A groundbreaking look at the history of Christianity, Black Feminism and the African American Church, The Black Hand of God (The Marked, LLC, 2009) explores the teachings and convictions of Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita – founder of the first Black Christian movement in sub-Saharan Africa whose contributions – shamefully – too few are aware of. Told through the narrative of a man embarking on his own personal spiritual journey, the book highlights Kimpa Vita’s efforts to free and protect her people from physical and spiritual enslavement.
Kimpa Vita’s influence is echoed in critical uprisings throughout history, including the 1739 “Stono Rebellion” in South Carolina, and the Congolese slave revolt that led to Haiti’s independence in 1804. There is no question that without Kimpa Vita, the Black Church as we know it today would not exist.
For over twenty years, R.S. Basi has studied and written about law and the environment, from law journals to magazines, on topics as varied as international environmental law and diversity in the workplace. In the early 1980’s while crossing the Congo by pirogue, or dugout canoe, he was introduced to the story of Kimpa Vita. Since graduating law school in 1994, he has worked, lived, and traveled extensively in central and eastern Africa, all the while collecting information on African life and society.
The Black Hand of God is the culmination of his research, wanderings across the continent, and observations of African and American life. He argues that African oral history is mistakenly discounted in favor of obviously biased Eurocentric narratives and hopes that we will one day catalog and investigate more of the numerous and diverse African oral traditions.
1. Who or What inspired you to write The Black Hand of God?
What really inspired me was the almost complete dearth of information in the public realm about what could and should be a highly celebrated life. The more I learned more about Kimpa Vita’s story and the impact she’s had on world history, the more I came to realize just how important it was, and is, for people to know about this amazing woman.
2. So tell us why you think people should know about Kimpa Vita.
I think more people should know more of her for many reasons, but here are two of the most critical: First, Kimpa Vita’s story is a compelling one that demonstrates a form of heroic courage we rarely see any more. Imagine an African woman standing up to the most powerful institutions of her time three hundred years ago, let alone today. Particularly given the very tense social and political environment we’re living in right now. Second – and perhaps more important – is the glaringly unfortunate fact that we rarely hear about important African heroes in the public (as well as in many academic) realm. Hopefully this book is the beginning of a long over-due shift in that area.
3. Why has Kimpa Vita’s legacy and influence largely gone unnoticed? How do you see your book changing that?
I don’t think her legacy is completely unknown in academic circles. I do believe, however, that much of what we know about Kimpa Vita has been revealed through writings by people who had obvious biases against her motivations. We know of her only through the eyes of people who had little reason to draw attention to the successes of her life – and, frankly, some of those successes weren’t known until many years after her death. What I hope for this book is that readers are motivated to dig deeper and put what they read into context, discounting author biases, and imagining for themselves a more probable and realistic interpretation, not just of Kimpa Vita’s history, but of African history.
4. Despite that lack of public recognition, do you believe Kimpa Vita’s influence on the African and African American church in particular, and Christianity in general, still persists? In what ways?
Kimpa Vita’s greatest and lasting gift was the way in which she was able to personalize her relationship with God. She was, of course, not the only person in history to do that. But she was the one who inspired people to challenge the norm and embrace a relationship with God that broke away from the stringent religious tenets of her day. It’s difficult to overestimate what that could have meant for slaves coming to the New World. One can only speculate, but we can see the history of the Independent African Church movement, which is still going strong, and guess how that ethos continues to shape our world. We can also trace Kimpa Vita’s fingerprints in countless sermons that preach the individual relationship with God.
5. It’s a popularly-held belief that the role of women in the Black Church has, over many years, diminished significantly. What do you think Kimpa Vita, given her fierce strength and leadership, would make of this? Do you think she would agree with that assessment?
Though she may agree, Kimpa Vita might argue that, if indeed the role of women is diminishing, the pendulum is swinging back in favor of reform. Kimpa Vita recognized the value of capitalizing on extreme positions or situations to catalyze action and she might think that the current situation was conducive to action- an opportunity for another courageous reformer to step forward and lead. As to whether or not she would agree, everything is relative. If we look back to Kimpa Vita’s time, women – and black women in particular – had no leadership influence. I think that Kimpa Vita would be disheartened to believe that the advances so hard-won by others like her had eroded.
6. What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
I really hope to accomplish greater awareness of African history and its relevance to people of African heritage here in the U.S. and across the Diaspora. I want The Black Hand of God to spark the imagination of readers and to make them want to go back and resurrect even more stories from cultures and places that are overlooked.
7. What is the ultimate message you hope readers will take away from The Black Hand of God?
That God is not what you are told. God is what you believe.
“Dehydrated and stiff from the cool nights, we were all
stretched to the point of delirium. It was a challenge to keep either
hidden or quiet. Since a spear had gone into my knee some years
back, I found it difficult to maintain a single position for any length
of time. Indeed, my torso twisted occasionally on the dry leaves of
the forest floor, sending a warning to those who might have been
“I looked around at my fellow warriors. The years showed on
our faces and in our hearts. We missed our homes and families and
fields and wished for more of the young soldiers who should have
been there in numbers that allowed our retirement from battle. As
these forays came more frequently, each departure meant leaving
our lives farther behind and dreaming firmer into nostalgia. My
ritual of glancing back along the trail to the fields I had worked and
the thatch my hands had tightened for what I knew might be the last
time meant those images lingered like ghosts in my thoughts and in
“Over seventy of us sat hidden as statues that morning. An
arc of branches hid us among the foliage of the market’s edge.
Indifferent, birds sang their usual songs. Even the river paid us no
heed. Market traders had profit and business on their minds.
Customers thought only of food or the many domestic chores to
manage. They were not mindful of politics or security or the
relentless march of armies.
“Soon the sun stood high overhead and no clouds tempered
its fury. I was drawn for a moment to the sound of two children
splashing in a nearly dry pool of water and how it made my mouth
feel. I saw a fleeting vision of me playing in the dead bends of the
river near the village where I was born as monkeys chattered
overhead. I remembered for a moment the joy we felt in those days
and at that place which, for me, was the heart of everything. My
brother and I, before he drowned in the river, loved the water. Love
turns easily to fear and even hatred. Then I heard screams.
“‘Lukangu!’ Freedom. Our battle cry. Our belief. Our
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