Africa is a continent where most nation states are thoroughly colonial creations: Most of the borders have been defined in European political cabinets with no consideration of local cultural and linguistic realities. Additionally, most of the administrational structures, cultures, and languages have been imported from the colonial centres. Despite the constant negotiation between the ethnic and national identities, relatively few border changes have taken place. The unease about the borders and national identities is, however, widely recognizable.
The Kimbanguists, whose church is based on the healing and proclamation ministry of Simon Kimbangu in 1921 in the Belgian Congo, challenge colonially defined borders and identities in multiple ways. Anti-colonialism is in the DNA of Kimbanguism, yet in a manner that contests the colonially inherited dichotomy between religion and politics. Simon Kimbangu had the possibility of only half a year of ministry of preaching, healing and allegedly even raising the dead before he was imprisoned by the colonial authorities. Because the traditional Kongo cosmology did not subscribe to the Enlightenment dichotomy between the religious and the political, the actions and words of this African prophet can rightly be interpreted in a political key, too.
Simon Kimbangu, as well as many of his followers, were Bakongo, a large ethnic group with porous borders living in the two Congos and the northwest of Angola. Kikongo is the holy language, and Kongo culture is a key element in the Kimbanguist interpretation of the Bible and Christian tradition. Kimbangu’s home village, Nkamba, is the centre of the world for them, and Kongo culture and the ancient kingdom form the backdrop of the Kimbanguist view of the new eschatological order to come. The reunification of the kingdom from under the two Congo states and Angola will mark the inauguration of the new era.
This will not, however, mean a splintering of the Democratic Republic of Congo but rather a removal of the colonial borders. That hints towards a Pan-African vision of a united Africa and even a universally united black race that will play a central role in the eschatological salvation historical drama. This is no wonder considering that for the Kimbanguists, the first humans, Adam and Eve, were black and created in Nkamba. Thus, also the Fall was due to black original parents’ disobedience. Therefore, for today’s Kimbanguist church, even salvation does not only come from Jesus of Nazareth as divine incarnation but also Simon Kimbangu was an incarnation of the Holy Spirit. Additionally, his three sons were incarnations of the three persons of the Trinity, and the present church leader is the reincarnation of Simon Kimbangu and simultaneously obviously of the Holy Spirit.
Kimbanguist vision also contains global dimensions, and their view of borders and identities is like Nkamba-centred ripples in water. This vision wipes away colonial borders and relativises ethnic, national, and racial identities while strongly subscribing to a salvation historical narrative that places Africa and Africans in the centre. In this manner, the Kimbanguists assume an active unifying role negotiating ethnic, national, African, and global Christian identities while at the same time occupying the ethically powerful position of victims.
The resulting identity is radically inclusive in the sense that it appropriates the colonial heritage but combines it with a Kongo religious-political agenda thereby giving it a liberative twist. In this identity, the Kongo ethnic, Congolese national, Pan-African, and universal Christian dimensions of identity are dimensions of the interwoven identities. The borders between these dimensions are porous and belonging to the dimensions is not fixed but negotiable.
This text is based on Mika Vähäkangas’ article in HTS Theological Studies 77/3, https://hts.org.za/index.php/hts/article/view/6620