Death and the Invisible Powers: The World of Kongo Belief

Death and the Invisible Powers: The World of Kongo Belief

Death and the Invisible Powers: The World of Kongo Belief

Death and the Invisible Powers: The World of Kongo Belief


"[Bockie's] description of Kongo culture is vivid, beautifully clear, and absolutely authentic, as only a native could make it.... I don't know of anything of its kind that is both as good, ethnographically, and as readable." -- Wyatt MacGaffey

"Simon Bockie has written an engaging, often personal account of the views and behaviors surrounding death in his own society, the Kongo of Lower Zaire, northern Angola, and the Congo." -- Cahiers d'Etudes africaines

"... excellent book of Kongo religious life and thought... " -- Religion

"It is a book that is remarkably well written, both for its readability and for its explanatory value.... the book is a superb starting place for understanding Kongo religion, and will work as an introduction to African religion in general as well." -- International Journal of African Historical Studies

"... an excellent introduction for anyone seeking to understand Kongo traditional culture and thought." -- Oshun

Rich in anecdote and case histories, Death and the Invisible Powers is a personal account of the spiritual life of the Kongo people. It describes the ancient traditions that nourish a culture whose name symbolizes the heart of Central Africa.


Until today, the West has done most of the explaining of African existence. The time has come for Africans themselves to set forth their values and identities as only they are capable of doing. We are all aware of the negative terms with which the West has distorted the perception of the African continent, terms that still dominate the popular mind and the news and entertainment media: "dark," "savage," "primitive," a place of suffering, disease, and social chaos. Yet long before Western adventurers came to the Kongo or Central Africans were brought to the New World as slaves, there was a well-organized religious system and social order; life was sustained by a uniquely African spirituality as complex and profound as any in the world. Far from being a place of primitive blankness that has to be filled in by supposedly superior Western values, this region of Africa has its own sources of vitality, sophistication of thought, and spiritual enlightenment.

In spite of the enormous—and destructive—impact of the West, the social fabric of life in the Kongo is still held together by its traditional beliefs and spiritual practices. The Christian churches of the West, which originally came with the purpose of destroying African spiritual culture and replacing it with the European model, have found that native religions are swallowing up Christianity and revising it in the light of their own traditions, a process that has accelerated with political independence. For example: Kimbanguism, a new Christian movement, has sprung up since the 1950s independently of other churches, centering itself on the prophet-martyr Kimbangu, who died in a Belgian prison. Its membership is now perhaps over one million. Kimbanguism draws heavily on Kongo spiritual traditions. Its blessing, calling on "the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," adds a fourth being: "and tata [Father] Kimbangu." He has achieved the status of revered ancestor.

The culture of the Kongo people is very much alive and adaptive to change while preserving the integrity of its unique inner life. Africans must continue to reaffirm and base their future . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.