|In 1985, with the
assistance of the director of the
Paul Robeson Cultural Center, two African-American students, majoring
in theater arts, produced a one-act play, “By and About Black People”.
The students were motivated by the lack of meaningful representation of
Blacks in the Theater Arts Department’s theatrical offerings and by the
limited opportunities for parts for Black actors in the State College
The following year, several other students joined in the efforts, and the NOMMO Players were born. NOMMO has since expanded from two members to more than thirty members over the years; and with the combined efforts of many, it has evolved into its present form. The NOMMO Performing Arts Company now focuses on integrating the three art forms (dance, theatre, music) into a unified experience that reflects the culture and traditions of Africans and African-Americans.
The material, both traditional and original, that is performed by the company is selected with the intent of educating and informing. Through the company’s performances, some combined, some as isolated features, the actors, dancers, singers, and musicians provide their audiences with images from traditional African and contemporary African-American life. These concerts, while classified, as “entertainment” will, in fact, be a part of NOMMO’s basic philosophical push.
NTU and Nommo
In the Afrikan ontology, the universe is constructed as a relationship of unified forces (Richards, 1981). The vibration of forces in the universe are subject to Nommo, the Word, in Muntu beings. Muntu signifies a spiritual force that possesses ubwenge or active intelligence. The catagory Muntu includes God/dess, lesser deities and spirits, and the three categories of human beings- the living dead/ancestors, the living, the living unborn/descendants. Janheiz Jahn identifies four categories of being in Afrikan cosmology: 1) Muntu -the human being, et al. (plural: bantu), 2) Kintu -thing (plural: bintu), 3) Hantu -place and time, 4) Kuntu -modality (Jahn, 1990). Kuntu is closely related to Nommo, for it corresponds to the rhetorical expression of Nommo; it pertains to the effectiveness and beauty of the word, to its form and the manner of its utterance. Each category is essentially NTU, universal vibratory force, vitalistic beingness. The reader may notice that NTU is the phonemic root of each of the four categories (Jahn, 1990). NTU is the beingness of being, but cannot be experienced separate from its manifestations in the four categories. Nommo is the vehicle through which a muntu commands, manipulates, and negotiates NTU. The word is the life force of the impersonal NTU in the universe. The will to live, the practice of living, the principle of life reside in the breath and the heat and the moisture of our words, in our Nommo.
Nommo is the putting into action of the word. Nommo hears, calls, and names,its fundamental speech acts upon which all consequent speech acts build (Schmidt, 1996). It is most often defined as the magic power of the word, but without the attending mythology which I will discuss below. This characterization is insufficient outside the context of the myth, which not only treats language as a transformative vehicle of meaning, but also considers the pre-existing word before its utterance, something akin to Bahktin’s theory of internal speech. Nommo is the word and the delivery of the word. It is the master of speech and speech, the word unknowable without its form. The expression of the word is unthinkable apart from the mode of its articulation, its kuntu.
Humans use Nommo to activate the spiritual forces latent in bintu, including inanimate things and animals, although in the Afrikan cosmology there is no truly inanimate object; all things vibrate with NTU. The farmer calls forth the seed to sprout; the goldsmith calls forth the precise proportions of a gold ornament so that it might be beautiful; the cook calls forth the flavors of the meal. The spoken Nommo of these individuals engenders active forces in the things subject to their speech, so that each art, each craft, each profession has its own particular Nommo, its own particular corpus of prayers, its own particular body of knowledge(Jahn, 1990). The artisans plant what the Dogon of Mali and Burkina Faso call good words, words that are fertile(Griaule, 1965). A bintu’s meaning arises from its designation by a human agent. This naming is a basic feature of Nommo; even a new baby is temporarily in the class of kintu until it receives a name, that is to say until human Nommo is enacted upon the child (Jahn, 1990). The protagonist of Amos Tutuola’s novel, The Palm-Wine Drinkard, regularly alludes to the power of one’s name as an individualized designation of Nommo. A name, like all Nommo, activates the forces of the universe; therefore one’s parents must choose one’s name carefully. Most Afrikan naming ceremonies take place when the newborn is eight days old, giving the parents and elders time to consider the circumstances of the birth. The Palm-wine drinkard says that his name is “Father of the gods who could do anything.” (Tutuola, 1980) When he encounters difficulties in the story, particularly spiritual or supernatural difficulties, he has but to remember and repeat his name in order to accomplish the most fantastic feats. If his life-force, his Nommo, vibrates with more force than his opponent’s, he will be successful. Theoretically, if one possesses enough force, one’s words can make the noon day sky purple. However, the word of the Great Nommo, the personified embodiment of the NTU in deliberate action vibrates with more force than that of a common or an uncommon human. Thus through the word, the world is maintained.