In January 1701, Father Marcellino d’Atri, an Italian Capuchin mission-
ary, made his way to the royal compound of King Pedro IV, sovereign of
the Kongo Kingdom. Accompanied by Giovan de Rosa, an Aragonese
soldier, Father Marcellino had already planned an audience with the
king to introduce de Rosa to the royal court. Before arriving, Father
Marcellino told de Rosa that “in no way should you copy any of the
people’s customs such as smearing your face and eyes with dust because
you are white and not black, and besides you are in my company” (Toso
1984, 260– 61). The missionary was referring to the greeting practice of
common people of lower status falling to their knees (fukama) in front
of Kongolese nobility, as they clapped their cupped hands repeatedly
(bula makonko) and covered their faces in dust. The iconic gesture of
throwing dust on oneself while in a prostrate position demonstrated
subservience, submission, and reverence for the power and status of
Kongo nobility. After Father Marcellino and de Rosa passed guards
posted at several courtyards and waited for some time, King Pedro IV
finally emerged from an adjoining room. Father Marcellino entered an-
other room with the king and told him that de Rosa, being White, would
have nothing to do with the greeting customs of the Kongo Kingdom.
The king’s advisors immediately protested, and the king addressed the
priest. “This can’t be,” he said, “for being in my kingdom he has to fol-
low the same customs.” The two parties argued for more than two hours
Privileging Gesture and Bodies in Studies of Religion and Power
Previous Page Next Page