Jongo is an essentially rural cultural manifestation directly associated with the African culture in Brazil. The formation of samba carioca was heavily influenced by Jongo.
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.
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 towards 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 practiced 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.
Below is an example of one group of Jongo, called Jongo do Quilombo de São José, which is more traditional. It is followed by another group called Jongo da Serrinha, which is more contemporary. After the videos, you’ll find links to a documentary.
Here is a documentary (in Portuguese) on the Jongo
Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.