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Remember the Ladies: Dona Beatriz

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Kimpa Vita, baptized as Beatriz and therefore also known as Dona Beatriz (1684 – 1706), was a Congolese prophet and leader of her own Christian movement, known as Antonianism. Her teaching grew out of the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church in Kongo.

Beatriz Kimpa Vita was born near Mount Kibangu in the Kingdom of Kongo, now a part of modern Angola around 1684. She was born into a family of the Kongo nobility, probably of the class called Mwana Kongo, and was probably baptized soon after, as Kongo had been a Catholic kingdom for two centuries. Some modern scholars believe that she was connected to King António I (1661–65), who died at the battle of Mbwila (Ulanga) in 1665, because his Kikongo name Vita a Nkanga connects with her name. However, she cannot have been a child of his, given her birth date, and the naming theory is not supported, nor does any contemporary document mention it.

Dona BeatrizAt the time of her birth, Kongo was torn by civil war. These wars had started shortly after the death of António I and had resulted in the abandonment of the ancient capital of São Salvador (present day Mbanza Kongo) in 1678 and the division of the country by rival pretenders to the throne. According to her testimony, given at an inquest on her life and reported by the Capuchin missionary Bernardo da Gallo, Beatriz had visions even as a youth, and her high spirits and otherworldly outlook caused her two youthful marriages to fail and led her deeper into a spiritual life. Kimpa Vita was trained as nganga marinda, a person said to be able to communicate with the supernatural world. The nganga marinda was connected to the kimpasi cult, a healing cult that flourished in late seventeenth century Kongo. However, sometime around 1700, she renounced her role and moved closer to the views of the Catholic Church. [Wikipedia]

She claimed she had had a vision of St. Anthony, but he had appeared to her as a black man, not a white one. She said he had told her to resurrect the Congo through a new doctrine, and she began spreading that doctrine with great vigor. It was a synthesis of European and African culture, a nationalistic religion that claimed Christ had been born black in the Congo and that celebrated black culture and permitted polygamy. Her followers abandoned European clothing and adopted a Christian symbolism that owed much to African influences.

Because of her tremendous appeal and popularity, the Portuguese felt threatened by her, and got their chance to destroy her in 1706, when, after bearing a child and claiming that, like Mary, she was still a virgin, she was arrested and sentenced to death. Both she and her child were burned at the stake. [Remember the Ladies, Kirsten Olsen]

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