Flash of the Spirit

Objects placed on graves are mainly for the presence of the spirit. Based primarily in the Kongo tradition, object placement was practiced to honor and alleviate the spirit's journey to the other world – to help it get “home”. Also untilized to keep spirits from returning and bothering any survivors, objects were considered a medicine for the spirit and provided a cultural link between the Kongo tribes of Africa and the Black New World.


Flower Pots/Foil

Although usually over-looked and taken for granted, flowerpots, specifically those with green foil are essential in the burial traditions of blacks. A pot could be deliberately turned upside down, or turned right side up with green floral paper and inner tin foil. Today, to simulate those same practices, flowerpots commonly have green foil with a silver inner lining. Representing and imitating the flash of the departed spirit, these gestures to the dead took place frequently in Kong tradition. In Kongo, to be upside down means to die and in death, a spirit is strengthened. The word bikinda means “to be upside down”, which is a variation of the word kinda which means, “to be strong” (Robert Thompson 1984).



Shells supposedly enclose the soul’s presence. “Shells stand for the sea. The sea brought us, the sea shall [also] take us back.” White shells in particular are common because the color white is a reference to the purity in water (Robert Thompson 1984).


“. . . In further creolization, white shells were replaced by white bathroom tile.” Here, there is a further reference to water and its purifying qualities. White tile grave markers are common in modern Kongo and Haitian cemeteries (Robert Thompson 1984).



People commonly bury trees near or on their loved one’s grave. The roots of a tree signify the soul’s journey to the other world. While also of the Kongo tradition, this practice can also be found in Haiti (Robert Thompson 1984).

The Kongo cosmogram is a symbol from the religion and civilization of the Bakongo people. The cosmogram, alluding to the idea of the crossroads in its construction, symbolizes the passage and communication between the world of the living—earth or ntoto—and the world of the dead—kalunga. The yowa cross, a symbol of the “indestructablility of the soul” represented in the center of the cosmogram reflects the notion that life is a continuous cycle of which death is only a part (Robert Thopmson 1984).                        

Additional Information

"Going Home"

"Kongo Cosmogram"