The Kongo Rule: The Palo Monte Mayombe Wisdom Society Public Deposited

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  • June 3, 2022
  • Fhunsu, Donato
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This dissertation is a critical analysis and annotated translation, from Spanish into English, of the book Reglas de Congo: Palo Monte Mayombe, by the Cuban anthropologist, artist, and writer Lydia Cabrera (1899-1991). Cabrera’s text is a hybrid ethnographic book of religion, slave narratives (oral history), and folklore (songs, poetry) that she devoted to a group of Afro-Cubans known as “los Congos de Cuba,” descendants of the Africans who were brought to the Caribbean island of Cuba during the trans-Atlantic Ocean African slave trade from the former Kongo Kingdom, which occupied the present-day southwestern part of Congo-Kinshasa, Congo-Brazzaville, Cabinda, and northern Angola. The Kongo Kingdom had formal contact with Christianity through the Kingdom of Portugal as early as the 1490s. These Africans brought with them to Cuba their religious beliefs and practices; their healing, harming, and fate-structuring and restructuring arts (kinganga); their language (Kikongo); and their storytelling practices (myths, fables, narratives, songs, poetry) which, in the process of coping with their new condition and environment in the Americas, became the knot of material intimacies of “people from all four quarters of the globe” who labored in this new space to produce commodities for European consumption. In Cuba, they blended their African traditions with the traditions of the native peoples of the island, of the Asians, and the Spanish and Christian Catholic tradition of the slave masters to produce a distinct, creole inspiration, language, and storytelling mode. Cabrera was inspired to do this work while studying art at the École du Louvre in Paris in the 1930s, after meeting the Négritude poets (Césaire, Senghor, and Damas), whose works she translated from French into Spanish. The dissertation shows that Reglas de Congo creates what the Congolese philosopher Valentin Mudimbe calls “espace metissé,” a new, creole, hybrid, “translated” space that challenges the colonial assumptions of African and “black” personhood and articulates a religious-artistic, ontological, and epistemological dimension of personhood that, inserting itself on its own terms in this new cosmology, has come to be called “Kongo-inspired” and has led to a reconfiguration of the national project—what it means to be human and Cuban.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Ochoa, Todd
  • Brodey, Inger
  • Shields, Tanya
  • Collins, Marsha Suzan
  • Levine, Madeline G.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

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