KIMPA VITA (1684 -1706)
Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita was a young Kongolese woman who in 1704 claimed to be possessed by St. Anthony, argued that Jesus was a Kongolese, criticized Italian Capuchin missionaries for not supporting black saints, and attempted to stop the devastating cycle of civil wars between contenders for the Kongolese throne. She was burned at the stake in 1706. – The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706 by Pr. John K. Thornton
Kimpa Vita was born in 1684 in the village called Songololo, in the town of Bakongo at the time when the country was the Kingdom of Kongo now a part of modern day Angola. She was the daughter of a noble Kongo family; the Mwana Kongo clan, from the region right around Mount Kibangu, a flat-topped mountain that lays some distance east of the capital of Mbanza Kongo (on a clear day you can see that mountain from Mbanza Kongo). Kimpa Vita was baptized in her youth and so she seems to have had spiritual gifts even as a youth, she had dreams of playing with angels and visions and the like. Not surprisingly, she turned to religious pursuits, becoming a Nganga Marinda, a spiritual person whose role the Catholic missionaries did not like, but was widely accepted in the Kongo as legitimate. During this period the Kingdom of Kongo was occupied by the Portuguese, there was war between the kingdom and the Portuguese. There was a King by the name of Vita Kanga whose killing led to civil war, divided the Kingdom into two; the kingdom of Ndompetelo and the Kingdom of Ndozuao. The Kongo civil war was basically a battle between branches of the royal family for control over the throne; the kingdom of Kongo as it were, had a very highly centralized political structure, where the king and his council had a lot of power not only over who held high office, but also who got what income because there was a lot of income derived from holding office. So controlling the kingship and its related patronage was highly important. During this period as well, the worship of Ancestral religion of the people of Kongo was banned and the occupiers imposed their religion which was Christianity
In 1702, there was a woman call Appolonia Mafuta who possessed the Holy Spirit of Tata Nzambia Mpungu and was given the mission to begin to preach in the name of Tata Nzambia Mpungu. Her mission was to wake up the people of Kongo Dia Ntotela to stop the war between themselves and return to their God Tata Nzambia Mpungu. Mama Mafuta at this time was about 65 years old when she began to preach and Vita Kimpa was one of the people who used to attend the teachings. At this time she was 18 years old, her parents were Christians. Whenever they came to hear the teachings of Mama Mafuta, Vita Kimpa used to possess the spirit because she was trained as a Nganga marinda or as a person who is able to communicate with spirits (the supernatural world). The nganga marinda was connected to the kimpasi cult, a healing cult that flourished in late seventeenth century Kongo (Nganga is a Bantu term for herbalist or spiritual healer in many African societies and also in many societies of the African Diaspora such as those in Haiti, Brazil, and Cuba). One day Vita Kimpa became sick and died. In the traditional way, the elders came together for her burial, but because her father was away, they decided to wait until her father returned before they would bury her. Three days later, he still had not returned and the villages decided to continue with the burial but on the way to the burial site Vita Kimpa rose up and asked them what they were doing! The elders replied that they thought she was dead. Then she told them how she felt a lot of pain, her spirit came out on top of her head and an Ancestor came and took her to a very beautiful city in the sky where she received visions and teachings before she was then sent back. Appolonia Mafuta supported her, claiming that she was the real voice of God. (The ancestor was later described as St Anthony of Padua,
The mission given to her by the Ancestors was to wake up the people of Kongo, unite the two Kingdoms and rebuild the city of Mbanza Kongo (she later named the City of God) which had been destroyed by the Portuguese. Vita Kimpa went on to say that the kingdom need to choose a King, whom she would ‘bless’, and then her mission would be completed. This made her lean towards the church, learn more about the Christian faith and so She started preaching soon after, in the city of Mbanza Kongo (which means ‘City of Kongo‘). She had direct revelations from God on her side; she died every Friday and spent each weekend in Heaven conferring with the Heavenly Father about the affairs of Kongo and from these sessions in Heaven she learned the stories of Jesus being born in Nsundi, baptized in Mbanza Kongo or Sao Salvador and Mary being a slave of a Kongo marquis. The people were astonished to hear what the young girl had recounted subsequently from that day Vita Kimpa grew in force and continued to preach about spirituality and manifested many miracles. Meanwhile the people of Kongo have always taken pride in their culture and beliefs as such that they believe they are destined by God to be great and so Vita Kimpa’s preaching about Jesus being African appears to them like a confirmation to what they already believe. And also, Vita Kimpa was concerned that the Christian faith was too European, and one of the things she chided the missionaries about was that they did not represent any black saints (the church was also deviating from Christianity and being too concern more about the political affairs of the land). She basically made the catholic religion a religion for the people of Kongo based on the rich culture of the land, in other words she made the Catholicism a Kongo religion: she made God closer to the Kongo people! She healed people, and was able to make sterile women conceive. This Kongo religion would eventually be called Anthonianism, a name the people of the community refer to them by.
Vita Kimpa became very popular, and people followed her everywhere she went. She had followers from all ranks and walks of life including Hipolyta, wife of King Nusamu a Mvemba (Pedro IV) was a devotee of Vita Kimpa. The most notable of her followers was Kibenga (Pedro Constantinho da Silva), one of Pedro’s generals who saw allying with her as a chance to become king. And along with the political guys was a great mass of peasants, who really hoped for a better time and thought that Vita Kimpa’s movement could restore the kingdom. She was trying to end the war as much as anything else to the extent she confronted Nusamu a Mvemba on his lack of resolution to end the civil war, and he for his part would have arrested her as a heretic, as indeed the Capuchin priest in his service, Bernardo da Gallo recommended. However he did not, because he was intrigued by her message himself but could not partner with her due to the influence of the missionaries who manipulated him (Pedro IV) saying that Vita Kimpa will overshadow his image and put his power in danger but still he protected her during these times. This was at the height of the slave trade: thousands of people were being exported annually to Brazil, to the Spanish Indies, to Suriname, and some even to South Carolina. The slave trade was one of the byproducts of war (along with death and destruction), and because slavery was lucrative, it helped to continue the wars in a vicious cycle. Vita Kimpa understood this, and the solution was to end the civil war and restore the kingdom but none of the contenders to the throne seemed able to do that.
Her message became so popular because it was a spiritual awakening of the people through religion even though it integrated Kongolese culture with Catholicism. Her movement became so strong that it threatened the influence of the Catholic Church amongst the African people; and this pits her against the church. When fasting for long durations of time, 14-40 days, her body would begin to decompose until her spirit returned and her body would be restored. It was in no time that Vita Kimpa moved to occupy the kingdom’s capital which had been abandoned in 1678 and was in ruins, yet it was a very vital part and the very symbol of the Kongo. The kings were all buried there, the cathedral was there and holding the city was in effect restoring the kingdom and presumably ending the civil war.
(“I think that messianic religious leaders like her in a politically charged environment don’t have much chance unless they are very astute or their supporters are strong”– Executed Today interview with Prof. John K. Thornton).
Meanwhile the Portuguese knew the importance of the ruined City of Mbanza Kongo and the value it holds in the life of an average Kongolese hence they ensured that the land remained unoccupied. But Vita Kimpa also knew that occupying the capital was very vital to her mission, hence she defied all the efforts of the Portuguese and she occupy Mbanza Kongo where she began to send her disciples out on rebuilding missions. Her call to unity drew strong support among thousands of peasants, who flocked to the city to hear her speak. Though her movement recognized the papal primate but she was hostile against the Europeanism of the Christian faith by the missionaries in Kongo. Vita Kimpa took her message to João II at Mbula (near the Congo River close to modern Matadi), but he refuse to hear her mission while Kibenga (Pedro Constantinho), the third rival and the second favorite contender to the kingdom of Kongo was the only one who accepted her message and her mission for Kongo. This seems like the right move for the progress of her movement and her mission towards rebuilding Kongo but was a wrong move politically as her ally with Kibenga pits her against the other two political figures especially Nusamu a Mvemba (Pedro IV) who seems to be the leading contender to the throne and the favorite of the church. As her messages continue to be popular, her powers began to increase and also Mbanza Kongo was becoming populated. In 1706 Vita Kimpa gave birth to a son after two miscarriages and two failed marriages but she continued to emphasize the closeness of God to the African people, which is the unifying factor amongst Antonians. The Catholic church feels threatened as their influence on the people was beginning wear out and also the birth of Vita Kimpa’s child was the “perfect excuse” to put her away (Since a vessel of God could not have given birth) so they decided it is time to put her in her place. But they were able to succeed in manipulating Nusamu a Mvemba to do their dirty job because he also feels threatened by the increasing influence of Vita Kimpa on the people and her alliance with Kibenga and so he (Pedro IV) puts out an order for her arrest.
“She was probably too spiritual and independent to be married, since she had two failed marriages by the time she began her prophecy.”- Executed Today interview with Prof. John K. Thornton).
Vita Kimpa also made the political mistake, which we can maybe attributed to overconfidence or naiveté of going back home to her parents to have her baby near Evululu; Pedro IV’s domain where she was eventually found by Pedro’s soldiers , captured with her son and some of her followers (She was pregnant all the while and having the baby also upset her, and made her feel guilty since as a saint she felt she should not have done this). They were charged with heresy; The miracles performed by Vita Kimpa were denounced as “Kindoki” or the use of supernatural powers.. She was tried in a civil court (not an ecclesiastic court) under Kongo and not church law (Though her arrest and trial was masterminded by the church through Pedro IV). According to Kongo law, punishment is prescribed for witchcraft and heresy; which were the charges leveled against her. Vita Kimpa was beaten and tortured continuously to renounce and reject her Ancestral teachings which will serve as a means of recapturing the minds of the people but she stuck to her belief, her messages and her mission as a vessel of God. On July 2, 1706, Kimpa Vita, the famous Kongolese noblewoman, a prophet also known by her baptismal name Dona Beatriz, and her son were burned as heretic and a “witch” under the watchful eye of capuchin priests who had helped in convicting her (Though they denied they were presence during her trial). She could only have survived if she had stayed in Mbanza Kongo for a little longer
Vita Kimpa could only have remained in power if she had remained the capital with Pedro Constantinho da silva and his forces would have been enough to protect her and fend off the inevitable attacks that the other two primary contenders would have mounted. Nusamu a Mvemba (Pedro IV) ended up defeating both of these two contenders; first Pedro Constantinho in 1709 and then Joao.
Vita Kimpa’s movement remained very strong in Mbanza Kongo even after her death, and that Antonian prayers were shouted out by the defenders of the city in the war of 1709, and her ideas remained among the peasants, appearing in various messianic cults until two centuries later. Even King Nusamu a Mvemba used it to unify and renew his kingdom after defeating Kibenga (Pedro Constantinho da Silva) and Joao. Vita Kimpa’s mother (Ngudi andi Kimpa Vita ) continued the movement after her daughter’s death. And her messages took a new turn when a prophet named Simon Kibangu founded the Kimbanguist church in the 1920s and the Bundu dia Kongo, a rapidly growing church founded by Mwanda Nsemi in the 1960s (It is said that Vita Kimpa prophesied her return but only this time as a man and so most people of Kongo believed Vita Kimpa to be reincarnated in Simon Kibangu). Her movement was also exported to the new world, in Brazil, Surinam, Haiti, Jamaica, and the US.
“According to the testimony of Father Lorenzo Da Lucca who travelled in the ship ’Nossa Senora Da Cabo’ carrying slaves to Bahia Brazil in August 10, 1709. Many of the slaves wore symbols of Mama Kimpa Vita, Bundu Dia Kongo which had a profound influence in victories won against the colonisers, whether in Kongo, Brazil, North America or Haiti.”– Bundu-dia-Kongo
It is said that the Haitian revolutionaries during their fights were screaming “Kanga Mundele, Kanga Ndoki” which were words used in the salva Antonina, one of Mama Vita Kimpa’s prayers.
Mama Vita Kimpa Layed the Foundation for Constructive Resistance.
(Note: There’s currently an ongoing research into the story of Kibenga (Pedro Constantinho da Silva) as we believe his story could shed more light into Vita Kimpa’s “traditional” side of story”)
Norman C. Brockman; http://www.dacb.org/stories/congo/kimpa_vita.html
R.S. Basi’s book “The Hand of God; http://www.theblackhandofgod.com/
Kongo dia Ntotila ‘Le Front National Kongolais‘