Thursday, March 11, 2010

The African Joan of Arc


Four hundred years ago, amidst magic, warfare, and the relentless thirst for slaves, an extraordinary African woman helped shape the New World thousands of miles away.
Where colonial priests perverted the Word of God, kingdoms imploded, crippled by greed, corruption, and a confused morality.

The African "Joan of Arc" reconciled indigenous spiritual beliefs with the Euro-centric teachings of the Christian Church and gave her people equality before God. She started a movement that helped millions face their coming hardships with dignity and grace.
Especially since so many American slaves came from the region where she lived, her teachings helped form an integral part of the American persona.

Kimpa Vita (Dona Beatriz)
Lebone Lumbu (formerly Elaine M. Lumbu), 2005Kimpa Vita c.1684 to 1706, Congo BrazzavilleDemocratic Republic of CongoNorthern Angola
In recent history Africa has been home to a number of Spiritual icons, who have inevitably changed the face of Christianity by creating Indigenous African Churches.
(Download a 13 page document detailing Kimpa Vita)

As our concern for satisfying our bodily needs grows day by day, it is almost unbelievable that we are primarily created soul. We are more than our bodies. Personally I derive proof of this as a result of learning about a truly remarkable African woman not so long ago by the name of Kimpa Vita (Dona Beatriz). Before I give a brief account of her life and history I would like to share one of her prophecies: She announced that she would return as a man in future and build a huge Church independent of Rome.

The 17th century gave birth to an icon called Kimpa Vita Dona Beatriz. She concerned herself with the restoration, spiritually and politically, of the Kongo Kingdom. Born in 1684 Kimpa Vita worked as a religious actor[kp1] and was mostly isolated from the rest of her peers. At the time when the Kongo was dominated by political unrest and civil war. Therefore Kimpa Vita’s religious ideology came as an answer to the prayers of many Kongolese people. In her message she combined traditional Kongolese culture with Christianity. Her first prediction (1703) was that God would punish the Kongo. Later she fell ill and claimed that the spirit of saint Anthony possessed her. Saint Anthony was a Catholic priest and miracle worker. She announced that the spirit of saint Anthony would allow her direct access to the other world and that she would die every Friday to be resurrected again on Mondays. During her time away she would receive instructions from God, which she relayed to the Kongo. Kimpa Vita denounced traditional ceremonies and ordered the burning of fetishes by the Kongo people. She said that sacraments like marriage, confession and baptism are meaningless to God because God knows one’s intentions.

She believed that the Christ who founded Christianity 17 centuries ago and his disciples were indeed Kongolese (Black Africans). She placed the birth of Jesus Christ within the Kongo and Sao Salvador as the biblical Bethlehem, claiming that God wanted it restored as capital. Her message became so popular it could be called a Spiritual renaissance. This threatened the influence of the Catholic Church amongst the African people. The Movement was called Antonian. Even though it integrated Kongolese culture with Christianity, the Catholic priests drove the supporters of Kimpa Vita away. Some were imprisoned and beaten daily for their convictions.

In 1706 Kimpa Vita gave birth to a son after two miscarriages. She continued to emphasize the closeness of God to the African people, which was a unifying factor amongst Antonians. The establishment of the Antonian movement and its consequent success led to the arrest of Kimpa Vita, her son and her associates. They were charged with heresy. The miracle working by Kimpa Vita was described as “kindoki” or the use of supernatural powers. Kimpa Vita and her infant son were burned at the stake as a “witch” under the watchful eye of a capuchin priest who helped in convicting her.

This brutal execution did not have the effect, which the Catholic community hoped for. Instead Antonianism spread from Sao Salvador to other provinces in the Kongo. Pedro Constantininho became the successor of the movement. The success of this movement is primarily attributed to the fact that Kimpa Vita was believed to reveal the original ethnicity of Jesus Christ and his apostles. She portrayed the Kongo as a place of Biblical importance.With the birth of Simon Kimbangu two centuries later one can almost say that Kimpa Vita is back. As a devoted Kimbanguist I learned that Kimbanguisme is based on the same principals, which Kimpa Vita expressed more than two hundred years ago. Simon Kimbangu also banned the old superstitious practices and dismantled the cults, which offered themselves as vehicles of spiritual contact. He encouraged people to pray to God through Jesus Christ, interpreted as a common ancestor and mediator. Both Kimpa Vita and Kimbangu preached a special relationship between God and the African people.

Beatrice Kimpa Vita was born in 1684 in the kingdom of Kongo. While still in her teens, she started a non-violent mission to liberate the Kingdom of Kongo and return it to its former glory. She fought all the forms of slavery, and tried to reconcile Christianity with African religions and beliefs, teaching people that black saints mingled with white saints in paradise. This was revolutionary, since Catholic priests in the area (Capuchins) taught that ONLY white saints could be found in heaven. Kimpa Vita led thousands of her people to rebuild and repopulate Mbanza Kongo, the capital of the once glorious unified Kingdom of Kongo. On July 2, 1706, she was burned at the stake for heresy. In 1710, the perpetrators sent a report of their "mission" to the pope, after having organized the persecution of her followers.

The Impact of Her Action
In 1739, some of her followers, sold as slaves in America, carried out the revolt well known as the "Stono rebellion" in South Carolina, and her teachings also may have inspired the action of former Kongo slaves, during the revolt which led to the independence of Haiti in 1804.

Dona Beatrice is today regarded as a prophetess and a symbol of non-violent resistance in Africa, inspiring many political and religious leaders in Congo and Angola. In fact, she is widely credited as being the founder of the first Black Christian movement in sub-Saharan Africa.

Importance and Interest of Her RehabilitationThe French people rehabilitated Jeanne d' Arc (Joan of Arc) five centuries after her death. She then became "Sainte Jeanne d' Arc"(Saint-Joan of Arc), in spite of the controversy around her life. Dona Beatrice Kimpa Vita was a victim of the religious intolerance and racism raging in her country and continent. Despite her accomplishments, Pope Paul VI rejected a request for her rehabilitation in 1966.

Informative Links About Kimpa Vita:
The Imani Foundation - Home of the Black Improvement Move
Visit our online Black History Class
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1 comment:

Nia said...

Wow, I didn't know about her. Very eye-opening indeed.