Tuesday, November 13, 2007


(supplied by Owen Sichone)

1 The Enigma of Lenshina

At this time I was a teacher in the district of Chinsali. I knew Lenshina before she formed this movement as an ordinary woman. She belongs to the Lubusha's family of Chinsali and was a Christian member of the Lubwa s Church of Scotland Mission....Although the Lumpa church seemingly gave United Federal Party initial support, I was led to suspect that this organisation was masterminded and directed from outside ‑ by foreigners. Colonialists, realising that UNIP would be impossible to contain through the normal democratic processes, must have conspired and nurtured this sect. (Makasa 1985:154‑9)

Speaking as a former youth chairman for Mtelwe Branch in Chief Mwase s area, Mr Chirwa says he and his colleagues were very surprised that a woman (Lenshina) who had been reported to be a traditional healer who could raise people from the dead had set up a church which was now engaging in political clashes with UNIP. ( Lumpa uprising: UNIP to blame? Zambia Daily Mail (ZDM), Monday May 31, 1993)

In 1953 a Bemba woman called Alice Mulenga Lenshina had a religious experience that altered her life and that of thousands of other Zambians who were to follow her. Hundreds of them were killed in what has become known as the
Lumpa Uprising of 1964. This paper is a review of the hostile attitudes of both Zambian nationalists and western scholars to the independent church. Hostility in this case does not just mean hatred but also the imposition of Eurocentric values and concepts on an African religious experience.

The attitude of many Zambians towards Alice Lenshina and her Lumpa Church since the 1964 violence has been charaterised by contempt and anger. They remember only Lumpa's wrongs, and some of these popular memories are pure inventions that have become myth in a political environment that was dominated by the one party state's version of history.

Former United National Independence Party (UNIP) Central Committee member Kapasa Makasa quoted above demonstrates the refusal to accept that an ordinary village woman could lead something as powerful as Lumpa undeniably was in the 1950s. Makasa also re‑arranges history to prove that Lumpa initially supported UNIP but was corrupted by the enemy. The fact is in 1953 there was no UNIP, to support or oppose. Kaunda and his friends broke away from the African National Congress (ANC) to form UNIP five years after the establishment of Lumpa. Makasa insists that there must have been an imperialist conspiracy behind Lenshina because she was an ordinary woman. She herself conducted herself like an ordinary woman. Thousands of Mama Lenshina s followers did not think that Alice was an ordinary woman. In any case the Lumpa church was not more opposed to UNIP than to the ANC or United Federal Party, the chiefs, or even the British authorities. But at the time of the uprising Lumpa had broken away from the United Free Church of Scotland (UFCS) and was a totally independent church whereas Prime Minister Kaunda led a Northern Rhodesia that was still very much a British colony with Sir Evelyn Hone as governor and the two army battalions sent to destroy Lumpa villages still had British officers, and can be described as units of the British colonial army.

If educated Zambians like Makasa have a slanted view of Lenshina, historians and sociologists while not hostile unnecessarily force the Lumpa Church into the straitjacket of hallowed preconceptions like Bantu prophets, mucapi witch finders or syncretic religions and fail to analyze Lumpa in its own right. Lehmann (1961) and Rotberg (1961) conducted their research into Lenshina before the
uprising and unlike most of the work that was produced by scholars after 1964 their preoccupation is not the political problems of Lumpa and UNIP.

Rotberg's account is well balanced. He did not allow himself to be influenced either by the colonial reports, the missionaries or even Lenshina herself. Rotberg's second strength is his ability to capture the historical situation that produced the Lumpa church. He also warned that the Lumpa church ...has surrounded itself with an effective aura of unnecessary mystery. It has allowed itself and its leader, Alice Lenshina, to become the cause of uninformed speculation and concern. (Rotberg:63).

Such concern as we now know was partly to blame for the tragedy that befell the Lumpa Church in 1964. Although the church was smashed in its military confrontation with the army, and its leader arrested and imprisoned while many of the followers escaped into exile, Lumpa has survived. One observer had noted even in its early days that the Lumpa Church was "...firmly established as a religious group of lasting importance for Northern Rhodesia." (Rotberg:77) Everything that has happened so far suggetsts that Rotberg was correct.

According to Rotberg, Lenshina Mulenga's religious experience, the source of all her fortunes and tribulations, occured in 1953 and was reported by different witnesses in various ways. The White Fathers for example saw it as a hoax from beginning to end planned by her money loving husband Petros Chitankwa who was trying to replicate a sect founded by a Nyakyusa woman in Tanganyika who had seen a vision of Christ and had gained financially from the small religious movement that had grown around her. It seems to me that Petros could have declared himself prophet and still made money if it were possible to fake visions for there is nothing that bars men from becoming healers or prophets.

Most accounts of Lenshina s religious experience describe the familiar rite of passage which prophets in many different religions undergo. First there is the illness. This is followed by separation from family, village community and humanity followed by cure and re‑integration into society. In Lenshina s case, some analysts rationalise that she could have eaten poisonous mushrooms, or suggest she had epileptic fits. I have even heard people suggest it was a case of (celebral) malaria or some other fever which made her delirious. Epileptic fits and ngulu spirit possession have also been suggested as causes. The White Fathers whose crusade against Bemba religion forced the people to be secretive about their spiritual life claimed to have evidence that Lenshina had had ngulu or other fits since childhood. Although they considered themselves the European experts on ngulu the White Fathers in fact did not have full knowledge of Bemba religion.

Lenshina s illness was quite different fom the ngulu experience in that she died and was sent back. Her time has not come God is said to have told the angels. One journalist says she fainted or lost consciousness and people assumed she had died, and that she died several times before regaining her health ( How the dramatic Lumpa crisis ended , ZDM, Monday 7 June, 1993). This insistence that Lenshina was one big mistake shows how difficult it is for non‑members of Lumpa to believe Lenshina s testimony. We are able to rule out the possibility of ngulu and other fits in Lenshina s case, however, because although we know hymns were very important to Lenshina and ngulu spirits are appeased with music appropriate to the spirit involved, there is no record of Lenshina becoming entranced as a result of the singing and drumming, Lehmann s account shows that Lenshina merely enjoyed singing with the other women. We also know that fits of a physical nature, such as epileptic ones, are treated with medicines rather than music. (Mwesa Mapoma pers. comm.) But whether Lenshina died or died or fainted it is a fact that this is how her church started. And as one commentator has said: If visions are possible, it appears that Lenshina had a genuine experience. (Rotberg :68) Whether Lumpa was a hoax or not cannot diminish its importance. Similar doubts have been raised in different quarters by Jesus Christ, the Roman Catholic church, or Jimmy Swaggart. Some have been quick to characterise Lumpa a prophecy that failed (Bond 1979: 137) and a failed African uprising (Allen 1991: 379). But the church has survived all these odds.

When Alice Lenshina died in December 1978 she had rejoined the UFCS which had by then been incorporated into the United Church of Zambia but Lumpa did not return to the Scottish church or die with her. Some of Lenshina s followers are known to be active in the New Jerusalem Church and others have openly called for the ban to be lifted since returning in March 1993 from 30 years of exile in Zaire s Shaba province. This continued faith in the Lumpa message proves that Lenshina succeeded in establishing a new church albeit one that has still not won official recognition.

In May and June 1993, Zambia Daily Mail features editor Phillip Chirwa published a series of articles on the Lumpa Church and brought the issue of Lenshina back into the public arena for the first time since Alice Lenshina s death. One thing his articles revealed is that despite the democratic spirit of the Third Republic, the old prejudices that the Lumpa Church encountered in the Kaunda era are still very strong. Some of the people interviewed had good reasons for continuing to hate Lumpa. Their own families were victims of Lumpa violence during the uprising and as one of them said, I think they should not be revived. If we are going to allow this type of religious fanaticism, then it is not right. It is not a good feeling to be orphaned. (Ivy Tembo quoted in, Will Lenshina s Lumpa followers be forgiven? ZDM 24 May 1993)

But there were more orphans in Lumpa families than on the UNIP side. The UNIP Youth Brigade killed more Lumpa supporters than vice versa and this is excluding the victims of army automatic weapons that were killed in the Jonestown‑like villages where they had gone to escape persecution. As Bond reported for the Lumpa members of Muyombe, they were called murderers even though their congregation had killed no one. It is taken for granted that they were fanatical, an image that president Kaunda also held, and they were labelled mad dogs that were a menace to civilised society that either had to be cured or put down. Many Zambians want to believe that Lenshina was an illiterate Bemba woman who made her followers drink urine and smear themselves with f_cal matter before going into battle as a form of bullet proofing much like the Maji‑Maji of Tanganyika used water when they fought the Germans.

Most Zambian accounts of the Lumpa Church ignore the decade of the Federation and concentrate on the period of confrontation with the colonial state. Invariably they remember Lenshina for its "revolting witchcraft rites" (Colin Morris quoted by Roberts:43) such as the alleged use of excresences in magic to protect them from bullets. Not all members of the Church were illiterate and not all could have been ignorant of the power of Bren guns but it is assumed that their belief in an imminent second coming, that Lumpa church membership cards were pass books to heaven somehow prove their backwardness. Yet all Christianity hinges on just such a faith as the Lumpa members had and continue to have. Persecution does hinder the growth of religious movements, but some do thrive on persecution by the state or by the established Church.

Of the other national leaders to have come from Lenshina s home town Chinsali, Kaunda, Makasa and Kapwepwe, only the latter seems to have had a tolerant attitude towards Lenshina. This could be because they both had ties to the royal Crocodile clan and were thus related. However, Makasa who also has ties to the royal clan was very harsh in his dealings with Lumpa and dismissed Lenshina herself as an ordinary woman. When he was transferred from Katete in Eastern province to Chinsali to campaign as UNIP candidate in the 1963 parliamentary elections, Makasa says he did not expect to find any opposition to UNIP. So when he discovered that Lenshina was not pledging allegiance to his party, that she was asking her members not to register for elections and stating that UNIP arsonists (i,e. Makasa s freedom fighters) would not go to heaven he was very annoyed. He blamed the pro‑Federation, White led United Federal Party for turning Lumpa into an obstacle on the road to independence. The exclusive villages that Lumpa members had built without the permission of the district commissioners or Bemba Native Authorities were no go areas for UNIP electioneers and UNIP leaders were convinced that they knew the reason for the government s reluctance to intervene.

The independent villages that the members set up not only at Kasomo, their Zion, but in other parts of the north‑eastern districts are blamed for much of the conflict with UNIP but which was cause and which effect? There are many reasons why Lenshina s followers should have wanted to withdraw from Native Authority villages. One of them was that the UNIP Youth Brigade had destroyed the crops and granaries of Lumpa members thereby forcing them to loot and plunder non‑Lumpa villagers food. ( What Went on in Lumpa villages , ZDM, Monday, June 14, 1993)

Another source of Lumpa s problems was its poor relationship with the missionaries, especially the White Fathers. Bemba converts to Catholicism had been taught to revere Mama Maria, the mother of God. Mama Lenshina was thus condemned as a blasphemous claim from the start. The title Mama merely means grandmother and thus female Lord (as opposed to Lady or wife of a lord). I have to stress that I am not suggesting that Lenshina like Alice Lakwena had acquired the status of a man (Allen: 396). Lenshina s power was spiritual first and political by accident. But as a healer she clearly had both political and religious authority. As a law maker she merely repeated well known Christian commandments. As a leader of an uprising she did not lead the confrontation with the colonial army and was reportedly prevented from giving herself in by the men in her inner circle, namely her husband Petros Chitankwa and other Lumpa deacons until the Governor had guaranteed her safety. ( How the dramatic Lumpa crisis ended , ZDM , Monday, June 7,1993) As a Bemba woman from a polygynous household in a matrilineal society her Christianity could not but have a strongly feminist character which needs to be studied more closely. Lumpa rules and regulations subverted many powerful interests in colonial society and she was not short of enemies but the transitional UNIP government of Kenneth Kaunda hated Lenshina the most. It has been said that members of Kaunda s family in Chinsali were close to the Lumpa church but Kaunda himself was convinced that Lumpa in 1963 had become:

... anti‑society. They have been known, husband and wife, to plan to kill their
own parents because they were non‑Lumpa members and this they have done...

Senior men in the country s security services have reported that the Lumpa followers have no human feelings and their ferocious attacks on security forces bear out the fanatical nature of what I can only describe again as lunatics...No clean‑living and thinking man can accept the Lenshina Passports to Heaven as anything more than worthless pieces of paper‑ a usurping by an imposter of the majesty of God Almighty. Such teaching cannot be allowed to corrupt our people and cannot and would not be tolerated by any responsible government. (President Kaunda. cited in Van Binsbergen:300)

The senior men Kaunda refers to were of course, British officers and Kaunda does not seem to question their version of events. With hindsight we can understand Kaunda s need to prove that his was a clean living and civilised government. After the events in the Belgian Congo a few years earlier had apparently confirmed European fears about Black government, Kaunda was determined to prove them wrong. We also know that he was consistently ruthless with people he described as corrupting our people or later, misleading the masses . These include the trades unions and the opposition parties. It thus seems erroneous to suggest that the Lumpa church provoked the wrath of the state when we know that that state was in the hands of a jittery and authoritarian leadership with little control over its party branches in the villages.

It is ironical that the most independent of the Zambian political and religious organisations is accused of being a front for imperialist forces by people who were still serving under British colonial officers. Lenshina was in many cases ahead of her time even though she was an ordinary woman and not part of the educated elite. She pioneered Zambian hymnology at a time when some of the missionaries were insisting on praising God in Latin. She outlawed polygyny and widow inheritance, which the Zambian feminist movement is still battling against today. Independent churches led by male prophets on the other hand tended to champion the cause of polygyny. How is it then that her followers are accused of threatening to take society back to the prehistoric days before salt, the Zambian dark ages before the mythical ironsmith introduced millet seeds, salt and the divine chieftaincy? And why were armoured cars and machine guns deployed against poorly armed village folk? In his discussion of Mau Mau Lonsdale (1992) has suggested inter alia that the need for Kenyan nationalism to be national rather than split into several local nationalisms has made Mau Mau embarrasing to some political Kenyans who associate it with Kikuyu tribal thuggery. Lumpa was also embarrasing to nationalists like Kaunda and Makasa but not because it was a local (Bemba) church so much as one that was perceived as an obstacle on the road to Zambian independence. Lumpa was a problem because it did not share Kaunda s claim that Zambia was one nation with one church, one party and one leader. From the Lumpa point of view there was the Zambia of the infidels and witches on the one hand and the Zion of the Lumpa church. The two could co‑exist of course, Lenshina s followers did not see any need for Lumpa to submit to UNIP. The UNIP view we have already discussed.

The rest of this paper will attempt to raise doubts about some of the current information on the phenomenon of Lumpa as a prelude to further research into Alice Mulenga Lenshina s feminist, and nationalist religious movement which as Rotberg forsaw has had a lasting impact on Zambian christianity.

2 Peasants, Christians and Anthropologists

Anthropologists have been discussing the reaction to conquest of non‑European peoples for a long time now. There are those who would reduce the entire lives of such peoples to resistance. In the field of religion, for example, the idea is held by many that independent African Churches, revivals of indigenous religious ritual, and witchcraft eradication campaigns, are all forms of anti‑colonial resistance, or even early forms of nationalism (Rotberg:1965). There is a lot to be said for such categorisation because there seems to be strong corelation between crises in colonial political economy and the emergence of such movements.

When, as in the case of the Lumpa church, religious independence emerges alongside political parties such as UNIP the latter claim the sole right to lead the nation and accuse the independent churches of backwardness and of misleading the masses . The likelihood of conflict between independent churches was always high. Despite the fact that the Bible recognises the existence of witchcraft the colonial governors did not. Although colonialism is generally sickening its Witchcraft Ordinances were more directly so because they protected witches and trapped the victims in Native Authority approved villages of terror where they could neither punish the witches nor escape from them (Abrahams:40 and Sichone, 1987).

But Lumpa christianity was more than just resistance. It provided healing of which political liberation is but a part. The Lumpa church provided a solution to and condemned other forms of oppression than the colonial one such as that of women by men, poor villagers by chiefs, opposition party members by governing parties and especially that of majority of the rural population by poverty, ill health, hunger and despair. Some of Lumpa s emacipatory politics were supported by the nationalist parties and for a while Lumpa was the leading force in colonial civil society. Only the White Fathers were consistent in their opposition to the Lumpa heresy.

Most of the commentators on Lenshina give a positive picture, at least prior to the 1963 troubles, of her work in rural Chinsali and abroad. Her acts of religious independence from the UFCS were applauded by other Zambians, her construction of a network of congregations in the remotest and most neglected parts of Northern Rhodesia won her the admiration of many and even the Lumpa cathedral she erected at Kasomo village, deliberately larger than the ones built by the missionaries, were an example of independent African development. All these activities, including the hymns she composed which allowed Zambians to worship God in their own language had parallels in the nationalist struggle for political independence and should have inspired the whole liberation movement. Kaunda like other Zambian nationalists did defect from the UFCS to the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) where he served as lay preacher during the struggle against the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland but this was simply a way of protesting at the pro‑colonial politics of the missionary churches. Kaunda did not believe in a Black church, he wanted one United Church of Zambia to unite local christians of all races and denominations (Cook:1980).

In van Binsbergen s analysis of Lumpa s conflict with UNIP there is a rigourous materialist attempt to relate Lenshina s church to the colonial economy and using the sort of neo‑marxist framework that was so popular in the 1970s, he turns Lumpa into a peasant movement practising a regional cultic mode of production. (van Binsbergen (1981). Mamdani (1988 cited by Allen) peasantises the Holy Spirit Movement of Ugandan spirit medium Alice Lakwena in a similar way. Focus on class struggles is inevitable in Marxism but there is no need to de‑emphasise the spiritual element or limit it to either a reflection of the economic base or as false concsiousness especially since this is the one area in which colonial subjects are able to achieve autocentred development. A recent critic has noted that van Binsbergen s analysis does not:

....ultimately, explain why Lumpa, if indeed a peasant movement, should have been confined to the Bemba; a problem which may only be resolved with reference to the dialectic, which he does not confront, between external forces and local sociocultural structures. (Jean Comaroff:170)

The accusation of a lack of attention to sociocultural structures in van Binsbergen is justified but Comaroff does not seem to know that Lumpa was not confined to the Bemba. Alice Lenshina was Bemba and her headquarters were in Bemba country but hundreds of pilgrims made their way to Kasomo who were not Bemba speakers. Lumpa had followers in all three countries of the Central African Federation and was known from Tanganyika to South Africa. Comaroff is very right to stress the importance of the interconnection between external forces and local sociocultural structures in the analysis of Lumpa. She errs if she implies that this means Bemba culture, however this may be defined. Lumpa Puritanism was influenced more by the UFCS missionaries than by Bemba religious heritage. The Lumpa commandments against tobacco, polygyny, widow inheritance and beer on their own would have greatly undermined traditional Bemba village life and could only be understood in terms of a foreign set of values. In the local method of analysis, Lumpa s healing works were more important than its class struggles so well analysed by neo‑marxist scholars. By healer I do not mean that Lenshina was a ng anga, diviner, faith healer or witchdoctor. We can describe her simply as one who makes well those who are unwell. Naturally, the best example of this is among Christians is Jesus. And we know, as with former Roman Catholic primate of Lusaka Archbishop Milingo, that the gift of healing quickly attracts the support of and gratitude from those who are in need of healing. The unsick on the other hand fail to understand what all the excitement is about and even seem to detest healers and their work as at the very least fraudulent and at worst blasphemous for they are convinced that only Jesus should heal.

In the late 1950s Lenshina was frequently away from her headquarters at Kasomo s village visiting Lumpa congregations on the Copperbelt, in Livingstone and even Bulawayo. In her absence New Zion was still a hub of activity.

The simple shelters of the pilgrims there at the time did not house multitudes
of sick and frightened folk, longing for healing of body and mind, but the grateful followers who had come to labour voluntarily on the erection of the
Temple , a great church building which Lenshina had planned in 1956 when nobody would believe that anything might come out of these intentions (Lehmann:264).

Lehmann did not suggest that the self‑help project was itself a healing exercise but I argeu that it was. Essentially Lenshina s Temple demonstrated the capacity of Africans to work independently. Given the failure of the nationalist movement to prevent the imposition of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland there was a lot of self‑doubt in African society. At a time when liberation seemed beyond their reach, Lenshina offered people re‑birth through prayer, hymns and self‑help work. This Alice Lenshina that Kaunda attacked so viciously was not a warrior queen, she was not even a threat to the post‑colonial state weak as it may have been. UNIP s vulnerability was not of Lenshina s making. In 1963 the Federation was dismantled and independence was already promised by Britain so the politicians had regained their self‑respect. Lumpa on the other hand was popular only among the people most traumatised by colonialism and poverty, those who felt excluded from colonial society and from the transition to independence. All the same Lenshina healed, soothed and gave hope in a way that Kaunda did not and could not until he had become president of the republic with access to state resources and able to perform the role of divine king. A victorious Kaunda was still frightened of a declining Lumpa church because Lenshina s prestige did not decline with the fortunes of her church. She was still a charismatic figure and thus a rival.

Bond has noted that the Lumpa church wanted to withdraw from a world they considered to be ruled by satan and soon to be destroyed by God.Their Zion was not to make war on Zambia but to withdraw from it and to be run according to the Christian principles of the UFCS. As Mazrui has noted such a withdrawal was tantamount to opposing the new UNIP government and as Makasa argued, the same as supporting British colonialism. Such political intolerance was evidently not limited to the UNIP Youth Brigade members who harrassed Lenhsina s followers at village level. Even UNIP leaders like Kaunda exhibited the same hatred for Lumpa as an alternative movements.

Lenshina s name was famous throughout the Central African Federation and neighbouring countries as other healers before and after her had become famous although few could have been on a similar scale. Any healer attracts pilgrims in Zambia, be they practitioners of wetsrn biological medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, local herbalists or diviners. This is not a peculiarly Zambian or even Bantu phenomenon. Sickness and healing affect people in essentially the same manner. Archbishop Milingo has been contacted by the unwell from Korea, America and other parts of the world. In both form and content his healing sessions in Rome are not at all different from the ones that caused him to be removed from Lusaka.

3 Lumpa Healing and UNIP s Liberation

A pupil at the nearby Roman Catholic school reported to the White Fathers
after a holiday that he had seen a whole hut full of magic implements, including rosaries and crucifixes, which the converts had given to Lenshina before their baptism. (Lehmann:251)

Ali Mazrui (1990) has commented on the symbolic irony of the Lumpa uprising . As a devout Christian and follower of Mahatma Gandhi Kaunda professed a feminized form of pacifist politics whereas Lenshina was de‑feminized by the exigencies of her own Lumpa Church which prime minister Kaunda had to confront with state power. Mazrui presents Lenshina as a sort of Joan of Arc on par with Uganda s Alice Lakwena who led her Holy Spirit Movement into battle. This is just not true. Even before Kaunda, Lenshina had engaged in non‑violent struggles against colonial rule. When one of her supporters was arrested for calling a Roman Catholic priest a witch, Lenshina and her followers went to the district commissioner s office and asked him to detain them as well, all very Gandhian. Lenshina was always avoiding confrontation with the authorities and would probably not have opposed UNIP had she been given the chance to test black government. Both Kaunda s anti‑colonial campaign and Lenshina s healing movement have their roots in the UFCS s Livingstonia mission and it would be intersting to compare Lenshina s idea of a Christian utopia to Kaunda s failed Humanist experiment.

A number of questions arise from this antagonistic contradiction between Lumpa s healing mission and UNIP s nationalist struggle for independence a few of which I will now discuss:

If the incompatibility between UNIP and Lumpa derived from a difference in class situation and from a difference in degree of radicalism in the context of class struggle, we still have to explain why these two different movements confronted each other with deadly hostility among the same rural population of north‑eastern Zambia; (Binsbergen:296)

First and foremost, the deadly hostility was not always there. It emerged in the rather anomic period of transition to independence in 1963‑64. For UNIP members, including the more enlightened leaders in Lusaka, independence meant
One Zambia, one nation as the slogan on the new national court of arms stated, under one party and even with one United Church of Zambia and anybody who did not support UNIP was opposed to everything that independence meant (Cook:1980; Cross: 1980 and Sichone:1989). Apart from the Lumpa Church other victims of UNIP intolerance include the ANC, the United Progressive Party formed by Kaunda s chilfhood friend and former vice‑president Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, and the Jehovah s Witnesses.

UNIP s aggressive campaign for a one party state is one problem that Lenshina did not have a solution to. As Mazrui has stressed, by being anti‑political Lenshina was making a hostile political statement. And this statement was loud enough to irritate UNIP because Lumpa support although declining in 1964 was still considerable (Pitch:82), hence UNIP s attempt to link her name with Sir Roy Welensky, the Zambian nationalists number one enemy (Lumpa uprising: UNIP to blame? ZDM, Monday May 31, 1993). It is clear that in the eyes of UNIP youth brigade members no one was above Kaunda and if Lenshina did not acknowledge that Kaunda was her leader it could only mean she was a stooge of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Another accusation was that Lenshina had political ambitions and was planning a holy war against the state(ibid). There is no evidence for this claim but we do know that she was not a UNIP supporter because in her view religion was above politics. It has to be said that there is no such separation of religion from politics in local tradition and it is, as the Comaroffs (1992:252) have shown, very much the point of view of the missionaries. In this sense the nationalists were justified to accuse Lumpa of being under foreign influence though not in the sense they meant. In any case, why should missionary influence on Lumpa be a problem if Kaunda s politics were also a product of his mission station education?

The suspicion that Lenshina s charisma was not from Christian sources led some of Lenshina s detractors to associate her with ngulu spirit possesion or to regard her as a traditional healer . In Bemba tradition her religious experience does not fall under any of the five categories of spirits that possess people: (i) Kaluwe the hunters spirit (ii) Cilumbu land spirits of the kings from the east; (iii) or spirits of the water in the Luapula area; (iv) Baleka ‑ the spirit of Africans who are not Bemba or of westernised Africans; (v) Mukalai ‑ the spirit of a White person (Mapoma:1988, Cf. Mbiti:70‑81) We could easily suppose that European and/or African Christian spirit(s) gave Lenshina her Christian instructions but since she very clearly had an Africanist and independent approach and also since Lenshina s own report refers to her meeting the Lord we can say that she was sent back to earth not by the spirit of David Livingstone or his followers but by God (Rotberg, 1961:66). This direct contact with God is of course not traditional to Bemba religion where the ancestors mediate between the Great Potter Lesa and the people. So the Lumpa church did not just surpass and by‑pass the missionaries as its name claimed but the chiefs and ancestral spirits as well. Despite its independence Lumpa doctrine was strongly based on UFCS principles (Rotberg:1961, Lehmann: Bond:153) and its members also had (like most Zambians at the time) strong roots in peasant society. Which should we stress when looking at Lumpa? My own interest is on the healing effects of her Christian teaching, hymns and mass mobilisation. The religious experience that Lenshina had has been described by a number of writers with undisguised scepticism. Even the possibility that Lenshina and her husband were replicating a Nyakyusa cult for financial gain was taken seriously. Underlying this scepticism is the sense of disbelief in the ability of the Christian God to move in African ways. As a result of this scepticism we find that Africans are labelled syncreti as if other Christianities are not. If such critics were agnostic then of course they would consider Lenshina like all other charismatic leaders to be frauds.

Lenshina was known to bless millet seeds during the sowing season, a role normally played by chiefs and she did lead acampaign to eradicate witchcraft, but both these acts are part of Bemba and Christian religion. These acts do not prove that Lenshina was indigenising the Christian teachings by incorporating Bemba ritual into Christian worship. Afterall she was delibeartely undermining Bemba religion by these and other interventions. Despite the White Fathers attempt to explain her vision as a result of ngulu spirit possession we know that Lenshina did not regularly fall into a trance as ngulu mediums do. Despite her love of singing we do not find her being driven into a trance by the music as ngulu mediums always do when they hear the music of their spirit. Lenshina's healing sessions also show that she did not claim or aspire to the gift of healing. All she did was give a sympathetic ear to people who had legal, health or political problems, many of which she had no understanding of and did not pretend to. But the people would go away relieved just like those who surrendered their rosaries to her. They were happy that Mama had taken the load off their minds and given them strenghth to face the colonial world .

4 Conclusion: The Return of Lumpa?

How can you expect a man who s warm to understand one who s cold? Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

In this paper I have raised doubts about the authenticity of existing accounts on Lenshina s church and tried to suggest ways in which future research can fill in the gaps in our knowledge of Lumpa. Can we expect members of UNIP or the White Fathers to understand Lumpa? I think not. In his book on the sacred emblems of the Bemba women's initiation ritual chisungu, Corbeil (1982) one of the White Fathers present in Chinsali during the rise of Lumpa reveals how he blackmailed a woman who had temporarily defected to Lumpa into relating to him the secrets of chisungu as a condition for returning to the catholic fold. Father Corbeil smugly suggests that Audrey Richards who had witnessed the chisungu ritual in 1931 had merely been presented with a special, watered down performance whereas he had broken the seal of secrecy and had gained access to the real thing. Whereas it is true he had a stronger hold on his informants than Richards or any other anthropologist had, and also used less acceptable methods of obtaining information, there is no reason to believe that Father Corbeil fully understood Bemba religion. He did look but he did not see everything. An analysis of his misinterpretation of the secret songs he forced the Bemba women to sing for him alone can keep a researcher occupied for a long while. For the purposes of this paper just one example will suffice: in his foreword Corbeil pushes the correct Vatican line on the sacredness of family life and suggests that his book on chisungu will also encourage Zambians, by which he probably meant the Catholicised Bemba, to be a good example to men of all nations. Thus good can come of Africa but only if it is relevant to the catholic mission. It was this Eurocentric attitude that caused hundreds of Chinsali Catholics to defect to Lumpa where Lenshina s hymns enabled them to praise God in their own language. They only returned to the church of Rome when it too started singing praises in local languages. Father Corbeil looked at the Bemba sacred imbusa and saw in them cofirmation of the Catholic views on marriage, women and family planning. Unless Bemba values are translated into Roman Catholic ones, Father Corbeil will not lend his support.

Even Africans who did not belong to the Lumpa church find it difficult to understand what it stood for. Its written rules, Lenshina s hymns, and even her impressive record as an organiser count for nought in the eyes of Zambian journalists, and politicians who see only barbarism in Lumpa about which they are still embarrassed. Historians and anthropologists look for signs of continuation in Lumpa of previous Bemba religious practice rather than the obvious links Lumpa had with the UFCS s Livingstonia Mission. Both views are partly correct but stress aspects of Lumpa that were peripheral to the religious life of Alice Lenshina and her followers.

In rejecting the idea that Lumpa was a continuation of Bemba religion I have suggested that Lenshina was not possesed by ngulu or other Bemba spirits and stressed instead her debt to the Scottish missionaries at Lubwa. Future research should try and analyse Lenshina s re‑birth more thoroughly than researchers have done hitherto. Archbishop Milingo, the former Roman Catholic primate of Lusaka, as a healer also faced the challenge that Lenshina had encountered earlier. He asked the same questions about Christianity in Zambian society as Lenshina had twenty years before him and although Archbishop Milingo s theological training and knowledge of Aristotlean or Thomist philosophy makes his understanding of Christianity far more sophisticated than Lenshina s the answers he arrives at as to what is wrong with European missionaries in Africa are strikingly similar. Despite being a loyal servant of Rome, Archbishop Milingo could not accept that being a christian meant allowing the missionaries to make him in their own European image. The fate of African christianity is that it is considered a corruption of the teachings and rituals taught by Jesus rather than those of the missionaries.

New researchers should avoid the labels we have been using to discuss Lenshina s and other African churches so far for Marx, Weber and Durkheim have probably been exhausted as far as the analysis of religious phenomena goes. An insider s view of Lumpa from members who returned from exile in March, 1993 and members of the New Jerusalem Church is long overdue. It is time for a history of Lumpa, an ethno‑musicological analysis of the healing hymns and a study of Alice Lenshina s contribution to the Zambian theological heritage is also needed. In general we have to begin anew the quest for answers to questions as basic as: what Lenshina was to her followers? Why did the other national leaders from her Chinsali home , Makasa and Kaunda despise Alice Lenshina so much? What Bemba influences can be identified in Lumpa ritual or doctrine since ngulu and ingwilwa spirits were not responsible for Lenshina s religious experience? We even are yet to resolve the mystery of how she got her "Roman Catholic" name Regina/Lenshina given that she was baptised Alice by Reverend Paul Mushindo of the UFCS.

Clearly Lumpa will not disappear from the Zambian religious scene and though the Third Republic is believed to be more democratic than the Kaunda era president Chiluba and the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) are less tolerant in religious matters. Soon after coming into office the Chiluba government unilaterally declared Zambia a Christian state. since then there has been tension between Christians, Moslems and other religious groups. A director of radio and television who happensed to be a buddhist was relieved of his duties after born again christians had complained that he was hindering the work of television evangelists. When the World cup qualifying game against Morocco which was billed as a clash of Christians against Moslems went against Zambia even the government was involved in the protest against the Gabonese referee.

The MMD s national ideology to replace Kaunda s humanism, is a brand of christian fundamentalism popular with a certain type of American television evangelist. Whether Lumpa can be considered Christian by MMD ideologues is difficult to say but even in other sections of Zambian society the hostility towards Lumpa that was widespread in the Kaunda years has not subsided and the reconstruction of the Lumpa Church of Alice Lenshina will continue to be a very difficult task.


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Franco said...

Dear Silent_Tsunami where did you get this text of Sichone about Alice Lenshina? Are you interested in the history of Lumpa Church? I read the book of Kampamba "Blood on their hands" but I could not get any comment on it. I am preparing a dissertation on Lumpa Church and I am looking on people in Zambia who can support me. Are you leaving in Zambia? By the way, I am Italian. Franco

Silent_Tsunami said...

Hi Franco,
I got the write up from my buddy, Sichone. He is an academic, now working in South Africa. Sichone is a Zambian historian. He would be happy to correspond with you.

Chammah said...

I'm a Zambian studying at the university of Kwazulu-Natal for my master's degree I'm also writing on Lumpa church as a paradigm for the liberation of Bemba women from patriachy. I'm quiet impressed with your staff. I would like to know how I get in touch with sichone?

Bamoze said...

Dear Franco,

My name is Moses, a follower of the Lumpa Church here in Zambia. If you are doing your dissertation, try getting the books ‘A Time To Mourn’ & Kampamba Mulenga’s ‘Blood On Their Hands’. These two books have all you need to know about Alice Lenshina Mulenga Lubusha’s Lumpa Church. You may also read an article entitled ‘Retracing Lenshina’s Followers on ‘Postzambia Online’ from the ‘Post Newspaper’. For more info feel free to contact me.


Andrew Mulenga said...

Also look for the book: "Bemba-Speaking Women of Zambia in a Century of Religious Change (1892-1992)" by Hugo F. Hinfelaar it has quite some positive detail on Lenshina which is opposed to the biased vilification we have become accustomed to.

robert thompson said...

hi i am a direct desentend of Alice Lenshina i have been told the story's from my mother who speaks highly of her . i found you blog very interesting and im sending her the link.
if anybody has any more information i would be interested if finding out more