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The Joan of Arc of Africa, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1052

Essay

In his introduction to The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706, author John K. Thornton provides an excellent summation on the life and times of Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita, “a Kongolese woman possessed by Saint Anthony” who led a massive internal revolt against the Kongolese government during the final years of the 17th century. Kimpa Vita’s revolt was of course “violently suppressed by the religious and political authorities” of the Congo, and in 1706, Kimpa Vita was burned at the stake as a witch and a heretic 1 which is comparable to being excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

However, before her execution at the stake as a witch and heretic, Kimpa Vita had gathered together thousands of followers who like herself wanted to put an end to the African slave trade. But not surprisingly, this important uprising as a religious and political movement “is little known outside narrow academic circles” 2 and is usually not included in textbooks unless published as a history on African-Americans and their traditional cultural roots in Africa. As noted by Thornton, Kimpa Vita’s rebellion has never been fully explored in regards to its “implications for the history of Africa” and especially the history of the slave trade in the Americas. 3

Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita was born in 1684 and was baptized in the Roman Catholic faith as Dona Beatriz. As a prophet, allegedly under the spell of the spirit of Saint Anthony, Kimpa Vita is recognized as the legitimate founder of a Christian movement known as Antonianism, a reference to Saint Anthony. Although her teachings were based on the tenets of the Roman Catholic Church, she was adamantly against the European missionaries in the Congo, due to their grudging support of the African slave trade which was operated by mostly white Europeans. At the time of Kimpa Vita’s birth and well into her adolescent years, the Congo as a Kingdom was “torn by armed turbulences” and a long-lasting internal civil war following the death of King Antonio I at the Battle of Mbwila in 1665. This event then led to the abandonment of the ancient capital city of Sao Salvador in 1678 and to the nation of the Congo being “divided into major factions ruled by rival pretenders to the throne.” Thus, these social and political conditions allowed Kimpa Vita to become recognized for her religious visions which began when she was about eight years old. 4

Upon being singled out as a specially gifted young woman, Kimpa Vita was trained to become what was known as a nganga marinda whose responsibilities revolved around solving social problems in the Congo as well as helping others to overcome their fears about the unknown related to the “Other World” or life after death in the spiritual sense. After being introduced to another prophet named Apollonia Mafuta who claimed to have visions of the Virgin Mary, Kimpa Vita in 1704 claimed that she had died from an unknown illness and had been reborn as Saint Anthony. Mafuta became convinced that Kimpa Vita was telling the truth which led to supporting her as the “real voice of God” who must help to restore the Kingdom to its former glory. From a spiritual standpoint, Kimpa Vita claimed that “God (had) ordered her to build a specific Kongolese Catholicism and to unite the country” under one true king. 5

It would appear that Kimpa Vita’s timing could not have been better, for in 1705, despite not having the support of the Kongolese nobility nor that of King Pedro IV, the common people of the Congo began to see her as an “ideal ruler, a social revolutionary, and a peacemaker.” At this time, Kimpa Vita and her thousands of followers returned to the ancient city of Sao Salvador, where Kimpa Vita was considered as the “undisputed mistress of the royal capital” where she could “fulfill her mission of restoration.” In effect, Kimpa Vita’s position as the savior of her nation was based upon her hatred for the African slave trade and for those who supported it for power, influence, and of course profit. In many of her sermons, Kimpa Vita told her followers that a new era of wealth and prosperity was in the near future; consequently, many of her followers that were of noble birth began to see the movement as an opportunity to obtain political power and influence. 6 As Thornton explains it, the Antonian movement was slowly starting to affect the social and political realms of the Kingdom, a situation in which the political authorities were “no longer able to control via the forces that had been unleashed” by Kimpa Vita’s powerful sermons. 7

Unfortunately, the power of the political authorities in the Congo and that of the Capuchin friars who had long been staunchly against Kimpa Vita’s claim to be the resurrected Saint Anthony and a messenger of God brought a quick end to the Antonian movement. On July 2, 1706, Kimpa Vita was burned at the stake for religious heresy, However, her teachings continued to influence tens of thousands of common Kongolese citizens who firmly believed that Kimpa Vita had somehow managed to survive her own execution. So strong was Kimpa Vita’s influence that a large group of former followers who had been captured by the slave traders and sent to the American Colonies revolted in South Carolina which in 1739 was one of the bastions of the institution of slavery. 8

Thus, although Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita is not well-known by scholars and historians in general, she nonetheless played a pivotal role in the history of the African slave trade during the late 16th century and is today considered by many as the Joan of Arc of Africa. 9

Endnotes

  1. John Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706. (UK: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1998), 1.
  2. Ibid, 1.
  3. Ibid, 2.
  4. Leslie M. Alexander, and Walter C. Rucker, eds., Encyclopedia of African-American History (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2010), 119.
  5. Ibid, 120.
  6. Ibid, 121.
  7. The Kongolese Saint Anthony, 134.
  8. Alexander & Rucker, Encyclopedia of African-American History, 121.
  9. Ibid, 121.

Bibliography

Alexander, Leslie M., and Rucker, Walter C., eds. Encyclopedia of African-American History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2010.

Thornton, John. The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706. UK: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1998.

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