Kimpa Vita: The Life and Legacy of the Influential Christian Prophet in the Kingdom of Kongo chronicles the turbulent history of the region and the dramatic impact Kimpa Vita had in the late 17th century. Along with pictures depicting important people, places, and events, you will learn about Kimpa Vita like never before.
Africa may have given rise to the first human beings, and Egypt probably gave rise to the first great civilizations, which continue to fascinate modern societies across the globe nearly 5,000 years later. From the Library and Lighthouse of Alexandria to the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Ancient Egyptians produced several wonders of the world, revolutionized architecture and construction, created some of the world’s first systems of mathematics and medicine, and established language and art that spread across the known world. With famous leaders like King Tut and Cleopatra, it’s no wonder that today’s world has so many Egyptologists, but interest in Africa has been present long before the modern era.
In the Middle Ages, the Holy Lands were lost to Christianity, and Christian Europe was under siege. Folk tales began to circulate — their origins obscure, but first noted in historic texts around the 12th century CE — of a lost Christian kingdom in the East, the kingdom of Prester John. It was believed that this kingdom had the patriarch of Saint Thomas, who proselytized in the Orient. Later, in the 15th century, under the impetus of the Portuguese King Henry the Navigator, Portuguese missionaries and navigators entered the Indian Ocean from the south and, creeping northward up the east coast of Africa, heard ever more substantial tales of a Christian kingdom lost in the belly of Islam. As they entered upon the coast of Somalia, competing in a growing trade in slaves and gold with Arabs of the peninsula, they become increasingly interested in the source of this legend.
In 1515, a Portuguese missionary explorer by the name of Father Francisco Álvares entered Ethiopia and took note in the interior of the remnants of a civilization of obviously Christian origin, with living adherents conforming to a branch of the faith clearly founded in antiquity. Could this be the kingdom of Prester John? Father Álvares was intrigued, but he was wary of too fanciful a construction, and he speculated more practically on the legend of King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, and other such muses. As for the city at the center of the civilization, he called it Aquasumo.
As it turned out, the Portuguese were arriving in Western Africa at a time when the Kingdom of Kongo was one of the great pre-colonial empires of Africa, with its geographic range at its greatest extent covering most of northwestern Angola, the western edges of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Congo Republic, and overlapping at times into Cabinda and southern Gabon. It was centralized mostly within the borders of modern Angola, and it is most associated with the early history of that country, notwithstanding its name being applied to the two Congo republics. In fact, the name “Angola” derives from a vassal Kingdom of Kongo, the Ndonga, the kings of which were known as Ngola (hence the adaption to “Angola”).
The Portuguese did eventually discover a Christian kingdom elsewhere in Africa, but their Christian influences helped lead to conversion movements in the Kingdom of Kongo, most famously that of Kimpa Vita, a young woman whose story included striking parallels with Joan of Arc. As the leader of a Christian movement, Kimpa Vita became involved in internal political disputes within the Kingdom of Kongo even as she set about spreading Christianity, and her ultimate fate has kept her memory alive as an ideal for later democratic and religious movements across the African continent.
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