a round gourd as its base ... . The handles are tied to the base of the bottle neck by gold strands, while multi-coloured ostrich feathers are plugged into the mouth of the bottle neck. Within the gourd are placed ... : ... powder made from ... deer horn; earth taken from a ... cemetery ...; ... guinea pepper ... (Maximilien [1945], 185, 187). This type of nkisi resembles the "two calabashes covered with shells ... and topped off with a bash of feathers, decorated with iron hooks" ... to Boessi-Batta, ... in seventeenth-century Loango (Janzen 1982, 52)."

Cabrera 1975 = Lydia Cabrera : El Monte : Igbo, Finda, Ewe Orisha, Vititi Nfinda ... de Cuba. 4th edn. Miami : Ediciones Universal.

Dunham 1946 = Katherine Dunham : Katherine Dunham's Journey to Accompong. New York : Henry Holt & Company.

Maximilien 1945 = Louis Maximilien : Le Vodou hai:tien : Rite Radas-Canzo.

Janzen 1982 = John Janzen : Lemba, 1650-1930. NY : Garland Publ.

pp. 166-8 kita within makuta

p. 166

"Another powerful nkisi is a packet wrapped in burlap sacking ... . In Cuba, this is called either a kita or a macuto (bag). Kita (Mb) is referent for "a bundle" which "consists of bones, claws, ... hairs, etc., which a diviner shakes in his divining basket before throwing them on the ground" to read divinations from their positions (Chatelaine 1894, 288). Descendants of black Venezuelans who

p. 167

migrated to Trinidad ... apply the term makuta to an oblong packet inscribed with the diyowa cross within a circle, which can be placed in the cleft {bosom} of {between} a woman's breasts, and to a square version which can be tied with string around the waist ... . These drawing resemble ... the Koongo "emblems of the crossroads and the union of the worlds of the living and the dead" (Thompson 1991, 4).

p. 168

These makuta contain earth from a new grave of a relative which is taken up on a moonlit night. Makuta is the plural form of kuta (Ko), referring to "... packets of leaves of an nkisi Kuta" (Laman [1936] ...). In the Cuban case, within the macuto is encapsulated a spirit called boumba. ... Indeed, ... mbumba is a generic term for minkisi along the coastal area north of the Zaire (MacGaffey 1993, 71).

The kita contained grave dirt, twigs, a skull. The base of the bag was marked in chalk with a circle containing a cross. This bundle was hung from the loft, a wooden platform close to the ceiling which served as a granary. Before the kita was lowered, the floor was ... marked by the mayombero ... with the chalk sign of the circle and the cross ... (Cabrera [ 1975], 126-28)."

Chatelaine 1894 = Heli Chatelaine : Folk-Tales of Angola. Boston : Houghton, Mifflin & Co.

Thompson 1991 = Robert Farris Thompson : Dancing between Two Worlds : Kongo-Angola Culture and the Americas. NY : Caribbean Culture Center.

Laman 1936 = Karl Laman : Dictionnaire Kikongo-Franc,ais. Bruxelles.

p. 168 morongo

"To stand upon this sign meant that a person ... knew the nature of the world, that he had mastered the meaning of life and death" (Thompson [1983], 109).

"This same meaning of universality, the constitution of the ... four corners of the cosmos, is understood in the sign of the Mokongo grade or office within Cuban Abakua`, a male secret society." (Sosa Rodri`guez 1982, pp. 428-9) [p. 167, Fig. 6.6 Morongo sign as quartered disk with small circle in each quarter {: rather alike to the Maya glyph for day Lam[b]at}]

pp. 168-9 jukujuku {a device rather similar to a tyre-iron, or to a vis`va-vajra}

p. 168

"This sign is reproduced in a cross-shaped maracas call joukou-joukou [jukujuku] in Haitian ..., also called asson Wangol 'Angolan rattle' by the Central African descendants in the Jacmel area of southern Haiti. Then figure is made ... with two gourds stuck at the ends of the short transverse cane and another affixed at the top of a longer vertical pole. A fourth gourd is made to spiral up and down along the lower section of the vertical pole as it catches in notches along the pole, producing sound." [p. 167, Fig. 6.5]

p. 169

"the cross bears the name of one of the Igbo words for the Creative Force, Chukwu."

Thompson 1983 = Robert Farris Thompson : "The Sign of the Four Moments of the Sun". In : Flash of the Spirit. NY : Random House, 1983. pp. 103-60.

Sosa Rodri`guez 1982 = Enrique Sosa Rodri`guez : Los N~an~igos. Havana : Ediciones Casa de las Americas.

pp. 169-70 matari

p. 169

"In Cuba, ... Thunderstones -- matari -- were regarded as minkisi, and ... were given offerings of mental objects, iron or steel filings, an egg, and the blood of a white dove ... (Cabrera [ 1975], 137, 141).

p. 170

"Old "Congo" men in Cuba would place matari Mamba -- Mamba being the spirit presiding over the waters -- ... at the foot of a royal palm tree in order to secure rainfall. Rain could also be procured by nailing a needle empowered by a matari to the trunk of a palm tree (Cabrera [ 1975], 266-67)."

p. 170 transfiguration of Otherworld bodies of souls of the dead

"those sojourning in the otherworld live for a very, very long time. When they grow weak from old age, they shed their skins as snakes do, are rejuvenated, and become sturdy and strong. They they live again, weaken, shed their skins and are renewed once more. After shedding their skins five or six times they become water simbi and go to live in pools, wherever there are very hard rocks, and there they settle with those who have previously become bisimbi. (Thompson [1983], 108)"

"Thus, as "the dead become more remote {i.e., their lifetimes become more distant into the past}, they become more like stones ... .

{According to Jaina doctrine, a person can incarnate in rock, thus becoming (for a long time) a sthavara jiva ('immobile soul').}

Minor local spirits (bisimbi and bankita) are said to be smooth round stones from the bottom of a river."

Indeed, Nzambi, himself associated with rain and thunder, is sometimes ... "like an immovable rock" (MacGaffey 1986, 76)."

{High-thundring Zeus became briefly rock at the river Asopos (GM 66.b).}

GM = Robert Graves : The Greek Myths. 1955.

p. 171 "Congo" enclave of La Guinea in Central Cuba

"in the doorway of their temple, there was placed

an enormous stone, which is still considered sacred but whose significance is now forgotten. ... For special feast days, the stone is recipient of libations of fresh water, perfume and honey (Garci`a Herrera 1972, 156 ...)."

{If its significance were truly forgotten, libations would not have continued to be made on it. But the locals devotees may have been reluctant to impart any details about it to an outsider, therefore feigning ignorance as an excuse.}

Garci`a Herrera 1972 = Rosalia Garci`a Herrera : "Observaciones etnolo`gicas de dos sectas afrocubanas ... ". ISLAS 43:143-81.

pp. 171-2 baku[lu]

p. 171

"The spirit is a small dwarf-like androide, about knee high,who speaks with a nasal voice and lives in a bottle.

{These bottled imps have for many centuries been traditionally praepared in Taoist China, and in Indonesia; and praesumably learned about from them by Maroons.}

... bakulu are made

{bottles are praepared as housing for such midget spirits as are befriended}

by men and are bought by a witch to work for him ... . The owner can give the spirit instructions ... . The bakulu demands

p. 172

compensation. He {or she} must be provided with certain kinds of food, such as eggs. ... (Sterman in Beet and Sterman 1981, 299)."

Beet & Sterman 1981 =Christoffel de Beet & Miriam Elisabeth Sterman : People in Between : the Matawai Maroons of Suriname. PhD thesis, Univ of Utrecht, 1981. (Krips Repro Meppel)

p. 172 sacred colored powders

"Lineages heads among the Mbundu and more southerly peoples {in Angola}

"used a sacred white powder called pemba to insure the fertility of the women" of their lineage, while

a red powder called takula was given to men for the same purpose (Miller 1976, 48)."

pp. 172-4 muyombo & bilongo

p. 172

"In eighteenth-century Haiti ... [there were sold] bags called fonda, ... but above all sticks called mayombo ...

p. 173

(Geggus 1991a, 33). ... This word may indeed refer to sticks in the sense of the Lunda, Lwena and Chokwe muyombo, which signified the sacred protective tree of the village group (McCulloch 1951, 75). ... Geggus derives fonda from fu`nda (Ko), a package made of folded leaves and functioning as a charm. ...

Bi`la "refers ... to bags attached to a fetish, containing ... magical substances, generically known as bilo`ngo" (Geggus 1991a, 34).

A late-nineteenth-century account from Genada reports ... "implements of the [obeahman's] trade" : ... feathers, bones of cats, parrots' beaks, dogs' teeth, ... and egg-shells. ... (Bell 1889, 16)

This listing is very close to that provided ... for Jamaica. ... feathers, bones of cats. ... the upper section of the skulls of cats, or ... cats['] teeth and claws, or with ... dogs teeth ...; there were

p. 174

also a great many eggshells filled with a ... gummy substance ... . (Great Britain 1789)"

Geggus 1991a = David Geggus : "Haitian Voodoo in the Eighteenth Century". In :- Richard Konetzke & Hermann Kellenbenz (edd.) : JAHRBUCH FU:R GESCHICHTE VON STAAT, WIRTSCHAFT UND GESELLSCHAFT LATEINAMERIKAS. Cologne : Bo:hlau Verlag. pp. 21-51.

McCulloch 1951 = Merran McCulloch : The Southern Lunda and Related Peoples. London : Internat African Institute.

Bell 1889 = Hesketh Bell : Obeah ... in the West Indies. London : Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington.

Great Britain 1789 = Great Britain, Board of Trade. Report of the Lords of the Committee ... for... Trade ... . Pt. III. "Answers 22-26 ... regarding Treatment of Slaves ... in the West Indies". London.

p. 174 hollow divining-rods & magical tubes

"what is called in Guyana ... muungu nti ... is a divining stick, and in referred to in a story in which two girls unwittingly married to man-eating giants are rescued by a young man who

crams them into his ... stick

{cf. twin-brethren who hide within their own blowguns (according to the Popol Vuh)}

which ... emits ... music in the sky, and eventually is the vehicle by which the girls return to their original home (Morrison 1982, 54-58 [p. 351, n. 6:36 : "See Tutuola 1952, 125-26."])."

"Trinidadian ... reference ... . "They see you and they say woku wop wop and

they take a blue {read "BLeW"?} pipe {i.e., BLoWPIPE/blowgun} and they shoot you and you remain same ["right"] there, you can't move" ... .

{allusion to the paralyzing effect of curare, shot by blowgun in tropical South America}

The pipes to which he referred were tube-like matuutu grass stalks ... . They were called 'guns of the night' and would be blown onto objects or persons ... to remove witchcraft ... . ...

Magic guns were also buried at the threshold to houses and suspended in houses (Laman 1962, 3:69, 190)."

Morrison 1982 = Mavis (Miriam) Morrison : "Interview". In :- Adeola James (ed.) : Guyanese Oral Traditions. Turkeyen : Univ of Guyana. pp. 10-80.

Tutuola 1952 = Amos Tutuola : The Palm-Wine Drinkard. London : Faber & Faber.

pp. 174-5 beast-horns; jars

p. 174

"Another type ... was made of sheep, goat, or antelope horn, into which a charm was inserted. The nganga blew into it to become invisible (Johnston 1908, 2:659)."

p. 175

"The stolen soul is thought to reside in a jar retained by a priest, who is the only person capable of returning the estranged ... . "There are, of course, cases ... [contrived] to let the 'soulless' man gradually lose his sanity under this {psychic duress}", writes Johnston (1908, 2:660-61)".


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