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Jongo, also known as caxambu or tambu, is a dance and musical genre of black communities from southeast Brazil.

Inserting itself within the so-called ‘dances of the belly strike’ (however being related to the ‘Semba’ or ‘Masemba’ of Angola), the Jongo was brought to Brazil by Bantus. Generally, these Bantus were kidnapped in the ancient kingdoms of Ndongo and Kongo, which nowadays makes up most of the region of Angola.

Fado de Quissamã - Jongo dance around a bonfire in century-old slave houses of Machadinha Sugarcane Plantation Farm

Composed through characteristics of music and dance and animated by improvisational poets, the Jongo most likely has its origins in the traditional Angolan guessing games, the Jinongonongo. One essential characteristic of the Jongo is the utilization of symbols that, aside from maintaining rhythm, possess a magical function, apparently provoking paranormal phenomenon. Among the more evident ones, one can cite the fire, with which the instruments are tuned; the drums, that are considered to be ancestors of the community. the circular form of the dance with a couple in the middle, which refers to fertility; and not to forget, the rich metaphors used by the jongueiros (participants of the Jongo) in order to compose its main points and whose meaning is inaccessible to those not yet initiated.

These days, both men and women can participate in the Jongo, but this participation in its original form was very restricted to the initiated or the more experienced members. This factor relates itself to the ethical and social norms commonly found in other traditional societies, such as the Amerindians. The basis is a respect and obedience to-wards the older individuals and the ancestral past.

Historical research indicates that the Jongo possesses, within its Bantu origins, the need to create diverse communities, similar to secret societies and political-religious sects. These fraternities had an important role in the resistance of slavery, as a means of communication, organization and even the purchase of liberated slaves.

The Jongo is made up of singing and dancing, with the accompaniment of the urucungo (a musical Bantu arc, that gave way to the berimbau), the violin and pandeiro, in addition to the consecrated drums, used even today, called Tambu or Caxambu. The Jongo is still widely practised today in various cities: The Vale do Paraíba in the Southeast region of Brazil, to the South of the state of Rio de Janeiro and to the North of São Paulo.


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  • Dias, Paulo. “A outra festa negra.” In Festa: cultura e sociabilidade na América Portuguesa, edited by I. Jancsó and I. Kantor. São Paulo, Brazil: Hucitec/Edusp/Fapesp/Imprensa Oficial, 2001.
  • Pacheco, Gustavo. “Jongos.” In: Colin Palmer (ed.) Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History: The Black Experience in the Americas. New York: Macmillan, 2005.
  • Ribeiro, Maria de Lourdes Borges. O Jongo. Rio de Janeiro: Funarte/Instituto Nacional do Folclore, 1984.
  • Stein, Stanley J. Vassouras: A Brazilian Coffee County, 2nd ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.

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