[Solved] Kongo Art and Dialect Influence on the West: Flash of the Spirit

Art (Fine arts, Performing arts)

I am taking a Religion: Meaning and Purpose in the Arts class. I want someone to have the book “Flash of the Spirit by Robert Farris Thompson (Vintage Books), read pages 100-107, and then write a summary.

Kongo Art and Dialect Influence on the West

The people of the Bakongo, mostly known as Kongo, encompass modern Zaire, northern Angola, Congo-Brazzaville, Cabinda, and Gabon. Their cultural beliefs and norms spread throughout the U.S in the slave trade era, thus influencing contemporary black culture in America. The Kongo’s visual arts, compositions, and dialect facilitated transformative impressions on mainstream American blacks, influencing contemporary African-American trends while reinforcing their identity towards their tribal roots.

The advent of the Atlantic slave trade between the 17th and 19th centuries significantly spread and influenced black Americans’ philosophical and visual traditions. While the slave trade mostly assimilated cultures, the N’Kongo people maintained cultural recollections, which inspired the formation of Kongo-American societies, thus preserving traditional religious elements using artistic symbolism that significantly influenced their way of life (Thompson, 1984). For example, the Bakongo used the spiral Kodya shell’s spiral pattern to represent the sun’s journey in the realm of the living and the dead. Similarly, the architectural design of luumbu, the royal entrance enclosure, represented the same concept as the Kodya shell on a grander scale (Thompson, 1984). Using spiral shapes in recent years includes styling Kongo women’s hair in concentric spiral patterns to celebrate the restoration of the royal enclosure and black rule in 1960 (Thompson, 1984). Spiral artistic representation symbolized the union between the physical and metaphysical, with the latter’s power concentrated in the hands of the king, sorcerer (ndoki), and ritual experts (banganga). The Bakongo capital also incorporated centred images and a cosmogram. Arguably, it symbolized the city as the ideal realm where the balance between the vigour of the word of the living and the visionaries of the world of spirits, resulting in practices of charms and divination being used for necromancy and other divination practices. Therefore, the artistic expressions amongst the Kongo people communicated the link between the living and the spirit world.

The expansive slave trafficking within the Kongo society during the seventieth to nineteenth century significantly influenced dialects in the western hemisphere. Their influence on black English is seen mostly in music, especially in creative, artistic composition circles such as jazz and blues, and dialect, especially those associated with lovemaking and herbalism. For example, the term “jazz” is most probably Congolese in origin as the lexicon is similar to their language. “Jazz” also sounds similar to jizz or “jism, an American slang word for semen, with the latter closely resembling the Ki-Kongo verb dinza, which means “to discharge semen” (Thompson, 1984, p. 104). Similarly, the word “funky” or lu- fuki is a word used by the jazz community to praise a person for their artistic integrity, which is similar in diction, form, and meaning to the word “funky” used within the jazz community. However, the word initially referred to a strong body odour (Thompson, 1984). The concept of integrity and odour combines in Ki-Kongo to confer positive attributes, with the perception that “sitting around an old person to feel their lu-fuki” carries blessings as an elder’s exertion carries luck (Thompson, 1984, p. 104). Another phrase adapted from the Kongo people is “goofer dust,” used to bring good luck, with the American dialect equivalent being “goofer,” which refers to grave dirt inserted in a charm to bring good luck (Thompson, 1984). Therefore, the expansion of Kongo people significantly influenced vocal and dialect artistic expressions that found relevance in black English and music.

The slave trade played a significant role in spreading Kongo’s ideals and norms to the western hemisphere. Additionally, their conservation of art and dialect integrated Congolese culture and outlook into American society. Therefore, the relationship between art, culture, spiritualism, and dialect among the Kongo people significantly adds to scholars’ understanding of African-American historical studies and influences.


Thompson, R. F. (1984). Black saints go marching in. In Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy (1st ed., pp. 100-107). New York, NY: Vintage.

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Published On: 01-01-1970

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