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From poetry to action

Background and history

Below you can find all the information about contemporary kasàlà as well as traditional kasàlà, its relation to the concept of Ubuntu and how this art came to the West.


Kasàlaction is an international OBNL that brings together practitioners of contemporary Kasàla The term sums up precisely the motto of the organization : « Of the poetry of action ». This motto invites two fundamentalattitudes: to poetize life and act

To poetise life means to sharpen one’s senses and awareness to perceive it in its splendour, to marvel at and experience the joy that is at the heart of life, despite the challenges of various kinds.
Poetising life is an approach, or rather a posture, which consists in discovering the flavour of life, in participating in its natural movement, a spiral movement, initiated at conception by the meeting of an ovum and a spermatozoon, cells carrying complex heritages and continuing their development by incessant enrichment on various levels, according to laws, perhaps algorithms, which go beyond us.

To poetise life is to perceive and present it to our fellow human beings in its mysterious dimension and to celebrate it in its different manifestations with a sense of gratitude.
Finally, to poetise life is to become aware of our power: the power to change, to grow and to give meaning to things, starting with life itself.

But we should note that life is often harsh, and that human beings do not necessarily have the skills to make society or the earth a pleasant and welcoming place for all and even for themselves. The double violence – against the other and against oneself – is constantly and everywhere being perceived. For example, the domination of human groups by others is a source of stereotypes that hinder dialogue and cohabitation, just as the extent of distress in the various strata of society is a constant source of exclusion and suffering.

Recognising, on the one hand, the advantage for citizens to be in connection for individual and collective well-being and, on the other hand, contemporary kasàlà as a word of connection, an art of being alive and an art of defending human dignity based on the concept of ubuntu or the art of being human, we, the practitioners of kasàlà from diverse backgrounds, commit ourselves to contribute to the improvement of living together. We are driven by a sense of responsibility and humanity towards the society in which we live. We act by means of lively writing accessible to all, which leads to a word proclaimed in public and disseminated on social networks. Our speech is accompanied by the embodiment of it in our posture in the world.

This is what our action in the world consists of. This is what we mean by “moving from poetry to action” and what the term “Kasàlaction” summarises.

Contemporary Kasàlà (ck)​

In the teaching of EKAR, developed over the years through intense practice, the word kasàlà is used in a generic sense to refer to all panegyric poetry in Africa, addressed to oneself or to otherness. More specifically, the term contemporary kasàlà refers to panegyric poetry inspired by kasàlà in this generic sense, but based on the concept of ubuntu, on the love of the other and of oneself, associated with writing and enriched with a transcultural dimension.

Although the great innovation that characterises ck is writing, it is not the only way in which it is practised. Indeed, one may perfectly celebrate life through sensory gymnastics, choreography, drawing or collage.

Indeed, contemporary kasàlà (ck) aims to be an open universal poetic experience, concerned with contributing to the construction of a better humanity, which favours encounters with other cultures.

It is accompanied by a series of concepts: poetic name (or name of strength), ubuntu, vital anger, intimate discourse, damaged person, self-esteem, great health, the terrible child…

As an art of celebrating life in its many expressions and defending human dignity, ck addresses a variety of themes touching on philosophy, science, politics, history, geography, sociology, psychology, the body…

While a text of ck can be devoted entirely to the celebration of the other or to the celebration of the self, the canonical form is nevertheless made up of two essential elements, one devoted to the celebration of otherness and the other to the celebration of the self, the latter often reduced to a complimentary signature.

It is accessible to all ages and can be used in a large number of contexts: school, accompanying (young people, job seekers, newcomers, victims of domestic violence, people at the end of life, etc.), intercultural, mental health, prison, business, coaching, family, etc. In these different contexts, ck builds a bridge between different cultures, communities or generations, as a way of mutual knowledge and healing, and as a preventative tool. In all of these situations, it cares for the dignity and self-esteem of the individual and the community, while responding to the need for connection and cohesion. In this sense, it contributes to the improvement of the overall health of society and promotes living together. In particular, the kasàlà of the other to the 1st person is a powerful vehicle for empathy and kasàlàs written in this form are particularly moving.

It remains true to the spirit of celebration, gratitude, connection and public speaking, the destiny of any kasàlà to be spoken and heard by others.

Within the above-mentioned transcultural framework, kasàlà practitioners maybe be found on every continent. For the time being, they are multiplying in Europe, the Americas and Africa and are expressing great creativity, which gives rise to a diversity of styles. In particular, improvised writing has developed in Quebec, which consists of composing the kasàlà of a person or a group at the moment of speaking. This phenomenon is a real innovation, which effectively compensates for creation at the moment of enunciation, a trait lost by the introduction of writing.

Finally, it should be pointed out that ck tends to be expressed in the first person singular, with the pronoun I sometimes representing the subject being celebrated, and sometimes the person or thing being celebrated. In other words, this pronoun tends to have a multiplicity of referents.

In view of these various considerations, which renew the content, form and practice of African panegyric poetry, ck constitutes a new literary genre in its own right, to be taught through a specific pedagogy.

Finally, although the choice of the word “kasàlà” as a generic term is to some extent arbitrary, it should be noted that it has the advantage of allowing derivations such as “kasàler, kasàlik, kasàlance, kasàlement, kaslàm…” and compositions such as “kasàlibrary, kasàlaction”, which have become common among practitioners of kasàlà.


I am art and practice
The art of building bridges
Between word and deed
School of wonder
Daring to take one’s place
Diversity and living together
Art of caring for connection
Practice of gratitude
Vehicle of ubuntu
Practice of joy

I am the art of being alive
And celebrating life
In the Living

In other words I am
The art of being in great health
Source of increased life

I am because you are and vice versa
We are beings of interaction
We need each other
I need to find meaning in life
to grow to take on challenges to dream to create
to be fully alive

Sometimes when these impulses fade away
It is always possible to reactivate them
This is the great promise, this is the great present
of contemporary kasàlà
A word of wonder
of celebrating life in all its forms
But also a committed word, an act of resistance
against scorned dignity
Action to build a world
more fraternal more human more beautiful

Ngo Semzara Ntalaja Matanda
The one who tells the hard stories
as well as the happy ones
Some call me My brother Jandhi Kasàlà
others Papa Kabuta
I have other names too
Man-with-a-listening-ear Amazed-Soul
I am also a Hope-Bearer
and Bridge- and Springboard-Maker

Contemporary Kasàlà

“Kasàlà” is originally a word from the Cilubà language, spoken by the Lubà people in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). Traditional Kasàlà is an oral panegyric poetry specific to these people. It is characterised by the presence of a large number of proper names and structures known as makùmbù, which are mottos, generally eulogistic.

Traditional kasàlà is a ritual poem, the function of which is to praise public figures or individuals in various circumstances such as enthronement, marriage, reception and funerals. Two doctoral theses have been devoted to it, by P. Mufuta (1968) and C. Faïk-Nzuji (1986).

Remarkably, this type of literature exists practically throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with some variations and under various names (izibongo in Southern Africa, amazina y’inka in Rwanda and Burundi, oriki in Nigeria, akö in Benin, etc.). Jean Kabuta’s doctoral thesis (1995) is a comparative study of African panegyrics, in particular self-praise (or autopanegyrics), which generally involves the praise of the other.


In the Bantu area, which stretches from southern Cameroon to South Africa, a fundamental value is what is called umuntu (or a variant of this form), which means ‘human being, person’. Another value, which is derived from this, is ubuntu (also a variant of this term). We can translate this word as ‘wisdom’, ‘humanity’ or, more precisely, ‘the art of being human’. Ubuntu is an ideal, a horizon towards which all people worthy of the name are invited to walk.

If these values are transmitted to the child in everyday life, they are also transmitted, more intensely, through the schools of initiation, through a literature made up of formal structures in oral, graphic or concrete form, which accompany the person throughout his or her life. It is also done through the celebratory poetry generically called kasàlà, in the sense that it constantly calls on the person to remember and defend this fundamental value that makes him or her a human being, in other words, his or her dignity. Singularly, contemporary kasàlà presents itself as a vehicle for ubuntu.

Ubuntu, as an art of being human, defines the fundamental role of interpersonal relationships, through a set of values which, by promoting relationships, allow the individual to contribute to the deployment of the community and, consequently, to his or her own growth. It can be summarised with Laurien Ntezimana as an invitation to be Good on the inside, and giving on the outside. This means that my personal well-being is a condition that allows me to be a gift to others. This is why I must strive to be physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy. Being a gift means making a positive contribution politically, culturally, economically and socially. Understood in this way, ubuntu becomes the horizon towards which Umuntu (the person) must walk, to become a better person every day. The kasàlà on the right presents the values that constitute ubuntu:


I am
Generosity Gratitude and Respect
Hospitality Brotherhood and Humanity
Benevolence Solicitude and Welcome
Presence Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Patience Listening and Care
In short, Wisdom


Here are some elements of the history of contemporary kasàlà. First of all, it is the story of Jean Kabuta who introduced this art form to Western society.

He was still teaching at secondary school in Belgium when, in July 1980, he went to the mourning of his uncle in Kinshasa. The return of a person after a long absence is one of the occasions when kasàlà is recited.

His family invites a kasàlà specialist for this purpose. His mother explains that having spent a lot of time abroad, he is like someone who has wandered into the bush and become wild. As such, he needed to be brought back into the community, reminding him of his names, connecting him to his ancestors, to his history, to his territory and to himself.

Family, friends and neighbours are present at the session, which is really a welcoming ritual. Jean Kabuta records the full text, which takes four hours to recite. This session deeply shakes him. The kasàlà received fascinated him by the richness of its content and the complexity of its form. About ten years later, he made it the subject of comparative research on the scale of sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1995, while lecturing at the University of Ghent, Jean Kabuta submitted a doctoral thesis to the Université Libre de Bruxelles on autopanegyric in African oral traditions. From that moment on, he made the African panegyric a transcultural text, translatable into different languages. He also associated it with writing. Living in Europe and becoming aware of the value of his African culture, he saw himself as the right person to transmit it to the West, appreciating his role as a cultural bridge.

From the end of 1995 onwards, workshops on autopanegyrics were developed under the title “Workshops on self-praise”. At the same time, autopanegyrics became part of his literature course at Ghent University. In 1996 he founded the non-profit organisation Kasàlà. Its aim is to make African thought better known in the West and to promote living together between Europeans and Africans. It recruits members from both the French and Dutch-speaking regions.

Facilitated by his position at the university, workshops are multiplying in France, the Netherlands and especially in many cities in Belgium. In the integration centres for asylum seekers and in the offices for job seekers, it is also a powerful instrument for connecting and strengthening self-esteem. Throughout 2002, the non-profit-association Kasàlà is carrying out a project entitled “Living literature and songs from Africa”, with the support of the association Africalia and the Ministry for Development Cooperation. The funding received allows the organisation of numerous workshops on poetry, storytelling and proverb strings in several cities in the country.

He gradually abandons the use of the term ‘self-praise’, which he felt was too restrictive in relation to his practice and which, unlike the original term ‘autopanegyric’, was not neutral. Since the concept that has been disseminated has no equivalent in Western languages, he is faced with the imperative of using an African terminology. The term kasàlà is more appropriate, especially as it encompasses the celebration of the other and the self. His activity is also more oriented towards the celebration of the other.
For a dozen years, the non-profit-association Kasàlà has been collaborating with the NGO Echos Communication. It is particularly active in the project called “Harubuntu”, for which the kasàlà is one of the key tools. This project is an important promotion of kasàlà in Belgium as well as in Africa. In 2009, in collaboration with Echos Communication, the non-profit-association Kasàlà organised a week-long training course in Kinshasa entitled “Neurosciences and Kasàlà”. Later on, Kasàlà workshops for deaf and mute people (in Kinshasa) and blind people (in Brazzaville) proved to be very effective in strengthening the participants’ self-esteem. In 2014, Echos Communication will also produce a documentary entitled “Récits migratoires” based on workshops in Brussels and Oujda (Morocco).

The Kasàlà centre, the social component of the association, was created in 2005 in Kinshasa responding to the need to move from poetry to action or from project to worksite, in order to contribute to the development of the DRC. Activities include literacy, computer use, English, French and philosophy courses, a small cinema with a capacity of 50 people, theatre, conferences, a dispensary and a solar-powered cybercafé.

In 2010, Jean Kabuta opened a Kasàlà centre in Mbujimayi in the DRC with the main aim of helping young people to develop their self-esteem, to stand up  and take responsibility for themselves. A similar centre was opened a little later in Uvira.

2010 is also the year he retires. In 2012, he participated in a summer school in Rimouski. The reception was so enthusiastic that in 2013, he decided to emigrate to Quebec. Since then, he has been spreading kasàlà in the Quebec education system as well as in various other settings. He receives considerable support from the psychosociology department at UQAR (University of Québec in Rimouski), where students and professors alike practice kasàlà

Outside of UQAR, workshops are held throughout Quebec. In the Quebec community, new ways of celebrating life’s transitions – births, weddings, anniversaries, bereavements, etc. – are gaining ground.

The non-profit-association Kasàlà has received financial support from the province of West-Flanders (which also paid for the shipment of a large amount of equipment to Kinshasa by boat), from the company Skania and above all from the company Heidelberg Cement for the construction of the cybercafé in Kinshasa and the supply of the necessary equipment. The extraordinary involvement of Daniel Gauthier, the company’s boss at the time, is also to be commended.

In 2013, a project at the Colruyt Group (a chain of food shops) enabled a thousand workers to be introduced to kasàlà. This in-company experience proved to be highly beneficial for the workers and their managers, who developed better relationships with each other.

In 2015, there was a first training in Fribourg, for life story collectors (ARRV).

In 2020, the teaching of kasàlà takes shape with the creation of the Ecole du kasàlà de Rimouski (EKAR), a provincial enterprise, which now grants a certification. The same year saw the launch of a Kasàlà centre in Toubakouta (Senegal), with the support of Mar Ndiaye. In 2021, a non-profit organisation called Kasàlaction was created at the federal level. Since its introduction in Quebec, kasàlà is willingly combined with other approaches in co-facilitation, such as martial arts (workshop with Martine de Nardi), sensitive movement and sensory gymnastics (workshop with Paul Sercu, Jeanne-Marie), biodanza (Delphine Gérard)…
Since 1995 Jean Kabuta has published several articles and books on kasàlà.

Today, it seems to him that the source of contemporary kasàlà goes back to the time when he was a member of the choir “Les Troubadours du roi Baudouin”. The major work of this choir is the Misa luba, created in 1958. Indeed, this mass is a daring work, the Franciscan priest who directed the choir having had the bright idea of encouraging the adults of the choir to create an African mass inspired by the melody and rhythm of kasàlà.