As Angola is made up of different ethnolinguistic groups and various territories, it comes as no surprise that there is a plethora of traditions. That said, the main themes of myths and rites are common to almost all peoples and cultures, which are essentially the origin of man and the universe, the importance of ancestors, the divinities of nature, religion, magic, the mysteries of life and death, the sacred and the profane. The way these myths and rituals become tradition, creating everyday habits and customs in communities, ultimately defines their identity as a unique and specific social group.
However, communities are like living things, adapting and transforming their beliefs and practices to survive over time. This is what the indigenous peoples living in Angola did, assimilating and acculturating themselves to the customs, habits and traditions of occupying peoples. This influence, the product of cultural exchanges with “others”, was incorporated and persisted after the independent Angolan state became areality. As such, today we share the integrated and adapted reformulation of local Angolan culture with that inherited from the Portuguese (language, cuisine). What emerges from this is a new universal culture that enters our homes via television, radio and mobile telecommunications.
Another example of how traditional knowledge can be used in innovative contemporary languages can be seen at the Angola Pavilion at Expo 2020 in Dubai (United Arab Emirates). Both the architecture and concept of the Pavilion’s exhibitions reflect research on Angolan traditions and local knowledge, transformed by new technologies. Here we have the Chokwe culture and its inspiring sand drawings (Sona). Resident for several centuries in Angolan territory, more specifically in the North and South Lundas, in the Northeast, as far as the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Chokwe use this traditional art form to tell stories and transmit knowledge and wisdom to younger generations. During initiation rites, young boys learn from a master (the akwa kuta sona) the meaning and specific geometry of Sona drawings. As they grow up and learn more, the designs become more complex.
Etched in the sand, these drawings – or ideograms – are traditional graphic representations of legends, stories, games, proverbs, parables, myths, songs and even laws, gaining depth and complexity depending on how the different lines are combined. This narrative construction goes far beyond a drawing, obeying rules, arithmetic sequences and other mathematical processes. After studying the drawings, mathematicians discovered their mathematical properties, simplifying the process by transforming the drawing into numbers and a geometric algorithm.
This recreation of the Sona tradition, which had almost disappeared from Northeast Angola, gave us inspiration and a conceptual starting point for the Angolan Pavilion’s architecture and narrative. Visitors are taken on a journey where they discover contemporary Angola, its people and cultures, as well as a tribute to a traditional way of transmitting knowledge that already uses digital connections as a model in its own particular way.