Roboredo, Kikongo Sermon

I.  Author and Background.

In 1912, a Belgian priest, Frédégand Callaey, announced the discovery of the lost Latin-Spanish-Kikongo Dictionary of the mid seventeenth century in the Biblioteca Vittorio Emmanuel (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale) of Rome,[1] to which this sermon was attached.  The untitled sermon, commencing with a Latin quotation from Matthew 18:18 was added, without translation, to the last two pages of the dictionary which had been owned by Joris van Gheel, a Flemish Capuchin who had died in Kongo in 1652.  Both dictionary and sermon were written in the same hand, clearly that of van Gheel himself.

Joris van Gheel arrived in Kongo in June, 1651, and died as a result being beaten by villagers for his disruption of a celebration of the kimpasi secret society on 17 December 1652. Earlier scholars assumed that this was too short a time for him to have acquired the knowledge necessary to compile a complete dictionary of over 10,000 items, and that he must have copied another dictionary.[2] However, in 1928 when the Belgian Jesuits Joseph van Wing and C. Penders published a modernized and modified edition of the Kikongo with a French and Flemish translation, they made a strong case for van Gheel being compiler of the dictionary.[3] Although this remained accepted for many years,[4] more recent research favors a Kongolese priest named Manuel Roboredo working at the request of and in collaboration with a number of Spanish and Italian Capuchin priests.

François Bontinck demonstrated conclusively that the dictionary was based on a popular Latin to Spanish dictionary, probably brought to Kongo by José de Antequera, one of the first Capuchins to come there and the first to die.[5] Bonaventura da Sardegna (or da Nuoro) then directed a team including Roboredo with the assistance of Spanish Capuchins José de Pernambuco and Francisco de Veas who prepared a dictionary for missionary use.[6] Undoubtedly their method had been to ask their Kongolese partner, Roboredo, to supply Kikongo equivalents to each word in the dictionary, a task undoubtedly made easier by the fact that Roboredo spoke both Latin and Portuguese.  At times the search for equivalent words was forced, for when the Latin dictionary included terms for which there was no immediate equivalent in Kikongo, an explanatory phrase rather than a single word was necessary.[7]

Roboredo played a pivotal role in the production of the dictionary, and undoubtedly all other linguistic works that the Capuchins produced including the sermon.  In 1649, Bonaventura da Alessano, the Capuchin prefect, underlined the important role played by Roboredo, when he wrote that they had already compiled “with his aid a Vocabulary,” undoubtedly the dictionary which was later copied by other missionaries, including Joris van Gheel, to which the sermon was attached.[8]

The Capuchins decided they needed to study Kikongo because they were concerned about the reception of their preaching.  The arrival of the Italian Capuchin missionaries in Kongo in 1645 was an event of considerable proportions.  Kongolese kings had sought for many years to obtain the services of these clergy, and gave them a heroes’ welcome when they came.[9] But while not doubting the sincerity of their reception, the Capuchins found much to criticize about the religious life of Kongo.  One of their earliest concerns was their inability to speak Kikongo which left them at the mercy of the interpreters supplied to them by the local church organization, with whose help they performed their first services.[10] The Capuchins certainly recognized this problem, for they quickly came to doubt that the interpreters who worked with them were conveying correctly the contents of their preaching, and they accused the interpreters of being greedy and overbearing.[11]

It was the problem of interpreters, according to Bonaventura da Alessano, that led them to work on languages:  “among the crosses which we must bear,” he wrote in his letter of 1649, “that of language has made itself intolerable.  We are not able to declare and must depend on the mouths of others.”  They were thus hampered by the “little capacity of the interpreters”.[12]

But he went on to add, “Divine Providence has not abandoned those in whom it confided its glory, and has deigned to provide a priest [Sacerdote], venerated priest [Prete], of exemplary life and holy customs, the chaplain of the king…intelligent…and of a fervent spirit, and very well versed in this barbaric idiom,” in short, Manuel Roboredo.[13]

If the Capuchins did not trust the interpreters they clearly did trust Roboredo, who was a member of Kongo’s spiritual, social and intellectual elite.  He was a nobleman, the son of a Portuguese nobleman named Tomas Roboredo and D. Eva, sister of the King Alvaro V Kongo,[14] and moreover, he was not an interpreter but a priest, ordained in 1637.  His education in local Kongolese schools included the study of Latin and Portuguese, in which he was considered expert.[15] These local schools were quite adequate for linguistic work, when the Capuchins arrived and began teaching in them they were able to offer advanced courses in grammar and theology immediately, rather then more rudimentary subjects.[16] Another product of these schools, Miguel de Castro, ambassador to Brazil and the Low Countries in 1643, was said by his Dutch hosts in Recife to be able to “compose poetry in Latin”.[17] Clearly, although we possess only the most rudimentary knowledge of the education of the Kongolese elite, they were skilled in languages and considered competent by European priests in higher studies as well.

Not only did the Capuchins consider Roboredo their savior on the linguistic front and a man of merit, but they also accepted him as a colleague.  Roboredo expressed an interest in becoming a Capuchin himself, and on 11 August 1653, after some years of training, the Capuchin prefect, Giacinto da Vetralla, welcomed him to the order.  He took the name Francisco de São Salvador, from his birthplace in Kongo’s capital city, as his religious name.  In writing a biography of him, Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi da Montecuccolo, the Capuchin’s official seventeenth century historian, took pains to separate him from the interpreters of the church, not only because of his superior linguistic abilities, but because of his exemplary life.[18]

In performing his role as linguist and colleague of European priests, Roboredo was filling a role that had long been filled by the Kongolese elite.  Unlike the later missionaries of the nineteenth century who came into African societies and gradually developed their own linguistic and theological interpretations assisted by informants but relying on their own training, missionaries to Kongo met a well established church, with a century and a half of tradition behind it. Locally born and educated Kongolese played a major role in linguistic work from the earliest days of the church in Kongo, beginning with King Afonso I’s theological study in the early sixteenth century.[19]

This tradition continued after Afonso’s death in 1542.  When the Carmelites planned a mission to Kongo in the mid-sixteenth century, they arranged for the publication of the first Kikongo catechism in 1556.  This catechism was most probably the work of Cornelio Gomes, a bilingual priest born in Kongo of Portuguese parents who wrote that he had prepared a catechism in Kikongo in 1549, and eventually joined the Jesuit order.[20]

Similarly, the reestablishment of the Jesuit mission to Kongo in 1619 was the occasion for the production of a Kikongo translation of Marcos Jorge’s Portuguese catechism, work that was completed by 1620 and published in 1624.[21] Mateus Cardoso, whose name appears on the title page as the director of the translation, wrote in his dedication addressed to King Pedro II of Kongo, that he did not feel capable of making the translation of Jorge’s catechism himself, and entrusted the task to “the most educated teachers [mestres] of the court,” that is, the Kongolese religious elite.  They produced a work “so perfect that its renown spread and reached the ears of Dom Alvaro III [Pedro's predecessor]” who asked to see it, and “reading it, never ceased to praise it.”[22] It seems likely that a major role in this exemplary translation was played by Felix de Espirtu Sancto, a nobleman of the highest rank, a cousin of King Alvaro III, as well as a teacher in the capital city, who also served until 1619 as Marquis of Mpemba.[23] Elsewhere Cardoso described him as a mestre, a “man of very good understanding and curious,” who had helped him with linguistic questions, such as the etymology of the word “Nkadi a Mpemba,” the Kikongo word for the Devil.[24]

It is this background that makes it likely that Roboredo was the primary author of the sermon.  Penders and van Wing, in editing and translating the sermon gave no opinion on it, though Joris van Gheel’s biographer, Hildebrand de Hooglede, argued that the sermon was van Gheel’s work, and moreover showed his deep understanding of the Kongolese mentality.[25] Such a view would accord with the idea that the missionaries wanted to compose their own sermons.  However, it must be balanced against the high opinion that missionaries had of Roboredo, whom they may well have trusted to compose sermons for them, at least as models. In order to gain some insight into how the sermon might have been produced, it is helpful to put it into the larger context of Capuchin inspired linguistic work.

The Capuchin mission produced a considerable quantity of linguistic text, much of which was published quickly.  In 1650, the Prefect Giacinto da Vetralla brought out a new edition of the Kikongo catechism, originally translated from a Portuguese original and published in 1624.  Because it was to be used by mostly Italian priests, the new edition was quatrilingual, Kikongo and Portuguese being joined by Italian and Latin.[26] This was followed by the publication in 1659 of a Kikongo grammar, appearing under the name of Giacinto Brugiotti, though perhaps, like the dictionary, a collective work.[27] In 1662, the Spanish Capuchin Antonio de Teruel asked the Propaganda Fide for a license to publish a wide range of works, probably the final fruit of all the linguistic production made by or for the Capuchins.  These works included a “manual for the people of Congo,” a catechism, a book of sermons and calendar “following their customs”, a book of feast days for the Virgin, a book of prayers for lay congregations, a “vocabulary in four languages, Latin, Italian, Spanish and Congolese” and finally a “grammar and syntax to learn the language easily.”[28]

Some scholars assumed that de Teruel composed all this work himself,[29] although all he claims is that “finding myself [hallandome] with sufficient writings”, he thought it good to bring them to light.  It seems obvious that many of these works were already published or in existence before de Teruel arrived in Kongo in 1648.  We have to assume that the catechism he mentions was yet another edition of da Vetralla’s revised edition of the 1624 catechism, perhaps with Spanish added, since the vocabulary that he proposed publishing  (originally based, no doubt, on the original vocabulary of 1648) had added an Italian to an existing Latin and Spanish text.

But other texts are not mentioned elsewhere, and their authorship remains unestablished, including the sermon in the back of the dictionary.  It is probable that the sermon in the dictionary is an early version of one of the sermons that went into the book of sermons and calender, “following their customs” to which de Teruel refers.  If we work by analogy from the other works, it is likely that the sermons were collective texts, produced by Roboredo in association with Capuchin priests.

In fact, we can argue that Roboredo was the principal author of the sermon as well as the other (unfortunately lost) Kikongo texts to which de Teruel refered.  His Capuchin associates undoubtedly discussed the work with him, especially those who came to learn Kikongo themselves, but we should accept that the spirit of the sermon derives from Roboredo in the narrow sense and the Kongolese Catholic church in the wider sense.  They did this because, unlike the interpreters about whom they complained, they regarded Roboredo highly, both as a priest and eventually as their colleague in the Capuchin order.  Such respect accords well with their recognition that he was able to present a Christian message in Kikongo that was both fluent and orthodox.  Like earlier Kongolese who had produced linguistic work, Roboredo was a member of the social, political, and cultural elite of the country, people with whom foreign missionaries had always trusted linguistic work.

That a local custom might be at work is suggested by the striking approach of the sermon, which does not take a European model as an example as we might expect a sermon by a European to do.  Model sermons can easily be found in Europe, but there does not seem to be one for this particular sermon.  Capuchins certainly composed their own sermons, and often used striking imagery, however.  Girolamo da Montesarchio, for example, dreamed one night of a young man preaching with such conviction and force that all were convinced by him, and waking from the vivid dream concluded that it must be “a mystery” and not simply a dream.  He then took it as a text for the next day’s sermon, and astonished his Kongolese audience with the tale.[30] But it took years to master Kikongo well enough to preach in it to a people who greatly valued eloquence.  Model sermons, giving the flavor of the language and proposing imagery and themes might provide a starting point, as the book of sermons that de Teruel wished to publish undoubtedly would.

II.  Language and Orthography.

Modern students of Kikongo have been intrigued by the linguistic aspects of early Kikongo texts, since they hold forth the possibility of exploring the changes that have taken place over time, or the insight they give into Kongolese culture.  This is especially true if, as we have argued above, they are the work of native speakers and not missionary productions.  Many scholars have doubted their usefulness on linguistic grounds, precisely because they do not accept that they were the product of native speakers.  W. Holman Bentley, British Baptist missionary in the late nineteenth century, believing that earlier missionaries had sought to learn the language from informants rather than work with native speakers from the Kongolese clergy, was sharply critical of the older linguistic work, which he dismissed as “interesting but far from correct.”  He was not aware of the dictionary or sermon at the time he wrote, but addressed his criticism at the catechism of 1624, which he called a “regular white man’s Kikongo.”[31] Although he did not elaborate on what he meant by “white man’s Kikongo”, presumably assuming that the language was the work of a Portuguese Jesuit like Cardoso rather than a Kongolese like Felix de Espiritu Sancto and his associates, it is likely that he referred to its idiom rather than its formal grammar or vocabulary, since one could hardly fault the catechism either grammar or vocabulary.

Bentley’s analysis is not entirely defensible, however.  The catechism which Bentley criticized was a translation rather than an original work, and because its authors concieved of it as a language teaching text, they sought to line up the Kikongo text next to the Portuguese, word for word.  Such an arrangement gives a primacy to Portuguese grammar and idiom, and although the authors were willing to occasially rearrange the Portuguese so as to make the grammar of the corresponding Kikongo formally correct, it is Portuguese grammar and idiom that prevail.  Hence, it reads as non-native speaker might speak a language in which he sought unconsciously to frame sentences according to his own sense of idiom rather than that of Kikongo–white man’s Kikongo.

In any case, what Bentley had to say about the catechism can not be held against the sermon.  It does not seem to be a translation, and is much closer to what a modern speaker would describe as idiomatic Kikongo than most of the catechism, at least insofar as we will ever be able to know what idiomatic Kikongo was in the seventeenth century.  One of the noticible characteristics of Kikongo idiom is its tendency to arrange words in a sentence in what the speaker feels is its order of importance.  Thus, the topic of the sentence is the first element, followed by other topics in descending order of importance.  The topic might be the verb of the sentence, or framed as a relative clause, or perhaps a noun that is an indirect object according to the formal rules of the grammar.  Kikongo uses passive voice frequently to accomodate this tendency, and possesses a rich set of verbal extenders that allow action to be reversed, or on behalf of another, in order to render the formal grammar consonant with the preferred order of presentation.  Likewise the class system of nouns allows more flexibility in connecting nouns to verbs or modifiers. Such sentences can be found in the sermon

To a speaker of a European language, this order of presentation sounds strange, as literal translations of the above sentences surely sound to speakers of European languages.  European language speakers’ tendency is to make the topic the subject of the sentence in the formal grammar, except perhaps in poetic language where more freedom is granted to shift words.  Not surprisingly, Kikongo often sounds poetic to those non-native speakers who hear it.  “White man’s Kikongo” is thus most likely to employ a higher frequency of sentences framed in subject-verb-object order–which is certainly possible and acceptible in Kikongo grammar, but which would lack, to a native speaker’s ear, the proper emphasis on the approprate topics.  The catechism as a translation of a particular sort is thus most likely to produce intelligible and grammatically correct that do not sound quite idiomatic or elegant as they would if they had been framed in a topic driven order.

Bentley also faulted the older work, specifically the catechism and the the grammar of 1659 as being a mixture of dialects, again reflecting his view that the work was primarly due to missionaries who had not quite learned the language properly, “in those far-off times” before “we have learned to value a greater accuracy.”[32] Bentley was aware that the language of both these older works differed from the language he had studied in the 1880s and 1890s.  But Bentley was enamored of the idea that Kikongo was a pure survival of an ancient Bantu mother tongue, and in the spirit of late nineteenth century European thought, imagined that such languages do not change very much.[33] Hence, he assumed that the phonological and grammatical differences he found were the result of mixing the coastal and São Salvador (Zombo) dialects rather than changes.  “The early missionaries,” he charged, “had picked the language up on the Coast, and carried up the Coast influences with them.”[34] As evidence of this dialect mixture, Bentley proposed that the consistent use of “r” where the modern dialect of São Salvador (Zombo dialect) uses “d” suggests a well known dialect difference between coastal and interior Kikongo.  He also added that the use of the infinitive class marker ku (“cu”) on verbs is also characteristic of coastal usage, and is certainly absent in the Zombo dialect of today.[35] In this opinion he has been followed by François Bontinck, an authority on all the older linguistic works, and applied to the dictionary as well as the catechism.[36]

However, such an opinion is indefensible.  If the Capuchins had entered Kongo through the coast, Roboredo learned his Kikongo in the capital, as clearly indicated by his religious name.  Even if missionaries had begun trying to learn the language on the coast, they would surely have yielded to Roboredo on matters of phonology.  Likewise, the authors of the catechism were certainly natives of the capital, and employed the “r” as well.  This use of “r” was already reported in the capital region in 1584, when Carmelites, who entered the country through Luanda, noted that the Kikongo term for baptism was “curia mungua” (modern kudia mungwa), meaning to eat salt.[37] The difference between the “r” and “d” are very slight, as Bernardo da Canecatti, the first writer to point it out in a dictionary of Kikongo published in 1805 noted, and could probably best be explained by the development of the Zombo dialect rather than an elaborate theory of dialect mixture.[38]

The use of ku in infinitives could also be a change over time.  The class still survives on a few common verbs, such as kwenda and kwiza, and is also used for infixing indirect objects in the Zombo dialect, all of which suggests that it was once used more widely.  Given the widespread distribution of the class in Bantu languages it is quite clear that all Bantu languages once used the class and some have since lost it.  The only issue is when the marker was lost, and in the Zombo dialect of Kikongo it seems likely that it was lost in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century.

In order to highlight changes in phonology and provide a linguistically useful text, it has been necessary to reproduce the full Kikongo text in its original orthography.  Unfortunately, when van Wing and Penders originally published the text in 1928, they chose to modernize the orthography and made a number of other modifications which have obscured changes in the language and substantially reduced the value of the text for linguistic research.  First of all, they adopted a modernized alphabet to substitute for the Portuguese influenced alphabet of the earlier work.  Thus, “k” replaces “c” and “qu”, “s” replaces “ç” and “c” (before “i” and “e”), “w” replaces “u”, and so forth.   Unfortunately, they also chose to replace “bh” and sometimes “b” in the text uniformly with “v” so as to bring the spelling into modern form.  In this way they used vo to replace “bho” in the text (line 2 in “quicalabho”), and vana, a locative, replaced “bana” (line 1 in “bananzi”), making the seventeenth century text conform to modern orthography and implying that the phonology of Kikongo had not changed.  But readers would not know that the modern verb vutuka (to return) was spelled with a “v” in the seventeenth century (line 21 as “zicuüutuquissa”) as well as today.  Similarly, the reader would not know that the “b” in bene (line 7) has remained unchanged since the seventeenth century.  This new orthography completely obscures the subtle phonological changes that have taken place, where a primitive “b” (as found in the catechism of 1624, but perhaps from a conflation of the “b” and “bh”) was gradually divided into “bh” (presumably a bilabial “b” still used in northern dialects) and “b” and then eventually merged in modern times with “v”.

Van Wing and Penders also choose to suppress the numerous diacritical marks of the original text.  In many cases these marks help to render the tone structure of Kikongo better than the modern edition does.  Curiously enough, however, the original author chose no longer to represent vowel length, which had been done in the catechism by the circumflex “^”.

Another unfortunate policy of van Wing and Penders was to change the word division of the text.  Once again this decision was taken to make the text more legible to modern readers, accustomed to twentieth century conventions of Kikongo word division.  Word division is a tricky subject in Kikongo, because the custom of elision and tone bridging often causes adjacent words to merge in normal speech.[39] The authors of the text sought to represent this feature in word division, best illustrated by their combining the locative mu- with nouns, so that they write “munzo” (line 7, “in the house”) when modern writers might have written mu nzo, as van Wing and Penders did in rendering this passage into modern Kikongo.  The text also routinely adds the final negative particle -ko to the word preceeding it, reflecting a regular feature of negative sentences in spoken Kikongo.

Finally, the original editors made a number of emendations in the text.  Indeed, the text does contain a number of obvious misreadings, strongly suggesting that it was a copy rather than an original text.  However, they chose not to reveal where they had emended the text.  I have noted the emendations the textual apparatus.

The text that follows is as close as possible to a diplomatic reading of the original text both in its word division and its orthography.  The lines follow those of the original manuscript.  I have numbered the lines of the Kikongo translation, rather than starting with the Latin text that begins the sermon, for ease in comparing text and translation.  On occasion the structure of the Kikongo makes it impossible to match lines exactly.

III.  Text and Translation.

Biblioteca Vittorio Emmanuele, Rome, Fundo Minori 1896, MS Varia 274, “Vocabularum Latimum, Hispanicum, et Congoense.  Ad usum Missionari transmittendor ad Regni Congi Missiones.” (ca. 1649)


[125] Quod cum q[ue][40] solveris super terra[m] erit solutum et in ce=/

lis, et q[uo]d cum que ligaveris super terram erit ligatum/

et in caelis. dicit d[ivi]ns Simoni Petros.[41]

Quionça equi ocanguiri banunzi ÿacunezulu/

quicalabho queacangama[42]; quionço equi ecutúluiri ba=/

nunzi, ÿacunezulu quicalabho qacutuluca;

Catiúna onzam[biampung]u azaúla[43] ocufunguna cuna quecua/

5 cúúnnba[44] co atulonga ngana eÿ ÿlandila catiuna nz[ambiampung]u/

asonga muna nganga umoçi auquissi, una aiquele yan/

ganga eÿ bene yamucangaçi andi umoci munzo au=/

quissi, equèle mucufugissa, üaiza nfumu umoçi ÿan=/

quentu icuiza cufungúna, ÿomucangaçi andi; naçun=/

10 suguiri cuiza cufunguna una aÿanduiri cufúnguna/

esúmu rimoci rianfuila üamonequene muna munua/

üandi mucubaica ncutu imoci amoneca riacaca/

muna munua uandi mucubaica eacaca ncutu ocati=/

anzi muna munua ocatianzi ocunza, ÿencutu eÿ/

15 iúúiriri üi muque zazonçoco, ÿencutu eÿ quequia=/

caca quiúmaco, canti risumu rianmpondi cassueque=/

lenge munzoni muque funguna rioco; amonabhutu/

oÿandi omufunguissi eÿau ncutu ena ÿequéle ocati=/

anzi omumunua, ocatianzi ocunza amona oü[45] ÿcuuú/

20 tuquissa muna quiuumu quia ÿandi mufunguni, ÿe/

zacaca zincutu zazonço oü[46] zicuüutuquissa[47] muna/

quiúúmu: ÿenganga eÿ uná assamúnuini oacaca[48] mu=/

cangaçi andi ÿedidi azáa oubhena ezau ncutu ezi/

abibuilungue[49] banantete ÿmasumú mampondi afun=/

25 guiningi, eÿacaca ÿanéne iuuviri üÿ isumu riam=/

pondi riná cassuequele múq[ue] cussamunarioco; quiquiaú/

ezanganga ezi zamufunguissi zaele cunanzo aÿandi/

nfumu eÿ mq[uen]tu ÿaiziri ocufunguna, quinumbale/

amúsonguela oü afuéne cubhanga lufungúna/

30 lualúuimba, ecanti bhutu üana bhana bhaoü/

asunsuquiri[50] cunanzo andi[51]; amubulanguéne[52] ofúiri/

[125v] euimbu rieÿ rinanzobho; ouaou[53] muanu oÿu queuacaca/

muanúco canti quinumbale atulonga, catinuna nz[ambipung]u/

asaúziana ÿocufunguna cuna cúa cúÿ, ÿanquibho nca=/

35 diampemba cabondele enitu cacaco canti atúeçi emonbo[54]/

cuna bhulungui, quiquiaubho una bhoçetucufunguna/

quesufúequingui esumuco, quinumbale quetomone=/

quenua mpe, catiou üamonequéne nfúmu eÿ ÿan=/


40        Oÿandi ocufunguna üafuaniquinua culanguri ria/

cua lutantu[55] lúuuriri unéne; ÿ[56] nquibho, oyandi ucufunguna/

muq[ue] lutantu co quefungunaco unabho ouuirila lubanga/

muntu canabho üarinbeni ÿa nzam[biampung]u üicalabho semunan=/

di, oÿandiona ouurila olúaú lutantu bene[57] yoatecunlu yandi, ýoa=/

45 nandi ecalabho abinguiçi ezalu; catiuna uatulonga nganga[58]/

imoçi sencuquinga cuboba–yanquibo amonequinu muqui/

lumbu quimoçi muantu aengui aequele mufunguna munzo/

amquissi imoçi, obhabho[59] bhutu uabaiquiri ncariampemba ntu=/

buila, catiuna ucua cumoneca bho nzam[bi ampung]u utunga nzoamquissi/

ncadiampemba[60] otunga eiemba, quinumbale tuazáá unabho/

50 muntu bocecuuanga[61] mufunu uamuote, ncariampemba obulan/

guanua bhana quimubale cauunza eriote; una üa mne=/

nebho bho üafunguini ena mucuenda ÿamuinidu ua masumu/

iuuiri unene yomuna cufunguna auutuquissingi ÿa cubelela/

catibho ntazi; una amuene oÿandi ncariampemba yacubhua/

55 musoqui muneote rina iuuurini uingui, üasolele mpe cuenda/

cufunguna munetucu riaüi uandi youlumbe uauingui/

quinumbale auutuquissa bhoumpembe abelela catibho Anzio[62]/

aele cuibaca muna malu mamufunguissi ÿacunfunguna/

masumu mamengui mamanene, una bhabauiri omufunguissi/

60 amubouessebho unge ouina ÿalutantu muna masumu macue?/

oyandi Ncariampemba muna nganzi ÿandi ýouncolatima/

uandi cacuiguiri cubhanga quisambu qa lutantuco, quiquiauobo/

auutuquissi riacaca ýabi ÿandi catiuna aicala; quiquiauobo/

oana ecuzolanga cuiza ocufungunanga, ezanga yalutantu/

65 lua masumu mau, quinumbale ocau ocufunguna/

cutuca nfucu.


[125]  [Latin] Whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in Hea/

ven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound/

in Heaven. So says Saint Simon Peter./[63]

[Kikongo] All that is bound[64] on earth, in Heaven/

is pulled together; that which is loosed[65] on/

earth is loosed in Heaven/

Because God Most High is horrified by an incomplete confession,/

5  he teaches us the following story; which God Most High/

showed to a priest.[66] When the same good priest/

and his companion were in a church[67]/

hearing confessions, there came a Noble Lady/

who went to confess with the companion, whom she approached/

10 to confess to, and when she confessed/

a mortal sin, in her mouth could be seen a scorpion/

coming out, he could see another[68] in her mouth coming out;/

another scorpion came out from the inside of her mouth to the ground and that scorpion/

15 was worse[69] than all the others; this scorpion was/

nothing other than a mortal sin, which she had hidden/

because of shame without confessing; the confessor saw/

that the scorpion which was inside/

her mouth going to the ground, re-/

20 turned to the stomach[70] of the penitent, and/

all the other scorpions returned to/

her stomach; and when this priest told his/

companion; immediately he realized that the scorpions,/

which had appeared first were the mortal sins she had con-/

25 fessed; that the other, the huge evil scorpion[71], was a mortal sin/

which the woman did not confess; then/

these priests, confessors went to the house of that/

noble lady, who had come to confess herself, to tell/

her that she must make a complete confession;/

30 but however, when they/

hurried to her house they found her dead,/

[125v] her body was in the house.  This serves/

no other purpose then to teach us how God Most High/

hates a bad confession and that the De-/

35 vil does not only kill the body but also carries the soul/

to Hell; that is why when we go to confession,/

we do not hide any sin, in order that we will not/

also see[72] happen to us what happened to that/


40   Whoever goes to confess must show/

great contrition.  In effect he who confesses/

without having contrition has not confessed; he who would be/

a very just man, or even an enemy of God Most High, he is no more his child,/

whoever has a good contrition is one of his heirs, one of his children/

45 who hopes for heaven.  The following story teaches/

this:  one day it happened, when a great number of people were going to confess in a certain church,/

when the Devil appeared/

visibly.  This shows that where God Most High builds a church,/

the Devil builds an entrance hall[73]; by which we know that when a/

50 person is trying to do a good work, the Devil places himself on his road to stop that good work; as a soldier/

once went to confess being soiled with the/

enormous sins he bore and when he returned he was shining/

like the sun.  The Devil when he saw that, he became jealous of 55 that great good; and he also wanted to go/

to confess, but with a bad intention,/

solely to return white[74] and pure as an angel./

He threw himself at the feet of the confessor and admitted a great/

number of horrible sins; when he was finished the confessor/

60 asked him:  are you sorry for your sins?/

The Devil, in his pride and his stubborness,/

was not able to do the act of contrition; rather, he/

returned loaded with his wickedness as he had come; that is why/

those who want to go to confess must have contrition/

65 for their sins, otherwise the confession/

will do them no good.

[1]St Franciscus Standaard, 1912, p. 176.

[2].  Eduard d’Alençon in Neerlandia Franciscana (1914), p. 42.

[3].  J. van Wing and C. Penders (eds. and trans.) Le plus ancien dictionnaire bantu:  Vocabularium P. Georgii Genensis (Louvain, 1928), pp. vii.

[4].  For example, it was fully accepted by Hildebrand de Hooglede, author of a book length biography of Joris van Gheel, Le martyr Georges de Gheel et les debuts de la mission de Congo (1645-52) (Antwerp, 1940).

[5].  François Bontinck, “Remarques marginales à Vansina, ‘The Dictionary and the Historian’,” History in Africa 3 (1976): 155-56; and idem “Le Vocabularium Latinum, Hispanicum et Congense:  nouvelles notes marginales,” Annales Aequatoria 1 (1980): 529-35.

[6].  Teobaldo Filesi and Isidore Villapardiena, La ‘Missio Antiqua’ die Cappuccini nel Congo (1645-1835) (Rome, 1978), pp. 182-3.

[7].  Bontinck, “Remarques marginales,”  p. 156.

[8].  Bonaventura da Alessano to Propaganda Fide, 4 August 1649, in António Brásio (ed.) Monumenta Missionaria Africana (1st series, 15 vols, Lisbon, 1952-88) 10: 385.

[9].  The Capuchin mission’s history is exhaustively studied and chronicled in Graziano Saccardo [da Leguzzano] Congo e Angola con la storia del missione cappuccino (3 vols., Venice, 1982-84).

[10].  Biblioteca del Palacio, Madrid, MS 722, Juan de Santiago, “Brebe relación de lo sucedido a doçe religiosos capuchinos…al reyno de Congo,” p. 71.

[11].  An early description of the preaching techniques with interpreters as well as complaints is in da Roma, Breve Relatione, pp. 36-40.

[12].  da Alessano to Propaganda, 4 August 1649, Brásio, Monumenta 10: 385.

[13]Ibid, loc cit.

[14]..  Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, MS 3533, Antonio de Teruel, “Descripcion narrativa de la mission de los Padres Capuchinos…en el reyno de Congo,” (MS of c. 1664), fols. 125-6.

[15].  According to his biography in Giovanni Cavazzi da Monteccucolo, “Vite de Frati Minori Capucchin del Ordine del Serafica Padre San Francescao, morti nelle Missioni d’Etiopia dall’anno 1645 sino all’anno 1677,” fols. 151-2 (ed. Carlo Toso) in Il Congo, cimitero dei Cappuccini, nell’inedito di P. Cavazzzi (sec. XVII (Rome, 1992) with original foliation marked.

[16].  Giovanni Francesco da Roma, Breve descrizione, p. 37.

[17].  Johan Nieuhof Gedenkwaerdige Brasiliaense Zee- en Lant-reize (Amsterdam, 1682), p. 56.

[18].  Cavazzi, “Vite”, fols. 151-2.

[19].  Thornton, “African Christianity”.

[20].  Bontinck and Nsasi, Catechisme, pp. 17-23.

[21].  The history of both these texts is detailed in the introduction to Bontinck and Nsasi, Catechisme kikongo, pp. 17-22, 27-30.  The 1550 catechism, though published, is no longer extant.

[22].  The original Portuguese of this text is found in Brásio, Monumenta 7: 287-8.

[23].  Summary of royal provisions given to Bras Correa, n. d. in Brásio, Monumenta 6: 252.

[24].  [Mateus Cardoso] História do Reino de Congo (mod. ed. António Brásio, Lisbon, 1969), chap. 3, fol. 4v.   A French translation, by François Bontinck, “Histoire de royaume de Congo (1624),” Études d’histoire africaine 4 (1972), uses the original pagination of the MS.

[25].  Hildebrand de Hooglede, Le martyr Georges de Gheel et les débuts du mission capuchin au Congo (Antwerp, 1940).

[26].  For publication details, see Filesi and Vilapardiena, ‘Misio Antiqua’, pp. 184-5.

[27].  Filesi and Villapardiena, ‘Misio Antiqua’, p. 185.

[28]. Antonio de Teruel to Propaganda Fide, 18 February 1662, Brásio, Monumenta 12: 369-70.

[29].  A claim advanced on his behalf by Buenaventura de Carrocera, “O Primeiro Dicionário Conguês,” Portugal em Africa 3 (1946):  337-51.

[30].  Girolamo da Montesarchio, “Viaggio al Gongho” (MS of 1669), fol. 45 mod. ed. Calogero Piazza, La Prefettura Apostolica del Congo al metà del XVII secolo.  La relazione inedita di P. Girolamo da Montesarchio (Milan, 1976), with MS pagination marked.

[31].  W. Holman Bentley, Pioneering on the Congo (London, 1900, reprinted, New York, 1970), p. 245.

[32].  Bentley, Dictionary, Appendix, p. VII.

[33].  Bentley, Pioneering, 1: 228, after praising Kikongo for its lack of “barbaric crudity, poor in words, awkward in grammatical construction, or anything that one might expect from among wild and degraded people”, he goes on to say that it was “superior to the people”, who he saw as degraded from an earlier higher state.  Finally he proposes that Kikongo is a pure representative of the original Bantu speech, presumably unchanged since ancient times.

[34].  W. Holman Bentley, Dictionary and Grammar of the Kongo Language as spoken at San Salvador (London, 1887), Appendix, p. VI.

[35].  Bentley, Dictionary, p. VI.

[36].  Bontinck, “Remarques marginales,” p. 156.

[37].  Diego de Encarnacion, in Brásio, Monumenta 4: 402.

[38].  This distinction was already pointed out in 1805 in the brief dictionary of Kikongo prepared by Bernardo da Cannecati, “Dicionario abbreviado da lingua Congueza”, p.

[39].  This feature is well explained and illustrated in Hazel Carter and João Makondeekwa, Kongo Language Course:  Maloongi Makikoongo.  A Course in the Dialect of Zoombo, Northern Angola (Madison:  African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin, 1987), pp. 1-4 and passim, illustrated by the recorded tapes that accompany the course.

[40]. I have augmented the paleographic abbreviations in the text by supplying letters in square brackets, and suppressing /~/.

[41].  According to the Vulgate, Matthaeum 16, 19 this text should read: “Et quodcumque ligaveris super terram, erit ligatum et in caelis: et quodcumque solveris super terram, erit solutum et in caelis.”

[42].  The /q/ on the manuscript seems to have a /~/ over it, apparently indicating a paleographic abbreviation, perhaps “que”, but the sense is that the sound in question is /ki/.  Penders and Van Wing make it “kiankangama” in their reading of the text.

[43].  Penders and Van Wing emend this to read asaula (to hold in horror) rather than azaúla (to recognize) as is clearly written in the text.

[44].  Penders and van Wing read cuimba, which cannot be supported from the MS.

[45].  Penders and van Wing amend to ouü.

[46].  Pender and van Wing emend to ouü.

[47].  Penders and van Wing emend to “zicuuütuquissa”, not so written in MS.

[48].  Penders and van Wing emend this to oncaca, which is not so written in MS.

[49].  Penders and van Wing emend to abitilengue, not so written in MS.

[50].  Penders and van Wing emend to “asunzuquiri”, it is not so written in MS.

[51].  Penders and van Wing amend “cunanzo andi” to “cunanzo a yandi” which is not in MS.

[52].  Penders and van Wing add a comma after “amubulanguene” which is not in MS.

[53].  Penders and van Wing read as if ouaoü, but it is so written in MS.

[54].  Penders and Van Wing emend to “emoyo”, not so written in MS.

[55].  MS partially illegible in this word, Penders and van Wing read “lutantu” which is defensible.

[56].  Penders and van Wing read “ÿa”, MS is difficult.

[57].  Word is illegible in MS, Penders and van Wing read “bene” which is defensible.

[58]. On the “ng” legible on MS, Penders and van Wing read “ngana” but a second “g” as in “nganga” seems likely.

[59].  Penders and van Wing make this “obhaobho”, no so written in MS.

[60].  Reading difficult in MS, Penders and van Wing read it as “ncariampemba” which is defensible.

[61].  Difficult reading, here follows Penders and van Wing.

[62].  Penders and van Wing add a semicolon after “Anzio”, possible but not obvious in MS.

[63].  Matthew 18: 18 in Protestant Bibles, 16, 19 in the Vulgate. The Latin passage reverses the order of the original text, but the order is corrected in the Kikongo version.  An approved translation of the Vulgate would be: “Whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”  The attribution to Simon Peter is not correct, since the words were spoken by Jesus, but the section (6 in the Vulgate) is entitled “Confessio Simonis Petri” and this is perhaps the source of the attribution.  The choice of the text was probably the text of the day called for in the calender of the church, but the sermon did not necessarily have to draw its material directly from the text.

[64].  The verb “canga” of which this is the perfect form, had an additional meaning in Kikongo of “to save” or “protect”, and is so used in, for example, the Lord’s prayer, where “deliver us from evil” is “utucanga munâ üî,”  Doutrina christãa (ed. Bontinck and Nsasi), III, 8.  This may explain why the phrase that follows uses “cucamgama” (to congeal or pull together) rather than continue the parallel verbs of the Latin, otherwise it might be seen as “all that is saved in Heaven, on earth is saved”, thus fixing the meaing as “to bind”.

[65].  The choice of the verb “cutuluca” (to release, or unbind) rather than a reversive of “canga” helps to reduce further the ambiguity of “canga” in the first part of the sermon text.

[66].  The text uses nganga to mean priest.  The term, to which other terms such as ngangu, cleverness, knowledge, is related can mean any spiritual mediator, whether Christian or not.  Clearly it is a Christian priest who is meant here.

[67].  “Nzo auquissi”, is “holy house” using the abstract from of -nkisi, a term which also means “charm”.  According to Bentley the term meant “grave” perhaps from the custom of burying the dead in churches, though this meaning of grave is not to be found in “Vocabularium” where the more widespread term mbila is used.

[68].  The class marker of “riacaca” indcates the “other” is a noun of class 5, which would be approapriate for “esumu” (sin), but not for “ncutu” (scorpion) which is in class 9.  Thus, the use of this marker reinforces that the scorpions and the sins are identical.

[69].  “Iúúriri üi” meaning “carried evil”.

[70].  “vumu” can be stomach or womb, in fact, if modern Kikongo is a guide the place is more than just an anatomical category, but has a sigificant medical referent.  See the interesting discusion of diseases of the vumu and its nature in twentieth century Kongolese thought, John Janzen, The Quest for Therapy:  Medical Pluralism in Lower Zaire (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1978), pp. 169-75.

[71].  The construction here is identical to that of line 15, although the translation diverges.

[72].  Kikongo has a number of idiomatic expressions involving the verb mona “to see”, such as mona nkenda to see sorrow, mona yangalulu, to see happiness, etc.

[73].  This word is found in the “Vocabularium” as a “portico”, but is not in Bentley’s dictionary.  Presumably it referred to the entrance building of an upper class housing complex, such as is described in da Roma, Breve Relatione, p.

[74].  umpembe refers to the color white, but should not be taken to imply a racial designation.  Europeans were referred to as “mundele” (plural mindele).  In modern Kikongo it connotes purity and freedom from sin, as well as being the color of day, women and life in the well known “red-black-white” color classification of many Bantu people.