There I was in the middle of a very hot Kumina session in Saint Thomas Jamaica. The night was hot, very hot. It had not began that way, before the Kumina started the day was cool, and I (who do not like the heat) enjoyed the cool breeze while sitting in the yard, under a huge Almond tree earlier that evening watching the men and women preparing for the Kumina to be played that night.
The Kumina had began around ten, perhaps, I really do not remember the time, this was more than ten years ago, but the drumming began and the yard began filling up with people coming to enjoy tonight’s Kumina, read here. The Kumina being held was a celebration of sorts for the person who was keeping it. He was a master drummer and known Obeah man in the area, his name was Crawford. A fellow who seemed to be approaching his forties, a very dark man in complexion with a few missing front teeth. I was visiting Jamaica and before I left he wanted me to see how he did HIS Kumina, haviing realized that I was a knowledgeable person in the art of Spirituality, Metaphysics, Tradition and more.
Jamaican Culture as with most cultures is sweet, dear and intriguing to me, especially when it comes to spirituality and how it is celebrated, the history, the authenticity of it, how it being taught or handed down. It is the Anthropologist within me, for that I am.
The etymology of the term Myal have long been speculated by scholars, along with Obeah and Kumina, some arguing from where the term derived, what language or region out of Africa did it come from. This I will deal with another time, in another post as it is important I think, that we know our history and who we really are, Africans within the diaspora. What is known however is that Kumina, the practice is from Central Africa and even to this day many of the practitioners who can be found in the Eastern part of Jamaica, mainly Saint Thomas speaks the Kikongo language, and in a real Kumina session, the Kumina is opened up with Songs sung in the Kikongo language, of the Congolese people of Central Africa who mostly came into Jamaica as indentured servants. More on this at another time.
On this night,Crawford who was on the Playing Cast drum (This drum weaves all sorts of complicated rhythms which serves to invoke and dispel spirits), I provided a link in the second paragraph of this post which will explain the instruments used in Kumina in detail, Bello was on the Kbandu drum (this drum is steady in its rhythm and is lower pitched), Putus was the scatter stick man (Cattah tick in our Jamaica Patois language), these three usually make up the players in Kumina, but on this night, we had Gully man playing the bottle (yes the bottle or backle as we say in Jamaica) which was just a plain old bottle being hit rhythmically with a stick, and also One Son and Son-Son who were both playing the greater, yes the greater, This is a greater which a knife or a dull object is used to scrape on in tune to the Drums and singing,also Bang Gut playing the Shakas, or shake shake as we call it in Jamaica. .
Together they all made a wonderful melodious, electrifying, magnetic sound, which seemed to ignite something locked deep down in all attendees, unleashing it and making us all come alive. The hypnotic sounds of the drums, coupled with the starry night, and the moon trying to peep through the trees curious of our sessions, but lending its lights which added to the energy filled air, all seemed to seduce us, as we sing and dance, gyrating our hips to the drums, the drums the passion filled drums!
While I was there that night, I was transformed back to a time when my ancestors, known then as slaves or servants, after a hard day of labor, would gather together and play Kumina, in reverence of their ancestors, honoring them, venerating them, appeasing them. Within these Kunima sessions, the ancestors, our African elders, though without a body,but still very much alive in the realm of spirit and never far from us, would come to the Kumina and would make their presence known through the act, the ritual dance, a state of deep possession called Myal.
Imagine if you will, a grate wind blowing as you are walking home, perhaps from the grocery store. The wind as you head back home, is not as harsh, It blows and then stop, building up to wherever it will go, but you realize from the whooping sounds it makes that it will get stronger, harsher and so you hurry to reach home. As you walk briskly, the wind picks up, there is no rain, just the warm wind with her whooping sound. Something inside of you fear that the wind may blow you away, and fear wants to accompany you on your brisk walk, but you reject its company. The wind has now developed into a whirlwind and suddenly you are caught up within it, you are carted away, and encased within its emptiness, not knowing if you will survive it, but somehow you are not afraid, you are told by your mind to relax, all this will come to an end soon, and so you try, while sending up a silent prayer.
The wind has you in its grips, but you notice while there that you can see the world and all things within, it has taken you high above the trees, almost close to the sky. You feel detached from your physical body, and what is happening to you seems so surreal, is this a dream, you ask your self, you wonder for a brief moment of you have died. The whooping sound of the wind which has carried you off, begins to sound like language, and you realize that it is speaking to you. It tells you of things to come, and about people you know, it warns of events of the world and also show you how you can help and heal. This seems to go on forever, and you no longer care about that is happening to you, this experience is astounding and you yearn to hear more from this mysterious wind who can talk. Then you find your self on the ground, and the wind had gone, all is still, people are milling around you, trying to make sure that you are ok, and you are. This what you have just experienced is exactly the feeling you get when Myal walks in. What is Myal?
Myal occurs mainly or perhaps always in a Kumina setting or an intense drumming setting where the ancestors are invoked with drumming and song. Myal is catching the spirit, not the holy Ghost and speaking the universal holy ghost tongue, but really catching the spirit in that you are transformed in looks, behavior and abilities. Myal when it occurs, sends the person into another world, the spirit world. The person who catches Myal can then do miraculous things. They can walk on fire, climb a coconut tress like walking up a stairs, while on the tree they can walk on the limb of the tree without it breaking or them falling, no matter how weak the limb is. They can see all your inner problems and what is to come, and they, while in this state can warn of dangers and remove them, or even heal what is deemed incurable. Myal is a state of power, a power which comes when the great mysterious ancestors are invoked, they manifest as energy which moves from place to place, persons to persons. They will only come at a certain hour and during the heated frenzy of the sessions, and if they have been appeased well before the drumming sessions began. Items of their desire must be present, and this must happen out doors under open skies, in nature.
The spirits who posses attendees are old healers and diviners, herbalist, spiritual doctors while they lived on earth. They are ancestors from Africa and other places, who are willing to help human beings in their daily lives and problems. With them there are good and some bad, Malevolent and Benevolent, this is why when Kumina is held for wakes, burial or for celebrations, the person in charge of the preparing the celebration must be knowledgeable. Having knowledge of what must be there when the spirits come in, doing the proper sacrifices before the celebration begins and making sure that it is accepted. White Rum must be present, preferably of the moon shine quality Jamaicans call “Dranco Batty”, White sheets must also be there, I will explain why later on, and the ground must be prepared spiritually to house the spirits when they come and also to protect attendees who have no knowledge of the whole affair, and who may be affected by the strong presence and influence of the spirits who will be attending in the night.
The drums must be fed, and prayers must be held, these are rituals which has to be done before the sessions begins. They are done by the people involved in the preparation of the celebration, attendees must not be privy to these rituals. While food is cooked for everyone, a special food is prepared separately with no salt added for the spirits (Jamaicans does this, but I do not agree with the omission if salf and I have my reasons why), this will be placed on the ground (some people place it on the table, this is not correct, it must be on the ground) and the white sheet mentioned up top placed over it. Beside the food will be Bottles of white rum and beer, and also glasses filled with said rum. Before this is placed on the ground the knowledgeable person in charge will have prepared the ground, the real knowledgeable ones will place medicine in a hole beneath the prepared food which will lay on top, and then when it is covered, they will spew rum from their mouth onto the ground before placing the prepared food is put down. It is preferable for an older woman who has gone through menopause a one who is not sexually active to do this, or a straight man (de gully dem love these things, and dem very talented, mi cyaan lie). When this is set in a place, not to be disturbed, and covered, some knowledgeable persons will circle the place with candles outside of the bottles, (what is to be used however is bottle torches or what we call lamps made from clay or old time lanterns, the colors of the candles should always be white, as this sets a message to who, which non-physical will be invited. If colored candles are used, then it can bring an assortment of non-physicals, some not so easy to manage when the Kumina gets hot and the energy (power) begins to flow, jumping from one person to another, and so the competent person should be able to manage if he or she chooses to use any color other than white candles.
The hours are key within these sessions, and after 12 midnight, things will begin to get serious, because the hour has brought about a change of shift like when workers change shifts on the job, but these hours are not to be played with and yet they bring about some of the most revealing messages and messengers (non-physicals), this is when Kumina get sweet! Three am is the hour which people needs to be careful and if the person in charge is wise, they will close the gate (spiritual gate) and end the Kumina by 1 am.
So there I am (as the post started out) standing there with many people who were all dancing, wining, almost even twerking (which by the way came from Africa and made it way to Jamaica, and into our go-go clubs and dance hall floors and even in to the bedrooms of some of the wickedest slams, although we Jamaicans did not call it twerk, we ah bubble or wine, now Miley Flat bum as in bottom, Cyrus is famous for it, minus the tongue action for us Jamaicans however), these modern days Kumina ah tell you.
The drums are beating a steady “du dum, du dum, du dum, du dum, du dum, du dum (close your eyes and sound this in a steady rhythm, not listening or hearing to anything else, but the sound of your voice quietly and steadily sounding this, like an hypnotic beat, which can send you into a deep trance, like the tick tock of an hypnotist time piece swing from its looming chain) this being the Kbandu drum. While the playing cast, beats out a story, a colorful tale, giving all kinds of sounds, switching octaves yet still in sync with the Kbandu, sending out its many different frequencies, while cattah tick man is hunched down behind the Kbandu, rhythmically knocking two sticks against the Kbandu drum, catta tick, catta tick, catta tick, catta tick, say it slow and steady. My favorite is catta tick (scatter stick) man.While One Son and Son Son integrate their greater (an actual geater, the ones we use to grate coconut and carrots) rhythm into the mix, and gully man blows his whistle sweetly into his bottle (backle).
Crawford catch spirit while drumming and singing, he runs off the drums and another man named No Teeth takes his place in playing the cast drum. Crawford runs around and dances with participants, while greeting the elders in attendance, I was standing beside a young man who asked me in that moment to tell him what was going on, the place was hot, the drummers sweating and it was very obvious that the spirits had arrived. I took a look at my watch which thankfully had a light and saw that it was 1 am, a dangerous hour (meaning that the dead, are arriving in droves, but the danger lies within the fact that both good and bad are coming, the elders who are knowledgeable must be able to now sieve out who is to stay and who to turn away, it is important also to know that it is very dangerous to leave a Kumina session before it is over) , this maybe the reason why Crawford got into such a frenzy and running around the place like a chicken with its head cut off. As I responded to the young guy, telling him that it was one o’clock and that the spirits of a different kind just walked in, Crawford ran right into me and spun me around and left, running to his next person.
I immediately felt hands around my waist and I heard Crawford voice shout hold her, do not let her fall! The young man and others all held onto me, while strong hands belonging to non-physicals because there was no one behind me, were clasped around my waist pulling me down. I was in spirit,I was dancing one leg, while trying to steady myself, and come out of it, but the hands were trying to fall me, while the young men tried to release me from their grips. All of a sudden I was steady on my feet, and back to myself. I had to sit down as my feet were hurting and slightly swollen.
Many people when Myal occurs, they are deeply possessed to the point where some tek grung (fall to the ground), when this happens when they get up or are released they may get up with messages for people or for themselves. Some will be able to be released right away while others when they tek grung, they may stay there (a sort of initiation, but they are chosen by spirits and taught by them) for seven days or longer. This is similar to what spiritual baptist people call mourning. I will tell their story one day. When the ones who have tek grung gets up most often if they just an ordinary person before, now they have raised with a gift, a spiritual gift. It may be of healing, or divining among other things. We will only pray God that they drop on a “Good” grung, and that they are not “soiled” when they are released, do not ask me to explain this, an to avoid you asking, I will walk away singing “Sammy plant piece ah cawn dung ah Gully!
How wonder is African Spirituality, which is our legacy! A few drums, some liquor (spirits) song and dance can invoke our ancestors to come and play, dance, communicate, heal and teach us. All the way from Africa and through the trauma of the African holocaust, Slavery, our ancestors are with us always. Africa, our true mother has never left us, and the drum which is like the umbilical cord or the navel string, is our source of Attachment, our call and our voice to the womb of our mother, Africa. We are truly special people, and when we look at ourselves and how special God has blessed us, it is easy to see why the other races despises us so much, it out of fear!
This is to be a lengthy post and so there will be a Part 1 which is this one, and a part 2 and perhaps a part 3.
A stammerer would eventually say father. Yoruba Proverb
All religion are valid as long as it teaches peace and love…. Obara Meji!
There are no disappointments in life, only lessons learned!….Obara Meji