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The Kongolese Thread

Frater Vameri

In the texts presented here, we often insist on highlighting the Congolese heritage of Haitian Vodou. This insistence is part of an effort to understand the formation and the different expressions of this spiritualty. However, it is not limited to this and it is an effort that allows us to see better the Brazilian processes as well.

Since the traffic of enslaved people from Central Africa to the Americas was intense, in several countries there is a significant Congolese heritage. For example, in Cuba, the enslaved people of Congolese origin organized by ethnic heritage ended up forming a cult based heavily on ancestral worship that is known today as Palo Monte Mayombe or Regla de Congo .

In Brazil, the organization of enslaved by ethnic groups, as in the Cuban Cabildos, seems to have been more dispersed, but the element of nation was not lost, as we can easily see in Candomblés. However, this cannot be confused with purity or with fidelity to what was happening in Africa. Slaves of the great ethnic group of the Bantus (Central Africa) were numerous in Brazilian lands and although monographs and studies from the beginning and even the middle/late twentieth century insist that the Bantus were owners of a plastic and poorer culture, we see that contemporary researchers have struggled to reveal that this perception was false.

For example, the cult known as Cabula, mainly registered in Espírito Santo state in Brazil, was a cult of strong Bantu influence, with spirits of the dead and ancestors who presented themselves as "godparents" of the adepts, these spirits being often called Tatas and the priest Embanda or Umbanda .Later, Cabula ends up becoming what was known as the Macumbas in Rio and the Yoruba Orishas are slowly incorporated into them, perhaps due to the influence of Candomblés, forming something of a structure very similar to that of Umbanda. The discussion about the veracity of the founding myth of Umbanda and the story of Zélio de Moraes is for another moment, but, we clearly see that there is a cult similar to Umbanda even before its “official” birth.

The presence of Kongolese influence is evident through the structure and emphasis on ancestral worship - which ends up gaining new outlines in the new world - of these cults. When we realize that in the Haitian Vodou we have significant influence from the Kongolese, we think, for example, of Kongolese plasticity and Catholicism, but thinking about how the Bantu “gene” spread in more subtle ways is more complicated. For example, although Damballah is derived from Aladá's Dan, he represents, among other things, water and ancestors - things that connect strongly to Kongo and Kalunga. We can also consider the Gede - whose resemblance to the Exus of Umbanda and Quimbanda always draws attention - which despite being supposedly derived from the Gedevi , a nation that thrived in what is now Benin, may have underlying Kongolese components.

So, when we study Vodou and notice these nuances, or even when we study Palo Monte Mayombe and its Yoruba components, we are looking at a large mirror that allows us to question and better understand the processes that occurred in our own home.

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