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This article examines the way in which Christianity and Kongo religion merged to produce a syncretic result. After showing that the Kongo church grew up under the supervision and direction of Kongo authorities rather than missionaries, it will track how local educational systems and linguistic transformations accommodated the differences between the two religious traditions. In Kongo, many activities associated with the traditional religion were attacked as witchcraft without assigning any part of the traditional religion to this category. It also addresses how Kongo religious thinkers sidestepped questions of the fate of the dead and the virginity of Mary when harmonizing them would be too difficult.

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The author wishes to thank Cécile Fromont, Linda Heywood, and Alan Strathern for reading and commenting on earlier versions of this article, and also Koen Bosten for inspiring discussions of linguistic terms and usage.

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1 Davidson, B., Black Mother: The Years of the African Slave Trade (Boston, 1961); Vansina, J., Kingdoms of the Savanna (Madison, 1968 [orig. French pub. 1965); Balandier, G., Daily Life in the Kingdom of the Kongo from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries, Helen Weaver (trans.) (New York, 1968 [orig. French pub. 1965]); Birmingham, D., Trade and Conflict in Angola: The Mbundu and their Neighbours under the Influence of the Portuguese, 1483–1790 (Oxford, 1966); Randles, W. G. L., L'ancien royaume du Congo des origines à la fin du XIXe siècle (Paris, 1968).

2 Hilton, A., The Kingdom of Kongo (Oxford, 1985), 919, 45–9, 52, 62, 89–98, and 186–208. MacGaffey approved of her method while expressing serious doubts about the specifics of her reconstruction of Kongo cosmology: see MacGaffey, W., ‘Dialogues of the deaf: Europeans on the Atlantic coast of Africa’, in Schwartz, S. B. (ed.), Implicit Understandings: Observing, Reporting, and Reflecting on the Encounters between Europeans and Other Peoples in the Early Modern Era (Cambridge, 1994), 249–67, see his reservations on 255, n. 19.

3 Thornton, J., ‘Religious and ceremonial life in the Kongo and Mbundu areas, 1500–1700’, in Heywood, L. M. (ed.), Central Africans and Cultural Transformations in the American Diaspora (Cambridge, 2002), 72–3.

4 Janzen, J. M., ‘Laman's Kongo ethnography: observatins on sources, methodology, and theory’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 42:4 (1972), 316328; J. Janzen and W. MacGaffey (eds. and trans.), An Anthology of Kongo Religion: Primary Texts from Lower Zaire (Lawrence, KS, 1974). MacGaffey has published bilingual Kikongo-English versions of the texts in Art and Healing of the Bakongo, Commented by Themselves: Minkisi from the Laman Collection (Bloomington, IN, 1991); and Kongo Political Culture: The Conceptual Challenge of the Particular (Bloomington, IN, 2000).

5 Sweet, J. H., Recreating Africa: Culture, Kinship, and Religion in the African-Portuguese World, 1441–1770 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2003), 104–15; Young, J. R., Rituals of Resistance: African Atlantic Religion in Kongo and the Lowcountry South in the Era of Slavery (Baton Rouge, LA, 2007), 4759; Brown, R. M., African-Atlantic Cultures and the South Carolina Lowcountry (Cambridge, 2012), 90138.

6 Thompson, R. F., Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy (New York, 1983); Thompson, R. F. and Cornet, R., The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds (Washington, D. C., 1981); Fennel, C. C., ‘BaKongo identity and symbolic expression in the Americas’, in Ogundiran, A. and Falola, T. (eds.), Archaeology of Atlantic Africa and the African Diaspora (Bloomington, IN, 2007), 199232; Fennell, C. C., Crossroads and Cosmologies: Diasporas and Ethnogenesis in the New World (Gainesville, FL, 2007).

7 Gray, R., ‘Como vero Prencipe Catolico: the Capuchins and the rulers of Soyo in the late seventeenth century’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 53:3 (1983), 3954.

8 Thornton, J. K., ‘The development of an African Catholic Church in the Kingdom of Kongo, 1491–1750’, Journal of African History, 25:2 (1984), 147–67. I have challenged the idea of forcible conversion and resistance in many American cases in A Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250–1820 (Cambridge, 2012), 419–47.

9 MacGaffey's wide-ranging work is based on solid fieldwork and a close reading of Kikongo texts from the Laman collection: see in particular MacGaffey, W., Religion and Society in Central Africa: The BaKongo of Lower Zaire (Chicago, 1986), 189216.

10 Sweet directs his criticism particularly at my work: Sweet, Recreating Africa, 104–113.

11 Brown, African Atlantic Cultures, 200–10; Bennett, H. L., Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness, 1570–1640 (Bloomington, IN, 2003), 3350 and passim; Bristol, J. C., Christians, Blasphemers, and Witches: Afro-Mexican Ritual Practice in the Seventeenth Century (Albuquerque, NM, 2007), 6870 and passim. I challenged this position in Thornton, J. K., ‘Rural people, the church in Kongo and the Afroamerican diaspora (1491–1750)’, in Koschorke, K. (ed.), Transcontinental Links in the History of Non-Western Christianity (Wiesbaden, 2002), 3343.

12 Kriger, C. E., ‘The conundrum of culture in Atlantic history’, in Curto, J. C. and Soulodre-La France, R. (eds.), Africa and the Americas: Interconnections during the Slave Trade (Trenton, NJ, 2005), 265–6.

13 Hersak, D., ‘There are many Kongo worlds: particularities of magico-religious beliefs among the Vili and Yombe of Congo-Brazzaville’, Africa, 71:4 (2001), 614–40; Gabriele Bortolami, “I Bakongo: Società, tradizione e cambiamento in Angola” (unpublished PhD thesis, Università degli studi di Sassari, 2012).

14 Hastings, A., The Church in Africa, 1450–1950 (Oxford, 1994), 79118. Many missionary historians have also adopted this viewpoint: see G. Saccardo, Congo e Angola: con la storia dell'antica missione dei Cappuccini (3 vols, Venizia, 1982–3), but also the many publications of Louis Jadin, François Bontinck, and Carlo Toso.

15 The Portuguese chronicler Rui de Pina documented early contact, basing his account on the limited records of the first voyage of Diogo Cão in 1483 and a report of the baptism in 1491. The baptism account was made at an inquest conducted among six Portuguese participants upon their return, and is referenced in de Pina's first version of the chronicle, written in 1492 but known only in an Italian translation. A Portuguese version with slightly different text was finished in 1515. Both are published in C. M. Radulet, O Cronista Rui de Pina e a ‘Relação do Reino do Congo’: Manuscrito inédito do‘Códice Riccardiano 1910’ (Lisbon, 1992 [orig. Italian pub. 1492]).

16 Fromont, C., ‘Under the sign of the cross in the kingdom of Kongo: religious conversion and visual correlation in early modern Central Africa’, Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 59/60 (2011), 111–13.

17 R. de Pina, in Radulet (ed.,) Cronista, Italian version, fol. 86ra; 87va. The equivalent Portuguese text of 1515, chs LVII and LVIII, do not contain many of the details in the Italian. João de Barros, who may have seen this or other documents in writing his chronicle (published in 1552) makes teaching some Kongo to speak Portuguese as the primary motive for bringing the first Kongo to Portugal, Decadas de Asia I (Lisbon, 1552), bk III, ch. III.

18 R. de Pina, Chronica, ch. LIII, see text in Radulet, Cronista, 140 (this passage is not found in the 1492 Italian version of the text, italics in original). Elsewhere, I use italics to indicate words and terms in modern (post-1880) Kikongo, and older forms from documents are given with quotation marks.

19 On ‘Lord of the World’: Mfumu meaning lord is attested very early, in 1548 and applied to God called then ‘Infumeto Zambicõ pungo’, Christovão Ribeiro letter, 1 Aug. 1548, published in Brásio, A. (ed.), Monumenta Missionaria Africana (MMA), Volume XV (15 vols., Lisbon, 1952–88), 168; also see fn. 21 below. Nza as the world is first attested in the catechism of 1624: see M. Jorge, and M. Cardoso (ed.), Doutrina cristãa, F. Bontinck and D. Ndembe Nsasi (trans. and eds.), (mod. edn, Lisbon, 1624), sec. II, par. 23. In this text, the catecheumens are asked ‘who are your [spiritual] enemies’ and the reply is “the world, the Devil, and the flesh’, or ‘Za, Cadimpemba, nitu’ (the lack of ‘n’ is due to the fact that nasals are normally not pronounced in phrase initial position).

20 MacGaffey, ‘Dialogues’, 257–8; Hilton, Kingdom of Kongo, 50. On MacGaffey's regloss, see esp. ‘Dialogues’, 258.

21 MacGaffey, W., ‘Kongo and the king of the Americans’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 6:2 (1968), 174–76.

22 MacGaffey, in a footnote to this passage (‘Kongo,’ 258, fn. 28), explains that W. G. L. Randles's (L'ancien royaume, 31) interpretation of the term as reflecting uncertainty about whether it referred to a living or dead person is wrong, as the Kongo ‘do not, and presumably did not then, classify the dead as “dead” ’, meaning that they were considered as having a life after death. Be that as it may, the verb fwa (to die) does indicate a translation from This World to the Other World, and thus a spiritual as opposed to a material existence.

23 Christovão Ribeiro letter, 1 Aug. 1548, MMA XV, 168. ‘Infumeto Zambicõ pungo’ would be, in modern orthography, e mfumu eto Nzambi nkwa Mpungu; it probably meant ‘our very lord Nzambi full of greatness’ and does not include the ‘made me’ element mentioned by the priest. It suggests that there was some instability in the term at this point.

24 I first introduced this term in my book Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800 (2nd edn, Cambridge, 1998), 235–71. I have further developed it for a wide range of societies in the early modern Atlantic world, Thornton, Cultural History, 395–461.

25 R. de Pina, in Radulet (ed.), Cronista.

26 Afonso's miracle was reported by himself in a letter originally written about 1509, but no copy is extant. He repeated some of the story in another letter, written 5 Oct. 1514, MMA I, 294–5; in this account it was a cross that appeared. Officials in the Portuguese court used the 1509 letter to compile their proposal for letters Afonso should write to his people, the lords of his kingdom, and the Pope, and probably preserved much of his language: published in MMA I, 256–72 and MMA XV, 24. The 1509 letter was probably also the basis for the account of his miracle in two other secondary sources, M. Fernandez de Enciso, Suma de Geographia (Sevilla, 1519), 109–10 (pencil numeration in un-paginated edition in Biblioteca Nacional de Lisboa, Reservados 717V) and J. de Barros, Decadas da Asia (Lisbon, 1552), Decada I, book 3, ch. 10 (also in MMA I, 141–7).

27 Hilton, Kingdom of Kongo, 62–5.

28 For my own early attempt to see this, see Thornton, J., ‘Perspectives on African Christianity’, in Hyatt, V. L. and Nettleford, R. M. (eds.), Race, Discourse, and the Origin of the Americas: A New World View (Washington, D. C., 1995), 169–98.

29 For a biography of Henrique and his mission, see Bontinck, F., ‘Ndoadidiki Ne-Kinu a Mubemba, premier évêque du Kongo (c. 1495–c. 1531)’, Revue Africaine de Théologie, 3 (1979), 149–69.

30 Afonso to João III, 27 May 1517, MMA I, 406–7; Afonso to João III, 25 Aug. 1526, MMA I, 484.

31 Thornton, ‘Perspectives’.

32 Afonso to Manuel I, 5 Oct. 1514, MMA I, 298.

33 R. d'Aguiar to Manuel I, 25 May 1516, in D. de Góis, Chronica do Felicissimo Rei Dom Emanuel (Lisbon, 1567) pt 4, ch. 3, published from the original manuscript (of 1545) and the printed version in MMA I, 361–2.

34 Afonso to Manuel I, 5 Oct. 1514, MMA I.

35 Ibid. 299–300.

36 Ibid. 322.

37 R. d'Aguiar, 1516, MMA I, 362.

38 Afonso to Manuel I, 5 Oct. 1514, MMA I, 322.

39 Ibid. and 4 Mar. 1516, MMA I, 317, 319, and 357–8.

40 Bontinck, ‘Ndoadidike’, 149–69. Henrique was officially designated bishop of one of the sees in North Africa that the Vatican used to create bishops without fixed sees.

41 Afonso to João III, 18 Mar. 1526, MMA I, 460.

42 Afonso to Manuel I, 6 July 1526, MMA I, 469.

43 Diogo I to Pope Paul III, c. 1547, MMA XV, 146.

44 ‘Apontamentos de Sebastião de Sousa’, c. 1561, MMA II, 477–9.

45 Arquivo Nacional de Torre do Tombo, Lisbon, Inquisição de Lisboa (hereafter ANTT, Inq Lx) Processo 2522, fol. 144.

46 Untitled account of Diego de Santissmo Sacramento, 1584, MMA IV, 362–3.

47 Biblioteca Vaticana, Vaticana Latina, Manuscrito (MS) 12156, fol. 108v. This untitled, rough, lacerated, and difficult to read manuscript (with many crossed-out sections and additions) was partially published in French translation by J. Cuvelier and L. Jadin (trans. and eds.), L'ancien Congo d'après les archives romaines, 1518–1640 (Bruxelles, 1954). This passage, on the book's page 119 is, I believe incorrectly translated into French, and I have read and translated from the original. According to Cuvelier and Jadin's analysis on p.108–111, it was compiled by Msgr Confalonieri for Juan Bautista Vives, Kongo's protector in Rome around 1608, making use of both Spanish and Italian sources from the Carmelite mission (1584) and from Pigafetta's 1588–91 account. The text varies phrase by phrase from Spanish to Italian. This section, however, does not seem to draw on any other known source.

48 Santissimo Sacramento, MMA IV, 363.

49 The inquest transcript of the trial was published in MMA II, 248–62, and an English translation is found in Thornton, J. K. and Heywood, L., ‘The treason of Dom Pedro Nkanga a Mvemba against Dom Diogo, King of Kongo, 1550’, in McKnight, K. J. and Garofalo, L. J. (eds.), Afro-Latino Voices: Narratives from the Early Modern Ibero-Atlantic World, 1550–1812 (Indianapolis, IN, 2009), 229; C. Gomes to João III, 1551, MMA XV, 166.

50 Fromont, C., ‘Collecting and translating knowledge across cultures: Capuchin missionary images of early modern Central Africa’, in Bleichmar, D. and Mancall, P. C. (eds.), Collecting Across Cultures: Material Exchanges in the Early Modern Atlantic World (Philadelphia, 2011), 147–50.

51 Archivo Segreto Vaticano (ASV) Arm II, vol. 91, fol. 137, Alvara appointing Antonio Manuel mestre of Mpemba, 16 Dec. 1600; fol. 230, Provision of Gonçalo da Silva Mendonça, Procurador of Congo, 19 Oct. 1593 (specifying rights in burials), fol. 202, Provizão of Alvaro II to A. Manuel, 19 June 1599 (specifying salary in money for Antonio Manuel serving as mestre in São Salvador and secretary in Mpemba).

52 ASV Arm II, vol. 91,fol. 241, Certificate 10 Oct. 1607.

53 Fromont, ‘Under the sign’, Res, 111–13.

54 Afonso I to João III, 25 Aug. 1526, MMA I, 479–80.

55 C. Ribeiro letter, 1 Aug. 1548, MMA XV, 163.

56 Afonso I to Manuel I, 5 Oct.1514, MMA I, 296; D. de Góis, Chronica, pt. 4, ch. MMA I, 485.

57 Afonso to Manuel I, 5 Oct. 1514, MMA I, 297. The politics of Afonso's early reign are complex, but the role of religion is complicated by Afonso's insistence on presenting his struggle for power, both in 1509 and from 1511–14 as a battle between Christians and infidels. Afonso's letters are virtually our only sources for these events.

58 MacGaffey, Religion and Society, 192–3.

59 For a study of the application of this terminology in Africa, see Pietz, W., ‘The problem of the fetish, I’, Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 9 (1985), 517; Pietz, W., ‘The problem of the fetish, II: the origin of the fetish’, Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 13 (1987), 2345; and Pietz, W., ‘The problem of the fetish, IIIa: Bosman's Guinea and the enlightenment theory of fetishism’, Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 16 (1988), 105–24.

60 For a specifically Portuguese approach, see Paiva, J. P., Bruxaria e superstição: num país sem ‘Caça às bruxas’, 1600–1774 (Lisboa, 1997).

61 Witchcraft is described in a number of modern anthropological accounts: for example, MacGaffey, Religion and Society. I attempted to get at the concept from older sources in The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684–1706 (Cambridge, 1998) and Cannibals, witches, and slave traders in the Atlantic world’, William and Mary Quarterly, 60:2 (2003), 273–94.

62 This strange name, transcribed in modern orthography as Kufwa kwa Mfulu, means ‘death of the place’, or more idiomatically perhaps ‘the destruction of a place’. The dictionary of 1648 calls a shipwreck Kufwa kwa nlungu (death of a ship). My thanks to Panzo Abililo for a discussion of the term and its meanings.

63 Barros, Decadas, Decade I, Book III, ch. X. Afonso refers to a letter he wrote and sent when Gonçalo Rodrigues came in 1509, though through mischance the letter was only delivered much later: see Afonso's letter to Manuel I, 5 Oct. 1514, MMA I, 295 (first letter) and 297 (second version of the letter).

64 Fromont, C., ‘Dance, image, myth, and conversion in the kingdom of Kongo, 1500–1800’, African Arts 44:4 (2011), 60–1; and C. Fromont, ‘Under the sign of the cross in the kingdom of Kongo: shaping images and molding faith in early modern Central Africa’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Harvard University, 2008), 90–1.

65 Ribeiro letter, 1 Aug. 1548, MMA XV, 151.

66 ‘Relatione’, MMA IV, 402. ‘Curia mungua’ preserves the archaic infinitive marker ku – which was lost in the eighteenth century.

67 This is based on personal conversations between the author and MacGaffey in the late 1990s.

68 Bontinck, in his introduction to Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, 17, says he was born of Portuguese parents, which seems unlikely to me; I have seen no direct reference to his race or parentage in the original documents. It does seem likely that he was a mestiço born of a Portuguese father and Kongo mother.

69 Bontinck, introduction, Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, 17–23. Copies were still extant in the late eighteenth century in Spain.

70 For details of the Jesuit mission to Angola, see Saccardo, Congo e Angola, Volume I, passim.

71 M. Cardoso (ed.), Doutrina christãa, Prologo de Leitor, unpaginated.

72 História do Reino de Congo (mod. edn, António Brásio, Lisbon, 1969), ch. 3, fol. 4v. The work has no author but is attributed to M. Cardoso.

73 MacGaffey, Religion and Society. MacGaffey's emphasis on the human origin of all spirits in contemporary societies is contested by Hersak in relation to some parts of the Kikongo-speaking world: see Hersak, ‘Kongo worlds’. On the description of the trinity, see Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina cristãa, sec. VII, par. 6, literally ‘three people within Nzambi a Mupungu one the true’. The locative mu indicates a position of being within something else. Note, however, that the Portuguese term ‘pessôas’ in the original text can probably only be translated as antu in Kikongo, so the question of their original humanness is not so obvious.

74 Cardoso (ed.), Doutrina christãa, Prologo de Leitor.

75 However, they appear to have missed its usage in one place, Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina Cristãa, sec. XXX, par. 4.

76 This dictionary, probably compiled by the Kongolese priest Manuel Ribeiro around 1648, is known only from a copy owned by the Capuchin Joris van Gheel (who was killed in Kongo in 1652), found in the Biblioteca Vittorio Emmanuele, Rome (BVE) Fundo Minore (FM)1896 MS Varia 274, ‘Vocabularium congoense, latinum et hispanicum’, fol. 26v. A modern edition and translation of this dictionary rearranged the terms from Latin-Spanish-Kikongo to French and Dutch-Kikongo and rendered Kikongo in a more modern orthography; J. Van Wing and C. Penders (trans. and eds.), Le plus ancien dictionnaire bantu (Louvain, Belgique, 1928).

77 Bentley, W. H., Appendix to the Dictionary and Grammar of the Kongo Language: As Spoken at San Salvador, the Ancient Capital of the Old Kongo Empire, West Africa (London, 1895), forward, vi.

78 MacGaffey, Religion and Society, 200.

79 Bentley, Appendix, forward, vi. A grammar of the Soyo dialect, Kisolongo, was published in 1915, and a quick perusal of it shows that the ku- infinitive marker was lost by then and surely had not disappeared in the twenty years of so before Bentley arrived: see J. L. Tavares, Gramática da língua do Congo (dialecto Kisolongo) (Luanda, 1915), esp. 123–40 for numerous sentence examples of compound verbs.

80 Bentley, Appendix, forward, vii.

81 Cardoso (ed.)., Doutrina christãa, Prologo de Leitor.

82 A root form, *-kis-, is both ancient and widespread in many Bantu languages. J. Vansina, Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa (Madison, WI, 1990), 146 and 297; modified in Vansina, J., How Societies Are Born: Governance in West Central Africa Before 1600 (Charlottesville, VA, 2004), 51–2.

83 Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina Cristãa, sec. XIV, par. 3; sec. XXI, par. 1 (church); and sec. XI, par. 4 (holy oils). The last two forms indicate that it is widely used in an abstract form, indicated by the class marker u-.

84 ‘Nkixi’ is so defined in straightforward terms in Bentley's, W. H.Dictionary and Grammar of the Kongo Language, as Spoken at San Salvador, the Ancient Capital of the Old Kongo Empire, West Africa (London, 1887), 383. In its adjectival form ‘-ankixi’, it meant ‘a fetish’. Bentley's spelling, where ‘x’ = the ‘sh’ sound in English, reproduces the sound in the Kisansala dialect of Kikongo, which is spoken in Mbanza Kongo.

85 Bentley, W. H., Pioneering on the Congo (2 vols., London, 1900), 167–8.

86 O. Dapper, Naukeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaensche gewesten… (Amsterdam, 1668), 526 (definition as idols), 531, (moquissi or witchcraft), and 549–53 (list of moquissi).

87 It consistently says that Jesus ‘was killed’ abondua, using the passive of the verb ‘bonda’ (in modern Kikongo the initial ‘b’ has become a ‘v’), see Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, sec. VI, par. 1. The seventeenth-century orthography buries the key word ‘uquisî’ between the locative ‘muna’ and the final negative particle ‘co’, but accurately reflects the tone bridging and elision typical of Kikongo pronunciation. Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, sec. VII, par. 13.

88 Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, sec. VII, par. 13. Literally, ‘it separated, his holy soul, out of his body’.

89 ANTT Inq Lx, Tribunal do Santo Ofício, Caixa 9, documento 8, ‘Denunciações do Reino de Congo e Angola’ 1620–31, (no foliation); 6 Jan. 1627, denunciation by Dom Pedro Moxicongo; 6 Feb. 1628, testimony of Pedro Fernandes Afonso; 8 May 1628, testimony of Pedro Moxicongo (perhaps a different one); 20 Feb. 1628, testimony of Henrique Pedro. Most of the denunciates were identified as Moxicongo, but Pedro Fernandes Afonso is only identified as a native of São Salvador, Kongo's capital, and could be Portuguese or mestiço.

90 Elements could be found in the dozens of various bags and statues illustrated in MacGaffey, Art and Healing.

91 ANTT Inq Lx, Tribunal do Santo Oficio, Caixa, 9 documento 8, ‘Lembramento de Pe Miguel Ao acerca das compitas dos Moxicongos’, unnumbered folio of c. 1628.

92 An early version: Buenaventura de Alessano, Aug. 1649, MMA X, 395–400; more detail and Kikongo terms are found in Serafino da Cortona, ‘Breve Relatione dei riti gentilichi e ceremonie diaboliche e superstititioni del infelice Regno de Congo’, (orig. written 1653) in C. Piazza (ed.), La Prefettura apostolica del Congo alla metà del XVII secolo: la relazione inedita di Girolamo da Montesarchio (Milan, 1976), 318–30 (allegato 8). This text translates and augments a somewhat earlier Spanish text of Buenaventura de Cerolla, ‘Relación de los ritos, ceremonias diabólicas y supersticiones destos infelicíssimos Reynos de Congo’, published by Salvadorini, V., Annali della Facoltà dell’ Università diegli Studi di Pisa, 3 (1973), 421–48.

93 BVE FM 1896, MS Varia 274, ‘Vocabularium’, fol. 44.

94 MacGaffey, W., ‘The personhood of ritual objects: Kongo “minkisi” ’, Ethnofoor, 3:1 (1990), 4561.

95 The modern usage was already established in Bentley's day. His dictionary, which was anchored in the same dialect (Kisansala) as the catechism and the dictionary of 1648, was the basis for his claim.

96 Dapper, Naukeurige Beschrijvinge, 548. My thanks to Andrea Mosterman for clarifying and translating this passage.

97 BVE FM 1896 MS Varia 274,‘Vocabulario’, fol. 53v, fol. 113v, presenting only Latin/Spanish-Kikongo. Van Wing, Le plus ancien, also defines ‘mukisi’ as ‘sortilege’ (spell). I have not located the Latin equivalent in the dictionary.

98 BVE FM 1896, MS Varia 274, ‘Vocabularium’, fols. 92v, 93v, 94.

99 Dennett, R. E., At the Back of the Black Man's Mind; or, Notes on the Kingly Office in West Africa (London, 1906), 167–8.

100 See, for example, Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, sec. III, par. 11. Note that in this text ‘mionho’ is the older form monyo of moyo, which was gradually changing in Kikongo, and occasionally used alternately in the dictionary.

101 See Weeks, J., Among the Primitive Bakongo: A Record of Thirty Years’ Close Intercourse with the Bakongo and Other Tribes of Equatorial Africa…, (London, 1914), 282–4, who maintained that moyo really meant ‘life’ or ‘vital force’, an idea which is supported in the dictionary; BVE FM 1896, MS Varia 274, ‘Vocabularium’, fol. 113, ‘anima vegitiva moio a muzinguisi’.

102 Ribeiro letter, 1 Aug. 1548, MMA XV, 163.

103 MacGaffey, Religion and Society, 63–89.

104 MacGaffey, Religion and Society, 72–5.

105 Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, sec. VII, par. 14–15.

106 BVE FM 1896, MS Varia 274, ‘Vocabularium’, fol. 54.

107 Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, sec. V, par. 1. This is one of the few places where the text uses the Portuguese term ‘Deus’ to mean God, and not ‘Nzambi a Mpungu’.

108 BVE FM 1896, MS Varia 274, ‘Vocabularium’, fols. 51v and 116v.

109 Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, sec. III, par. 8.

110 BVE FM 1896, MS Varia 274 ‘Vocabularium’, most specifically, fol. 94v. Another verb, ‘cocola’, is cited in these definitions also.

111 BVE FM 1896, MS Varia 274, ‘Vocabularium’, fol. 51v.

112 A. da Pavia, ‘Viaggio apostolico alla Missione …’ in C. Toso (ed.), ‘Viaggio Apostolico’ in Africa di Andrea da Pavia (inedito del sec. XVII) (Rome, 2000, marking foliation of the original), fol. 86.

113 BVE FM 1896, MS Varia 274, ‘Vocabularium’, fol. 63v. The Kikongo in fact reads, ‘child, young woman of age to be married’ (using the Portuguese loan word casar for marriage).

114 Bras Correa, MMA VI.

115 Bentley, Dictionary, 232.

116 Bontinck and Nsasi (eds.), Doutrina christãa, sec. I, par. 11.

* The author wishes to thank Cécile Fromont, Linda Heywood, and Alan Strathern for reading and commenting on earlier versions of this article, and also Koen Bosten for inspiring discussions of linguistic terms and usage.

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