Itul

Itul

December
This highly regarded ritual is a ceremonial dance performed by the Kuba people who live in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). It takes place on an infrequent basis, not only because the costs and preparation involved are so extensive but also because it can only be held with the king's authorization; the only sponsors (and funders) may be the children of a king.
An Itul performed for a king is held in the dance area of the palace and is considered more refined because the king's wives are professional dancers and singers. If the Itul is open to the public, it takes place in the plaza in front of the palace. Although it is usually held in December, the dates can vary.
The preparations can take up to several months, but the dance itself lasts only a few hours. The villain's role is danced by someone dressed as an animal, and the plot on which the dance is based combines both traditional episodes and those that have been adapted to whatever animal is chosen.
The dance is performed in two parts over two consecutive days. The first part mourns the destruction caused by the enemy-animal, and the second part deals with its capture and killing. There is a chorus of women kneeling in the center who perform the songs and provide a rhythmical accompaniment by beating calabashes or gourd drums on the ground. The dancers move counterclockwise around the chorus, and the king watches the spectacle from a special shelter set off to one side.
The Itul is considered so important that once the word spreads that the ceremony is taking place, Kuba people from all over rush to attend it. It is revived from time to time by kings who fear that their traditional power is being threatened by modern secular life.
CONTACTS:
Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo
1800 New Hampshire Ave. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009
202-234-7691; fax: 202-234-2609
kinshasa.usembassy.gov
SOURCES:
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 692