Bushiri Lungundu (circa 1911-June 23,1945) was a prophet in the Kitawala movement and the leader of the 1944 Masisi revolt in Kivu province.
Bushiri was born in Orientale province (now Haut Zaire region) in Tshopo village near the town of Bafwa-sende located 200 km (120 mi) northeast of Kisangani on the Lindi River. His father was Salambongo and his mother Eylo. As there was no school in the region, Bushiri did not learn to read or write, but instead accompanied his father to the fields, hunting and fishing.
Not until Bushiri grew old enough to pay a poll tax did he decide to leave his village and seek salaried employment. His first job was as a sawyer with a Mr. A. Lorge for whom he worked from February 1935 until December 1936. Eventually, discontent with his wages of 30 francs per month, Bushiri broke his contract and sought government permission to leave his home area. He had to wait four years before he was granted transfer papers allowing him to move almost 200 km (120 mi) south to the neighboring territory of Lubutu in Kivu. There he was hired again as a sawyer, by the Comité National de Kivu (CNKi.) which sent him to its site in Muhulu, near the Lubutu-Masisi territorial border. At Muhulu, he soon met Kilolo, a follower and teacher of Kitawala. It was Kilolo who introduced Bushiri to Kitawala. Quickly becoming an avid follower of the movement, Bushiri devoted himself entirely to Kitawala, renounced all his possessions, deserted his job in January 1944, and abandoned his second wife, Hatiba.
The Kitawala movement, which Bushiri embraced, was only one of several religious sects spreading throughout the Belgian Congo during the difficult years of World War II. Announcing liberation for people bent under the war effort, these sects promised an end to forced labor and taxes, to prison and the whip, and to misery and misfortunes. Assuring Africans that whites would be expelled from the land and that blacks would become the masters, these movements enjoyed widespread popularity as converts flocked to them.
The Kitawala, more than any other group, became politically aroused and openly hostile to the whites. Derived from the doctrines of the parent sect, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Kitawala’s teachings rejected all forms of organized religion, condemned all civil and religious authority, considered all power as a reflection of Satan’s presence, predicted the coming of a second Messiah, and announced the inauguration of a paradise on earth. The perspective offered by such teachings appealed to the oppressed colonial population.
After 1923, the Kitawala’s messianic and apocalyptic ideas had been carried into the Belgian Congo by mine workers from Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland who were employed in southern Katanga. From there, returning Luba and Bemba workers spread Kitawala teachings throughout the eastern part of the colony. In Kivu province, the movement quickly established itself in the areas of Lubutu, a town 200 km (120 mi) southeast of Kisangani, and Masisi, a town 60 km (35 mi) northwest of Goma.
Africans around Lubutu and Masisi, especially the Komo people, were receptive to Kitawala because of the pressures of colonialism during World War II. In 1944, the territorial administrator of Masisi noted many cases of suffering and unrest among the Congolese and conceded that he could offer no solutions to these problems. It is important to note, he wrote, that a large part of the labor force of the territory was out of work. These unemployed, whose numbers swelled with the advent of the war, had once been the clerks, “boys,” police auxiliaries, miners, and chiefs working with the colonizers. These people became the first recruits of Kitawala and remained its most ardent supporters.
After embracing Kitawala, Bushiri wandered in the forests for several weeks until he arrived at Utanda, in the Masisi territory, where in February 1944, he began his preaching. He proclaimed himself the Second Jesus, the ‘Mukombozi’ (Redeemer), and the ‘Mufalme’ (King) of the world. Calling his teachings ‘Mapendo’ (love), Bushiri admonished his followers to love one another and to refrain from theft, adultery, and murder. Also, by attacking and destroying fetish cults, Bushiri strongly opposed the traditional sorcerers who sometimes held the peasants in terror. With his principal aide, Alleluya, Bushiri organized his church into eleven degrees, the highest of which he held himself.
Although the prophet’s reputation already was very great, he became even more popular when he started to preach revolt against colonial rule. Bushiri ordered a halt to the rubber harvest, pressed his followers not to pay taxes, urged all Africans to leave the mines and workcamps, and encouraged all Congolese to burn all their identity papers. Finally, he announced the time of the white man was over and that the reign of the black man had begun. Chiefs and officials of Utanda not only supported Bushiri, they also encouraged their subordinates to follow him. Bushiri assured those few who still hesitated, because they feared the whites, that he could exterminate the foreigners by magic words alone.
Bushiri Lungundu was not the first to spread the ‘good word’ of Kitawala in the region. As if to prepare the way, several Kitawala preachers had preceded him. But, it was Bushiri who, through his vivid and radical preaching, was able to translate the people’s dreams into direct action. Bushiri Lungundu’s following and power increased as his reputation for performing extraordinary acts grew. People believed he could talk to the dead and bring them back to life. Rumor had it that, during a gathering, he multiplied food for his followers.
As Bushiri’s support expanded, he became bolder in his proclamations. On February 17, 1944, he ordered his faithful to attack an itinerant colonial agent who was responsible for collecting the rubber harvest. Thus, Mr. De Schryver, an agent in charge of rubber collection, became the first prisoner of the revolts led by Katshaka, ‘minister of Bushiri’s armed forces.’ After De Schryver had been captured and shackled, he was stripped to his underwear and a collar of rubber leaves was hung around his neck. He was told that no one would harvest any more rubber, that no one would pay taxes, and that all whites would be killed and replaced by the blacks. A letter from Bushiri addressed to all whites stated, ‘Your time has come. Your well has dried up. God has taken pity upon the Black man and has sent me to save them. If you kill a single Black, you will all perish. The Blacks are superior to you. God wishes it so … ‘ The letter was signed, ‘I. Savior of the world.’
De Schryver’s party, which included his “boy,” an unarmed soldier, a policeman, and a rubber collector were also arrested. Attempts to free the prisoners. organized by those still loyal to the administration, failed. The loyalists could only alert the territorial authorities of Masisi and Lubutu. Meanwhile, the victorious column of revolutionaries went from village to village rallying the inhabitants to their cause. All who still collaborated with “Bula Matari (the State) were arrested and tortured. Rubber harvest overseers, magistrates, tax-collectors, and policemen were singled out for punishment. Not uncommonly, Bushiri himself, or one of his aides, ordered executions. Fatalities following torture were equally frequent. No white was killed, however, and in addition to De Schryver, only two other European agents of CNKi were arrested. Even these men were held by followers of Bushiri for only two days.
Government action taken to repress the revolt was fierce, brutal, and immediate. The district commissioner and the territorial administrator mobilized more than 100 officers and soldiers of the Force Publique (FP) to subdue the revolt. In vain Bushiri tried to avoid a showdown between his followers and the elements of the FP by proposing a truce with the district commissioner who was pursuing him. Bushiri’s message to the commissioner said, ‘I want you to know that if you wish for an agreement on these matters, come to me peacefully. Above all do not advance in a hostile manner. Take heed… Come here so that we may confer and agree upon terms. I would be willing to concede one half of the region, I will keep the other.’
Bushiri attempted to rally the black Force Publique soldiers to his cause by encouraging their desertion. ‘I do not want you to take part in my war against the whites,’ he wrote in one of his letters, ‘since it is for you that I have come. If you take part in this war, you will all die. I have come to save you …. ‘
The appeal was in vain. The military operation, launched against Bushiri at the end of February 1944, was completed quickly. On March 16, a few days after his headquarters in the village of Kubasa was destroyed, Bushiri himself was arrested. His aide, Alleluya, was taken prisoner on March 30. In all, more than 180 members of the Kitawala movement were taken prisoner and incarcerated at Herbo, 80 km (50 mi) west of Masisi. The trial, which began on July 3, 1944, concluded with 72 death sentences, 48 life terms, and 46 terms ranging from 50 years down to five years in prison. Only 15 defendants were acquitted. At the suggestion of the king’s prosecutor of Kivu, the death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. Reasoning that mass executions could only do further damage to the spirit of the indigenous population, the prosecutor stated, ‘We would appear, without a doubt, to be the cruel and unjust masters. The indigenous population will make martyrs of the executed criminals. Let us guard against widening the gap between our wards and ourselves. Let us be lenient.’ The death sentences of Bushiri and his aide, Alleluya, were upheld, however. They were hanged publicly at Iterbo on June 23, 1945.
The repression of the revolt caused an unknown number of deaths among the people. Members of the Force Publique committed many atrocities, especially in Kasese. On the order of a FP sergeant, hundreds of Kitawala militants were killed where the present Kasese traffic circle is located. After this massacre, the administrator, disgraced and relieved of his duties, committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. He was the only European ‘victim’ of the revolt of Masisi.
By publicly hanging the black messiah, the redeemer, the second Jesus, and by bringing severe reprisals against his followers, the colonial authorities hoped to end the movement’s religious, social, and political strength, which Bushiri had so successfully channeled and guided. Moreover to quash any future Kitawala resistance, the region was placed under martial law until July 1947.
Despite the various steps taken by the authorities, however, the Kitawala sect not only survived, but spread geographically, socially and ideologically. Although Bushiri was dead, his influence in the region remained.
Yogolelo Tambwe ya Kasimba and Hangi Shamamba
D. Biebuyck, “Kimu Society and Kitawala,” Zaire, Vol. XI, NO.1, January, 1957, pp. 7-40; M. Lovens, “The Revolt of the Masisi-Lubutu,” Cahiers du C.E.D.A.F., Nos. 3 and 4, 1974; F. Van Langenhove, Consciences tribales et nationales en Afrique noire, (“Tribal and National Consciousness in Black Africa”), Brussels, 1960. Ally S. Gambo, “L’extension du Kitawala au Kivu et dans la Haut Zaire, 1940-60, Cas de la Revolte de Masisi” (“The extension of Kitawala to Kivu and Upper Zaire, 194060, The Case of the Masisi Revolt”), history thesis, Universite National de Zaire (Lubumbashi), 1974. See also court documents of the trial of Bushiri at lterbo, and other official reports and documents.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography *(In 20 Volumes). *Volume Two: Sierra Leone-Zaire. Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1979. All rights reserved.