Tracing the history and development of visual traditions in the Kongo religions of Africa and Cuba (where it is known as Palo Monte)
Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign
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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.
Author Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz, an art historian and 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.
"Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign is a work of distinction, detailed and innovative, and one that enriches and deepens the topic immensely. The impact of Yoruba-speaking peoples on the African Diaspora in the Americas had dominated the literature, while the much older and deeper Kongo and Central African influences have been largely ignored. This book is well written and organized and will re-orient the entire field of African Diaspora arts/cultures debate. Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign is an excellent and groundbreaking work. It will be an essential book on the content and impact of Kongo thought on the formation of culture, society, and the arts that have had a profound impact on the shaping of the Black Atlantic world."
"Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign provides an engaging exposition of the logic of signs connecting times and places otherwise divided by centuries and seas. Martínez-Ruiz offers a very unusual insider’s perspective to esoterica, bringing his intimate knowledge of Cuban religion to bear upon his studies among Kongo peoples while applying insights from his work in west-central Africa to reflections upon his own Afro-Cuban heritage. The originality of his research and the compelling nature of the subject matter are matched by the book’s excellent illustrations."
"In-depth description and interpretation of some complex examples nicely illustrate the processes of continuity and transculturation, especially in occult realms of behavior.... Summing Up: Recommended."
"In a focused study of Central African and Cuba, Kongo Graphic Writing and Other Narratives of the Sign succinctly and precisely dismantles several old school paradigms of Africa....The product of not just several years of academic research, but a lifetime of involvement in the Afro-Cuban religion, Palo Monte, [the book] is a rare, ambitious scholarly work.... The methodology is rich and unconventional, mobilizing fieldwork, interviews, and archival research, along unique personal insights from within Palo Monte.... Martinez-Ruiz offers not just an academic explication of the history and mechanics of Afro-Atlantic graphic writing, but a practical sourcebook for future research."
"Based upon decades of research on several continents and in many languages, this is the first study of precolonial Bakongo thought that includes Caribbean developments such as the Palo Mayombe initiation system founded in Cuba from the 1500s onward.... [T]his book is foundational for any project to revitalize transatlantic study of black cultures.... The study's significance is not limited to Central Africa, because as the author notes, other sub-Saharan regions developed parallel graphic writing systems.... The work is also refreshingly accessible to nonacademic readers.... It is well worth the attention of all professional and popular students of African and African American cultural history, religion, philosophy, cultural anthropology, and art history."
2. The Atlantic Passage: The Spread of Kongo Belief in Africa and to the Americas
3. The Process of Meaning Making: The Kongo Universe
4. Afro-Atlantic Graphic Writing: Bidimbu, Bisinsu, and Firmas
5. Beyond the Scripture: Physical Forms of Graphic Writing
Bárbaro Martínez-Ruiz is an Assistant Professor in the African Art and Its Diaspora/Latin American and Caribbean Arts at Stanford University.