Most African Americans may be hard pressed to name black women leaders who were instrumental in shaping America.
The Black Hand of God, a novel published by an independent literary press in Tulsa, Okla., could help fill the knowledge gap. The work centers on the life of Kimpa Vita, who led a religious reform movement some 300 years ago known as Antonianism, according to Wikipedia.
Often known as the African “Joan of Arc,” Kimpa Vita's achievements were crushed by the church but her influence could be discerned in slave uprisings in the United States many years later.
According to information on the publisher’s website, Kimpa Vita was born in 1684 in the kingdom of Kongo, part of today’s Angola, and as a teenager she started a non-violent mission to liberate her nation. One of her goals was to reconcile Christianity with African religions and beliefs and she taught that black and white saints mingled in Heaven, contrary to what Catholic priests in the area taught.
On July 2, 1706, Kimpa Vita was burned at the stake for heresy and her followers were persecuted. Four years later her killers sent a report to the pope on what they had done.
The link with America came in 1739, when some of her followers were sold as slaves in this country but they staged a revolt that came to be known as the “Stono rebellion” in South Carolina.
Some observers of her life believe her teachings may have inspired the action of former slaves during the revolt which led to the independence of Haiti in 1804.
Kimpa Vita is regarded by some today as a prophetess and a symbol of non-violent resistance in Africa. She is credited also with founding the first Black Christian movement in sub-Saharan Africa.
Pope Paul VI rejected a request for her rehabilitation in 1966.
While most accounts of her life are Eurocentric, The Black Hand of God uses academic accounts of her life drawn from eyewitness journals and offers a more African version of events.
“To interpret African history, we are at the mercy of European eyewitnesses who clearly had their own biases and agendas,” said R.S. Basi, the book’s author.
People and institutions from Nelson Mandela to UNESCO have lamented the Eurocentric nature of African history and Basi wrote The Black Hand of God to offer a different perspective and to show Americans that they will discover many things about Africa if they make the effort to do so.
“Most people don't realize, for instance, how many great African leaders influenced the world we now live in,” said Basi, “or that Christianity spread to Africa before Europe.”
The Black Hand of God is intended to be a starting point for those who want to interpret and discover African history for themselves.
Basi also wanted Kimpa Vita's story to be put in context with history, religion and more modern African events and to show an example of African influence on the development of the United States.
• The Marked publishing company provided some material for this report.
The Black Hand of God is published by The Marked, a small independent publishing house, costs $15.95 and is available at most book sellers. For more information, log on to http://www.theblackhandofgod.com.