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Jeremy Rich

Kongolese religious and political reformer, was born to a wealthy noble Kongo-speaking family in Kibangu, a mountainous region located in present-day Angola. Little is known of Kimpa Vita’s immediate family, but she grew up during a period of fragmentation and civil war. The relative stability of the Kongo kingdom in the sixteenth century had collapsed in the wake of the Portuguese invasion from Angola to its south in the 1660s. By the late seventeenth century, the old kingdom had divided into a range of competing noble families, each claiming to be the rightful dynasty that could rebuild the shattered fragments of Kongo into a single state. Kimpa Vita’s father served as an officer in the army of King Álvaro X, whose pretentions of being the true monarch of Kongo did not correspond with the tiny amount of territory around Kibangu that he actually controlled.

Amid this chaotic political landscape Kimpa ...