Federica Toldo

The Diacritical Role of Music and Dance within an Angolan Ritual Healing System


Xinguilamento is an Angolan  ritual  practice  based  on  the  acquisition and  transmission  of ilundu (plural  of kalundu)  spirits. Ilundu manifest themselves through symptoms similar to those of madness. The ritual therapy is enacted through a family reunion whose aim is to induce possession. Through this therapy, what previously manifested itself as a pathologic representation of ancestry reveals its true nature, typically one or more formerly human spirits from those who have passed on. Once revealed, the ilundu have divinatory and therapeutic functions that their mediums can employ for their families or for customers outside of their family. In Luanda, this same function is also accomplished by other possessional agents:  the so-called “santos” (saints), as they  are  referred  to  in  Portuguese,  the  colonial  language  of  Angola.  While ilundu come from Angolan regions of Africa the saints are Europeans. While ilundu spirits wear red clothing, eat African food and speak the local African language, the saints dress in white, eat European food and express themselves in a European language. In this presentation, based on a 13-month-long ethnographic research conducted in Luanda (the capital of Angola),I  focus on the diacritic role of music and dance within this possessional system. The fact that ilundu rituality is accompanied by percussion –which is not the case in the saints’ rituals–justifies the  use of  different  words  to respectively distinguished ilundu and  saint manifestation. As a consequence, xinguilamento, the term which is used to designate ilundu manifestation, also comes to represent ludic, simulate, and heritigized possession.


Federica Toldo earned her joint Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at the University of Lisbon and the University of Paris Nanterre. Her thesis focuses on the relational fabrics that emerge from three dances practiced on the Island of Luanda, the carnival dance, the circle dance called rebita, and the xinguilamento dance practiced during the ritual offerings to the mermaid. In 2018, Toldo started a new ethnographic research on xinguilamento ritual and therapeutic practice. Some results are presented in two papers “Transmission and Reciprocity in Funerary Xinguilamento” (Lesedi, 2019) and “De la tradition et son abandon. Acquerir, transmitter et remettre les esprits ancestraux ilundu (Luanda, Angola)” (Lusotopie, September 2021).


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