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Did you know relatively little is known about koutoumba or katumba?
However, according to St. Lucian folklorist Harold Simmons “it appears to be another pure African survival performed by the Negre Guinee who claim to be descended from the Angola and the Awanda.”
Another source characterized koutoumba as a ‘unique song-dance’ found in the villages of la Grace, Laborie and Piaye. The koutoumba was only performed for the death of a djiné, a person descended from Africans who came to the island in the middle of the 19th century.
Simmons described koutoumba as: On the death of a family member, this dance took place at night in the yard of the deceased, and the night afterwards and also on the anniversary of the death. These songs were accompanied by one drum and a shak-shak/rattle. Dancers danced alone or in groups of three, held together by a cord or a string of white cloth.
The words are a mixture of African and Creole; the singers claim to know the meaning in a general way. While the men sing in a groaning manner, the women sing in a piercing high tone, often raising their hands over their heads in supplication, representing grief.
Another source also mentions a slight description of koutoumba. The koutoumba is unique among St. Lucian folk dance in that it is performed by a sole dancer and using only two or four lines of text, which is evocative of the song’s mood rather than the description. This source also claims “that the last drummer who knew this tradition died in 1986.”
Oral sources, however, hold that at the start of the 21st century, koutoumba was still occasionally performed in Piaye, Morne Cayenne and Belle Vue.
Source: A History of St. Lucia by Harmsen, Ellis & Devaux – 2012
This feature runs every Thursday. It is compiled by daughter of the soil Anselma Aimable, a former agricultural officer and former correspondent for Caribbean Net News, who has a deep interest in local culture and history. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]