There Are Many Kongo Worlds Particularities of Magico-Religious Beliefs among the Vili and Yombe of Congo-Brazzaville

By Hersak, Dunja | Africa, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

There Are Many Kongo Worlds Particularities of Magico-Religious Beliefs among the Vili and Yombe of Congo-Brazzaville


Hersak, Dunja, Africa


ABSTRACT

The article analyses the distinctiveness of magico-religious practices in the north-western sector of the vast Kongo cultural complex, namely among the peoples who refer to themselves as Vili and Yombe. On the basis of fieldwork and a critical examination of the sources, the article points out that such widely distributed terms of proto-Bantu origin as nkisi cannot be covered by a single or even a multi-stranded definition; the variants, ranging from spirit to object, express local and time-specific beliefs. An approach that seeks a single Kongo universe is an ethnographic, historical and linguistic misreading that obscures existing regional concepts while possibly overlooking the importance of other notions. The article focuses on sorting out the basic ethnographic data relating to the beliefs current in the region and reveals not only long-standing aspects, some of them common to the wider Kongo world, but also those that have developed more recently in this particular coastal zone where different peoples trade and interact.

**********

PREAMBLE

An abridged version of this article was presented in 1998 at the eleventh Triennial on African art in New Orleans. The circumstances leading up to and involving my participation in this event merit a comment, as they are revealing of the state of scholarship on Kongo cultures. What I had proposed to do was to re-examine the concept of nkisi as it relates to the magico-religious beliefs of north-western Kongo peoples today, namely those of the Vili and Yombe of the Kwilu region of the Republic of the Congo, where I had been conducting periodic research since 1994. Not surprisingly, this proto-Bantu term nkisi, seemingly familiar to many Africanists, was immediately taken by the organisers of the conference to mean power object or charm (e.g. figure, bundle, bottle, pot, etc.) as used widely today in the art historical and anthropological literature and, in keeping with the panel designation, I was asked to consider `active processes of manufacture and use' of these nkisi objects. My goal, however, was to expose another dimension of this concept and to bring into view the current regional specificity of the term. My intention was to deal with cultural particularities that differentiate this northwestern sector from Lower Congo groups studied by specialists such as Wyatt MacGaffey, John M. Janzen, Robert Farris Thompson and many others. As it happened, scheduled at the very same time as our panel, R. F. Thompson, a leading figure in African art studies in the United States, was conducting a session next door on the Kongo roots of Afro-American cultures. I managed to slip out of our room briefly just to hear a little of the paper presented by Fu-Kiau, the often quoted Lower Congo scholar. What I witnessed upon entering was a steaming room packed with participants from both hemispheres and both sides of the Atlantic listening to a sermon about Kongo ancestors. In this cult-like ambience, energised by the personal style of R. F. Thompson and his disciples, I realised that the gathering was not merely about scholarly concerns but even more about identity and heritage, understandably important to African-Americans. The fact that most of what was being said about Kongo peoples was based mainly on Lower Congo traditions studied by those present was of little consequence in this context.

For the Vili and Yombe (1) of the Kwilu this may have come as something of a surprise. They generally do not refer to themselves as Kongo globally and they do not venerate the ancestors. Rather, they rely on powers such as those of Mbumba, an ancient nature spirit, a nkisi si, apparently unimportant now south of the Kongo river. This Mbumba is the `Bomba' referred to by Dapper in his seventeenth-century descriptions of the Vili kingdom of Loango on the Atlantic coast (1668: 262) and it is the very source of the `Bomba' we discover in the popular literature and invocations of vodun devotees right there in New Orleans where our conference took place (Tallant, 1998: 7, 8, 31).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

There Are Many Kongo Worlds Particularities of Magico-Religious Beliefs among the Vili and Yombe of Congo-Brazzaville
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.