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Stabroek News

Africa live in kumina
published: Sunday | October 9, 2005

Kesi Asher, Staff Reporter

Kumina, otherwise known as kalunga or kaduunga, features flat-footed inching of the feet (or the kongo step), a steady, but often subtle, forward-thrusting of the hip with the rib cage and arms moving against the hip, followed by wild spins and sudden breaks, signalled by the lead drum. The dominant elements of kumina are dance, music, spirit possession, healing and the use of herbs.

The drums used in the dance are the kbandu, which provides the basic rhythms, and playing cast, the lead drum. These go together with candles, graters, shakas and catta sticks, played on the back of the drum. According to Jamaica Journal, Volume 10, No.1, "Linguistic evidence cites the kongo as a specific ethnic source for the 'language' and possibly the music of kumina." There are Congolese words in some of the kumina songs performed in Jamaica.

If one goes to a kumina session, one can expect to find dancing and drumming of two natures. Bailo is more public and less sacred, where songs are sung mainly in Jamaican dialect. Country is more African in nature and and is a serious dance.


There is a male and female leader. The leaders must be able to control the zombies, or spirits, and assume their positions of leadership after careful training in their feeding habits, ritual procedures, dances, rhythms and songs of a variety of spirits, conducted by a previous king or 'captain' and queen or 'mother'.

Other traditional folk dances are dinki mini, quadrille, bruckins, mento, maypole and junkunoo. St. Thomas, Portland, St. Mary, St. Catherine and Kingston and St. Andrew are the main areas of concentration for kumina. Kumina ceremonies are usually associated with wakes, entombments or memorial services, parties, weddings, functions, the healing of sick people, births and thanksgiving, among others.

One vibrant kumina group is the Port Morant National and International Kumina Dancers. The group has been around for as long as most members of the group can remember, including Bernice Henry.

"The group been around from I was born. My grandmother was an old, African woman. My mother pass it on and I pass it down to our children," said Ms. Henry. She said that the group consists of about 20 members, and sometimes they have to form smaller groups, depending on the occasion.

'Falla Backa Mi To UWI'

At the recent 'Falla Backa Mi To UWI', featuring theatre icon Oliver Samuels, the group performed a blessing ceremony, inviting the ancestors as a tribute to Oliver. They sang very spiritual renditions of Mawnin O and Paul Bogle A Lion O. The king and queen led the train of dancers around in a circle, surrounding the instrumentalists and the lead singer. The mother, Bernice Henry, with a tin candle perfectly balanced on her head, danced to the beat of the drums, moving only her waist in an amazing fashion. The group consisted of young and old men and women, all of whom were dressed in Jamaican and Ethiopian flag colours, their outfits completed with big gold earrings, a thick black and white pearl necklace, turban and hat.

Linval Walker has always played the drums, but when he joined the group, he had to learn the special way to play to the music of Kumina. His training came from one of the lead singers, an elder in the group known only as Maston, and also called 'Bottle Torch'. He was also trained by the queen Bernice Henry.

The Port Morant National and International Kumina Dancers have brought kumina to a number of schools in St. Thomas, including the Port Morant and Yallahs high schools and White Horses Upliftment. The dancers also teach groups at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts.

When learning to dance kumina, it is important to know the figures, that is, how to position, turn and take their bar. Kumina dancers also have to learn the African language used. For example, 'malambay' means 'how do you do'; if you want some food, you say 'madya'; and, if you are ready to sing and dance, you say 'mambugumaseta'.

The Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) is heavily involved in the sustenance of kumina as a part of Jamaica's heritage. The JCDC organises a competition that features traditional folk forms. Those who qualify from this competition go on to the finals, called 'Best of the Best'. Kumina groups, like Clonmel Cultural Club from Clonmel Primary and Junior High, Seaforth Primary, Arcadia Primary and White Horses Upliftment, all in St. Thomas, as well as Seaward Primary and Junior High and Vauxhall High in Kingston, take part in the competition.

kumina in germany

Clonmel Cultural Club, the best kumina group in the competition, has travelled to Miami for Culturama. The Port Morant National and International Kumina Dancers have performed at JCDC festivals and have travelled as far as Germany to perform. They are scheduled to perform at the heritage fest on Heroes Day, which is being organised by the JCDC.

As a result of the JCDC competitions, schools have been very involved in kumina. Linval Walker teaches the art form at the Bath Primary and Junior High School, among other schools. He says that the children at Bath are very enthusiastic about the dance and catch on very quickly. "Dem love it. We have an audition and it was so big ­ about 40 children turn up. We picked about 16 of them that do it really good," said Walker.

innate ability

He further added that Bernice Henry's daughter, Ivy Henry, assists him with the children. While he plays the instruments, she instructs the children. "Them learn it easy, because the two a wi help dem," Walker said. He noted that the children gravitate towards the instruments. "Nuff a dem have a feel for it, so I put it a simpler way and mek dem learn it. And dem use to the drum and di music a dead yard a St. Thomas," he said.

To Bernice Henry, kumina is much more than just a dance, it is a religion. She strongly believes in the old language and thinks it should be more popular. "Dem cut out our old Mumbaka language, they put the African language behind and put the English language before. It shouldn't be like that. We are the people who sound the abeng," said Ms. Henry.

She believes in the power of Mother Earth and holds that power as a part of kumina. She also strongly denies any similarity between kumina and obeah. "We deal wid Mother Earth, the spirit. When you knock your drum, the spirit come up, the spirit of Mother Earth. Some people say is obeah; no is no obeah. We are a religion, we pray to God, 'Our Father who art in heaven'," explained Ms. Henry.

Other kumina groups in St. Thomas are at Seaforth, Pear Tree River and Duckenfield.

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