Beatrice used her position of religious power to remove all objects and ceremonies which unnecessarily cluttered her religion. Perhaps because this was a movement of the peasantry, simplification of the religion, which translated into less qualifications and a larger following, made more sense. She changed the traditional Catholic prayer "Saive Regina" to "Saive Antonio." The newly formed prayer emphasized that the sacraments of marriage, confession, and baptism were meaningless since God invariably knew one's intention. In light of this revelation, Donna Beatrice burned crosses and nganga objects, which were traditionally used to enhance prayer, labeling them unnecessary fetishes.

By Muoyo A. Okome

The Antonian movement, led by the Kongolese noble, Donna Beatrice, derived its inspiration from the mother of God as depicted in the Old Testament. This movement was led from 1703- 1706 by Donna Beatrice and, from then until 1709 by her successor, Pedro Constantininho. Antonianism's success was directly related to its simplicity and believability. Donna Beatrice claimed to die and be reincarnated as Saint Anthony, a man, enabling her to build a temple, form a group of disciples, and begin a national church completely independent of Rome in which she preached a message that was "Africanized," but Christian nonetheless. Donna Beatrice was so believable first because she was not a foreigner, and also because she was a relatively uneducated woman, and nothing more than a former actor, it made sense that her revelations were inspired by the spirit of Saint Anthony, otherwise, she would not be able to speak so eloquently without divine influence. Beatrice spoke of a Christ indigenous to the Kongo, who, in addition to being revolutionary, was easier to believe in than the Christ of the Portuguese oppressors. Those who were not impressed by the idea of an African Christ were usually convinced by Beatrice's idea that the Last Judgement would soon occur within the Kongo.

During the early eighteenth century, the Kongo was a place of grave danger. The Kongolese peasantry was constantly faced with the threat of being caught in the mortal cross fire of the wars raging between the Kongo's nobility combined with the threat of being shipped across the Atlantic in the equally deadly slave trade.

The Kongolese peasants desired peace. In 1703, their prayers were answered. A new religious ideology was developed. This ideology combined traditional Kongolese culture with an adapted Christian message. Soon history was re-interpreted. A new political system was needed to replace the old one under which so much turmoil occurred.

In 1686, Donna Beatrice was born, as Kimpa Vita, into the highest nobility of the Kongo. During her early life, Beatrice worked as a traditional religious actor, an occupation which kept her isolated from the circles of both noble and peasant. This vantage point allowed her the clarity to see the destruction caused by the wars of the nobility; most notably the decimation of Sao Salvador.

Three events in 1703 gave birth to the Antonian movement. First, Donna Beatrice, at the early age of 17, predicted that God would soon punish the Kongo. Soon after, Beatrice's associate, Appolonia Mafuta found a stone which she alleged to be molded in the shape of Christ's head. Finally, after overcoming a lengthy illness, Beatrice claimed to be possessed by Saint Anthony's spirit.

As Saint Anthony, Donna Beatrice claimed to have direct connection to the other world. She believed that she perished each Friday, only to be resurrected the following Monday. Between the time of her death and her resurrection, Beatrice claimed that she was given instructions from God. These divine decrees were relayed to the Kongo upon her return to earth.

Beatrice used her position of religious power to remove all objects and ceremonies which unnecessarily cluttered her religion. Perhaps because this was a movement of the peasantry, simplification of the religion, which translated into less qualifications and a larger following, made more sense. She changed the traditional Catholic prayer "Saive Regina" to "Saive Antonio." The newly formed prayer emphasized that the sacraments of marriage, confession, and baptism were meaningless since God invariably knew one's intention. In light of this revelation, Donna Beatrice burned crosses and nganga objects, which were traditionally used to enhance prayer, labeling them unnecessary fetishes.

Beatrice used the politically powerful isimbi cult which she operated to further her movement. Traditionally, the kitomi claimed to communicate with isimbi spirits, consequently giving them the power to choose political officeholders. The mani Vunda, kitomi for the kingdom was no exception. He traditionally crowned the king. Beatrice was now taking that power. She assembled all of the Kong's nobility in Sao Salvador to recognize her and allow her to choose the king. At this point Donna Beatrice commanded all nobles to cease the fighting which was detrimental to the kingdom's harmony.

The Antonian movement changed the public opinion on the kingdom's origin. Previously, Nimi a Lukemi was regarded as the conquering founder of the Kongo. However, the Antonian movement unintentionally supplanted him from this role. Beatrice spoke of Christ and his disciples as black Africans. The Kongolese naturally placed his birth within the Kongo, in Sao Salvador, marking the Kongo as holy land.

Donna Beatrice's activities threatened political leaders, most of whom were affiliated with the Church. However, the Antonian movement was not directed against Christianity, but rather, was an attempt to integrate Kongolese culture into the Christian faith. Beatrice's message quickly drew a positive reaction from the peasantry. They became upset about the destructive wars of the nobility. They soon rebuilt and repopulated Sao Salvador. Not much later, some nobles became assimilated into the movement, sensing its popularity. Though Antonianism was largely successful in Sao Salvador, it was not as widely accepted in all other parts of the Kongo. In Nsundi, where Antonianism placed Jesus' baptism, Antonians were initially welcomed before the overwhelming Catholic influence drove them away. In 1705, Donna Beatrice visited Mbula to try to convert political leader Joao II. When she was driven out, Beatrice claimed to have possession of the papal bull. However, she would let no one see it, claiming that it would invariably cause instant death.

Pedro Constantininho was one of the nobles who joined the movement, converting to Antonianism. Beatrice used her power to name him king. This aligned her and all of her followers against the former king, Pedro IV. Pedro IV was supported by the Portuguese Catholic Church and, consequently, by the Pope.

Because of Beatrice's insult upon Pedro IV, she made enemies within the Catholic community. The attack planned on Sao Salvador was now more than a simple attack at this point, and, instead, was a full-fledged holy war.

In 1706, Donna Beatrice would experience both the joy of childbirth and the agony of a painful death. Beatrice was pregnant with a child while claiming to be a virgin. She journeyed into the forest with her "angel guardian," Barros, who took the name St. John after becoming Antonian, to bear this immaculate conception. In June of that year, Beatrice, her infant son, and her associates were sentenced to death by burning for the crime of heresy. At this time, Beatrice, Barros, and Appolonia Mafuta all confessed their grave sins. Appolonia Mafuta was pardoned for insanity and the infant was also spared.


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