May 11, 1921. Léon- Georges Morel, the territorial administrator for the
Southern Cataracts Territory in the Lower Congo of colonial Belgian
Congo,1 is heading to the town of Nkamba. He is investigating the ac-
tivities of Simon Kimbangu, a man who local Kongo people are calling
a prophet. Many people are flocking to Nkamba, leaving jobs, carrying
sick relatives for healing, and rapidly increasing the anxiety of Belgian
colonial authorities. Morel arrives at Nkamba in the company of two
soldiers, estimating the crowd in Nkamba at around eight hundred
people. As he continues on the road into town, he encounters Kim-
bangu, who is accompanied by two men and two women. Kimbangu
is wearing red pants and a white flannel shirt and is carrying a stick
shaped like a bishop’s staff. Morel observes his behavior. “The person
of interest,” he writes, “was agitated by a general trembling of his body.”
His companions, Morel notes, were “all agitated by the same trembling
and making bizarre shouts.” They make a circle around him, and Morel
tries to speak to the group, but they do not respond. After the trem-
bling subsides, Morel sets up his tent in the town. Simon Kimbangu
approaches the tent and, after reading the story of David and Goliath
from the Bible, comes forward to shake Morel’s hand. “I notice that his
hand is icy,” Morel writes, “a reaction following the period of nervous
shaking. I take advantage of this period of calm to ask Kimbangu the
reason for this not very suitable and grotesque manner of receiving
Introduction
Gesture and Power
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