Sunday, November 18, 2012

The spiritual aspect of the Kingdom of Kongo

Spiritual practices throughout the Kingdom of Kongo has changed over time with the exposure of Christianity. But, the spiritual practices were the foundation of the vastly growing kingdom.

In pre-Catholic Kongo society, the religious authority of the mani Kongo stemmed from forces beyond the royal household. In traditional Kongo society, religious and medical experts called banganga performed innumerable rituals of protection and healing at places in the village or on its outskirts where two roads intersected. Also, legal officials frequently inscribed the image of crossed axes on the ground, on the center of which people would stand to give assurance of truthfulness in the act of testifying in court or making some other oath. In addition to these specialized ritual and legal contexts, the image also appears widely in what has survived of classical Kongo art: on royal scepters, and swords of authority, on terracotta columns and stone figures that rested on the tombs of the nobility, on the oversized funerary mannequins that housed the mummified bodies of the important dead, which villagers carried to their graves in celebratory musical processions.

This cruciform, known as yowo, the most fundamental sacred space of Kongo culture and therefore serves as a basic cosmogram, an essential image of reality.

The intersection of its two axes marks the energy-charged location where the world of ordinary experience comes into contact with the realm of the spirits. The horizontal axis, called the kalunga line, signifies the body of water that serves as a boundary between the spheres of existence, and that the soul of the dead person must pass through on its journey to the other world. The vertical axis is meaningfully ambiguous: on one reading, it connects humankind with the unsurpassed spiritual power of Nzambi Mpungi, God Almighty; on a second reading, it connects God with the generations of the deceased ancestors; and on yet a third reading, it spans the hiatus between the living and the dead. In accordance with the last interpretation, the BaKongo imagined the kalunga line as separating two mirrored mountains, opposed to one another at their bases. The mountain reaching above the line is that of the earth or the world of the living. The mountain extending below the line is that of the world of the dead; it is made of kaolin, a white clay found in river beds, whose hue is the polar opposite of the color of living bodies and in that sense its mirror image. Each terminal point of the cross as defined by the two axes represents a stage in the life cycle of the individual person linked with a position of the sun. 

The importance of the spiritual world of the Kingdom of Kongo is just as important as in any other country. The spiritual world sets up a foundation which establishes a country. The uniqueness of the spiritual world in the Kingdom of Kongo, to me, has set itself apart form the rest of the Atlantic world.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The change throughout generations in the Kongo

Throughout the generations, the people of the Kingdom of Kongo have gone through various changes. The earliest inhabitants of the regions comprising present day Congo were the Bambuti people. The African Iron Age culture came under great pressures with the arrival of the first Europeans, being in this case the Portuguese explorers. In Portugal, King John II said in order to break Venetian and Ottoman control over trade with the East, they needed to organize a series of expeditions southwards along the African coast with the idea of establishing direct contacts with Asia. In 1483, Captain Diogo Cão, sailing south on uncharted Congo River, discovered the mouth of the river, and became the first European to encounter the Kingdom of Kongo. Christianity was soon being accepted due to local nobility and Christianity gained a strong foothold in the country with many churches being built.

The extent of changes from the first inhabitants to the spread of Christianity was vast and the slave trade was still to come in West Central Africa where a majority of salves were imported and exported throughout the slave trade.

The discovery of Brazil in 1500 and the need for labor to work on Portuguese plantations in Brazil, Cape Verde and Sao Tome let Portugal to look for more slaves. As the Portuguese's demand for black slaves grew, the pressure on the Kongo kings increases. With the Kongo king, Afonso I, complaining in 1526 to his Portugese counterpart, John III, bitterly of the damage done to his kingdom by his trade, which was depopulating whole areas and leading to constant wars with his neighbors.

The forced migration of Africans across the Atlantic was part of an important historical development that resulted in the emergence of this Atlantic world led to the dominance of Europe and the industrialization of northwestern Europe. Africans provided much of the labor for this emerging world order, especially in the production of tropical and cash crops and also in mining gold and silver, and in the transportation associated with producing these commodities. Slave labor was the mechanism by which those in political power and with access to economic resources could further amass wealth and influence. While some African merchants and political officials benefited from their cooperation in this concentration of wealth, in general wealth ultimately flowed into the hands of the political and economic elites of Europe, and the benefits to African merchants and officials were incidental. So, the overwhelming impact of involvement in the rise of the modern Atlantic world was negative for Africa because it as a loss of population, particularly the able bodied, and relatively marginal commercial gains for a small elite.

The Influence of the Kingdom of Kongo on Central Africa
E. Torday
Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
Vol. 1 No. 2
Published by: Cambridge University Press

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hierarchies throughout the Kingdom of Kongo

The Kingdom of Kongo is in the West Central region of Africa. This region was one of the most active during the slave trade. Ships coming in and out to pick up inventory are what the Kongo knew at the time. This also set up an economic system that played a role in the social hierarchy system.

In every civilization there are different hierarchies that establish a certain diagram of how that civilization is set apart in every class. The Kingdom of Kongo was no different in this aspect. The Kingdom on Kongo was mainly set up into a social hierarchy that mainly looked at the political aspect of the hierarchy system.  

There was a social hierarchy in the Kongo Kingdom like many other civilizations. There were aristocrats (nobles), free people (citizens) and slaves. These nobles married each other and it was hard for commoners to become any richer or powerful. The aristocrats took control of each province or other states. They collected taxes from their land and gave taxes to the kings. The rulers of the kingdom created a highly organized political system. The individual villages made a smallest unit of government. Then, a number of villages together would make districts. There were six major provinces such as: Mbata, Mbemba, Mpangu, Mpenba, Nsundi, and Sovo. These six districts formed the Kongo Kingdom.
These aristocrats elected the next ruler of the kingdom. Almost alays, they chose the most powerful son of the formal king as the ruler to rule. The reason why these aristocrats had such rights was because Kongo expanded its territories mostly through trade, alliances, and marriages. Due to this, the power structure in Kongo was not only focused on the main government. The allies such as Loango, Ngoyo and Kakongo were very important. It was part of Kongo, but king has less influence in these regions.

Relationships developed among these groups as it would in any civilization. With the slave trade the main economical basis in the Kongo. The nobles were near the top just below the royalty, but as discussed in the previous statement, the aristocrats took control of each province and collected the taxes to give to the kings. The difference would be the economic earnings through each class.

           With asking if these categories are always imposed by elites it seems that in a common occurrence that the elite class usually sets these categories. I do not think that it happens intentionally but I believe that it has a way of working its way out that way. I feel that some people are born into a system where they are set up the achieve success but others, such as slaves and citizens, are born into a system where the way they live is the was their family has always lived. 

Carnine, Douglas, and Cortes, Carlos E, and Curtis, Kenneth R, and Robinson, Anita T. World History-Medieval and Early Modern Times-United States: McDougal Little, 2006