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<b2>Combat and the Crossing of the Kalunga</b2>

<br> by T.J Desch Obi <br><br>


This paper investigates the unexplored Central African controbution to new world culture in terms of martial arts and the spiritual underpinnings of ritual practise. there is a growing body of literature on the martial art of capoeira Angola(much more than a martial art)in Brazil , but being written in isolation from the wider world of capoeira's cognate and reflective forms in the atlantic world , none has delt with capoeira Angola's african background beyond speculation. ion contrast, this current discussion will root itself in the combative and philosophical traditions of Central African and then look onward to Martinique , north america , and Brazil. this broad perspective is important for highlighting the fact that this arts were thriving even in places such as Virginia and Martinique where Central Africans did not constitute the dominant pluralities of the enslaved african population. in this light these martial arts are properly viewed not as riesidual by-products of the demographic cluctering of central Africans , nor as retentions or memories doomed to fade, but rather as living traditions that spread from enslaved central Africans to other Africans and their desendants and eventually to people of european descent. durring the dynamic spread of this martial art inthe americas the cetral fighting system of the tradition remained remarkably constantin most areas while the practise rituals of the system where influenced by by the dynamic religious practices they interacted with in the ninteenth and twwentieth centuries. yet even these combative practice rituals in the america's could not be fully understood apart from the underlying Central African cosmology that linked human combat to the interplay of spiritual forces from across the kalunga or the threshold between the landsof the living and the dead.

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contin: John Thorton spoke of the religious and ceromonial life illusrated the existance of dissenting religious beliefs in central Africa. in this regard the central African religious tradition is no different than the judeo-christian tradition with its myriad of diffussing groups and theologies all emanating from an inherited group of theological concepts. in central africa, one of these common inherited paradigms revolved around the concept of kalunga. this term was used throughout the central African region to mean the sea , rivers , the world of the ancestors and god. these various meanings for kalunga were reconciled by the common cosmology represented in the Kongolese cosmograms that symbolized the nature of the cosmos in miniature. there were numerous varieties of the Kongo cosmograms, but of particular interest are those involving counterclockwise circles and crosses. Fu Kiau Bunseki explains these cosmograms represented the nature of the universe which the Kongolese unerstood as parallelingthe counterclockwise movement of the sun. within the counterclockwise movement a cross could drawn or implied. the

horizontal line of this cross referted to as the kalunga was linked with the rivers or the sea which was believed to form a line between this world and the next. the point coresponding with cardnal east was linked with cocecption , whereas cardnal north represented maleness , noon , and on's peak of physical strength. from there to the cardnal west represented a phase of decline reaching death at the kalunga line. this death for the Kongolese people just a passage through the kaluga to the spirit world ,an inverted world of white clay. regeneration in the spirit world contiued to the southern point corresponding to midnight, femaleness , south ,the highest point of a persons other worldly strength. acording to Robert Farris Thompson, for the good and heroically strong Kongo person completing the cosmic circle by returning to the cardinal east point represented eternal life: The Kongo yowa cross dose not signify the crucifixion of jesus for the salvation of mankind; it signifies the equally compelling vision of the circular motion of human souls about the circumference of the intersecting lines ..... the four disks at the points of the cross stand for the four moments of the sun, and the cicumference of the cross the certainty of reincarnation: especially the righteous Kongo person will never be destroyed but will come back in the name or body of progeny.

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continued: While some ancestors might be reborn into the land of the living all had the power to affect events in the land of the living . thus Kongo cosmograms were more than mere symbols; they could also be ritually activated to mediate power between the spiritual world of the ancestors and the world of the living. However , it was not only trough cosmograms that the central Africans believed that they could cross the kalunga to gain access to spiritual power. a number of agents could bring the spiritual power from beyond the kalunga to bear on the world of the living. the three major players in the universe were the chief, the witch, and the ritual expert, and among some central African groups the prophet/diviner was distinguished as the fourth group. the chief were believed to access power from across the kalunga by means of their lineage ancestors, who interceded on behalf of the entire community. a chief's associationwith lineage ancestors linked with him to the power of death, and he was expected to use his power to kill antisocial elements and witchs.on their part witchs drew on the powers of the dead(through "ghosts" or nzumbi among the Kongolese) but for their own selfish ends and at the cost of the rest of society. finnally, between these two stood the ritual experts, called nganga or kimbanda drew on the ancestral power to divine and/or resolve the physical or spiritual problems of the client. the Kongolese divided this last office into nganga (ritual experts) who create sacred medicine figures called minkisi to protect their clients from harm or to hurt there enemies , and ngunza (prophets/diviners). the ngunza or prophet drew on the healing power of bisimbi spirits to heal individuals and society of witchcraft. as a result of these various spiritual intermedeiaries, there was a constant antagonism between those individuals that used the power from across the kalunga for good, which for central african peoples ment for the good of the community , and those who used the power for the selfish desires of an individual , which was considered evil. this understanding of spiritual antagonism was reflected in the the KiKongo term for ritual mvita whichliterally ment war.

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continued: Just asthis central African ritual system was conceptualized in terms of warfare between these opposing forces, so too was human combat considered inseparable from the interplay of these religious forces. for central African warriors, a war's out come was ultimately determined on the spiritual level . this belief ran so deep among west central Africans that once two armies engaged, it was not uncommon for the losers of the initial melee to flee as it was considered futile to resist since the outcome of the battle which had already been determined on the spiritual plane across the kalunga - was evident inthe first clash. for Kongolese this often took the form of harnessing ancestral power through spcial war charms. Miller notes that warfare preparation for the seventeethcentury Mbundu primarily consisted of intense rituals to draw on evermore powerful forces from across the kalunga to secure a victory. thus for days and weeks before a battle, the Mbundu conducted rituals which, they believed, could determine which army would prevail, arming themselves with the best magical charms available, waitingfor omens to indicate the most propitious momentto attack and cementing their good relations with spiritual forces which couldturnthe actual battle in their favor. suchprepartions were not a simple task as there was always a chance that enemies could access forces even more powerful than their own ; thus the importance of ritual war experts.

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continued: This paradigm linking combat and the crossing of the kalunga could also be found as far south as the highlands. in the eighteenth and ninteenth centuries many warrior-kings onthe southern highland plateau would not declare war without first approching their kalunga, the hoiliest place of there palace. this kalunga shiine housed the ritual emblems and relics of their ancestors and thus acted as a bridge to the spirit world. it was believed that all who approached the kalunga apart fromthe king would die fromsuch direct contact with the land of the dead. even the king approached only on special occadions of communnal calamity such as drought or war. on declaration of war the king approached the kalunga to petition the royal ancestors in the other world to battle for his warriors on the spiritual plane. in the kingdomof Ecovongo(Bie)these most sacred relics of the kingdom could only be touched by the highest ritual expert in the land who carried them into battle in a vanguard unit also consisting of a war general beiieved to embody the soirits of human sacrifices, and the generals hand crack troops. the king and the main army remained at a distance and would not engage in combat if his crak troops broke. thus it was essential for suchelite warriors to be well prepared ritually and militarily. although not a ubiquitous practice in central Africa, many warriors fromthe interior of the loango coast to the highlands were both physically and spiritually prepared for the battle through a martial art that was linked to the comological paradigm of crossing the kalunga . as a combat system, the art of N'golo and its cogates utilized kicks and powerful headbutts for attack and acrobatic evasions for defense. these attributes were developed in a number of training exercises one of which was the ritual practice with a partner inside a circle of singers who were at the same time potential combatants. individual singers/fighters took turns leading call and response song in which all those present answered back with the chorus. once the music

reached its crescendo a pair of fighters would enter the circle, dancing and swaying to the music as they squared off. one adept would launch an attack normally consisting of a circular sweep or kick, often with the hands supporting the body weight. the defender either crouched low to the ground to duck under the kick, or blended with the attack in such a way that he could respond with a smooth counterattack. the two conued in a cycle of attacks, defenses and counterattacks in a flow that allowed them to diplay their technique, trickery, and finesse. the encounter ended when one or both of the two felt that their engagment had come to completion. the two then rejoined the circle to allow another pair to enter the circle.

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continued: This riual circle, or elola, was designed to bring the practitioner into the spiritual world through circling or physically enacting the counterclockwise comograms to draw on spiritual power. this involved counterclockwise movement arround the elola. such enactments of cosmograms were believed to give the fighter spiritual powerfor combat. the techniques of the combative system itself reflected the kalunga paradigm, with fighters predominantly using their feet to fight, often supporting their weight on their hands and kicking while upside down. in this way they ritually mirrored the ancestors as the other world across the kalunga was believed to be an inverted one. these kicks from an inverted position were considered among the most powerful techniques in the ngolo arsenal. from an edic perspective, the precarious nature of such an inverted position could not have allowed for the generation of much power incontrast to the power of a kick launched from a normal upright position. however, the power refered to by ngolo exponents was rather the more important spiritual power derived by harmonizing the body with that of the ancestors. somefighters sought even deeper connections to ancestral power through ritual initiations instruction in the martial art and its most important festivals were linked to male and female rites of passage. beyond this community initiation, full mastery of the art was relegated to those whohad been further initiated into the art as a sacred profession. this ritual process involved having a cross drawn on their heads in white powder, the color of crossing the kalunga. after completing the ritual, these fighters could tap directly into the superhuman combat abilities of ancestral ngolo fighters.

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