Beatrice of Congo : A Physical Portrait in 1710

Beatriz Kimpa Vita
Beatriz Kimpa Vita

Today we will talk about Beatrice of Congo, also known as Kimpa Vita, who was an African priestess and prophet who held a lot of power. Born into a noble clan, the Mwana Kongo clan, she was baptized in her youth, and later created her own religious movement which used Christian symbols but revitalized traditional Kongo cultural roots. She is seen as a strong antislavery figure; think about this for a moment, the catholic priests preaching christianity, yet silently participating in the slavery of the Kongolese. Didn’t it make total sense for her to turn away from catholicism and create a true Kongo religion? Her movement which is among some of the best documented in Kongo’s history is seen a precursor to modern African democracy movements. Below is the physical portrait of Beatrice of Congo by a contemporary Father Bernardo da Gallo in 1710 (Translated to English by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com).

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Kongo Kingdom map
Kongo Kingdom map

This young woman was about twenty two years old. She was fairly tall and with fine features. On the exterior, she seemed very devout. She spoke with gravity, seeming to weigh all her words.  She predicted “the future and announced among other things that the judgment was near.”

She walked on tiptoes (toes), almost without touching the ground with the rest of her feet; she moved her flanks and whole body, like a snake, even though her body was tense, as if deprived of spirit, and with bulging eyes; spoke frantically with delirium.

Rapport du Père Bernardo da Gallo, Rome, 17 Decembre 1710, publié par Louis Jadin

Les Africains Vol.9, Editions J.A, C.-A. Julien, P. 58, (1977)

“Pleure, Ô Noir Frère Bien-Aimé” de Patrice Lumumba / “Weep, Beloved Black Brother” by Patrice Lumumba

Patrice Emery Lumumba
Patrice Emery Lumumba

The 30 June 1960 marks the independence of the then Congo-Belge (Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)) from Belgium. We will celebrate DRC’s independence today with a poem by one of Congo’s proud sons, none other than its first democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, “Pleure, Ô Noir Frère bien-aimé (Weep, beloved black brother)”. This poem was published in the journal INDEPENDANCE, organe du M.N.C., en septembre 1959 (Cf. La pensée politique de Patrice LUMUMBA, textes et documents recueillis par Jean VAN LIERDE, Présence Africaine, 1963, p. 69-70). Translated to English by Lillian Lowenfels and Nan Apotheker.

 

Pleure, O Noir Frère bien-aimé

O Noir, bétail humain depuis des millénaires
Tes cendres s’éparpillent à tous les vents du ciel
Et tu bâtis jadis les temples funéraires
Où dorment les bourreaux d’un sommeil éternel.
Poursuivi et traqué, chassé de tes villages,
Vaincu en des batailles où la loi du plus fort,
En ces siècles barbares de rapt et de carnage,
Signifiait pour toi l’esclavage ou la mort,
Tu t’étais réfugié en ces forêts profondes
Où l’autre mort guettait sous son masque fiévreux
Sous la dent du félin, ou dans l’étreinte immonde
Et froide du serpent, t’écrasant peu à peu.
Et puis s’en vint le Blanc, plus sournois, plus rusé et rapace
Qui échangeait ton or pour de la pacotille,
Violentant tes femmes, enivrant tes guerriers,
Parquant en ses vaisseaux tes garçons et tes filles.
Le tam-tam bourdonnait de village en village
Portant au loin le deuil, semant le désarroi,
Disant le grand départ pour les lointains rivages
Où le coton est Dieu et le dollar Roi
Condamné au travail forcé, tel une bête de somme
De l’aube au crépuscule sous un soleil de feu
Pour te faire oublier que tu étais un homme
On t’apprit à chanter les louanges de Dieu.
Et ces divers cantiques, en rythmant ton calvaire
Te donnaient l’espoir en un monde meilleur…
Mais en ton cœur de créature humaine, tu ne demandais guère
Que ton droit à la vie et ta part de bonheur.
Assis autour du feu, les yeux pleins de rêve et d’angoisse
Chantant des mélopées qui disaient ton cafard
Parfois joyeux aussi, lorsque montait la sève
Tu dansais, éperdu, dans la moiteur du soir.
Et c’est là que jaillit, magnifique,
Sensuelle et virile comme une voix d’airain
Issue de ta douleur, ta puissante musique,
Le jazz, aujourd’hui admiré dans le monde
En forçant le respect de l’homme blanc,
En lui disant tout haut que dorénavant,
Ce pays n’est plus le sien comme aux vieux temps.
Tu as permis ainsi à tes frères de race
De relever la tête et de regarder en face
L’avenir heureux que promet la délivrance.
Les rives du grand fleuve, pleines de promesses
Sont désormais tiennes.
Cette terre et toutes ses richesses
Sont désormais tiennes.
Et là haut, le soleil de feu dans un ciel sans couleur,
De sa chaleur étouffera ta douleur
Ses rayons brûlants sécheront pour toujours
La larme qu’ont coulée tes ancêtres,
Martyrisés par leurs tyranniques maîtres,
Sur ce sol que tu chéris toujours.
Et tu feras du Congo, une nation libre et heureuse,
Au centre de cette gigantesque Afrique Noire.

 

Weep, Beloved Black Brother

O black man, beast of burden through the centuries,
Your ashes scattered to the winds of heaven,
There was a time when you built burial temples
In which your murderers sleep their final sleep.
Hunted down and tracked, driven from your homes.
Beaten in battles where brute force prevailed.
Barbaric centuries of rape and carnage
That offered you the choice of death or slavery.
You went for refuge to the forest depths,
And other deaths waylaid you, burning fevers,
Jaws of wild beasts, the cold, unholy coils
Of snakes who crushed you gradually to death.
Then came the white man, more clever, tricky, cruel,
He took your gold in trade for shoddy stuff,
He raped your women, made your warriors drunk,
Penned up you sons and daughters on his ships.
The tom-toms hummed through all the villages,
Spreading afar the mourning, the wild grief
At news of exile to a distant land
Where cotton is God and the dollar King.
Condemned to enforced labor, beasts of burden,
Under a burning sun from dawn to dusk,
So that you might forget you are a man
They taught your to sing the praises of their God,
And these hosannas, tuned in to your sorrows,
Gave you the hope of a better world to come.
But in your human heart you only asked
The right to live, your share of happiness.
Beside your fire, your eyes reflect your dreams and suffering,
You sang the chants that gave voice to your blues.
And sometimes to your joys, when sap rose in the trees
And you danced wildly in the damp of evening.
And out of this sprang forth, magnificent,
Alive and virile, like a bell of brass
Sounding your sorrow, that powerful music,
Jazz, now loved, admired throughout the world,
Compelling the white man to respect,
Announcing in clear loud tones from this time on
This country no longer belongs to him.
And thus you made the brothers of your race
Lift up their heads to see clear, straight ahead
The happy future bearing deliverance.
The banks of a great river in flower with hope
Are yours from this time onward.
The earth and all its riches
Are yours from this time onward.
The blazing sun in the colorless sky
Dissolves our sorrow in a wave of warmth.
Its burning rays will help to dry forever
The flood of tears shed by our ancestors,
Martyrs of the tyranny of the masters.
And on this earth which you will always love
You will make the Congo a nation, happy and free,
In the very heart of vast Black Africa.

 

Patrice Lumumba: ’30 June 1960′ Independence Speech

Today, we will do a Memory recall… Please enjoy this great independence speech delivered by Patrice Lumumba in 1960 to the people of Congo, few months before his assassination. It is a pure jewel! The French version is here  LUMUMBA discours. Don’t forget to watch the video!!!

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Men and women of the Congo,

Victorious fighters for independence, today victorious, I greet you in the name of the Congolese Government. All of you, my friends, who have fought tirelessly at our sides, I ask you to make this June 30, 1960, an illustrious date that you will keep indelibly engraved in your hearts, a date of significance of which you will teach to your children, so that they will make known to their sons and to their grandchildren the glorious history of our fight for liberty.

For this independence of the Congo, even as it is celebrated today with Belgium, a friendly country with whom we deal as equal to equal, no Congolese worthy of the name will ever be able to forget that is was by fighting that it has been won, a day-to-day fight, an ardent and idealistic fight, a fight in which we were spared neither privation nor suffering, and for which we gave our strength and our blood.

We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.

This was our fate for eighty years of a colonial regime; our wounds are too fresh and too painful still for us to drive them from our memory. We have known harassing work, exacted in exchange for salaries which did not permit us to eat enough to drive away hunger, or to clothe ourselves, or to house ourselves decently, or to raise our children as creatures dear to us.

We have known ironies, insults, blows that we endured morning, noon, and evening, because we are Negroes. Who will forget that to a black one said “tu“, certainly not as to a friend, but because the more honorable “vous” was reserved for whites alone? Read the full speech here → Patrice Lumumba Independence speech

 

Patrice Lumumba: Fierce Guardian of Congolese and African Liberty

Patrice Emery Lumumba
Patrice Emery Lumumba

This Monday marked the 50 year anniversary of the assassination of the great African giant Patrice Lumumba.  How could I pass on such an occasion to talk about him?  50 years later, his speech and his vision still  ring true.  Lumumba dared to defy the Belgian King Baudouin by telling him on independence day what he saw as the Belgian hold on Congo. He was blunt! He spoke the truth! He was not malleable… He could not be manipulated by Europeans! He was a menace because he was a free man proud to be Congolese.

Lumumba detained
Lumumba detained

I always wondered what would have happened if Lumumba had not been so open about his ambitions for his country? What would have happened if he had played their game, and hidden his cards? Then we, Africans, would have never had our African hero! Someone had to say what we all felt: oppressed, hated, enslaved, diminished,… someone had to make us proud of being Congolese/African again… someone had to re-establish our dignity!  That someone happened to be Patrice Emery Lumumba!  Patrice died because he had great ideals, and because he trusted others.  For the problem in the Katanga province, he went to the United Nations; he trusted that establishment to resolve the conflict peacefully, and to help solve the Katanga secession…. Instead they, with all the interests they represented (US, Belgium,France, etc…), refused to help him… the US of Kennedy refused to help him out, and thus he turned to the USSR to keep his country united.  With the USSR, he was able to solve the rebellion in the Katanga and Kasai provinces… but the Americans and Belgians were mad that he had been helped by the Soviets; they decided to have him murdered after this affront (they used Mobutu, and Tshombe)! Once again, we Africans sold our own brother…  I wonder where the Maurice Tshombe, or Kibwe, or the Joseph Mobutu are today… History will remember them as tyrants, dictators, and puppets of the West!  Isn’t it interesting that history keeps repeating itself? Today the United Nations are starting a war in Ivory Coast in the name of installing a puppet-president in a soveraign country… Have you ever seen the UN so vehemently ask for war in a country?  Only in Africa could this be possible…  I used to dream that this was a peace organization! Actually, it is an organization to impose the will of the West on third world resource-rich countries.

Lumumba on a USSR stamp in 1961
Lumumba on a USSR commemorative stamp in 1961

The following documentary will tell it all: how the Belgians did not like Lumumba because he was not a puppet, how they started the Katanga secession and supported it; how Lumumba went to the UN for help in keeping his country united and was refused help; how Lumumba went to the US to ask for help, and was not even received by president Kennedy; how he turned to the USSR to solve his problem in the Katanga and Kasai provinces; how that event precipitated his end.  50 years later, Lumumba’s ideals and vision are still actual. Lumumba is the symbol of aspirations of an entire continent. His spirit lives on, and his pride is ours!

Lumumba (2000)
Lumumba (2000)

I live you with an excerp from a letter he sent to his wife before his death: “… the future of the Congo is beautiful and [I] expect for each Congolese, to accomplish the sacred task of reconstruction of our independence and our sovereignty; for without dignity there is no liberty, without justice there is no dignity, and without independence there are no free men.”  You can find the Integral version of this letter on AfricaWithin.com, as well as his famous 30 June 1960 independence day speech.  Please don’t forget to check out: Wikipedia, The Guardian which deemed the assassination of Lumumba as the most important of the 20th century, The Daily Nation of Kenya deemed Lumumba the bright spark in a land of despair, and The New York Times which called it an assassination’s long shadow.  At last, the movie Lumumba (2000) is what finally got the Belgian admitting their part in the assassination of Lumumba.