Kongo - Religion and Expressive Culture

The BaKongo are Christians, mostly Catholic, but with a strong Protestant minority in all three countries, affiliated with British, U.S., and Swedish evangelical missions. Church-related schools and hospitals provide the best available education and medical care. Between 10 and 15 percent of the population belong to local Pentecostal churches, most of which trace their origin to the celebrated Kongo prophet Simon Kimbangu, who preached and healed the sick for a few months in 1921 before being imprisoned for life by the Belgian authorities. His son Joseph Diangienda (deceased) founded and led the now international Church of Jesus Christ on the Earth by the Prophet Simon Kimbangu. Kimbanguist-related movements have included Khakism in Congo in the 1930s and Tokoism in Angola in the 1950s.

Arts. Indigenous arts, including sculpture and music, have been almost entirely suppressed by European influence. The traditional pentatonic scale can still be heard in the songs of women, especially as sung at funerals and in connection with the cult of twins. A variety of percussion instruments and idiophones (drums, silt gongs, clapperless bells, rattles) are employed at parties and religious services. In Kinshasa, the BaKongo contribute substantially to Zaire's internationally famous popular dance music.

Medicine. BaKongo of all walks of life commonly consult healers and magical experts ( nganga ) to deal with not only illnesses but also afflictions such as marital disputes, unemployment, traffic accidents, and theft. Such experts, concentrated in the towns, include non-BaKongo. A distinction is made between afflictions sent by God, which are "natural," and those in which an element of witchcraft is involved. Sufferers and their families commonly essay a series of treatments for the same problem, visiting both the diviner and the hospital.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals are important occasions of social gathering and family expenditure. Ideally, the bodies of the dead should be taken back to their natal villages if death occurs in town. Cemeteries are considered to be dangerous places, not to be visited casually. The land of the dead is thought of as situated on the other side of a body of water, sometimes identified with the Atlantic. The life of the dead continues that of the living in another place but inverts it, in such a way that to the dead, who become white, nighttime is daylight. All exceptional powers among the living are thought to be obtained from the dead, either legitimately, as in the case of chiefs and elders, or illegitimately, in the case of witches. In modern belief, benevolent powers from the land of the dead tend to be consolidated under the name "Holy Spirit," and evil powers as "Satan."

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