Monday, April 1, 2024

Two Excerpts About The Kongo Cosmogram & Counter-Clockwise Movements (with an image of that cosmogram)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post presents excerpts from a Wikepedia page on the Kongo cosmogram.

This post also includes excerpts from a 1997 Clark Atlanta University thesis by Corey C. Stayton entitled "The Kongo Cosmogram: A Theory In African American Literature".   

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, religious, and educational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Corey C. Stayton for his research and writing and thanks to the publisher of this thesis online. Thanks also to Wikipedia for the excerpt that is quoted in this post and for the image of the Kongo Cosmogram that is included in this post.
This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series on African cosmology, and particularly Bakongo cosmology and counterclockwise movement in African Diaspora cultures, especially African Diaspora dance.

Click for a 2013 pancocojams post entitled "African American Ring Shouts (Origins & Video Examples)".

That post includes information about the Kongo Cosmogram, information & videos of about ring shouts. 

Click the "counter-clockwise dance traditions" tag below for more pancocojams posts in this series.

"The Kongo cosmogram (also called yowa or dikenga cross, Kikongo: dikenga dia Kongo or tendwa kia nza-n' Kongo) is a core symbol in Bakongo religion that depicts the physical world (Ku Nseke), the spiritual world (Ku Mpémba), the Kalûnga line that runs between the two worlds, the sacred river that forms a circle through the two worlds, the four moments of the sun, and the four elements.[1][2][3]


Ethnohistorical sources and material culture demonstrate that the Kongo cosmogram existed as a long-standing symbolic tradition within the BaKongo culture before European contact in 1482, and that it continued in use in Central Africa through the early twentieth century.[1] In its fullest embellishment, this symbol served as an emblematic representation of the Kongo people and summarized a broad array of ideas and metaphoric messages that comprised their sense of identity within the cosmos.[4]

The Kongo cosmogram was introduced in the Americas by enslaved Bakongo people in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.[5] Archaeological findings in the United States show evidence that the symbol was honored by Black Americans, who drew the Kongo cosmogram on the walls of church basements, as well as engraved it in pottery.[6]"...

From... Downloads/OBJ%20Datastream.pdf




© 1997 COREY C. STAYTON All Rights Reserved 


The Kongo civilization of Central Africa exemplifies a society rich in history, traditions, and culture. Its people, known as the Bakongo people, take great pride in their history and homeland. The Bakongo people are so unique that scholars have given them special recognition. As Robert Farris Thompson points out in Flash of the Spirit, "Spelling Kongo with a K instead of a C, Africanists distinguish Kongo civilization and the Bakongo people from the colonial entity called the Belgian Congo (now Zaire) and present day People's Republic of Congo Brazzaville".1 As Europeans invaded Africa, the term Kongo broadened to include those African people in and around the Kongo area (Angola, Ghana, etc.), brought from the west coast and Central Africa to the New World. Various aspects of Kongo culture miraculously survived the Middle Passage and surface in America. In the dialect of AfricanAmericans, certain words have their roots in Kongo languages. The word 'funky' which is similar in appearance and meaning to the Kongo word "Lu-fuki", 2 which means to praise persons for the integrity of their art, suggests a relationship between the Bakongo people and African-Americans. The dance of enslaved Africans observed by Vicenti Rossi and reported in Cosas de Negros, also


reveals a connection between Kongo civilization and AfricanAmerican culture: There is something there, in the middle of the circle of black men, something that they alone see, feel, and comprehend ... the voice of native soil, a flag unfurled in harmonic syllables. There is something there, in the middle of the dancing ring of black men and it is the motherland! Fleeting seconds of liberty have evoked it, and, once bought into being it fortifies their broken spirits ... they have, forgetting themselves, relived the Kongo nation in one of its typical expressions ... in sudden homage, with an expanded power of observation they dance around the vision.3 Today, a park in New Orleans, Louisiana, Kongo Square, serves as a reminder of the centered space upon which enslaved Africans were allowed to commune and celebrate life in their own modes of expression.

The Bakongo people tell the story of how a great chief crossed the Great River using magical power and sweeping up the droppings of elephants, and established the first capitol known as Mbanza


Kongo. Mbanza Kongo is located on the top of a hill. This space would prove to be the central point of Kongo society spiritually as well as physically. Mbanza Kongo is viewed as sacred ground, a place where justice and righteousness prevail. The Bakongo people view their capitol as a central point where all the powers of the universe- the living, the dead, the children, and the elders-are present. Mbanza Kongo thus gives a brief depiction of the Bakongo people's perception of the universe. The symbolic representation of Kongo cosmology is called "Tendwa Nza Kongo", 4 and from this point forward it shall be referred to as the "Kongo cosmogram". Considering the notion of centered ness and a balance of the powers of the universe, Bakongo people's view of the universe, referred to as "Kongo cosmology," is crucial to the understanding of Kongo rituals and practices and certain African-American traditions as well. This research will focus on the use of the Kongo cosmogram as an African-American literary theory. The Kongo cosmogram,5 as observed in Bakongo society, provides a unique model of religious and social values which have paved the way for the creation of this theory and the very foundation of many African-American traditions. The reification of the cosmogram upon the earth's surface, through African funeral


processions, ceremonial dance, and many other cultural expressions makes It accessible and able to be examined. The ritualized cosmology of the Bakongo people will serve, so to speak, as DNA of this theory of African-American literature which also yields an in-depth look into the African and African-American cultural perspective of the universe (see Fig. 1.). ....

The embodiment of Bakongo cosmology is a chalked circle on the ground with vertical and horizontal lines intersecting through the middle of the circle and passing through to the circumference of the circle. The fact that Kongo cosmology is represented as a circle is not surprising, considering that one of the earliest symbols used by many Africans was the circle. Africans commune, dance, and 


perform many rituals in a circle. The circle represents the cycle of the sun, the cycle of life.• The horizontal line which stretches from the farthest right point of the circle to the farthest left point symbolizes a wide river or deep forest. This horizontal line divides the circle into two hemispheresthe world of the living and the world of the dead. More specifically, the top half of the circle represents the world of the living and the bottom half represents the world of the dead. The vertical line, which stretches from the circle's highest point to its lowest point, traces the path across the two worlds of the living and the dead. A relationship is established between the above and the below and how they operate together. In Bakongo culture, it Is believed that the dead assist the living. If a couple were having trouble producing offspring, for example, they might ask their ancestors for assistance. The highest point of the circle represents North, the Adult, maleness, noon, or the point of one's strength on earth. Respectively, the lowest point of the circle represents South, femaleness, midnight, the ancestors, or the point of a person's otherworldly or ancestral strength/ The farthest right point represents the child or infant who has just come from the world of


the dead. As the circle is read counter-clockwise, the far left of the circle represents the elders who will soon be going on their journey across the river (horizontal line) to the land of the dead. The Kongo cosmogram represents an abundance of images which are spiritual in nature"...

As Robert Farris Thompson points out in "Four Moments of the Sun": Bodies were sometimes laid out in state in an open yard "on a textile bier," as bare chested mourner danced to the rhythm of the drums, in a broken counter-clockwise circle their feet imprinting a circle on the earth cloth attached to and trailing from the waste deepening the circle. Following the direction of the sun in the Southern Hemisphere, the mourners moved around the body of the deceased in a counter-clockwise direction. If the deceased lived a good life, death, a mere crossing over the threshold into another world was a precondition for being carried back into the mainstream of the living, in the name and body of grandchildren of succeeding generations.8 


The energies of life which are centered by the form of the circle in the cosmogram demonstrate the circular/cyclical nature of life as seen by the Kongo people.9 The cosmogram paradigm regards the forces of life and death as complementary and deserving of celebration. The spirit of the ancestors (the dead) and the spirits of the living are connected, and it is the responsibility of the living to ensure that the dead are given honor, praise, and constant recognition. The world of the living includes those physically living on earth, some of whom have special access to the world of the dead as medicine men and mystics. The two worlds are as mountains mirrored in a pool of water, thus forming one world pointing upward; symbolizing the world of the living and its reflection pointing downward symbolizing the world of the dead ....



Communication between the two worlds is a constant, as they are reciprocals and create the everlasting cycle of the human soul. In fact, ancestors are said to guide, direct, or even disrupt the affairs of the living. As Thompson discusses, children who die at an early age are not given elaborate funerals, fearing that the child's spirit may enjoy the attention and cause the parents to endure a series of infant deaths. Babies are viewed as visitors who have just come from the land of the ancestors and may go back at any time....

The dead possess powers beyond those of the living and can perform extraordinary tasks such as spirit possession and the detection of evil forces such as witches. Children are said to have a certain Stayton 9 clairvoyance because they have just come from the land of the dead and are still attuned to the otherworldly powers of the dead. Elders are also said to regain the powers of the other world as they near physical death. The circular nature of the cosmogram informs the Bakongo man and woman that one day they, too, will become one of the ancestors and their children and children's children will give honor unto them as the ancestors who came into the world and yielded life to them. The intersection of the vertical line and the horizontal line create a cross in the middle of the circle which adds another dimension to the complex reading of the cosmogram. The "crossroads," as Robert Farris Thompson calls it, symbolizes the crossing of paths and is the space where worldly and other-worldly powers converge and are centered. It is the space where life and death, male and female, child and elder are brought together as one powerful force. According to Thompson, the crossroads is a space of both conflict and resolution from which one could experience the world of the living and the land of the dead simultaneously...



The crossroads is that centered space around which the circle revolves. It is the point where the forces of life, death, and God are found. To stand at the crossroads is to invoke the judgment of the ancestors and God. The upright Bakongo soul looks forward to revisiting the land of the living as a grandchild and continuing the cycle of life. In this sense, the crossroads become a very powerful space of validation for the priests and healers. To stand at the crossroads means that one has withstood the wrath and power of God and, depending on the path of one's life, will either be given life through praise and celebration from future generations or given death through future generations not praising and remembering one's life on earth. One value of the cosmogram theory is in its ability to demonstrate the complex and intricate way African mysticism and spiritual realms are constructed and how they have impacted African-American life. Another value of this theory is demonstrating how this force manifests itself specifically in African-American literary works. The Kongo cosmogram evidences the importance of


the community as the mode through which one establishes a relationship with God, the ancestors, and the world of those living. These three entities are crucial to the understanding of the Kongo cosmogram and appear to be the forces which guide Bakongo culture. They are also the foundation of what Bakongo people perceive as community. Likewise, these principles have guided African-American spirituality"...

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