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Cabinda: Politics – Let the People Decide
Cabinda: History – Scramble for Cabinda
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Cabinda: Society – Language Matters
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Cabinda: Society – Language Matters

Be careful what you call people in Cabinda

Some Cabindans complain when people call them fiote, a word that means "black" in the local language. Still, this is how most Angolans and old Cabindans continue to refer to people in the enclave, using the same word to describe the language of the province. Cabinda's younger generation, however, prefers to call themselves and their language Ibinda.

The word fiote was first used to describe Cabindans many centuries ago, when Portuguese adventurers first arrived in the area. At that time, about seven local dialects were spoken but the Portuguese failed to understand any of them, referring to all of the dialects as fiote because they were the languages spoken by black people.

Another reason why Cabindans do not like being called fiote is that the word was used by the Portuguese to describe everything that was inferior – a bad road would be called a fiote road and bad food would be called fiote food.

Today, only one language is spoken in Cabinda – Ibinda – and it has strong links with the Kikongo language, which was widely spoken throughout the region when it was part of the Kongo Kingdom.

However, hardline Cabindan separatists do not see themselves as having any links with the Kikongos, preferring to protect their identity and their culture by presenting themselves as something entirely different. In reality, the language they speak is closely related to Bantu dialects, one of which is Kikongo.

Society in Cabinda is very hierarchical, based on structures inherited from the Kongo Kingdom. Leaders of liberation movements in the enclave, including Franques, Punas and Mingas, come from the Cabindan elite.

However, modern Cabindan society is a rich blend of local cultures. Originally a strategic part of the ancient realm of Kongo, Cabindans have since been influenced by populations moving to the area from other parts of Angola, and also from Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The borders between Cabinda and the two Congos are very fuzzy, and the local populations do not really take much notice of them.

Many Cabindans have also moved out of their territory. During colonial times, Cabindans migrated to Pointe Noire, Brazzaville and Kinshasa – towns that were attractive because they were in independent neighboring countries Congo Leopoldville (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) became independent in 1960; Congo Brazzaville followed shortly afterwards in 1964.

Due to the population movements, Cabindan society developed into an interesting mix of the modern and the traditional. To this day, Cabindans still practice Bantu rituals such as initiation ceremonies. The most famous of these is the casa de tinta where young girls are locked in a house for several days, where they are taught the secrets of marital life by older women. The bodies of the girls are painted whilst they are inside the house. When they emerge from their seclusion, a big festival is held and the initiation is concluded. Shortly after this time, the girls are expected to get married.

Christianity has been a central part of Cabindan culture for many centuries, but the people maintain strong animist beliefs. They believe in the spirit world, worshipping deities from the Maiombe forest. Local music, generally played with marimbas and drums, imitates the sounds of the forest. Modern music has been influenced by the rhythms of the Congo, especially soukous.

Angolan semba music plays second place. In Cabinda, one is much more likely to hear the sounds of Sam Mangwana, Franco, Tabuley Rochereau and Mbilia Bel than Bonga or other Angolan musicians. If Cabinda cannot get political independence, they will at least listen to music of their own choosing.

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