Over the last months I have noticed an increase in resentments concerning the use of saints in sorcerous contexts and in particular within cults and faiths of African pedigree. A few people have written asking how Christian Saints and African faiths are at all compatible and some have written to tell that this Christian oppression of African faiths must cease as yet others of a more Satanic inclination have expressed a furious resentment with mentioning orixa and in particular Christian saints as being remotely related to Quimbanda in any form or way. It is my understanding that it is a field that invites confusion, so I hope this blog posting can make these matters more tangible and clear.
As detailed in Palo Mayombe in relation to Kimpa Vita (1684 -1706) and the rise of Antonianism in the African territory that was referred to as ‘Congo’, but designated at large Bantu and Ewe speaking people spread out south and north in Western Africa. The ‘Congos’ arrived to Brazil from Cabinda and counted people from Angola, Congo and other countries sharing linguistic and religious similarities.
We find in relation to Kimpa Vita and her movement words like makungu and nkisi applied on saints and symbols of the Christian faith in the early days of the Christian mission. The word makungu were used to describe saints like St. Anthony, St. Benedict and Our Lady of the Rosary that were experienced to have a particular affinity with the African people. The word makungu means ‘elevated ancestor’. This means that the African view upon saints were motivated by the concept held about what enables a person upon death to become an ancestor that could take an active role in people’s lives. The word nkisi could also be used, which loosely means ‘a thing of power’, and was considered a vital and vibrant extension of Nzambi/God. This word would also be used to describe a saint like St. Anthony who was also given an African name ‘as nkisi’, in his case Cuye Lumbemba, with its variations, is known in Palo Brillumba to be the nkisi moving this saint.
Another phenomenon worthy of mentioning is the battle in Lepanto at the Ionian Sea in 1571 where the Portuguese occupants saw a victory over the Moorish people which they attributed to the protection of Our Lady of the Rosary which was at the time known as Our Lady of Victory. Her feast day is 7th of October and the fest day is attributed to the date of victory in this battle at Lepanto. She became a popular saint and her cult was early on installed in the district known as ‘Congo’. However, it seemed that this saint favoured the Africans more than the missionaries and occupants and so she became rapidly a saint seen as protecting the Africans. Countless stories in the 17th Century speak of her showing herself in epiphanies exclusively for Africans and in this way her cult spread out as an exclusively ‘Congolese’ cult. It was something about her legends and myths, to gain victory when confronted with impossible opposition that nurtured a kinship, and her benevolence towards the Africans that turned her into an ‘elevated ancestor’.
Her cult arrived to Brazil in 1713 with the Congolese slaves that were sent to Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais. We find her here together with St. Benedict and St. Anthony as patrons for exclusively African fraternities completely dislocated from the Church save for its clerical blessing to exist. The records from the archbishopric of Ouro Preto 1745 states that the existence of these fraternities are maintained as a ways of keeping peace in the district, while the practice of the cult with dance, drums, gunpowder and possessions were seen as barbaric and savage, a heresy better left alone. This fraternity became even more important in 1747 when Ganga Zumba Galanga, a ‘Congolose’ king was installed as such in Ouro Preto under the name of King Chico. He gained rapidly his freedom and was given a portion of the mines to work for himself, making him a very wealthy king.