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Republic of the Congo

Republic of the Congo

POPULATION 2,958,448
CHRISTIAN 50 percent
AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGIONS 48 percent
MUSLIM 0.8 percent
OTHER 1.2 percent

Country Overview

INTRODUCTION

The Republic of the Congo, a West Central African nation on the Atlantic Ocean, borders Gabon, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC; formerly Zaire), and Angola. Topographically, from southwest to northeast, the country includes a relatively treeless coastal plain, an escarpment, a vast plateau region, and then an expansive lowland. While the DRC was a former Belgian colony, Congo (then Moyen, or Middle, Congo) was colonized by France. The main ethnic groupings are the Kongo (nearly 50 percent of the population; they live in the southwest), Teke (about 17 percent; most grow cassava and bananas), Mboshi (about 12 percent; they live in the northwest and are mainly traders, farmers, and fishermen), and Sangha (in the northeast; farmers and fishermen on the edge of the rain forest). At least 70 percent of the population lives in Brazzaville (the capital), Pointe-Noir (the sea port), or along the rail line between them, where there is industry and agriculture.

About half Congo's population is Christian; most of these are Roman Catholic. The Congolese Catholic Church comprises one archdiocese, five dioceses, and an apostolic prefecture (under the authority of one of the dioceses). Among Protestant groups, the Église Évangélique du Congo is the largest denomination. Founded by Presbyterians, it has been autonomous since 1961 and has 105 parishes, a theological seminary, and some 150,000 members.

While Christian missions made inroads into traditional religious belief systems, they failed to eradicate deeply held faith in intermediary deities, ancestor veneration, and magic. Many Congolese have faith concurrently in elements of Christianity and traditional religions. Messianic groups (formalized syncretic movements combining elements of Christianity with traditional religion and, often, political ideals, founded by Africans), including Matsouanism (Amilcalism), Anzimba, Ndjobi, and Kimbanguism (Kakism or N'Gounzism), account for a small but politically prominent number of Congolese.

About 50 mosques in Brazzaville and Pointe Noir serve a Muslim community of mainly of West and North African origin.

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE

There is no state religion in Congo. The right to practice any religion is guaranteed in the constitution, approved in January 2002; before that the Fundamental Act provided these freedoms. Various Congolese governments, however, have intermittently banned or persecuted certain religious groups for their political orientation or in retaliation for uprisings that have occurred, and in 1963 President Alphonse Massamba-Debat nationalized the private schools, causing friction with the Catholic Church. Many have since been returned to the church.

Nongovernmental religious intolerance has at times jeopardized the safety of priests, pastors, and the laity in Congo. In 1965 radical youth gangs under the instruction of the ruling party attempted to eradicate traditional religious practices and to suppress the Matsouanism movement. During two civil wars in the 1990s, private militias and renegade soldiers assassinated Protestant and Catholic clergy and looted and destroyed church property and parishioners' homes. Matsouanism was linked to political opposition and armed insurrection in the Pool region (adjacent to the Malebo Pool on the Congo River in Brazzaville) in 1998–99.

Major Religions

CHRISTIANITY

AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGIONS

CHRISTIANITY

DATE OF ORIGIN c. 1500 c.e.
NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS 1.5 million

HISTORY

Portuguese explorers brought Christianity to Congo. Diego Cao landed at the mouth of the Congo River in 1484 and found the king of the Kongo (the Mani Kongo) in charge of several feudal states extending north from present-day Angola across the lower DRC into southern Congo. Influenced by the conversion of the Mani Kongo Affonso I (1506–43), the kingdom's elite embraced Christianity and changed the name of their capital from Mbanza Kongo to Sao Salvador. Christianity spread through the kingdom, and in 1521 Sao Salvador was promoted to an episcopal see (seat of power) led by a Congolese bishop.

In 1663 Portuguese missionaries founded the first Catholic mission at Loango, and French missionaries spread Christianity to the hinterlands in the 1880s. Swedish missionaries founded the first Protestant mission in 1909 near Kinkala. Under French colonial rule (1875–1960), Catholic missionaries promulgated a mission civilisatrice (civilizing mission), which sought to evan-gelize and socialize Congolese through Western-style schooling. Until the mid-1950s, high school education was only available at two Catholic seminaries.

In the 1930s and 1940s Congolese from all classes and ethnicities protested against French rule and religion and generated messianic groups throughout the south. These groups were Christian and monotheistic but retained traditional beliefs, such as polygamy, and advocated a return to African roots.

The influence of the Catholic Church was regarded with some suspicion after independence from France in 1960. Influential Catholic leaders were exiled or driven underground. A visit by Pope John Paul II in May 1980, during which he celebrated Mass before an estimated 400,000 faithful in Brazzaville, gave the Catholic Church new life. The pope subsequently encouraged further Africanization of the Congolese Catholic Church.

The Église Évangélique du Congo, the Salvation Army, and the Catholic, Kimbanguist, Lutheran, and Greek Orthodox churches have joined to form the Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches in Congo.

EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS

Affonso I (a Kongo king) first welcomed Portuguese explorers and missionaries, converted to Christianity, established diplomatic relations with Portugal and the Vatican, and sent his son Henri Kinu Mbemba and other young nobles to Rome and Portugal for a Catholic education. Under his leadership the Church of the Holy Cross was built in Sao Salvador around 1510.

Theophile M'bemba (1917–71) was appointed the first Congolese archbishop of Brazzaville in June 1969. He is credited with decolonizing the Congolese Catholic Church by appointing African clergy and allowing Congolese musical forms and dance into the liturgy.

Cardinal Emile Biayenda (1927–77) also participated in the Africanization of the church. He studied in missionary schools and was the first Congolese elevated to cardinal. He was abducted and killed during a military insurrection minutes after meeting with President Marien Ngoabi, who was also killed. Although never proven, it was widely rumored that Denis Sassou-Nguesso (who later became president) was behind both murders.

MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS

Fulbert Youlou (1917–72), Congo's first president, authored a book on Matsouanism, a movement founded by André Grénard Matsoua that combined Catholicism with indigenous religious beliefs. Youlou, whose name means "heaven" in Lari (the language of the Lari ethnic group of the Pool region), was trained in Catholic mission schools and ordained as a priest in 1946. Forbidden by church superiors to use his pulpit for political purposes, he traded on the mystical appeal of Matsoua among the Lari and became his successor.

HOUSES OF WORSHIP AND HOLY PLACES

Affonso I built churches in Sao Salvador in the early 1500s, including the town's most important church, Sao Salvador. He also honored the traditional resting place for kings near the town's sacred woods with the construction of the Our Lady of Victories Church in 1526. Congo has five Catholic cathedrals, one in each of the five dioceses.

WHAT IS SACRED?

Congolese Christians consider the Bible and the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, marriage, Eucharist, ordination, anointing of the sick, and reconciliation sacred. They also venerate saints, praying to them, remembering and celebrating them on their feast days, sometimes taking a saint's name, and fasting, fund-raising, and making local pilgrimages in the name of a saint.

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS

Christmas, Ascension, and Pentecost are celebrated as national holidays. Christmas Mass is often held near midnight on 24 December and is followed by feasting and dancing until early morning. Congolese Catholics celebrate Holy Week the week preceding Easter with special masses on Thursday and Saturday. On Saturday followers decorate the churches with flowers in anticipation of the resurrection of Christ. Converts are baptized into the church at a Saturday night mass. On Easter Sunday Congolese Christians welcome family and friends into their homes for a sumptuous meal of chicken, rice, beer, and palm wine.

MODE OF DRESS

Christian mores decree it unacceptable for women to wear shorts, short skirts, or jeans in public. Women and sometimes men belonging to the same church may wear clothing with the same pattern or design to services or church functions. In the 1980s many Catholics wore African prints commemorating the pope's visit.

DIETARY PRACTICES

Congolese Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays, especially during Lent, in memory of Christ's suffering and death on the cross. The interdiction typically causes little disruption because of the relatively high price of meat. During Lent many Catholics deprive themselves of a favorite food and donate the savings to charity. Protestants generally observe no dietary restrictions other than a ban on alcohol, but members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not drink caffeinated beverages, and Seventh Day-Adventists do not eat meat.

RITUALS

Like Catholics worldwide, Congolese Catholics sprinkle holy water, light candles, and burn incense during the Mass. To add local meaning to European symbols, the Catholic Church in Congo has made some highly visible reforms, including using African drums and instrumentation during the liturgy; singing original African hymns; dancing around the altar; making offerings of fruit, cassava, and local produce; and praying to ancestors.

Rituals of the Mass are also performed during baptism and marriage. A Congolese church wedding is typically a major affair similar to its European counterpart. In Congolese society, however, weddings unite clans and families in a larger sense. Prior to the church ceremony the families of the bride and groom negotiate la dote (the bride price), which the groom's family pays to the bride's in the form of goats, bolts of cloth, Coleman lanterns, and other desirable objects.

When ill or dying, Catholics may request the sacrament of anointing of the sick, which is intended to up-lift the spirit and, if necessary, speed it on its way to heaven. A mass is said for the deceased; relatives may also attempt to ascertain who or what was the cause of the death and to assign blame for it, a holdover from traditional Congolese religious practices.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Believing in the connectedness of the unborn, the living, and the dead, Congolese Catholics celebrate three fundamental rites of passage in the life cycle: baptisms, marriages, and funerals. Each includes a sacrament and substantial involvement on the part of the church. Baptisms are performed within two weeks of birth. The sprinkling of water symbolizes not only the parents' commitment to providing a Christian upbringing but also protection for the newborn from evil spirits, sorcery, and other harm.

Before getting married, a Catholic couple undergoes a period of domestic education conducted by elders in the family and the church. The bride is assumed to be a virgin, and the couple may be asked on the morning after the wedding whether the consummation was successful, including whether blood was evident as proof of virginity. Nonvirginity is sufficient reason to annul a marriage and remit the bride price.

Passage from life to death is accorded great significance, especially among the Bakongo, who have elaborate funerals and set up prominent tombstones. Both Christians and non-Christians in rural areas traditionally construct homelike tombs into which they place furniture, personal objects, and the corpse, dressed and positioned to recall his or her vocation. People living in the cities have these tombs constructed in their home villages.

MEMBERSHIP

The Catholic Church maintains and expands church membership through baptism. Catholic missions in Congo emphasize schooling and ministering to the needs of the faithful over evangelizing.

Congolese Protestants pursue with great vigor the biblical injunction to evangelize. Proselytizing is a requirement for Jehovah's Witnesses and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Protestant Église Évangélique du Congo has expanded its membership since taking a more charismatic approach to its ministry in 1947 that emphasizes spiritual gifts such as vocations, prophesying, visions, and healing through the laying on of hands. The popularity of this shift is seen in people's devotion to faith-based television and radio programming and crusades featuring world-class evangelists.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Christian exhortations to treat others as one would be treated, to be meek in spirit, to help the sick and downtrodden, to seek justice, and to minimize wealth and worldly pursuits for spiritual gain fit well with traditional Congolese attitudes, which require obligation to one's family, clan, community, and ethnic group. Family members who attain wealth share with less fortunate family members, and people with jobs in cities are expected to accommodate family and friends from their home villages for long periods of time.

A number of Catholic structures have historically promoted social justice in Congo, including the Justice and Peace Commission, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and regular giving to social justice causes through tithes and offerings. The powerful Catholic labor union federation, an umbrella organization linked to European labor unions, protected the rights of individual workers until the government banned it in 1963.

Among Protestants the Église Évangélique du Congo administers several health clinics, maternity wards, pharmacies, and a rural public health project the covers 30 villages. Nearly all the churches have joined the national campaign to fight HIV and AIDS.

SOCIAL ASPECTS

Christianity introduced new family values to Congo. French Christian missions encouraged the schooling of girls, job and skills training for women, the pivotal role of fathers in bringing up children, and monogamy. The effects have been huge, raising the status of women and girls, who have acquired rights nearly equal to those of men. Polygyny has not ceased but is practiced less than before, especially by Westerneducated people and faithful Christians.

POLITICAL IMPACT

Relations between the Catholic Church and the government have improved since the 1963 discord over privatizing mission schools, and many politically conscious Congolese have used Catholic missions and schools as an avenue of upward mobility. Most of Congo's leaders in the decolonization period were products of mission schools and carried the church's influence with them into politics. Abbé Fulbert Youlou was one of 150-odd students trained in Catholic seminaries during the interwar years. Youlou formed a political party, the Democratic Union for the Protection of African Interest, and was elected mayor of Brazzaville in November 1956, becoming the first African mayor in French Equatorial Africa. He was later the first elected prime minister of Congo and, in November 1959, the president of the republic. In the immediate postindependence period the Catholic federation of labor unions opposed President Youlou's labor policies and successfully deposed him. The church's weekly newspaper, La Semaine, has appeared regularly since pre-independence and has exerted influence on government policies.

CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES

Many Congolese Catholics only partially observe the church's unyielding position on matters such as polygamy, divorce, birth control, and abortion. The church has had many disciplinary problems because of these practices and has attempted through education and awareness-building to reduce them.

CULTURAL IMPACT

In Congo, Christianity introduced new instruments and such musical styles as hymn music and the Latin-based music of the Mass. Mission schools were the first places where Congolese children learned to read and write. The introduction of literacy made possible the translation of the Scriptures and religious materials into Congolese languages; it also introduced a new literary genre, as storytellers put pen to paper. Congo has since produced many great Francophone authors, among them Sony Labou Tansi, a novelist and playwright who died from complications of AIDS in 1995. In modern Congolese art the most ubiquitous Christian symbol is the crucifix, sculpted from wood, chiseled in stone, or made from gold.

Christianity historically had a negative impact on Congolese art and performance. Catholic and Protestant missionaries burned ceremonial masks, amulets, statuettes, and fetishes, without which Congolese could no longer perform religious ceremonies and dances.

AFRICAN TRADITIONAL RELIGIONS

DATE OF ORIGIN Unknown
NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS 1.4 million

HISTORY

The dates and origins of African traditional religions in Congo are unknown, but most have certainly evolved over several millennia. Traditional practices have proven far more resilient in rural areas of Congo, where they have been less subjected to Christian, colonial, and urban influences.

The basic tenets of Congolese traditional religion hinge on spirits and animated elements in the cosmos, including the Supreme Being (Nzambi), lesser spirits, and nature spirits. The eastern Kongo groups living near the Congo River believe the dead (especially those who lived relatively important lives) have the most access to Nzambi (God), followed by clan heads and elders; those of lowest social status have the least access. The western Kongo groups believe the dead must die a second death before they can make contact with Nzambi.

A Congolese creation myth among the Bakongo people of lower Congo holds that in the beginning the supreme being, Nzambe, presided over a dark world covered by water. He brought the world into existence by spilling the cosmos of stars and planets out of his mouth, and he created human beings and animals in a like manner. The story reflects possible Christian influence from contact with missionaries after the fifteenth century.

EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS

Patriarchal heads of lineages, chiefs, witch doctors, diviners, sorcerers, and fetishers, as professional practitioners of religion, all provide decentralized leadership in Congolese traditional religions. Healers use amulets and medicines to get the spirits to act favorably toward human needs. Diviners determine whether someone's illness or bad fortune was caused by witchcraft, sorcerers, ancestral spirits, or gods. Sorcerers and fetishers manipulate outcomes, which often cause harm to innocent victims, through medicines, spells, and rituals. Chiefs formerly acted as intermediaries between clan members and ancestral spirits, and they alone had the power to make offerings or to pray to ancestors. They were also responsible for ensuring that the traditions handed down from the ancestors were obeyed. As the state has gained in influence relative to traditional holders of power, the chiefs' secular and religious authority has declined.

MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS

Congolese traditional religions have no written theology. Among the eastern Kongo peoples religion is passed down by the clan or lineage chief, who keeps a sacred basket of relics (such as the hair and nails of former chiefs and albinos, who are believed to be reincarnated chiefs) in an ancestral hut. Practitioners honor the sacred basket by bringing such offerings as palm wine or bananas. The chief or lineage head is the medium through which the living can contact the dead.

HOUSES OF WORSHIP AND HOLY PLACES

The chief of a clan carries out traditional religious practices in the privacy of the ancestral hut in his compound. Healing and divining ceremonies, spells, incantations, and other rituals are practiced either in the compound or in spaces in the forest.

WHAT IS SACRED?

Traditional African belief systems are based on a cosmic oneness of being. No distinction exists between the sacred and the secular, and humans relate to the divine through contact with nature. Adherents believe in a supreme being who is distant and unapproachable, but their veneration centers on ancestor spirits and animate and inanimate intermediary deities found in nature, such as trees, plants, rocks, and sky, animal, and bird totems. Religious leaders may call on spirits for any occasion, particularly for births and deaths and at seedtime and harvest. Relics passed down from ancestors to clan or lineage chiefs are sacred.

HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS

Each year at the beginning of the dry season, practitioners of traditional religions in Congo hold solemn ceremonies, often in the family cemetery, to give thanks for the rains and the growing season. They may sacrifice a chicken or goat as an offering. They celebrate Christmas, Ascension, and Pentecost in a secular sense as national holidays.

MODE OF DRESS

Congolese women have their own traditional African dress, which consists of three or four pieces of cloth—a head scarf, a tailored blouse, and two pieces of wrap-around cloth called pagnes (like sarongs)—cut from the same colorful pattern. Unmarried women wear one wrap-around instead of two. Women may not wear shorts, short skirts, or jeans in public.

DIETARY PRACTICES

Followers of traditional belief systems in Congo generally observe no dietary restrictions, although taboos prohibit or require consumption of certain foods and drinks during pivotal events such as pregnancy or mourning the death of a kinsman. Dietary taboos include those against eating pork, meat from animals that die natural deaths or that are killed by strangling, and fish without scales (eating catfish would be taboo).

RITUALS

Under the guidance of the supreme being, the spirits are believed to control health, fertility, and prosperity. Traditionalists observe various rituals, especially for pregnancy, birth, marriage, and death, in an attempt to influence the spirit world for good. Congolese fathers may perform purification rituals during and after the birth of a child. In some social circles when a young couple expresses its desire to marry, the boy's maternal uncle offers palm wine to the girl's maternal kin on successive visits. The recipients indicate their acceptance of the overture by drinking the wine. The marriage agreed upon, the groom's family pays the bride price in cloth, animals, and lamps.

RITES OF PASSAGE

Performing rituals and teaching taboos are especially important in marking rites of passage, giving individuals a sense of belonging to a clan or lineage. Birth, adolescence, marriage, and death were formerly occasions for elaborate rituals involving the invocation of spirits and exchanges of gifts. Urbanization and modernization have made these practices less common and less elaborate where they persist.

Initiation rites for adolescents mark their passage to adulthood. Girls live together in one house, have their bodies painted and adorned with necklaces and bracelets, and attend special nighttime dances to meet possible future husbands. Among the Yombe, a Kongo sub-group in the south, initiation takes place after the marriage proposal is made. Circumcision is an important rite for boys among the Kongo; some Kongo groups require it before marriage, when boys are near or entering puberty. Girls are not circumcised among Congolese ethnic groups.

In rural areas Congolese families mourn the loss of a head of household for a long period. Widows may mourn anywhere from a month to the rest of their lives, depending on their piety, the village customs, and the ethnic group of the family. Some customs require widows to grieve by shaving their heads, dressing in rags, bathing infrequently, and even begging for crumbs from the tables of relatives.

MEMBERSHIP

Indoctrination takes place during initiation ceremonies. Proselytizing is uncommon since most adherents follow in the footsteps of their parents and relatives.

SOCIAL JUSTICE

Congolese traditional beliefs favor social equalizing and obligation to one's family, clan, community, and ethnic group. Adherents are expected to help those in extreme poverty—their own family members before members of their extended families, and members of their ethnic group before others. Extreme prosperity beyond the norm risks accusations of sorcery or threats of being subjected to sorcery. Traditional hospitality requires urbanites to host rural extended family—a phenomenon so pervasive that it has been referred to as "family parasitism."

SOCIAL ASPECTS

Congolese widely practice polygyny for reasons of status as well as humanitarian concern: Having many wives and children is a sign of wealth, and in a society with no social safety net, it is also a means of supporting widows, orphans, and oneself in old age. Divorce is common in Congo. Rural traditionalists resist change, particularly interventions that discourage polygyny and encourage family planning and the use of contraceptives. Urbanized Congolese, influenced by Christianity and Western education, no longer consider polygyny desirable or practical. Men often cannot support more than one wife in a city.

POLITICAL IMPACT

Indigenous religion has had little observable political impact in Congo. However, heads of state have probably hired traditional fetishers for protection from black magic, evil, and perceived enemies and have probably consulted oracles and diviners before making important decisions.

CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES

Controversy has most often erupted where tradition clashed with the modern and rural with urban. Youth's and women's roles, for example, have changed as they have received formal education, but sometimes their espousal of nontraditional beliefs has led to accusations of sorcery by less literate elders.

Controversy surrounds the accepted philosophy in traditional groups that nothing happens without reason. If someone falls ill without explanation or cure, loses money inexplicably, suffers a spate of bad luck, or dies before old age, blame must be assigned and justice meted out. Traditionalists engage diviners, who use magic to explain causality, seek retribution for misfortune, punish evildoers, and protect against the vicissitudes of nature. What typically follows is a witch hunt mired in jealousy and speculation. Congolese society condemns both witches (whose powers are thought to operate at night, outside their bodies, and without their knowledge) and sorcerers (ndoki, who employ medicines, spells, and rituals) to punishment or death, because they cause innocent victims to suffer. Specialized diviners (nganga ngombo) may determine that a person is a witch, but conviction is unlikely without physical evidence. The colonial administration outlawed the use of proof poison, formerly used to determine whether someone accused of witchcraft was guilty. Postindependence governments have continued the ban, which has probably driven the use of proof poison underground.

CULTURAL IMPACT

Traditionalists design masks, amulets, statuettes, and fetishes for religious ceremonies and dances. These ritual objects are believed to carry social, cultural, and religious power. After Christian missionaries destroyed many of the antiquities in this art, Western values brought in a commercial dimension; much of what is produced today is for the tourist market.

Other Religions

Christian missionary activity in Moyen-Congo between World Wars I and II gave rise to some 80 politico-messianic syncretic movements throughout Congo that have left indelible political and social marks on the country. These groups share certain characteristics, one of which is the goal (similar to that of Roman Catholic and Protestant missions) of destroying fetishes (nkisi). Also, their founders usually claimed to have had visions leading them to a political or religious calling. Members of these groups attend their own churches regularly and sometimes hold rallies, retreats, and mass-based events much like their Christian counterparts. Adherents may attend conventional churches to baptize their children.

Simon Kimbangu (1889–1951), a Christian convert born in the Belgian Congo who had a vision calling him to heal the sick, generated anticolonial sentiment among the Lari on both sides of the Congo River. In 1918 Kimbangu proclaimed himself a prophet and the son of God. He borrowed the rituals of baptism and confession from Christian practices and the cult of the ancestors from African traditional religion. Kimbanguism (also known as Kakism, a reference to the khaki cloth worn by followers in Congo) spread rapidly among Protestants, but the disapproval of the missionaries, combined with attempts by the civil authorities to suppress the movement, caused followers to break away from the mainstream Christian churches. Kimbanguism went underground, where it grew to become the largest independent African religion on the continent, recognized by both Congo governments and accepted into the World Council of Churches in 1969. Because Kimbangu stressed the biblical passages that gave the oppressed the right to revolt, the Belgian police arrested him in 1921, and he died a martyr in a Katanga prison 30 years later.

André Grénard Matsoua (1899–1942), a former Catholic catechist, founded a nonreligious association in 1927 for education, mutual aid, and equality of status with French citizens that developed into a political movement known as Amicalism, later renamed Matsouanism. The movement took root among the Lari peoples in the Pool region. Unlike Kimbangu, Matsoua had little intention of founding a religion, but he also became a martyred divinity after he died in prison. By the late 1960s Matsouanists had been absorbed into Kimbanguism. In the 1992–93 elections, however, Bernard Kolélas cast himself as a neo-Matsouanist disciple to curry favor with the Lari electorate and proved that the movement still had political importance. Many Lari have not accepted the reality of Matsoua's death. His statue towers above their administrative capital at Kinkala.

Many other political figures have used messianic groups as stepping-stones to power. In the late 1940s Fulbert Youlou imitated Matsoua, successfully laid claim to his mantle of political leadership, and became the country's first president. President Joachim Yhomby Opango (born in 1939; in office 1977–1979) claimed to be a prophet of the Anzimba movement. In 2003 President Sassou-Nguesso established Matsouanist chapters throughout the country, hoping to cash in on the latent popular support for Matsoua.

Historically messianic groups have been relatively small and localized, but their size a matter of speculation. The Matsouanists are thought to number no more than a few hundred and may never have numbered more than a few thousand. The Lassy Zerpherinists, who are politically salient in the Kouilou and Niari regions of southern and southwestern Congo, have managed to assemble crowds as large as twenty thousand. The Kimbanguists and Ngouzistes appear the largest, with between five and twenty thousand or more adherents. Over the past 30 years the numbers of all messianic groups have declined. Observers attribute this erosion partly to the failure of the founding generations to impart their faith firmly among succeeding generations and partly to the strength of the Catholic Church in Congo.

The Muslim community in Congo is relatively small, comprising some 25,000 to 50,000 people. Most of them are immigrants from North and West Africa working in the urban centers in commerce, including the clothing trade. Their specialty is the cloth that women use for making pagnes (sarongs). The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have estimated memberships of fewer than 5,000 in Congo. The Bahai faith is also represented.

Robert Groelsema

See Also Vol. 1: African Traditional Religions, Christianity

Bibliography

Africa South of the Sahara 2003: The Republic of the Congo. 32nd ed. London: Europa Publications, 2003.

Anderson, Efraim. Churches at the Grass-roots: Study in Congo-Brazzaville. London: Lutterworth, 1968.

——. Messianic Popular Movements in the Lower Congo. Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksell; New York: W.S. Heinman, 1958.

Decalo, Samuel, Virginia Thompson, and Richard Adloff. Historical Dictionary of Congo. Vol. 69 of African Historical Dictionaries. Lanham, Md., and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1996.

MacGaffey, Wyatt. Modern Kongo Prophets: Religion in a Plural Society. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1983.

——. Religion and Society in Central Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

McDonald, Gordon C., et al. Area Handbook for People's Republic of the Congo (Congo Brazzaville). Area Handbook Series. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1971.

Youlou, Fulbert. Le Matsouanisme. Brazzaville: Imprimerie Centrale, 1955.

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