Today we tell the important story of Kimpa Vita, a Kongo Empire Prophetess who played an influential role in how Christianity was viewed in her country as well as in the African Revolution. She also played an important role in the resistance to European rule in Africa. Her story proves that Christianity does in fact have African roots, specifically in the Kongo Empire and accomplished all of this before the young age of 21.
Kimpa Vita was destined for greatness from birth. She was born into a prestigious noble Kongo family and found her calling at a very young age when she started having visions of Angels as a child. Her visions and connection to the spiritual world had such a powerful influence in her life, that it became her focus, even above marriage. She studied and trained as what is known as a nganga marinda, which translates to someone who has a deep connection with the spiritual world. As deeply fulfilling as this calling was to her, she felt that she was destined for far more.
During a severe illness that almost took her life, she told of visions from St. Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese Catholic priest who lived long before her time. From that moment forward, she began to preach and her spiritual connection deepened, even preaching stories of spending weekends in heaven talking with God. One of these encounters proved to be one of the most important, as it was then that she received a vision that she needed to build a Kongolese version of Catholicism. She predicted that the manifestation of this vision will unite all of Kongo under a new king, ending the civil wars within the nation.
With this new idea in mind, she set forth on a path to destroy the current state of Christianity by tearing down Idols and any other existing Christian paraphernalia that represented the current state of Christianity within the nation. She instead replaced them with Kongolese roots and taught that the principal characters in Christianity, including Jesus, Mary and Saint Francis, were all born in Kongo and lived, breathed, and walked the same land as they do. This led to the integration of Kongolese culture with Catholicism and empowered people in ways never thought possible with the belief that Christianity was in their image. Kings and other religious leaders refused to hear her and did not agree with her ideals. European missionaries also found this belief to be corrupt and hostile. Still, she was able to build a powerful following with this newfound view of Christianity. Her message soon became widespread and was even referred to as a Spiritual Renaissance.
This religious movement eventually came to be known as Antonianism. Kimpa Vita and thousands of her followers eventually began to occupy the city of M’banza-Kongo, which she identified as the birthplace of Jesus and New Bethlehem where the movement flourished. The widespread popularity of this movement soon became a threat to the existing state of the Catholic church and many of her followers were beaten and imprisoned. She was eventually captured and tried for heresy and witchcraft under Kongo law. She was found guilty of these transgressions and burned at the stake. Kimpa Vita’s legacy long outlives her natural life. The Kongo King Pedro IV used the Antonian movement to eventually unify his kingdom and bring peace to the nation. For these reasons, she will forever be known as an important religious and political figure in the African revolution.