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)

Beatrice of Congo: the African Priestess and Prophet

Beatriz Kimpa Vita
Beatriz Kimpa Vita

Beatriz Kimpa Vita, also known as Beatrice of Congo, or Dona Beatriz, or Tchimpa M’vita, was an African prophet (yeah… a female prophet) or priestess born around 1684 in the Kingdom of Kongo in a territory near Mt Kibangu which is in modern day Angola.  She created her own religious movement which used Christian symbols but revitalized traditional Kongo cultural roots. Born into a noble clan, the Mwana Kongo clan, she was baptized in her youth. In her childhood, Kimpa Vita was already having visions and dreams of playing with angels, and it is said that these as well as her high spirits caused her two youthful marriages to fail. This made her lean deeper into spiritual life. She was trained as a nganga marinda or as a person able to communicate with spirits (the supernatural world). However, she soon renounced that role to move closer to the catholic faith.

Church of Mbanza Kongo, ca 1549
Church of Mbanza Kongo, ca 1549

She received visions of St Anthony of Padua, and believed to be a medium for his spirit. She started preaching soon after, in the city of Mbanza Kongo (which means ‘City of Kongo‘) or Sao Salvador. She occupied the old church of Mbanza Kongo. She said that God wanted Mbanza Kongo to be restored as the capital of the Kongo kingdom; she called it the biblical Bethlehem. She had direct revelations from God on her side; apparently, she died every Friday and spent each weekend in Heaven conferring with the Heavenly Father about the affairs of Kongo. From these sessions in Heaven she learned the stories of Jesus being born in Nsundi, baptized in Sao Salvador and Mary being a slave of a Kongo marquis. She basically made the catholic religion a Kongo religion based on Kongo’s rich culture for the Kongo people: she made God closer to the Kongo people! She healed people, and was able to make sterile women conceive.

Map of Angola showing Mbanza Kongo
Map of Angola showing Mbanza Kongo

Her call to unity drew strong support among thousands of peasants, who flocked to the city. She told her followers that Jesus, Mary and other Christian saints were really Kongolese. In one of her visions, she saw that Kongo (which had been divided and under wars after the death of King Antonio I, with slave ships increasingly taking people to Brazil, Surinam, etc) must reunite under one king in order to prosper. She was ordered by God to build a specific Kongolese Catholicism and unite the Kongo under one king. Her message became so popular it could be called a Spiritual renaissance. This threatened the influence of the Catholic Church amongst the African people. Her Movement was called Antonian. Even though it integrated Kongolese culture with catholicism, the catholic priests drove the supporters of Kimpa Vita away. Some were imprisoned and beaten daily for their convictions. This is quite similar to the fate of the early apostles of Jesus Christ.

Kongo Kingdom map
Kongo Kingdom map

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 followers. They were charged with heresy. The miracles performed by Kimpa Vita were denounced 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 capuchin priests who had helped convicting her. The Antonian movement started by Kimpa lived throughout times and outlasted her. The Kongo king Pedro IV used it to unify and renew his kingdom. Her ideas remained among the peasants, appearing in various messianic cults until, two centuries later, it took new form in the preaching of Simon Kimbangu. It was also exported to the new world, in Brazil, Surinam, Haiti, Jamaica, and the US. It is said that the Haitian revolutionaries during their fights were screaming “Kanga Mundele, Kanga Ndoki” which are words used in the salva Antonina, one of Mama Kimpa Vita’s prayers.

Check out the writings of Norman C. Brockman, the book The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706 by Pr. John K. Thornton and his very insightful interview to the website Execute Today, and R.S. Basi’s book “The Hand of God.” The article Kongo dia Ntotila posted on the website of ‘Le Front National Kongolais’ is a true jewel. The city of Mbanza Kongo which is the first church ever built south of the equator is now part of UNESCO World Heritage. There is piece of theatre made in Kimpa Vita’s great honor.