Nyasha Laing

Spirit Nation: Revitalizing Kumina Expressions


Kumina is a spiritual practice that originated among Kikongo-speaking Central African contract laborers. It was brought to Jamaica in a post-emancipation period marked by the evolution of competing spiritual worldviews. For the Africans and their descendants, family lineage served as the primary access point to their cultural inheritance. Given the role of familial lineage in the transmission of ancestral knowledge among kumina followers, the practice has been vulnerable to language loss, cultural diffusion and taboos. Moreover the influence of kumina “queens” like the late Imogene Kennedy — known for popular bands and healing gifts — is waning. Yet despite decades of loss, contemporary interpretations of kumina continue to engage with notions of ancestral recognition and possession. They have evolved creative reimaginings of ritual (like dancing with a glass of water reverently and playfully balanced upon the head) and embraced expressions of kumina even outside of its customary contexts. Navigating ancestral presence, participants as well as artists build embodied resilience through heightened perception, rhythmic hypnosis, ecstatic release, the appropriation of religious song and ultimately spirit possession.  Thus across the contemporary cultural contexts in which it is performed, kumina has maintained an important spiritual function that holds great potential for community regeneration and nation building.  (See Dianne Stewart 2021; Maureen Warner-Lewis 1977; Monica Schuler 1980; Kenneth Bilby and Fu-Kiau 1983.)


Nyasha Laing is a documentarian, writer and lawyer focused on the stories of leaders, cultures, and global communities. Her independent storytelling has been featured in and on international festivals, broadcasts and digital publications. She has served as an impact producer for award-winning PBS films including All Kinfolk Ain’t Skinfolk (2018) and Belly of the Beast (2020) as well as campaigner and consultant to non-governmental and inter-governmental institutions in the U.S., Caribbean and Africa. Nyasha is a graduate of Yale University and New York University School of Law. 


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