Time and the tango – Part 1

tangoThe best name for this column, would have been “Last Tango In the Big House!” But the U.S.A.’s Lame Duck president did his now famous impromptu dance performance at a State Dinner in Argentina—not the White House.

That notwithstanding, the symbolism is powerfully enticing. Reports and photographs of what purports to be a “Black President,” and his “First Lady,” doing the tango—even in Argentina—are simply too evocative to ignore.

The tango, after all, is an adaptation of a Congolese burial dance, which is connected with the complex and sophisticated cosmology of the Bantu. According to K. K. Bunseki Fu-Kiau, in “The Bantu-Kongo Concept of Time,” tango is “directly derived from the Kongo festival dance of matanga”.

Whites in Latin America learned dances like the “tango,” “conga” and the “metanza” (Cuba) from black slaves, taken mainly from the region that now consists of Angola and the two Congos.

In the U.S.A. “tango” (both the music and the dance) was part of the Afro-Latin craze of the 1950s and ‘60s. It later featured, thematically, in the blockbuster Hollywood production, “Last Tango In Paris,” starring Marlon Brando.

When Obama was coaxed out onto the dance floor in Argentina, I wonder how aware he was, of the potent racial symbolism of his gesture: Not to mention the enormous philosophical and scientific richness of the culture from which the tango originated.

I will return to this thought. Meanwhile, the Bantu cultural nexus is centred in present day Central Africa, which includes Fu-Kiau’s Kikongo language area. But it extends into eastern Nigeria, to places like Ikom (Cross River State), where ancient Stone Circles bear the imprint of Bantu philosophy.

Eons before Albert Einstein and Hermann Minkowski merged space and time into a single fourth dimension, “hantu” (space and time) was fundamental to the Bantu system of thought. Three other cornerstones, Asar Imhotep, reminds us are, “muntu,” “kintu” “kuntu”.

Imhotep, an African American, borrowed his categories from the late Alexis Kagame, a Bantu scholar, whose delineations are: (a) Muntu as Reasoned

Being (man): (b) kintu as unreasoned Being (thing); (c) hantu as spacing Temporizing Being (space‐time); and (d) kuntu as Modal Being (contingency, determination or manner).

Narrowing the focus, Fu-Kiau identifies “ntanga” (from which “tango” stems) as the most commonly used of three Bantu words meaning “time”. He then divides Bantu time (space-time) further, into four categories. In each of these, progression is marked by “dunga” or “dams of time”—i.e., “events”.

“Musoni time,” he notes, is the beginning of the universe—perceived in Kongo mythology, as the “period of Kalunga’s cooking” or the boiling of magmatic matter, characterized by incessant collisions. (“Kalunga” is the Supreme force in the universe.)

Next is “kala time,” which entails “the formation of planets and their transformation” and the appearance of microscopic life. The colour “black” aptly symbolizes this period, which is associated with the rising Sun and the birth of children.

Marking the third stage, Fu-Kiau says, is the creation of worlds (planets) and the maturation of life forms that evolved during Kala. The Bantu call this third Great Dam, this seminal event in cosmic evolution, “Tukula time” and envision it as “red”.

The Kikongo, in particular, believe planets pass through a final formative phase, which they call “Luvemba”. Luvemba time gave rise to sexual dimorphism—the separation of the spirit Maghungu into male and female aspects.

Muzita and Lumba (man and woman), then re-united in sexual union to complete the formation of Earth. “With this new beginning of life of togetherness,” Fu-Kiau recounts, “the circle of cosmic time was completed”.

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