African Guyanese rituals which have survived over the years


For some, a peek into the Afro-Guyanese rituals that have survived over the years can prove to be an eerie yet intriguing experience.


Even from its origin, African religion was known for being a powerful matrix of spirituality. But many of these traditional solemn rites did not survive the times, given the agonies of slavery and the cultural and religious influences of other ethnic groups.


But some practices, though they are not predominantly practiced, are still observed. Here are a few of them.


Death rituals: When someone from a traditional Afro-Guyanese home passes away, there are several ways in which the passing is observed. But one feature that is characteristic among them all is the beating of drums until midnight sometimes later and the singing or chanting of “death hymns.”


While drummers play the evocative melodies all night long, African singers would chant songs that would lead off into the humming of other spiritual songs which most do not understand. This ritual is usually observed in the yard or bottom house of the deceased. Some of the songs include, “Congo creole,” “One by one,” “Awee a guh ‘way,” “Bimbo, bimbo Solomon” and “Do like a me, You guh live, Solomon!” The songs are believed to give the spirit of the deceased a smooth passage to the other side.


Comfa:  This is focused on the Water Mumma, or Goddess of the water. The full moon and black water are important in the timing and placing of ceremonies which is normally defined by elements of ecstatic, trancelike dancing, and spirit possession, induced by drumming. It is practiced in Guyana, mainly by the descendants of enslaved Africans. According to sociolinguist Kean Gibson, the foremost expert on Guyanese Comfa, the religion is currently practiced by about 10 percent of the country’s African-Guyanese population.


Cultural historian Brian Moore also indicated that in postcolonial Guyana, the religious practices designated by the term Cumfo were also referred to as Watermama in honor of the river gods.


Cleansing Ceremony: Most cleansing ceremonies by Afro-Guyanese are conducted at the seawalls early in the morning. Two women either clothed in white, African dresses or African prints would bathe the person who is said to be either possessed or touched by an evil eye. In some cases, the person is scrubbed from head to toe with special brews made by a witch doctor or the “Obeah man or woman”.


Warding off evil: In some African homes, preventing an evil force from entering and interfering with a newly married couple can be done in through various traditional methods. One involves an egg which is washed and placed in a clean glass filled with water which is then placed over the front door of the home.


Obeah: It is considered to be the spiritual magic of the first human societies on the African continent. And it is practiced it Guyana in its a raw and pure form. The mysteries of Obeah have been studied carefully by scientists alike but none have completely unraveled its mysteries. Yet, many locals have given testimony to its power. The person performing the “spiritual magic” is called the witch doctor or “Obeah man.” Obeah can be used to return lovers as break up couples. It provides spells for love, money, spiritual protection and just about anything at all. They are known to be successful once it is “the will of the good and evil spirits.”However, the rituals and practices in this field still remains a closely guarded secret.

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