Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Kongolese Saint Anthony, Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Kongolese Saint Anthony, Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706

Article excerpt

The Kongolese Saint Anthony, Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706. By John K. Thornton. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 1998. Pp. viii, 228. $49.95 clothbound; $15.95 paperback.)

The kingdom of Kongo was the only major African polity to adopt a Catholic identity from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Many scholars have assumed that the Kongolese appropriated only the trappings of this identity, and they have taken the Antonian movement, with its rejection of orthodoxy, as a notable proof of the superficiality of Kongolese Catholicism. After much sharply focused research, Professor Thornton reassesses the whole episode.

The documentary sources for this period of Kongo history are relatively abundant; the problem, as in so much of African history, is that these sources were almost entirely produced by aliens, in this case Capuchin missionaries from Italy and a few ]Portuguese accounts from Angola. By drawing on the insights of anthropologists and linguists, and by carefully using oral traditions, Thornton is able to reconstruct the political, social, and even intellectual world of Dona Beatriz and her contemporaries. It is a most impressive study

The author dissects the multiple internal rivalries which beset Kongo, and he vividly portrays the suffering caused by the warfare and violence of the late seventeenth century. By placing these developments within the context of the Atlantic slave trade, he demonstrates the global significance of the Antonian movement, and much of his social analysis and description is of wide comparative importance for the study of precolonial Africa.

Besides these achievements, he opens up the intellectual aspects of Beatriz's career at a far deeper level than previous studies. …

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