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Kimpa Vita: The unity prophet

Kimpa Vita attempted to unify the kingdom of Kongo through an African Christianity. For a short period, she was successful. Today she is referred to as being the mother of African unity.

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Kimpa Vita: The unity prophet

When did Kimpa Vita live? Kimpa Vita was born around 1684 in Mount Kibangu in the kingdom of Kongo, today a part of Angolan territory. Kimpa Vita is said to have turned to the spiritual life after two failed marriages. But it is also reported that she had visions from an early age. 

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How was Kimpa Vita educated? The offspring of a noble family, she was trained as a Nganga marinda, defined as a healer of evil and an intermediary between life and death, the living and the ancestors.

What is Kimpa Vita renowned for? In the short period of her active time, she showed the potential of unifying the kingdom of Kongo. She is also remembered as the founding figure of the Antonianist movement. 

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What is Kimpa Vita's movement about? The religious movement of Antonianism is of a syncretic nature: Kimpa Vita mixed elements of Christianity with African religious practices. In her final years, she presented herself as a reincarnation of St. Anthony of Padua, claiming that Jesus was black and had been born in Kongo. Later on there were other religious movements in African Christianity like Quimbanda and Tocoismo. The Kimbanguist church, founded in the 1920s, is sometimes considered the successor of Antonianism.

How did Kimpa Vita die? In 1706, she was burned as a heretic under Pedro IV of Kongo. The initiative came from Capuchin monks led by Friar Bernardo da Gallo. 

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What controversy surrounds Kimpa Vita? She became pregnant by one of her companions. King Pedro's troops seized her while she was in hiding, tending to the baby. To this day, the destiny of Kimpa Vita's child remains uncertain. Most of what is known about Kimpa Vita comes from the records ofFriar Bernardo da Gallo, the Capuchin monk who sentenced her to be burned. According to the monks, the child was spared. Oral tradition, however, insists that Kimpa Vita's child was burned with her in 1706.

Scientific advice on this article was provided by historians Professor Doulaye Konaté, Lily Mafela, Ph.D., and Professor Christopher Ogbogbo. African Roots is supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

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