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Kumina: An Indigenous Religious Form

Kumina is an Afro-Jamaican religious belief system and practice. The movement took form particularly in the 1850s with the influx of African indentured immigrants from the Congo region of Central Africa during the immediate post-emancipation period. Kumina evolved strongest in St. Thomas where it is said that a large percentage of the immigrants settled. However over the years and through migration the practice has spread to areas in Kingston, St. Catherine, St. Mary and Portland.

The most significant aspect of Kumina involves the ceremony, which invokes communication with ancestral spirits and incorporates singing, dancing, music and sacrificial offerings. The music is created by the use of the drums - the Kbandu and the Playing Cast, which are played astride and accompanied by shakas, graters and catta sticks. The music accompanies singing, which holds different degrees of significance for Kumina ceremonies. Bailo are songs in Jamaican creole it is the less sacred, aspects of Kumina ceremonies, while Country involves the use of the Ki-kongo language and for communicating with the spirits to give them support to take over the bodies of devotees. Dancing completes the ritual and involves movement with an erect back posture in a circular pattern anti-clockwise, around the drummers, gyrating hips as the feet inch along the ground.

The combination of singing, dancing and music often create an environment conducive to spiritual possession, a significant phenomenon in Kumina, known as Mayal. This is when the spirit of the Gods, sky, earth-bound and ancestral spirits takes control of the dancer’s body causing them to become an instrument through which the spirit world communicates with the earthly domain. In this state the dancer looses control of his/her own speech and movement and can appear to be in a trance.

A Kumina table is another important part of the Kumina ceremony and consists of a number of items used to satisfy and honour the spirits. Water, sugared water, wine, rice, rum, flowers, fruits, cake, bread candles, bottles of aerated drink are often present. Candles of various colours such as blue, white, green, red, black are used to symbolize different occasions and to invite spirits in personal and mutual circumstances. During ceremonies when interaction with the spirit takes place, animal sacrifices are usually made.

Kumina ceremonies are held for different reasons - surrounding the death of a person, tombing, weddings, and anniversaries, to drive out evil spirits from those possessed, to ask for advice in important matters, for healing and to free individuals from evil spells. Ceremonies can also be held for persons who seek help in problems and need guidance. In most cases a table is raised and a feast is prepared to provide food and treats for the spirit and for the people attending the ceremony.

Barrett, Leonard E. The sun and the drum: African roots in Jamaica
Folk Tradition. Kingston: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd.,

Lewin, Olive. Rock it come over, the folk music of Jamaica: with
Special reference to Kumina and the work of Mrs. Imogene
“Queenie” Kennedy. Kingston: University of the West Indies
Press 2000.

Ryman, Cheryl. Kumina: stability and change Kingston: ACIJ
Research Review No. 1 (1984): 81-125.

Schuler, Monica. “Alas, alas, Kongo”: A social history of indentured
African Immigration into Jamaica, 1841-1865. Baltimore: The
Johns Hopkins University Press 1980.


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