to the LPCA home page Archives of Popular Swahili logo

ISSN: 1570-0178

Volume 5, Issue 1 (16 May 2003)

to the APS home page

Teachings of the Jamaa movement: Texts and commentaries

transcribed , translated, and commented by

Johannes Fabian

University of Amsterdam


Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology
University of Amsterdam
Oudezijds Achterburgwal 185
1012 DK Amsterdam
The Netherlands




Text 1: Of man (1)

Text 2: Of man (2)

Text 3: Of angels




Any attempt to document how Swahili served expressions of popular culture in Shaba/Katanga would be incomplete without at least some examples of religious discourse. Protestant and Catholic translations of (parts of) the Bible were available at the time when the texts that follow were recorded. The variety used in these translations (as well as in published prayers, liturgical texts, and hymns) was "Congo Swahili" (or "Kingwana"), a form close to East Coast Standard Swahili that remained a mainly literate code. In Katanga, local spoken Swahili has been employed in popular religious discourse at least since the rise of the Kitawala movement in the twenties of the last century. It is safe to assume that its uses in moral and theological teaching significantly contributed to the development of Katanga/Shaba Swahili. Jamaa speakers, though they acknowledged the authority of the Scriptures, seldom quoted the Bible, which explains why we find hardly any interference from the literate code in their teachings.

The movement1
The Jamaa appeared first in 1953 in a workers' settlement near the town of Kolwezi in the mining region of Katanga. At the height of its growth it may have counted as many as 200,000 followers. Its origin was an "encounter" (as they say) between a group of Catholic African workers and their wives with a European, the Belgian Franciscan missionary Placide Tempels. Research covering a period between the mid-sixties and the mid-eighties (no work seems to have been conducted more recently) has shown that Baba Placide continued to guide the Jamaa long after he had left the Congo in 1962. His work and biography are crucial if one wants to understand what this movement has been about (for his biography and writings, see the Placide Tempels website maintained by Michael Meeuwis). Conversely, in order to appreciate some of the ideas for which Tempels became world-famous, one should know how they were put into practice by the Jamaa.
Three traits were characteristic for the Jamaa as a movement: (a) It was conceived as renewal and as an intensification of Christian life within the Catholic mission church. (b) As a rule only married couples could be members (exceptions being made for widowed Catholics, priests, and a few nuns and female social workers. (c) Until the seventies the movement had no formal organization and it lacked an ethnic basis. It had no explicit social or political program and actively refrained from practices often associated with religious enthusiasm (such as trances, faith-healing, exorcism, and speaking in tongues).
Jamaa followers, though they were exemplary Catholics who participated actively in the ritual of the church, identified with the teachings of Baba Placide, a Christian-humanist doctrine. Candidates and members regularly followed instructions, (mafundisho), in the common language of Katanga, Swahili, later also in the languages of other regions of the Congo and neighbouring countries. A core concept of the doctrine was umuntu, best translated as " what it means and takes to be human." Umuntu expressed itself in the "three great thoughts," uzima, (life, conceived as wholeness), uzazi (fecundity), and mapendo (mutual love). In a manner reminiscent of gnostic ideas, the movement as a whole and each of the member-couples were to realize these mawazo (thoughts), another central concept, in spirit and body. This was to be accomplished through gradual initiation into the "three ways," njia tatu, each grade being preceded by instruction, counselling, mashaurio, and by more and more intensive encounters, mapatano between initiating and initiated couples and the "first Jamaa on earth," Lord Jesus, Bwana Yesu, and the Virgin Mary, Bikira Maria.
Induction into the Jamaa was conceived as giving birth, kuzaa, and members always used baba (father), and mama (mother), when addressing each other. Local groups, nkundi, were constituted as lines of spiritual descent, kizazi, lead, as a rule, by the most "fertile" couples, this is, by those who had initiated the largest number of couples. They derived their authority from their ability to articulate the doctrine, give counsel, and often also as interpreters of dreams that had an important role in the spiritual ascent through the grades of initiation. Groups met for regular, usually weekly, mafundisho (instructions). Contact between local groups were maintained by correspondence, visits, and an annual Easter meeting.
This simplified and somewhat idealized picture of the Jamaa is valid for the period of its emergence and consolidation in the sixties. But it is also true that, almost from the beginning, its teachings and organization contained the seeds of tension and serious conflict. Most missionaries eventually perceived the Jamaa as a threat to their authority. Preceded by local measures of control and suppression, this lead, at the beginning of the seventies, to an open confrontation between the movement and the mission church.
This could have been the end of one of the most impressive attempts to Africanize Christianity but more recent field research (in 1985 and 1986, most of it as yet unpublished) has shown that the movement survived through diversification. Next to a Jamaa, recognized by the church (Jamaa Takatifu Katolika), some of Tempels' oldest followers joined an independent church recognized by the civil authorities (Jamaa Takatifu mu Afrika). Then there was an unknown number of groups who, though they refused to participate in the rite of abjuration, continued to practice Catholicism (tolerated by liberal members of the clergy). Finally, there were many individual followers of Tempels who were not organized in groups. Nevertheless, it appears that the Jamaa has been losing ground (and members) to the "prayer groups" of the charismatic renewal. Its basis among workers is being eroded by the decline of the mining industry and the rise of a new middle class and its exclusive focus on adults and failure to establish a youth branch may further contribute to its demise.

The texts and commentaries
The wealth of recordings and written documents representing the teachings of the Jamaa makes it necessary to select material for inclusion in the Archives. We begin with three texts that were recorded or collected by Johannes Fabian the 1960s during fieldwork on the Jamaa movement (see his writings on that movement in his bibliography on this website). They were transcribed and translated between 1967-1971. Together with introductory sketches evoking settings and occasion and commentaries providing context as well as analysis and interpretation they were included in Part 2 of a manuscript titled Anthropology and Interpretation: Essays on the Thought of the Jamaa Movement (1972) which did not get published at the time. Regarding the commentaries it is important to keep in mind that they were written more than thirty years ago.2 With only minor corrections and changes they are now included in this Archive as documents of a stage in the interpretive, text-centered turn in anthropology and folklore studies that, inspired mainly by Dell Hymes's "ethnography of speaking," emerged at the time.
The three examples of Jamaa teaching to be presented first were selected such that they illustrate a great number of contrasts among the speech events that produced them and the features of the text that resulted. Here is a brief summary: Texts 1 and 2 were recorded in an appropriate setting before an audience (1 in a private home, 2 in an assembly hall), for Text 3 speaker and ethnographer met in an office. The topic —umuntu— is approached directly in Texts 1 and 2, indirectly in Text 3. Texts 1 and 3 were recorded by the ethnographer (on July 6, 1966, and in June 1966 respectively). Text 2 was recorded -probably- in 1965 by Fr. Bertien Peeraer, the parish priest who was a member of the movement (before I started fieldwork). Text 1 was recorded in Lubumbashi, Texts 2 and 3 in Musonoi. As will be shown in the commentaries, each of the speakers structured his teaching differently and employed a different style of argumentation/exposition.
Concerning the presentation of the texts (rules and conventions of transcription and translation) see the remarks formulated in the Introduction to Tshibumba's history of Zaire. It should be noted, however, that in the Jamaa texts published here italics are used where the Tshibumba texts have bold type face to mark lexical items in other languages, overlapping speech, and word- or sentence completion/repetition, whereby listeners respond to a cue from the speaker. No attempt was made to harmonize certain discrepancies with later transcriptions; they may even be interesting in that they reflect a learning process that is still ongoing.


1 The following section only gives the barest outline of the history and the teachings of the Jamaa. More may be found in published sources and also in the commentaries to each of the texts to be presented.
2 Eventually the book project was abandoned and two of the theoretical essays of Part One, as well as one of the texts of Part 2 with commentary, were published as articles and contributions to collections (Fabian 1974, 1975, 1977). More material on the Jamaa, including written documents and recordings, were gathered during stays in Katanga in 1972-1974, 1985, and 1986. Regarding developments until the mid-eighties see Fabian 1994.


Fabian, Johannes. (1974). Genres in an emerging tradition: An approach to religious communication. In: A.W. Eister (ed.), Changing perspectives in the scientific study of religion. New York: Wiley Interscience. 249-272.
Fabian, Johannes. (1975). Taxonomy and ideology: On the boundaries of concept classification. In: M. Dale Kinkade, Kenneth L. Hale and Oswald Werner (eds.), Linguistics and anthropology: In honor of C.F. Vögelin. Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press. 183-197.
Fabian, Johannes. (1977). Lore and doctrine: Some observations on story-telling in the Jamaa movement. Cahiers d`études africaines 17: 307-329.

Fabian, Johannes. (1994). Jamaa: A Charismatic Movement Revisited. In Thomas D. Blakely, Walter E. A. van Beek and Dennis L. Thomson (eds.), Religion in Africa. Experience and Expression. London: James Currey/ Portsmout, N.H.: Heineman. 257-74.


[Text 1: Of man (1)]

[Text 2: Of man (2)]

[Text 3: Of angels ]

[LPCA Home Page]

© Johannes Fabian
Revisions: 10 July 2003 (hyperlinks to Text 3: Of angels added)
The URL of this page is: