Sensing Presence: Kumina and the Embodiment of Ancestral Wisdom
For the many who trod Rastafari as a Livity or as a lifeway and consciousness, the greatest affliction facing exiled Africans or those Afro-Saxons who inhabit the physical space of Babylon or the West is their alienation from their true divine selves. A self that stands firmly in counter-distinction to a persistent coloniality that shapes the quotidian experience of living in the contemporary Caribbean and broader African diaspora. For Rastafari, living from the Spirit is an ontological path that defies the ideological containment of European scientific rationality and the politicized ideology of language, power, and control. With the advent of enslavement in the Anglophone Caribbean, the Spirit-centred belief systems from Africa underwent significant challenges as Africans confronted the hierarchical monotheistic tradition of Imperial /European Christianity. In the absence of a pantheon of Gods and having a consistent space and community to observe and pay reverence to ancestral kin, new systems of thought and rituals of remembrance emerged building on the Abrahamic-Judeo-Christian sacred lineages to form new hybrid traditions. The radical philosophical social movement and sacred practice of Rastafari necessitated a reinterpretation of not only the God-head and Divine Universe but the “Word” itself. Words that in one context were used to oppress were thus reconfigured to challenge downpression and by extension assert a liberatory ethos. In this paper I examine how the voice and specifically the word sound became spiritually inscribed to mobilize and connect with the spiritual world and the divinity within. I engage this question of word sound as a specific type of spiritual labor that is not solely embedded in the inversion or creation of new words but also through sounds and the power it emits. I argue that this becomes most evident through a variety of performative means such as the song/chants in reggae music and the drum rhythms of nyabinghi ceremonial groundations.
Yanique Hume is an interdisciplinary scholar, priestess, dancer, and choreographer who specializes in the religious and performance cultures of the Caribbean and the broader African diaspora. She is head of the department of cultural studies at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus. Dr. Hume is the co-editor of Caribbean Cultural Thought: From Plantation to Diaspora (2013); Caribbean Popular Culture: Power, Politics, and Performance (2016); and Passages and Afterworlds: Anthropological Perspectives on Death in the Caribbean (2018). She has also conducted substantial research on the festive and sacred arts of the African diaspora. As a dancer and choreographer, Dr. Hume has worked with companies in her native Jamaica as well as Cuba, Haiti, and Brazil. She is the recipient of grants from the Social Science Research Council, the International Development Research Centre, Ford Foundation, and the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.