Ngoma za madilu

Biaya, T.K. 1997. Sacred Rituals, Dances and Celebrations of the Luba-Kasayi. “Ngoma za madilu, the mourning drums”. In: Dagan, Esther (ed.). The Spirit’s Dance in Afrika. Montreal: Galerie Amrad African Arts Publication.226 -230.

Abstract von: Andrea Wolvers

Ngoma za madilu is a term for sacred rituals, music, dances, songs and celebrations dealing with mourning. Mourning is a religious as well as a social process comprising different phases and rituals that symbolize the cycle of life which is completed by the return voyage to the ancestors. The whole mourning ritual, which supports this return voyage, takes at least two years.

The death of a person is the liberation of the reincarnated soul which is now, together with other components like blood, name, vital principle and shadow leaving the body. This phase which marks the beginning of mourning is called dibwela mulufwila. The next phase including the support for the deceased begins at the fifth day and is called dikwata lufwila. The soul crosses the Ata River on his way to the ancestors, where he is judged by divine spirits. In this phase the family of the deceased wears special blue funeral grab called kanyiki. The end of mourning, dyupula kanyiki consists of two consecutive rituals dealing with the sexual act of liberation. It ends with a sacrifice and a final celebration marking the official return of the widow/-er into ordinary daily life.

There are different death dances performed during the mourning period, including performances by professional artists and by members of the family of the deceased as well. The professional artists begin with their performance which is called maja a bafa. The dancing is accompanied by a drum playing staccato rhythm (ngoma ya bafu). The dancers accomplish different movements illustrating the phases of death. After the professional group, the family members dance and the music and steps change. The family’s dances of rejoicing show different varieties among the three Luba-Kasayi ethnic groups, but they have in common that there is always a group dance followed by an individual one. The group dances are performed in a circle symbolizing the cycle of life and based on an ancient rhythm called cikuna. Belly dance is introduced here, as well as in the individual dance, where one dancer (mostly a woman) moves towards the centre while the group spreads and builds a semi-circle. The single dancer makes movements with hips and abdomen appearing like the mythical snake. The dancer’s movement might follow the drum as well as secondary instruments from time to time. The harmony between the dancer and the music can be described as a dialog between the body of the dancer and the instrument. After having established this dialog, the dancer also imitates scenes of daily life. The dance ends in an ecstasy where the movements of the dancer respond to the sounds of the drum and vice versa.


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