Convictions of Faith is the story of a powerful African Heroine, Kimpa Vita, and her quest for African equality. Sometimes called the “African Joan of Arc,” Kimpa Vita challenged and nearly toppled the powerful Catholic Church in Kongo. Based on actual events, Convictions of Faith tells her story with an African perspective.
Claiming to be the reincarnation of Saint Anthony, Kimpa Vita began and led a crusade for the dignity and equality of African culture and belief in the face of Portuguese hegemony. But it was not easy. Constant reminders of her own mortality created a crisis of faith in her, providing an opportunity for the power structure she challenged. But the king and church faced similar existential and moral crises as they navigated between collapse and almost unimaginable wealth.
Convictions of Faith describes the political intrigue, betrayals of love and faith, and moral dilemmas that led to Kimpa Vita’s trial and ultimate demise. The novel explores the dichotomies of murder, ambition, and betrayal in pre-colonial Africa, and offers a glimpse into the powerful forces and compromises in morality that fueled the commerce of slavery. To provide cultural context critical to discerning the truth about Kimpa Vita’s life, Convictions of Faith offers an Afro-Centric perspective on actual events recorded by Portuguese missionaries.
Though burned at the stake for heresy, Kimpa Vita started a movement that could be discerned thousands of miles and hundreds of years away.
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Faith, made infallible by naïve confidence, fomented the beginning. As betrayal and sacrilege conspired to acrimony, that same strain of faith likewise ensured the end. But, unlike the simple narrative history celebrates, this story’s outcome was much more than a reincarnation of its origin. Kimpa Vita’s mortal deeds and misdeeds, often inseparable, compelled her conviction because belief, like truth, is personal.
On the eve of her birth in 1783, the Mbidzi River ran furious from six days and nights of thunderstorms. The first raindrops that danced on Kongo’s parched fields were welcomed as saviors. By the third night, however, the soil faced a new desperation, begging for respite as its grip was wrested from the land. The relentless water began savaging homes, crops, and nearly everything else the BoKongo held dear. In later years, some would recall the deluge as an omen, claiming that nganga marindas, the seers of things to come, had foretold the coming of an oracle. Everything on this earth, it was often said, unholy, diseased, and rotted by the ego of man, must be washed away in preparation for any immaculate advent.
The day of Kimpa Vita’s birth arrived, but the world didn’t change perceptibly. That would take some time.
“What shall we name her?” asked Manoka, her mother, when her newborn daughter was placed in her arms.
“Kimpa Vita!” exclaimed her father, Fumu, without hesitation, his hulking muscular frame hovering closer to inspect her. He kissed his tiny daughter on the forehead with a gentleness one wouldn’t think a hardened soldier capable of.
“Perfect,” nodded Manoka. “The body of life.”
Fumu’s large hands reached for and cradled Kimpa Vita, his first child. He sat holding her for nearly an hour, marveling at her tiny features, oblivious to anything around him. Then, as suddenly as he had fallen into her trance, Fumu stood and, with a sigh, handed Kimpa Vita back to Manoka. Without a word, he collected some belongings and purposefully stepped outside, marching off to battle.
Over the next four years, Fumu was off in battle nearly as much as he was home watching over his daughter. But wars of commerce meant walking ever farther to capture fewer slaves, and men like Fumu were slowly being replaced by younger, stronger soldiers who could march farther with less rest. This left Fumu to attend to defense duties closer to home and to have much greater influence on his daughter than the average soldier might have.
Kimpa Vita’s early years were unremarkable but for the fact that some elders considered her clairvoyant, a prognosis that divided her parents. Manoka was thrilled and took credit for what she considered Kimpa Vita’s gift, reminding Fumu that she came from a family known for special abilities.
“Remember when we first knew?” asked Manoka. She and Fumu were relaxing in their home after having had a meal of manioc and antelope.
Fumu shook his head in exasperation. He took a sip of palm wine from a large, red gourd. He had never been as willing as Manoka to see supernatural forces at work and the palm wine threatened to loosen his tongue.
“Remember?” Manoka demanded.
“A dream she had about your grandfather that you immediately imputed to her receiving messages from the ancestors,” sighed Fumu. “Yes, I remember.”
“You may ignore it,” scoffed Manoka. “But you may not change the truth. She never met my grandfather, and she described him precisely.”
“Truth?” sneered Fumu finally. “You assign connections with great ease because you ignore the simplest explanation. How many times have you described your grandfather to her?”
“She healed Nsama,” Manoka reminded him, referring to one of her neices who, seemed to have recovered from a common sickness after being embraced by Kimpa Vita.
“Or it was coincidence.”
“Believe what you wish,” said Manoka, turning away.
Fumu, who had grown astute in social interaction through his constant soldiering, thought his daughter unusually perceptive and intuitive, but nothing more. “Charm and empathy,” he observed. “As the bravado of her youth fades, I see her studying the behavior of those around her. She is developing intuition.”
“She no longer seeks the company of other children,” complained Manoka in response. She turned back to Fumu. “I see shyness or the beginning of an outsized ego. It must be corrected.”
“On the contrary,” replied Fumu as he shook his head. “I see maturity. Silence is confidence and, in Kimpa Vita’s case, betrays her interest in the well-being of others.”
Manoka had another explanation. “Her social prowess and frequent visions of the afterlife are a bridge to the simbi,” she told Fumu. “Her silence is something spiritual you and I are not capable of comprehending. We are not equipped to help her develop this gift.”
Fumu remained silent, a scowl on his face. He knew what his wife would say next. Communication with simbi, the ancestral spirits, was the central task of the suffering society, also known as the Kimpasi. Regarding his daughter’s fate, Fumu now understood where the conversation would lead.
“If, as you say, our daughter is interested in helping others, she must have an invitation and initiation into the Kimpasi,” declared Manoka, “where she can help many people at once.”
A group of spiritual healers who watched over the village and helped ease society’s woes, the mysterious Kimpasi were both feared and revered. Members trained initiates to become nganga marindas, witches in the eyes of the Church, but simply messengers of wisdom from their ancestors to the BoKongo. Still, due to the secrecy shrouding the society, nobody knew exactly what the Kimpasi did.
“Kimpa Vita is a healer,” concurred Fumu. “That is true. So must her education be by and among healers. A noble pursuit.”
Manoka was losing patience.
“She has no need for further mastery of healing,” she growled. “What would she learn among healers? How to check a pulse or inspect an iris? How to corroborate suspected ailments in breath?”
“And why not?” demanded Fumu. “Who does not hold great respect for healers? Who might live with no healers in society?”
“She has basic knowledge of healing now,” said Manoka, trying to redirect the conversation. “Three days ago, she knew to apply bird fat on a burn I received from the fire. No,” continued Manoka with a shake of her head, “our daughter shall heal on a grander scale.”
“Through prayer, chanting, and song?” Fumu sniffed, with a hint of scorn for what he saw as misplaced hope.
“The Kimpasi are healers of social and spiritual, not physical, ailments,” said Manoka, calm and unwilling to be drawn into an argument.
“They are a society of alienation,” moaned Fumu. “Nganga marindas do not lead normal lives. They do not find good husbands.”
“My kanda is powerful,” laughed Manoka. “Any man would be lucky to marry into it.”
Kandas, matrilineal clans, were the center of life in seventeenth-century Kongo. They influenced nearly every aspect of life and, to a great extent, determined a person’s personal and professional reach. Through her mother, Kimpa Vita was a member of one of the most important kandas in the kingdom.
“Your kanda is wealthy and politically powerful,” agreed Fumu. “The Kimpasi would not refuse her, but to what end? They are bound by ritual and, like the Church, impose a shackle on critical thinking.”
“Yet education must come from somewhere.”
“Life,” sighed Fumu. “Experience is the only true education in our mortal world.”
“The wisdom of elders. Lessons convey the experience of many lives.”
“Let us not feel compelled to force Kimpa Vita into always questioning her lessons,” pleaded Manoka finally.
“That shall be her true gift,” replied Fumu with a shake of his head. “On that we cannot compromise. Even at the cost of terse supper conversation.”
“Tease less, then,” sighed Manoka, struggling to find any accommodation in Fumu’s beliefs. “By insolence she shall lose the favor of anyone who would impart wisdom.”
“By questioning she shall earn the respect of any worthy teacher,” countered Fumu.
“She requires more than mere interaction with the children of my kanda,” bemoaned Manoka.
“I cannot conceive of finer lessons in culture and custom,” declared Fumu with finality. He was ready for the conversation to end and moved towards the doorway.
Manoka had more to say, however, and refused to capitulate to any attempt to limit her daughter’s full potential. As an only child, Kimpa Vita received her parents’ full attention.
“Would not tutelage with different teachers strengthen her ability to discern wisdom from folly?” asked Manoka. “Indeed, would it not strengthen the very reasoning and skills of logic that you so adamantly insist she hone?”
Fumu stopped and turned back to his wife, trying hard to find a flaw in her argument. She saw the almost imperceptible nod from Fumu’s head and knew she had won.
Throughout her life, Kimpa Vita often said that being born to her mother’s kanda was the greatest gift and most powerful advantage she ever received. Invisible to all but her husband, Manoka’s discreet advocacy may have been the most profound benefit Kimpa Vita heedlessly enjoyed.
R.S. Basi is an attorney, author, and lover of history. His extenGtsive travels in Africa have led him to continue to research that Continent’s history. Basi’s first novel, The Black Hand of God, also about Kimpa Vita, was called “[a] much needed history in a great book” by Cyrus Webb of Conversations Live!, and “[a]n overwhelming, awe-inspiring account [of her life]…to be read and absorbed, which will leave you thirsting for more”- by the RAWSISTAZ reviewers. During the year of its release, it reached #1 in three categories of download for Amazon’s Kindle.
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Why did you write this book?
Our understanding of history, even African history, is skewed towards the perspective of vistors- that is, what we know about African kingdoms and heroes and heroines is not the same understanding as we would have if it were told from the African perspective. The context, priorities and relevance would be vastly different. I wanted to write a novel about a legendary African from an Afro-centric perspective. Our kids need to be able to read about more black heroes and heroines. History is filled with them, and we need to have more effort spent on telling their stories. That’s why I wrote this book…to help bring more of our past to light.
Who was Kimpa Vita?
Sometimes called the “African Joan of Arc,” Kimpa Vita was a political and religious reformer in the powerful Kingdom of Kongo. She is often credited with being the mother of the African Independent Church movement, which seeks to reconcile traditional spiritual faith with Euro-centric teachings of the Catholic Church.
Claiming to be the reincarnation of Saint Anthony, Kimpa Vita led a crusade for the dignity and equality of African culture and belief. Though burned at the stake for heresy, she nearly toppled the king and church of her time and place. Hers is an incredible story and I’m surprised her name isn’t more known.
How did you come to know about her?
While traveling in the area she came from, I kept hearing the name. At the time, it was Zaire, but is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). I heard stories of Kimpa Vita and met a girl named after her. Coming back to the U.S., I spent months researching her and was surprised to find out how important and relevant she was to both African and American history.
How, if at all, is she relevant to African-Americans and U.S. Black history?
As the progenitor of the African Independent Church movement, which sought to reconcile African spiritual faith with the Euro-centric teachings of the Catholic church, Kimpa Vita’s influence is difficult to overstate. Indeed, her rallying cry was heard in Georgia’s 1739 Stono Rebellion, one of the largest slave uprisings in the British colonies, giving her life a direct connection to American history.
What are some of the challenges you came up against when researching African history?
Finding primary source material was difficult. Beyond the more obvious personal biases of the authors, layers of time, language, culture, and context make it a challenge to discern event from commentary.
Can you name some other interesting African Historical figures, especially women, that readers could research on their own?
Just a few that I think readers would find interesting are:
- Taytu Betul, an Ethiopian Queen who was a freedom fighter and played a key role in defeating the Italians;
- Wangari Maathai- a contemporary heroine. Founder of the “green belt” movement and winner of the 2004 Nobel peace prize for sustainability, democracy, and peace.
- The Mino (which means “mothers”). In what is now Benin, the Mino were feared warriors, renowned for never running away from danger.
What do you think Kimpa Vita’s most important message was?
She advocated for cultural context when interpreting the lessons of religion. This should resonate with anyone, no matter what the culture or belief. The idea that faith is specific and personal, shaped by the individual’s action and intention rather than ritual, is relevant to many philosophies and religions. In the end, her message was one of dignity and equality and the power therein.
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