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Posts tagged ‘Chokwe’


Traditional Ceremonies: Angolan Culture and Customs (Part 5)

Ceremonies are important both in the traditional and modern Angolan culture. The most common ceremonies are those which celebrate and announce the various stages of life. Childbirth and a naming ceremony herald the arrival of a child into the world, initiation inducts adolescents into adulthood, and rites of transition prepare the dead for the afterlife. This week let us ponder these important traditional customs!

Childbirth, Names, and the Naming Ceremony

In Angola childbirth is seen as the fulfillment of marriage. In traditional societies, pregnant women were cared for and nursed in the home throughout their pregnancy, with the help of the older women of the tribe. In rural areas hospitals are often not available within reasonable distances. This means that there is little access to modern medical prenatal monitoring and counseling on issues such as hygiene, nutrition, and family planning. Delivery may also have to be done by birth attendants who are likely to be untrained in the proper medical procedure.

The naming ceremony formally welcomes the newborn into the world. Traditionally, the ceremony is directed by an elder of the family who confers on the child the names that the father has provided. In Angola names are never mere words! They reflect a person’s history and define his personality and identity. Names are given based on the circumstances of the birth of the child or related family conditions. Children may also be named after ancestors, due to the belief that these ancestors will protect those who bear their names.

Initiation Ceremonies

One of the most important traditional Angolan customs is the rite of puberty (iniciação da puberdade). In this rite boys and girls which have come of age are initiated into adulthood. This rite is primarily intended to prepare young people for their respective social roles as adult men and women. Initiation rites are elaborate, lasting at least several weeks, and ending with days of celebration throughout the entire community.

Male initiation rites often include instructions on sexual matters in order to groom the boys for their impending marital role and other duties that adulthood demands of them. Most initiation rites require the boys to be subjected to a test of courage and fortitude, a trial of survival in which they must stay alone in the forest for a specific period of time.

Masquerade dance is another important feature of boys’ initiation rites. The use of masks is so central to these rites that among the Chokwe initiates are taught the art of mask carving, as part of the preparation. A popular Chokwe mask is of the female godess Mwana Pwo, which is worn by male dancers during the puberty rites.

For the young men, the completion of the rite signifies the attainment of adulthood. As men, they must now associate with other men, not with children and women, as they did before the initiation rites.

Female initiation rites are likewise conducted when a girl reaches her childbearing age. During the ritual dances the girls are beautifully adorned with traditional makeup and hairdos. The initiation rituals prepare the girls for wifehood and motherhood through training under the direction of elderly women. Their training focuses on the issue of the traditional woman’s role in society.

Death and Funerary Rites

Many Angolan communities expect proper funeral rites to be observed and certain rituals to be performed for a dead person. Funerary rites vary somewhat from one group to another, but there are also general elements: ritual mourning, ceremonial washing of the body, and the embracing and kissing of the body by family members.

Even in contemporary Angola, it is a strongly held belief that life continues after death, in spirit form. Failure to perform proper funerary rites prohibits the departed from perfect rest or from entry into the abode of the ancestors. The ancestor may become an aimless, wandering, restless spirit. A spirit considered harmful to the living.

In some communities children can play important roles. In Kuito and Malange, children pass under the coffin of a dead relative during the funeral ceremony and are expected to cut their hair to show mourning and respect for the departed relative. This is done to prevent the child from being afflicted by the spirit of the dead person.


Angolan Culture and Customs: Part 2 – Chockwe Masks and Sculpture.

Hi again everyone! Let us continue our exploration of Angolan Art by examining the influence of the Chockwe. The Chokwe kingdom rose to power during the late nineteenth century, primarily because of the profitable trade of ivory, wax, and rubber with the Portuguese. Besides providing wealth, these same raw materials were used by the Chockwe to create functional artifacts which were in turn, transformed these into prestige objects. The importance of their influence can be seen in the fact that:  Chockwe Art is much sought the world over and; other ethnic groups in Angola have been greatly influenced by Chokwe art. Two types of objects particularly representative of the Chockwe approach to Art are Masks and Sculpture.

Chockwe Masks

Mask carving is one of the most popular forms of traditional art in Angola. Angolan Masks are of various types and come in different shapes, sizes, and artistic quality. Masks are often carved out of wood, bronze, and other metals, and they usually represent the spirit of lineage, clan, or family ancestors; deities; mythological figures; and even animals.

Masks are not intended to be decorative; they were believed to possess great magical powers and, therefore, could only be worn by designated people, often men, after a proper initiation or induction rite had been performed. The wearer of the mask was believed to be in communion with the spirit world of deities and departed ancestors represented by the mask. The masks were then used in initiation ceremonies such as healing, circumcision, fertility, and puberty rites.

Some of the best known examples of Chokwe Masks are the Mask of Mwana Pwo and the Mask of Chihongo. The Mask of Mwana Pwo (the young maiden), represents the female ancestor. This mask is used in puberty and fertility rituals. It is traditionally worn by male dancers dressed like women and sporting false breasts. The wooden mask has a facial appearance depicting deceased person. Its facial scarification is a symbol of the pain of death, as Mwana Pwo was said to have died young. The mask is adorned with beads, forehead cruciforms, woven headpieces, and other ornaments. Although the Chokwe ritual is performed by men, its mask is regarded as an embodiment of feminine beauty, which bestows fertility on women and prosperity on the people in general.

The male companion of Mwana Pwo is the Mask of Cihongo (spirit of wealth). The Cihongo mask is different from its female Pwo counterpart. Rather than a gaunt expression characteristic of the Pwo mask, Cihongo sports a fierce expression with wide mouth, elaborately painted white teeth, and exaggerated horizontal beard. This mask, which is carved from wood, and worn exclusively by a chief or his sons, represents age, wealth, and chiefly power and authority.

Chocke masks depict not only human faces. There are also masks that depict various animals. Animal masks are quite popular because animals often feature in the mythology of many Angolan groups. Antelope, buffalo, elephant, zebra, monkey, leopard, rhino, pig, baboon, snake, and lizard masks are common. These masks, carved primarily in wood and sometimes in metal, are beautiful pieces of art which also served primarily as ritual objects in different kinds of ceremonies, such as initiation rites.

This shows that traditional arts and crafts of Angola have historical links to the culture of its people. Art did not exist merely for aesthetic value. Art was sacred. It was an integral part of ritual performances and other traditional ceremonies and festivals. In modern Angola, a new emphasis placed on the aesthetic value of Art. Art has become become the object of museum and gallery exhibits.

Chockwe Sculpture

The Chokwe are particularly adept sculptors who have produced some of the most famous sculptures as well as ornate carvings of everyday objects. Such statues are usually carved in solid wood and sometimes adorned with decorative metal. Typical examples include statues of royal figures such as kings, queens, and nobles; powerful warriors, hunters, and healers; musicians and ceremonial dancers; ancestors and deities; and mythical beings.

Another testament to the importance of the Chockwe influence on Angolan art is the Chokwe statue the “Thinker” (“Pensador” in Portuguese). The Thinker is one of the most beautiful pieces of Chokwe origin one of the oldest artifacts in Angola. It represents all Angolans by being a symbol of national culture. The statue is can be seen as either man or a woman and depicts wisdom and knowledge. It is carved in a bent posture, hands on head and legs crossed, a posture symbolizing reflection.

In addition to statues of humans, carvings of court items and paraphernalia depict the glory, dignity, and pomp of royalty. In traditional precolonial societies, sculpture exclusively done by professional carvers known as the songi, who often worked exclusively for the court and other prominent chieftaincies. They are noted for many royal carvings including chairs, stools, decorated thrones, ceremonial staffs, spears, and scepters.


Angolan Culture and Customs: Part 1 – An Introduction

Africa is huge. As the second largest continent, it is four times the size of the United States (excluding Alaska). Angola, in turn is also large, the seventh largest country in Africa. At about twice the size of the state of Texas, it covers more than 481,354 square miles spread across coastal lowlands, hills and mountains, and the great plateau. Angola is home to approximately 100 ethno – linguistic groups. The most prominent of these groups are the Ovimbundu, the Mbundu, the Bakongo, the Nganguela (Ganguela), and the Lunda-Chokwe. From such a large melting pot,and so many influences, it is only natural to expect much diversity in culture. Angola doesn’t disappoint!

Join me as I share with you my “unofficial guide” to the culture and customs of Angola. Over several installments I will deal with a distinct aspect of Angolan Culture: Art; Literature; Cuisine; Religion; Customs and Music.

To begin an exploration of Angola´s culture and customs we need look no further than Luanda, Angola’s largest city and main social and cultural center.

The sensuous dance, Semba, was born here. Semba gets its name from “Masemba”, meaning “a touch of the bellies”, the motion that characterizes this type of dancing. Semba music is capable of conveying a broad spectrum of emotions and, therefore is heard at a wide variety of Angolan social gatherings. In the late 80s producers began to mix traditional carnival music like zouk and soca from the Caribbean and semba around a fast beat, producing the “Kuduro” style. A very popular example of this style of music is the popular “Danza Kuduro” music video (by Lucenzo and Don Omar ) on YouTube,  which has over 300 million views! Perhaps you have seen it too?

Luanda´s cultural importance doesn’t end with music though.  It has much, much more to offer! Visitors can view impressive collections of African arts especially Chokwe masks and sculptures. To me Chokwe masks are particularly interesting. They symbolize various ancestral beliefs and were used during rites of passage circumcisions, fertility and puberty rites. Chokwe art much appreciated in many western countries and is often found on display in major art museums and galleries in Europe, the United States, and Japan.  In Luanda such pieces can be viewed are the Humbi-Humbi Gallery and; the Museu Nacional de Antropologia (National Anthropology Museum).

Other galleries in the city are Galeria Cenarius, Espelho da Moda, and Galeria SOSO-Arte Contemporânea. The Museu do Dundo (Dundo Museum), in the northeastern province of Lunda Norte, has been in existence since the colonial era. It houses one of the finest collections of Chokwe art found anywhere in the world. More contemporary museums located in Luanda include the Museu de Angola (Museum of Angola), the Centro Cultural Português (Portuguese Cultural Center), the Museu Nacional de História Natural (National Museum of Natural History), and the Military Museum (housed in a historic fortress).  Another popular museum, not dealing specifically with Art, is the Museu da Escravatura (Museum of Slavery). This museum, supposedly located at the very place where African captives were kept before being shipped to New World! The museum preserves the unfortunate history of the Atlantic slave trade on the Angolan coast.

In January 2005 the Minister of Culture, Boaventura Cardoso, called for special attention to the restoration of monuments and historic sites in Angola. This will ensure that Angola’s culture and customs will thus not be forgotten.

Join me soon, for Part 2 in which I will delve more deeply into Angolan Art and Architecture, focusing primarily on Chokwe influences.


Cultura e Costumes de Angola: 1ª Parte – Uma Introdução

África é enorme. Sendo o segundo maior continente, é quatro vezes o tamanho dos Estados Unidos (excluindo) o Alasca. Angola, por sua vez, também é grande, sendo a sétimo maior pais em África. Com cerca de duas vezes o tamanho do estado do Texas, tem uma expansão de mais que 481,354 milhas quadradas, espalhadas por planícies costeiras, colinas e montanhas e, o grande planalto. Angola é o lar de cerca de 100 etno – linguísticos grupos. Os mais proeminentes destes grupos são os Ovimbundu, os Mbundu, Bakongo, o Nganguela (Ganguela), e os Lunda-Côkwe. De um caldeirão tao grande, e de tantas influências, é natural esperar muita diversidade na cultura. Angola não decepcioná!

Venha comigo enquanto partilho a minha “guia não-oficial” da Cultura e Costumes de Angola. Em cada secção vou lidar com um aspecto distinto da Cultura de Angola: Arte, Literatura, Cozinha, Religião, Costumes e Música.

Para começar uma exploração da Cultura e os Costumes de Angola não necessitamos ir mais longe do que Luanda, a maior cidade, e principal centro social e cultural, de Angola.

A dança sensual, Semba, nasceu aqui. Semba derivou o seu nome de “Masemba”, que significa “um toque das barrigas”, um movimento que caracteriza este tipo de dança. Música Semba consegue transmitir um amplo espectro de emoções e, portanto, está presente numa grande variedade de acontecimentos sociais angolanos.

No final dos anos 80 os produtores começaram a misturar a música de carnaval tradicional como zouk e soca do Caribe, e semba em torno de uma batida rápida, produzindo o estilo “Kuduro“. Um exemplo muito popular deste estilo de música é o popular vídeo de música “Danza Kuduro“, (de Lucenzo e Don Omar), disponível no YouTube. Este já tem mais de 300 milhões de visualizações! Talvez também já viu?

A importância cultural de Luanda não se resume á com a música. Tem muito, muito mais para oferecer! Os visitantes podem ver impressionantes coleções de arte africana, especialmente as máscaras e esculturas Côkwe. Para mim, as máscaras Côkwe são particularmente interessantes. Elas simbolizam várias crenças ancestrais e foram usados durante os ritos de passagem circuncisões, fertilidade e os ritos da puberdade. A Arte Côkwe é muito apreciada em muitos países ocidentais. É frequentemente encontrada em exposição nos museus, e galerias de arte, mais importantes da Europa, Estados Unidos e Japão. Em Luanda tais peças podem ser vistos na Galeria Humbi-Humbi e no Museu Nacional de Antropologia.

Outras galerias da cidade são a Galeria Cenarius; o Espelho da Moda, e a Galeria SOSO-Arte Contemporânea. Existindo desde a era colonial, o Museu do Dundo, na província da Lunda do Norte, abriga uma das melhores colecções de Arte Chokwe do mundo. Mais museus contemporâneos localizados em Luanda incluem o Museu de Angola, o Centro Cultural Português, o Museu Nacional de História Natural, e o Museu Militar (alojado num histórico fortaleza). Outro museu popular, que não trata especificamente da arte, é o Museu da Escravatura. Este museu está supostamente localizada no local onde eram mantidos cativos os africanos antes de serem enviados para Novo Mundo! O museu preserva a infeliz história do tráfico atlântico de escravos na costa angolana.

Em Janeiro de 2005, o Ministro da Cultura, Boaventura Cardoso, pediu atenção especial para a restauração dos monumentos e locais históricos de Angola. Isso irá garantir que a cultura e costumes de Angola, não vão ser esquecidos.

Na 2ª Parte vou mergulhar mais profundamente na Arte e Arquitetura Angolana, focando principalmente a influências Côkwe. Posso contar consigo?