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Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign

Barbaro Martinez-Ruiz

Publication Year: 2013

Written symbols, religious objects, oral traditions, and body language have long been integrated into the Kongo system of graphic writing of the Bakongo people in Central Africa as well as their Cuban descendants. The comprehensive Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign provides a significant overview of the social, religious, and historical contexts in which the Kongo kingdom developed and spread to the Caribbean.

Author Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz, a practitioner of the Palo Monte devotional arts, illustrates with graphics and rock art how the Bakongo’s ideographic and pictographic signs are used to organize daily life, enable interactions between humans and the natural and spiritual worlds, and preserve and transmit cosmological and cosmogonical belief systems.

Exploring cultural diffusion and exchange, collective memory and identity, Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign artfully brings together analyses of the complex interconnections among Kongo traditions of religion, philosophy and visual/gestural communication on both sides of the African Atlantic world.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

No project of this scale is possible without the support of an incredible number of people, including friends, mentors, colleagues, and family. Such support has enabled me to research Kongo graphic expression as a form of communication in Africa and across the Atlantic, and then to bring ...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-13

Kongo Graphic Writing is a study of structured visual expression among the Bakongo people in Central Africa and their descendants in Cuba. The book is built around the central argument that multiple, varied communication tools, including written symbols, religious objects, oral traditions, and body language, have consistently been integrated by the Bakongo into structured ...

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2. The Atlantic Passage: The Spread of Kongo Belief in Africa and to the Americas

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pp. 15-27

The Bakongo people are found today in northern Angola, southern Democratic Republic of the Congo, southern Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo. A subset of broader Bantu culture that today stretches across much of eastern, central, and southern Africa, the Bakongo first settled in Central Africa as a result of larger migrations across the continent. It is generally be-...

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3. The Process of Meaning Making: The Kongo Universe

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pp. 29-45

Complex belief systems are used across cultures to help individuals and communities identify themselves and understand their place in the world. While varied in their substances and outward expression, such systems serve a similar purpose in that they create a narrative through which culture is formed and transmitted to later generations. This narrative engenders a ...

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4. Afro-Atlantic Graphic Writing: Bidimbu, Bisinsu, and Firmas

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pp. 47-147

The term graphic writing systems can be credited to Gerhard Kubik. Building on existing scholarly work on particular writing traditions that facilitated an awareness of graphic expression in Africa,1 Kubik was the first scholar to study and explain in systematic terms graphic writing traditions.2 He argued that graphic writing must be understood as a “visual ...

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5. Beyond the Scripture: Physical Forms of Graphic Writing

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pp. 149-189

Although scholars have traditionally conceptualized graphic writing only in two-dimensional form, Kongo graphic communication is better under-stood as involving a wider range of forms, some two-dimensional, but others multi- or nondimensional. These varied types of communicative devices are bound together in a structured, consistent way in Bakongo culture and ...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 191-192

Intended to encapsulate my work on visual practices in Central Africa and the Kongo diaspora in Cuba, Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign has explored the extensive range of visual communication forms documented across Bakongo and Bakongo-descended communities in Central Africa and Cuba and demonstrated the systematic usage of such ...


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pp. 193-210


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pp. 211-219


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pp. 221-228

E-ISBN-13: 9781439908181
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439908167

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 839438537
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Kongo language -- Writing.
  • Picture-writing -- Africa, Central.
  • Picture-writing -- Cuba.
  • Written communication -- Social aspects -- Africa, Central.
  • Written communication -- Social aspects -- Cuba.
  • Symbolism in communication -- Africa, Central.
  • Symbolism in communication -- Cuba.
  • Kongo (African people) -- History.
  • Kongo (African people) -- Religion.
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