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By Yolanda Covington-Ward

In Gesture and Power Yolanda Covington-Ward examines the typical embodied practices and performances of the BisiKongo humans of the decrease Congo to teach how their gestures, dances, and spirituality are serious in mobilizing social and political motion. Conceiving of the physique because the heart of study, a catalyst for social motion, and as a conduit for the social building of fact, Covington-Ward makes a speciality of particular flash issues within the final 90 years of Congo's afflicted heritage, whilst embodied functionality used to be used to stake political claims, foster dissent, and implement strength. within the Twenties Simon Kimbangu all started a Christian prophetic flow according to spirit-induced trembling, which swept throughout the reduce Congo, subverting Belgian colonial authority. Following independence, dictator Mobutu Sese Seko required electorate to bop and sing nationalist songs day-by-day as a method of keeping political regulate. extra lately, embodied functionality has back stoked reform, as nationalist teams akin to Bundu dia Kongo suggest for a go back to precolonial spiritual practices and non-Western gestures reminiscent of conventional greetings. In exploring those embodied expressions of Congolese supplier, Covington-Ward presents a framework for knowing how embodied practices transmit social values, identities, and cultural historical past all through Africa and the diaspora.

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Additional info for Gesture and Power: Religion, Nationalism, and Everyday Performance in Congo

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My work extends this discussion to look at embodied religion more broadly; considering spirit possession but also civil or secular religion in terms of the worship of political leaders such as President Mobutu Sese Seko;32 and examining rituals in churches but also in cemeteries, forests, schools, and everyday encounters on the street. Ruth Marshall argues for seeing religion as a site of action, rather than just as a means of creating meaning (2009, 22). Following Marshall, I focus on how religion has been strategically used to motivate and unite large groups of people, moving beyond analyses of meaning and symbolism, to illuminate social transformation caused by concerted action.

When I told friends and colleagues that I was going to conduct research in the Congo, their reactions were similar: “You are going to the Congo? ” “Isn’t there a war going on there? “I heard that a lot of women are being raped there. ” I tried to assuage their worries and fears by pointing out that my research would be conducted on the western side of the country, far from the instabil42 • chapter 1 ity of the east. Professor Mbala Nkanga, associate professor of theater at the University of Michigan and my dissertation committee member and mentor, was instrumental not only in giving me contacts and bolstering my applications for funding, but also in assuring me that Bas-Congo was a very different space than the larger Congo that gripped the world’s imagination.

My very physical presence in the Lower Congo evoked cultural memories of a religious movement that challenged the authority of the Belgians during the colonial period and offered hope for a future free from European colonialism. In this way, I encountered the prophet Simon Kimbangu over and over again as he was invoked as an explanation for the presence of African Americans in the Lower Congo nearly six decades after his physical death. The constant association of my embodied presence with Kimbangu’s prophecy sparked my own interest in understanding the history and evolution of the religious movement that Kimbangu created and its continued salience in everyday life in modern-day Lower Congo.

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