Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita; The Voice Of God, The African Prophetess Who Was Burned Alive In 1706

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The name “Dona” indicates she was born into a family of high Kongolese nobility; she was later given the name “Beatriz” after the Catholic Saint. Kimpa Vita was born in 1687 in the village called Songololo, in the town of Bakongo at the time when the country was the Kingdom of Kongo Dia Ntotela. Her teachings grew out of the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church in Kongo, and caused her to severely criticize the Catholic priests for not believing as she did.

At the time of her birth, Kongo was torn by wars. These wars had started shortly after the death of António I, and had resulted in the negligence of the ancient capital of São Salvador which is now called Mbanza Kongo in 1678, and the division of the country by rival hypocrites to the throne.

She went to live among the colonists that were sent out by King Pedro IV, one of several rival rulers who were in Kongo, to reoccupy the ancient and now neglected capital of São Salvador. There were a lot of religious leaders among these colonists who were tired of the endless civil wars in the country, and many turned to follow the old prophet, Appolonia Mafuta.

One day, Vita Kimpa became sick and died. In the traditional way, the elders came together for her burial, but because her father was away, they decided to wait until her father could be found. Three days later, he still had not returned, the villagers decided to continue with the burial.
On the way to the burial site Mama Vita Kimpa rose up and asked them what they were doing?! The elders replied they thought she was dead. Mama Vita Kimpa told them that she felt a lot of pain, so her spirit came out on top of her head and an Ancestor came and took her to a very beautiful city in the sky. She received teachings there and was then sent back.
Kimpa Vita

During a disease outbreak in 1704, Kimpa Vita claimed she had received visions from God. She began to preach, and Appolonia Mafuta supported her, and he told them she was the real voice of God. She preached that Jesus was a Kongolese and that there will be slavery if they trusted the Portuguese. While in that state, she learned that Kongo must reunite under a new king, for the civil wars that had plagued Kongo since the battle of Mbwila in 1665 had gotten Jesus Christ angry. She was then ordered to unite Kongo under one king. She destroyed “idols”(the various Kongo Nkisi or charms inhabited by spiritual entities, as well as the Catholics jeweleries and paraphernalia they used for their services).

When she took her message to King Pedro IV, he considered it, but he refused to hear her out. She then went to visit his rival João II at Mbula (near the Kongo River close to modern day Matadi), who also refused to hear what she wanted to say. However, in a very short time, she was able to gather a huge number of followers and became a factor in the struggle of power. Her movement was noted by the Catholic Pope but was mean to the European missionaries in Kongo. Three months after, Kimpa Vita led her followers to the neglected capital of São Salvador where they would call to the people in the countryside and grow the city hastily. This was recognized by the Italian Priest Bernardo de Gallo, who made it known that Kimpa Vita was possessed by the devil, to be a marvelous act and which will lead her to be praised and celebrated as the restorer of Kongo.

While she was in São Salvador, which she and her followers were occupying in 1705, she built a special place to reside for herself in the cathedral that was destroyed, and also called the formerly destroyed and neglected capital to be reoccupied by thousands of mostly the poor people who followed her. However, she soon won honored converts as well, including Pedro Constantinho da Silva Kibenga, the commander of one of Pedro IV’s armies sent to reoccupy the city. Since he chose his devotion to Beatriz as an opportunity to revolt, Pedro IV, too decide to destroy Beatriz. Upon her return to São Salvador, she was captured by the Catholics and taken to the mountaintop court of Pedro IV. There she was accused of false doctrines and burned at the stake in July 1706. She was seen by many as a Prophetess to the Kongolese people.

Beatriz sent out missionaries of her movement, to other states. They were not successful in the coast state of Soyo, where the Prince sacked them, but they were much more successful in the disagreeing southern part of Soyo and Mbamba Lovata, which lay south of Soyo. There they won new converts, especially among adherents of the old queen Suzana de Nóbrega. Manuel Makasa, one of these partisans also became an Antonian and moved to São Salvador.

Much of her teaching as we know is known from the Salve Antoniana, a prayer that she took from the Catholic prayer Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen) into an anthem of the movement. Among other things, the Salve Antoniana taught that God was only concerned with the plans of believers, not with outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace or good works, and Saint Anthony was the greatest one – in fact, he was a “second God.” In addition, she taught that the principal characters in Christianity, including Jesus, Mary and Saint Francis, were all born in Kongo and were in fact Kongolese.

Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita was captured near her hometown and burned alive at the temporary capital of Evululu as a heretic in 1706 by forces loyal to Pedro IV. She was tried under Kongo law as a witch and she did not conform to generally accepted beliefs or practices, with the consent and counsel of the Capuchin friars Bernardo da Gallo and Lorenzo da Lucca.

The Anthonian prophetic movement celebrated her death. Her followers continued to believe that she was still alive, and it was only when Pedro IV’s forces took São Salvador in 1709, the political force of her movement was destroyed and most of her former noble people who stood by her renounced their beliefs and rejoined the Catholic church. Some hint of the strength of her teaching may be glimpsed by the fact that eighteenth century Kongo religious art often shows Jesus as an African, and that Saint Anthony, known as “Toni Malau” was very prominent.

Kimpa Vita’s statue in Angola

More recently, some see present-day Kimbanguism, Matswanism and Tokoism as its successors. Traditions circulating in Mbanza Kongo (formerly São Salvador) in 2002 also place great importance in the role of Beatriz’ mother as an inspiration for the prophet Simon Kimbangu and also as playing a role in its continuation, and in fact, her mother was present during and after Beatriz Kimpa’s death. And as she had announced earlier, the Portuguese Catholics finally started killing, murdering, raping and enslaving the Kongolese, breaking up families, sending them away to the Americans

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