Her influence is often overlooked in the books of African history. Perhaps, religious manuscripts are given high regard only when they outline a masculine figure. We might not really know a reason for the general lack of apt appreciation of this religious figure, but what we know is her exceptional role as one of Africa’s female religious figures. Amongst the African greats, Kimpa Vita, also known as Dona Beatriz (after baptism into Christianity) occupies a very significant place. Born in 1684, Kimpa Vita was a descendant of an esteemed Kongolese nobility.
Vita was born to an army commander who served in the kingdom as a regional commander to the powerful kingdom of Kongo. Owing to this high societal status Kimpa Vita had a lifetime privilege to be groomed as an nganda marinda, a form of religious medium. It was during this training period that Vita claimed to have received a prophetic vision concerning the kingdom and its future.
Kimpa Vita’s prophetic vision
As a child Kimpa Vita had consistent spiritual visions in which she interacted and received instructions from the saints. In some of her visions she would talk of her experiences playing with angels in her dreams. This extreme spiritual endowment propped Vita into becoming the most revered young spiritual intercessor for her kingdom. This was hugely because, Vita was born at a time when civil unrest, drought and slavery wreaked havoc, leading to political disintegration of the kingdom. As a result, the Kongo people had to seek consolation under a spiritual umbrella. Kimpa’s definitive spiritual breakthrough presented itself when she fell ill owing to a ‘supernatural’ fever. She was bedridden for a number of days and almost breathed her last. Fortunately, she miraculously healed and regained her strength. She attributed the miracle to a vision in which she claimed to have personally spoke with the voice of the patron saint of Kongo, and also incidentally the patron saint of Portugal, St. Anthony of Padua. She believed Saint Anthony became incarnate in her being and she became a physical manifestation of the saint with a mission to heal the kingdom.
As a result of this instructive vision, Kimpa Vita became the spiritual representative of Kongo, establishing herself as a prophet and religious leader, she would proceed to teach her followers about the African personality, nature and character of Jesus Christ. For Prophetess Vita, Jesus was a black African and lived an African lifestyle that resonated with the Kongo people. Put bluntly, according to her vision, Jesus was born to Kongolese parents and grew up within the Kingdom until he ascended. Thus with her spiritual credentials as a nganda marinda and her identification as a Christian, Kimpa Vita began to be recognized as the kingdom’s prophetess. Following this religious significance, Vita became a fierce proponent of Anthonianism, a doctrine that was founded upon the sainthood of St. Anthony of Portugal. However, hers was Anthonianism fused with an African religious flavour which the Kongo people were more acquainted with.
Uniting the Kongo kingdom
Owing to an array of wars and affliction after the murder of King Antonio I by the Portuguese, the Kongo kingdom existed in great disarray and disillusionment. The people had to turn to their faith for a panacea to bring back unity of purpose within the kingdom. Even though she was a young girl, Kimpa Vita was able to take positive steps towards recovering the kingdom’s lost greatness. She made use of her faith and belief to unite the people and foster a strong force to resist Portuguese colonial invasion. Kimpa Vita clarified that, it was against God’s will to oppress Africans. She also taught her followers that Capuchin teachings that likened Jesus and angels to only white people was heretical and discriminatory. Her messages of unity, peace and tranquillity instilled cohesion within the Kongo people such that, they posed an imminent threat to the Portuguese authorities. Her stellar efforts at uniting people through religion, she owns a legacy as a mother of African Unity.
Martyrdom and legacy
While attempting to unite the people, Vita faced active resistance and opposition from Capuchin monks and Portuguese authorities. They accused her of peddling heresy and false teachings amongst local Christians. In 1706, under the order of Portuguese puppet, Pedro IV of Kongo and the influence of Portuguese official Friar Bernado da Gallo, Vita was burnt to death for heresy. She died at a very youthful age of 22, having birthed a son in somewhat controversial circumstances. Some oral traditional texts allude that she was burnt together with her son while others claim that he was banished into exile. Though the Antonianist movement could not really sustain after her death, African Christianity movements such as the Tocoismo and Quimbanda still follow her belief. The Kimbanguist church built in the 1920’s is also understood to be founded upon the dictates of Antoninism. Today, in modern day Angola, the statue of Vita stands firm in the city of Thus, Kimpa Vita left a unique mark in African religious history.