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RELIGIOUS INNOVATION AND POLITICAL CONFLICT IN ZAMBIA

The Lumpa rising (Part II)

Wim van Binsbergen

homepage | index page Lumpa | Part I | Part III | Part IV

The background of religious innovation in Zambia

Superstructural reconstruction

In every society the members have explicit and mutually shared ideas concerning the universe, society, and themselves. These ideas are supported by implicit, often unconscious cognitive structures such as are studied by structural and cognitive anthropology. The total arrangement of these elements can be called the symbolic order, or the superstructure. The superstructure defines a society’s central concerns, major institutions, and basic norms and values. Against these, actual behaviour can be evaluated in terms of good and evil, status and success. The superstructure is the central repository of meaning for the members of society. It offers them an explanatory framework. While thus satisfying the participants’ intellectual needs, the superstructure also, on the level of action, patterns behaviour in recognised, predictable units (roles), which the participants learn in the course of their socialisation. Thus the superstructure provides the participants with a sense of meaningfulness and competence in their dealings with each other and with the non-human world. Ritual and ceremonies, as well as internalisation in the personality structure of individual members of society, reinforce the superstructure and let it persist over time.

                        On the other hand, every society has what we can call an infrastructure: the organisation of the production upon which the participants’ lives depend, and particularly such differential distribution of power and resources as dominate the relations of production.

                        There is no simple solution for the long-standing problem of the relation between superstructure and infrastructure. The problem is particularly manifest in the study of religious innovation, political ideology and mass mobilisation. When studied in some concrete setting, it is often possible to determine the infrastructural conditions accompanying these phenomena; yet superstructural elements - the participants’ explicit or implicit ideas - often appear as direct and major factors in these contexts. The problem becomes acute in situations of rapid change. For in a relatively stable situation infrastructure and superstructure are likely to be attuned to each other. The superstructure conveys meaning and competence, which are ultimately derived from the way in which the superstructure expresses, reinforces and legitimates the infrastructure But in situations of rapid change the relative autonomy of infrastructure and superstructure becomes more pronounced. As the infrastructure undergoes profound changes, the superstructure has no longer a grip on, is no longer fundamentally relevant to, the practical experience of participants in economic life. The superstructure therefore ceases to convey meaning and competence. This creates in the participants existential problems: the subjective experience of alienation. For these problems two solutions exist. Upon the debris of an obsolete superstructure, the participants may try to construct a new superstructure that is more in line with the altered relations of production; I shall call this superstructural reconstruction. Alternatively, participants may attack the alienation problem on the infrastructural level: reversing or redefining, once more, the altered distribution of power and resources and the production process as a whole, so as to bring it in line again with their superstructure that has remained virtually unaltered.

                        A dialectical relation exists between such infrastructural reconstruction and the superstructural solution. For infrastructural reconstruction requires the co-ordinated action of a large number of individuals; to enable this, new superstructural elements (ideology, new roles within new groups) have to be created. On the other hand, participants take to superstructural reconstruction in response, in the first instance, to their individual existential problems, and not on the basis of a detached scientific analysis of their society’s changed infrastructure; in other words, the new ideas the participants produce derive at first from the symbolic order and do not necessarily correspond closely with the altered infrastructure. Therefore, their experiments with new ideas, even if ultimately called forth by infrastructural change, may often miss the mark and, failing to restore the correspondence between superstructure and infrastructure, may instead lead on to a new symbolic order that is just as remote as their old superstructure from current infrastructural conditions.

                        The emergence of a new superstructure is a highly creative process. It requires the efforts of visionary individuals who experiment with both old and new symbols (the latter invented, or introduced from elsewhere). The innovators generate new combinations and permutations of their symbolic material, and offer their tentative results to the surrounding population. This population shares with the innovators in their midst problems of interpretation and competence, as caused by the divorce between infrastructure and superstructure. Therefore, an innovator’s proposal of a new superstructure (as one individual’s solution to his own problems) may yet appeal to the population at large as a likely solution of their own, similar problems of alienation.

                        The visionary’s proposal is therefore likely to be adopted at first. On the subjective level, it may give psychological relief, as long as the participants are confident that the longed-for solution has been found. But whether the proposed superstructural innovation actually does or does not correspond more closely than the old superstructure with the altered infrastructure will not be immediately clear. The participants will find this out gradually, by on the one hand living through their superstructural innovation, on the other hand continuing to participate in the altered relations of production. In most cases the superstructural reconstruction attempt will turn out to be off the mark. After initial success it will die down, as the people become increasingly aware that the new ideas do not fundamentally relate to the actually prevailing structure of production. Sometimes, however, superstructural innovation may tune in with the altered relations of production, and in this way the subjective experience of alienation may be dissolved. A truly revolutionary situation occurs when superstructural innovation at the same time stipulates such infrastructural changes as curb alienation at the infrastructural level, i.e., in terms of expropriation and control. Then a lasting change of the society becomes possible.

                        Meanwhile, in order to work at all if only during a short time, attempts at superstructural reconstruction apparently have to do three things. First, they have to propound a new arrangement of symbols. Thus they can restore the sense of meaningfulness, subjectively and temporarily, even if the infrastructure from which such meaningfulness ultimately derives is left unaffected. Such a new arrangement of symbols must then focus on symbols that are eminently effective and unassailable in the eyes of the participants. The new superstructural reconstruction may be predominantly religious (e.g., Lumpa), political (e.g., Zambian nationalism), or presumably take some other course; essential is, in all these cases, that the central symbols appear absolute to the participants.

                        Second, superstructural reconstruction must restore the sense of competence by stipulating new forms of action. This action may vary from collective ritual to campaigns to check party cards (such as have been conducted by UNIP members in Zambia). it is important that participants are brought to look upon such action as bringing about the new, desired social order where their alienation problems will no longer exist. At the same time these actions translate the movement’s central symbols into the context of tangible, lived-through reality, thus reinforcing them.

                        Finally, attempts at superstructural reconstruction, in order to be at least initially successful, cannot stop at the level of merely individual interpretations and actions, but must create new group structures (e.g., restructured rural communities, churches, political parties) within which the participants can lead their new lives once their alienation problems have been solved subjectively. The agents of superstructural reconstruction will have to present recruitment into these new groups as the solution to the alienation problems of individual people. Expansion of the new group is often considered the main method to create a new society.

 

Religious innovation in Zambia as superstructural reconstruction

As Vansina pointed out,[1] throughout Central Africa a fairly similar superstructure prevailed before the recent processes of social change made their impact. On the infrastructural level, two major changes occurred since the eighteenth century. The first consisted in the increasing involvement of local farming, fishing and hunting communities (which until then had been largely self-contained) in a new mode of production that was dominated by long-distance trade and by the payment of tribute to the states that emerged in Central Africa, partly as a result of such trade.

                        The second major infrastructural change was the penetration of capitalism. Directly, capitalism induced the rural population to leave their villages and work as migrant labourers in the mines, farms and towns of Central and Southern Africa; to adapt their rural economy, and increasingly their total life, to the consumption of manufactured commodities; and, in selected areas, to embark on small-scale capitalist agricultural production. Indirectly, the infrastructural accommodation to capitalism was promoted by the colonial state; e.g., by the imposition of hut tax; the destruction of pre-existing networks of trade and tribute; the transformation of indigenous rulers into petty administrators for the colonial state; the regulation of migration between the rural areas and the places of work; the provision of schools to serve the need for skilled workers and clerks; urban housing; medical services; the occasional promotion of African commercial farming, etc. Admittedly, the relations between the colonial state and capitalism are rather more complex than suggested here, and failure to work out these relations (even although such had been impossible within the scope of the present chapter  ) is one of the shortcomings of my argument.

                        The emergence of the trade-tribute mode of production and the expansion of capitalism both constituted infrastructural changes of sufficient scope to provide test cases for my provisional theory of superstructural reconstruction. There is no a priori reason why disjunction between an altered infrastructure and an old superstructure should lead to predominantly religious superstructural reconstruction. Historical evidence on Central Africa is still rather scanty for the pre-colonial period, but rather abundant for the colonial era. From this evidence one gets the impression that religious innovation has for long constituted the main response to recent infrastructural change. Only after the Second World War mass nationalism appeared as a political form of superstructural reconstruction, in addition to current religious innovation. Probably this preponderance of religious superstructural reconstruction has systematic reasons which a more developed theory may identify in future.

                        An important ad hoc explanation seems to lie in the fact that among twentieth-century Zambians the concepts of politics as a distinct sector of society is a recent innovation. The modern concept of politics, just like that of religion, can only be meaningful among the members of a highly differentiated, complex society, where institutional spheres have acquired considerable autonomy vis-_-vis one another. Contemporary Zambia has become such a society. But sections of the rural population continue to reject this differentiated view of politics. Instead they have a rather holistic conception of society, in which religious, political and economic power merge to a considerable extent.[2] in this respect many peasants have retained the basic outlook of the old superstructure, in which religious and non-religious aspects appear to have merged almost entirely.

                        In the old superstructure, the link with the local dead was the main legitimation for residence, political office, and for such a variety of specialist roles as divining, healing, hunting, iron-working and musical crafts. Through residence, veneration of the local dead, and ritual focusing on land spirits, a special ritual link with the land was established. Without such a link no success could be expected in economically vital undertakings such as agriculture, fishing, hunting and collecting. The participant’s view of the society and of an individual’s career arranged village life, the economic process, politics and ritual in one comprehensive framework, where each part had meaning by reference to all others. This view was, therefore, religious as much as it was political or economic. When the trade-tribute mode of production expanded, the emergent major chiefs initially had to legitimise their political and economic power in terms of this same view of society. Chiefly cults came up which enabled the chiefs to claim ritual power over the land’s fertility, either through ritual links with deceased predecessors, or through non-royal priests or councillors representing the original ‘owners of the land’.[3] Thus, as a result of infrastructural change, symbolic themes already present in the superstructure were redefined; a new power distribution was acknowledged in the superstructure; and a pattern that in the old superstructure referred to merely local conditions was now applied to extensive regional political structures which often comprised more than one ethnic group. However, in this altered superstructure the merging between religious and political aspects was still largely retained.

                        Along with these chiefly cults, two other types of religious innovation can be traced back to the late pre-colonial period and to the infrastructural changes then occurring: the appearance of prophets and the emergence of cults of affliction. Cults of affliction concentrate on the individual, whose physical and/or mental suffering they interpret in terms of possession by a specific spirit, whilst treatment mainly consists of initiation as a member of the cult venerating that spirit. Central African prophets and the movements they trigger fall into three subtypes: the ecological prophet whose main concern is with fertility and the land; the eschatological prophet who predicts the imminent end of the world such as it is known to his audience; and the affliction prophet who establishes a new, regionally-organised cult of affliction, which in many respects resembles an independent church. For an initial treatment of these main types, and references, I refer to Carter[4] and my own work[5]. Prophetic cults of these sub-types, and cults of affliction, have continued to appear in Central Africa during the colonial period, and still represent major forms of religion among the Central African peasants. But in addition the colonial era saw new types of religious innovation. Preachers and dippers (advocating baptism through immersion) appeared. They were connected, some more closely than others, with the African Watchtower movement, which in itself derived indirectly from the North American Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were other independent churches which pursued more or less clearly a Christian idiom. Finally, mission Christianity had in fact penetrated before the imposition of colonial rule (1900), but started to gain momentum much later.

                        Let us first consider all these cases of religious innovation as superstructural experiments, which propounded a new symbolic order.

                        Despite their differences in idiom, ritual and organisational structure, it is amazing to see how the same few trends in symbolic development dominate them all.[6] All struggle with the conception of time. The cyclical present implicit in the old superstructure (highlighting agriculture, hunting, and gathering on the scale of the small village community) becomes obsolete. In the course of these religious innovations, it gives way to a linear time perspective that emphasises personal careers and historical development, even to the extent of interpreting history as a process of salvation in the Christian sense.[7] In some of these religious innovations, the linear perspective is again supplanted by the eschatological: the acute sense of time drawing to an end. Moreover, almost all these innovations try to move away from the ‘ecological’ concern for the land and fertility that dominated the old superstructure. The village dead as major supernatural entities venerated in ritual give way to other, less particularistic entities, especially the High God.

                        In line with this, all these innovations tend to move away from taking the old village community, in its archetypical form, as the basic concept of society. In the cults of affliction this process manifests itself in their extreme emphasis on the suffering individual, and their underplaying of morality and social obligations. In some of the other religious innovations the same process reaches further: they explicitly strive towards the creation of a new and fundamentally different community, a new society to be brought about by the new religious inspiration and new ritual.

                        Finally, in so far as in the old superstructure sorcery was considered the main threat to human society, these religious innovations each try to formulate alternatives to sorcery. The cults of affliction and the mission churches attribute misfortune and suffering to causes altogether different from those indicated by sorcery. Most of the other innovations continue to accept the reality of sorcery but try to eradicate it once for all so as to make the new, transformed community possible.

                        The constant occurrence of these themes throughout recent religious innovation in Central Africa suggests that underneath the several types, each representing scores of individual religious movements, one overall and persistent process of superstructural change took place, in which the same symbolic material was manipulated within rather narrow limits.

                        When we try to relate these superstructural experiments to infrastructural change, it becomes necessary to distinguish between two main streams of superstructural reconstruction. One stream is of exclusively rural origin; the religious innovators and their followers are peasants. This applies to cults of affliction, and to the cults created by ecological, eschatological and affliction prophets. The other stream springs from what we can provisionally call the ‘intensive contact situation’. This comprises the places of work which attracted labour migrants from throughout Central Africa (mines, farms and towns) and the rural extensions of these centres: district administrative centres (bomas); rural Christian missions; and military campaigns involving thousands of African carriers, and fewer soldiers, near the Zambian-Tanzanian border in the First World War. Watchtower dippers and preachers, other independent churches, and mission Christianity are the religious innovations belonging to this second stream. The two streams roughly coincide with the division rural-urban. But the following argument will make clear that much more is involved than a purely geographical or demographic criterion. This justifies my classifying of such countryside phenomena as bomas, missions, farms and military campaigns in the second stream.

                        Typical of the first, truly rural stream is that it comprises people still largely involved in a pre-capitalist mode of production: shifting cultivation, hunting and gathering. State expansion (before and after the imposition of colonial rule) and the impact of capitalism have infringed on their local autonomy, draining their products and labour force (through slave-raiding, tribute, forced labour and urbanisation) and encroaching on their rights on local land, hunting and fishing (e.g., by the creation of chiefs’ hunting reserves, and later by the founding of commercial farms, town, mines, native reserves and forest reserves). The infrastructure of their local society has been deeply affected by these developments. From free, autonomous farmers whose system of production was effectively contained within their social horizon and subject to their own control, they became a peasant class in a world-wide society.

                        But while the facts of this process of incorporation and expropriation are unmistakable and have come to affect every aspect of village life, the agents of control in their new situation have largely remained invisible at the village level. The physical outlets of the state and of the capitalist economy were confined to the district centres and the towns along the line of rail, outside the everyday experience of the peasants. Particularly after the creation of indirect rule (around 1930), administrators and peasants alike could foster the illusion of an essentially intact ‘traditional’ society whose time-honoured social institutions, though heavily assailed (after all, there was the reality of incorporation and alienation), were still functioning. Under these circumstances, the rural population’s reaction against being forced into a peasant class position could hardly be expected to confront directly the outside forces responsible for their expropriation. One does not expect strongly anti-colonial responses in this context. A pre-condition for such responses would have been that the peasants had acquired some explicit assessment of the power situation in the wider society in so far as this affected their situation - and were prepared to challenge these structures. But as Gluckman pointed out in one of his most comprehensive analyses of political change in Southern and Central Africa:[8]

There were plenty of hostilities [between black and white]; but they did not continually affect the daily life of Africans; and the picture of Africans in constant and unceasing antagonism to whites is false for the rural areas.

Instead, the peasants sought a solution for their predicament of alienation entirely at the local level; and not primarily through the creation of new relations of production, but mainly through the formulation of a new superstructure. The innovators’ messages and their ritual, though explicable from the predicament of ‘peasantisation’, in nearly all cases remained without overt references to this predicament. The various rural-based religious innovations were attempts to render, on a local scale, village life once again meaningful by reference to new symbols, restoring the sense of competence by new ritual. Whereas the cults of affliction attempted to do this on the exclusively individual level (and thus dealt with only part of the problem, even at the mere superstructural level), the various prophetic cults went further; they aimed at ushering the local population into a radically new community. Usually this community was conceived entirely in ritual terms. Most prophetic cults did not attempt to work out the infrastructural requirements, in terms of relations of production, by which such a new community might really have formed a lasting answer to the predicament of peasantisation. Lumpa was an important exception to this. Divorced from a production base, in other words entirely based on an illusion, most cults of affliction and prophetic cults soon lost their vigour. But their idiom remained attractive: in many regions we see a succession of such cults, at intervals of a few years or decades. The second stream of superstructural reconstruction sprang from a quite different social situation. In the places of migrant work, the bomas, the missions, and while involved in a military campaign, the Africans experienced the distant effects of the expansion of state systems and capitalism. In general, they were born and raised within the peasant context indicated above, retaining more or less close links with their rural kin. yet they had entered into a different class position, or were on their way to doing so. They lived outside their villages, in a social setting dominated not by the inclusive, reciprocal social relationships typical of the village, but by formal organisations, patterned after those of modern North Atlantic society. Their daily working experience was determined by forms of control characteristic of capitalist relations of production. In this situation, their livelihood was entirely dependent upon their taking part in the production process as wage-labourers. Therefore their class positions was largely that of proletarians, even though the majority attempted to keep open the lines back into the village, and still had rights to rural land should they return home.

                        The forces of the state and capitalism, that in the villages remained distant, anonymous and often below the threshold of explicit awareness, were in this proletarian situation blatantly manifest. These forces pervaded every aspect of the worker’s social experience, and found a personified manifestation in concrete people: white employers, foremen, administrative officers and missionaries. Exploitation, economic insecurity, humiliation and racial intimidation were the specific forms in which the causes of the African predicament were visibly driven home in this situation.

                        Essentially all this applies equally to the rural Christian missions. I am not denying that the flavour of human relations in the missions may have been somewhat more humanitarian than at the migrants’ places of work. But infrastructurally the missions represented a social setting very similar to the latter, in such terms as: formal, bureaucratic forms of organisation and control; race relations; predominance of capitalism, as manifested in exclusive land rights wage labour. and distribution of manufactured commodities.[9]

                        Africans in the intensive contact situation were experiencing problems of alienation rather similar to those of their kinsmen in the village. But their response had to be different. Well advanced in the process of proletarisation, they had acquired a working knowledge and understanding of capitalist structures. They could no longer take the strictly local, rural scene as their exclusive frame of reference. Like the peasants, they felt the existential need for reconstruction, but then reconstruction of the wider society and particularly of those manifest (albeit often secondary) aspects of the power distribution therein that had caused their most bitter experiences.

                        For many thousands of people in colonial Zambia, mission-propagated Christianity seemed to provide the solution they were looking for. This religious innovation promised a new life and a new society. Its organisational structure as well as its moral and ethical codes were, not surprisingly, well attuned to colonial society and capitalism. However, for this very reason conversion did not solve the predicament of alienation; it added but a new dimension to it. A substantial proportion of independent Christian churches in Zambia were founded as a result of African converts realising that joining a mission church had by no means offered them the solution for the problems engendered by the intensive contact situation.

                        In this intensive contact situation a general and explicit reaction was generated against white domination in both the political and the religious field. Springing from the same setting, the political and religious responses were rather parallel and initially merged to a considerable degree. African Watchtower and other independent churches (along with the black-controlled African Methodist Episcopal Church, as introduced from North America via South Africa), are the more predominantly religious manifestations of the second, non-rural stream of superstructural reconstruction. The political manifestations led through Welfare Societies and labour agitation at the Copperbelt to the nationalist movement which took a concrete form after the Second World War.

                        Given the fact of circulatory labour migration, in which a large proportion of the Central African male population was involved, the two streams of superstructural reconstruction could not remain entirely screened off from each other. Significant exchanges took place between the superstructural responses of peasantisation and those of proletarisation. [ consider: proletarianisation ] The introduction of peasant cults of affliction into the intensive contact situation is a common phenomenon in Central Africa.[10] Alternatively, the ‘proletarian’ superstructural responses were soon propagated in the rural areas as well. As the social settings of proletarisation and peasantisation were very different, the innovations had to undergo substantial transformations as they crossed from one setting to the other. The case of the Zambia Nzila sect shows how a cult of affliction, when introduced into the setting of proletarisation, could take on a formal organisational structure and develop into a fully-fledged and exceptionally successful independent church.

                        African Watchtower shows the opposite process, by which a religious innovation properly belonging to the proletarian context is greatly transformed so as to fit the context of peasantisation.[11] in the late 1920s and the 1930s Watchtower was propagated in the rural areas of Central Africa on a very large scale. The proletarian preachers and dippers expressed anti-colonial attitudes, and attracted state persecution on this basis. However, the massive peasant audiences they inspired and brought to baptism seemed to respond less to their anti-colonialism and their analysis of the wider society. Instead the peasants were looking for reconstruction of just the local, rural society by ritual means, and therefore chose to emphasise selectively the eschatological and witch-cleansing elements in the preachers’ messages. And the latter were not hesitant to oblige. A case in point is the rapid transformation of Tomo Nyirenda (‘Mwana Lesa’) from an orthodox Watchtower adherent in the typical intensive contact situation, to a self-styled rural witch-finder whose lethal efficiency cost scores of lives (and finally his own).[12]

                        Nyirenda’s case appears to have been only an extreme example of what seems to have happened to many Watchtower preachers. Their messages, deriving from a different class situation, were rapidly attuned to the idiom in which the peasants were phrasing their own attempts at superstructural reconstruction. The specific Watchtower message, including its anti-colonial overtones, got lost behind the peasants’ perception of the preachers as predominantly engaged in the eradication of sorcery. They were supposed to usher the local society into a radically new state, but on a strictly local scale and ignoring the wider colonial and capitalist conditions which had both intensified the predicament of peasantisation, and had originally triggered the proletarian Watchtower response.

                        By no means all religious innovators who exhorted local rural communities to cleanse themselves from sorcery had Watchtower connotations. Some were channelled into other independent church movements. Others were individual innovators who adopted elements from the current idiom (dipping, hymn-singing, or the use of a Bible and other material paraphernalia for the identification and cleansing of sorcerers) without identifying themselves as belonging to any specific movement. Many claimed, or were regarded, to belong to the Mchape movement, which from Malawi spread over Central Africa from the 1920s onwards. Several other such movements have been described for Zambia and the surrounding areas.[13]

                        Willis[14] has aptly characterised the common purpose of all these rural movements with the phrase ‘instant millennium’. Unlike cargo cults and many other millennarian movements, these Central African witch-cleansing cults not only contained the expectation of a radically different new society: they actually claimed to provide the apparatus and ritual that was to bring about this new society. Despite waves of religious innovation that had temporarily superimposed alternative interpretations, sorcery had remained the standard explanation for misfortune. In such a context the claim to remove all sorcery from the community inevitably amounts to nothing less than the creation of a realm of eternal bliss, of a community that belongs to a totally different order of existence. Mary Douglas[15] suggested that recurrent witch-cleansing cults form part and parcel of the ‘traditional’ set-up of Central African rural society. My interpretation would be rather different .

                        Admittedly, the well-known debate[16] on the methodological difficulties involved in the hypothesis that modern social change had led to an increase of sorcery and sorcery accusation, discourages any further argument along that line. Instead of a change in the incidence of sorcery or alleged sorcery, I would suggest that the significant element of change lay in the personnel and the idiom of witch-cleansing. This is again not something that is easily assessed for an illiterate past, but at least it is a qualitative instead of an unsolvable  [ check ] quantitative problem. In the old superstructure, sorcery formed the central moral issue. The necessity to control sorcery and to expose and eliminate sorcerers was fully acknowledged. These functions were the prerogatives of those exercising political and religious authority, or were largely controlled by the latter. The battle against sorcery was waged continually and formed a major test for the amount of protection and well-being those in authority could offer their followers.

                        The removal overnight of all sorcerers, as in eradication movements, does not by any means fit into this pattern. The cyclical time perception characteristic of the old superstructure is likewise incompatible with the idea of ‘instant millennium’. These millennarian expectations, the recruitment of witch-cleansing agents from amongst outsiders divorced from local foci of authority (even if often invited and protected by chiefs), the new symbols (dipping, the High God, hymns and sermons), the massive response which made the populations of entire villages and regions step forward, hand in their sorcery apparatus, and get cleansed all this suggests not a recurrent ‘traditional’ phenomenon, but a dramatic attempt at superstructural reconstruction that properly belongs to the chapter of recent religious innovation in Central Africa.

 

Superstructural reconstruction, class struggle and the state

On the descriptive levels I have now prepared the ground for an interpretation of Lumpa against the total background of recent religious and political movements in Central Africa. For a fuller understanding it is necessary to examine this material in the light of two fundamental issues: class struggle and the overall distribution of power. We touch here on basic problems of both modern African society and social theory. Therefore, as I rush in where angels fear to tread, the following ideas are offered as extremely tentative.

                        I have argued that the various superstructural reconstruction movements were peculiar to the two specific class situations of peasantisation and proletarisation. However, they were much more than mere sub-cultural traits contributing to the life-style of a social class (such as diet, fashion in clothing, patterns of recreation, etc.). Directly springing from the predicament of alienation, and trying to solve it, these movements should be recognised as manifestations of class struggle.

                        Here the broad distinction between the peasant stream and the proletarian stream is relevant, again. The various peasant responses reveal the attempt to reconstruct a whole, self-supporting, autonomous rural community. Trapped as they usually were in superstructural illusions, ignoring the infrastructural requirements (in terms of relations of production) for such a reconstruction, most of these attempts were unrealistic and failed entirely. Yet in essence they are extremely radical in that they attempt to reverse the process of peasantisation, by denying the rural community’s incapsulation in a wider colonial and capitalist system. By contrast, the ‘urban’ responses were decidedly less radical. For they took for granted the fundamental structure of capitalism, and aimed not at an overthrow of capitalist relations of production, but at material and psychological improvement of the proletarian experience within this overall structure. Thus in Zambia the proletarian class struggle in the trappings of African nationalism was fought within the terms of the very structure that had brought about the process of proletarisation; it was reformist, not revolutionary. Thus Zambian nationalism, having emerged as the main response to proletarization,[17] entirely lost its aspect of class struggle. After UNIP brought about territorial independence, this nationalist party and its leaders have instead greatly enhanced state control as a means to consolidate the capitalist structure of Zambian society. The capitalist infrastructure was left intact, and after the replacement of this structure’s white executive personnel by Africans, its further expansion was stimulated. The growth of UNIP in the rural areas, where the party increasingly implements and controls state-promoted projects of ‘rural development’, represents a further phase in the domination of rural communities by the state and capitalism.

                        Within the proletarian response Watchtower came closest to radical class struggle. It did not analyse and counteract the capitalist relations of production. On the contrary, Watchtower adherents have been described as quite successfully adapted to capitalist production. This was particularly the case when the movement, introduced into the rural areas, could resist the peasants’ redefinition of its idiom in terms of witch-cleansing, and enduring Watchtower communities emerged.[18] However, Watchtower radicalism did show in its theocratic rejection of the authority of the state - both colonial and post-colonial. Watchtower has thus opposed a structure of domination that, as I indicated above, was closely linked to capitalist structures.

                        This rejection of the state also brought Watchtower close to the peasants’ reconstruction attempts. For although the latter were not explicitly anti-state or anti-colonial, their insistence on a strictly local rural society left no room whatever for structures of control beyond the local level.

                        Most Central African peasant reconstruction movements were of limited scope, organisationally weak, and lacked infrastructural initiatives. This caused them, in general, to yield and die down as soon as effectively confronted with the power of the state. Lumpa, however, shows the great potential of these movements, once they comprise a sufficient number of people and explore, in addition to superstructural reconstruction, the possibility of infrastructural reconstruction.

                        Incorporation of rural communities in a system of state control under capitalist conditions is not only an infrastructural problem. The superstructural innovations discussed here emphasised the importance of people’s conceptualisation of their society, and of their own place therein. It is impossible to build a state on sheer coercion alone, and anyway the Zambian leaders would seem to abhor the very idea. In addition to actual control through effective structures, the Zambian state seeks legitimacy in the eyes of its subjects. In the present-day context it is therefore of great importance that the state, as the culmination of supra-local control, has remained a distant and alien element in the social perception of many Zambian peasants, also after independence. The colonial state, for various reasons, was contented to have only a distant grip on rural villages, and concentrated its efforts in the bomas and in the urban centres. The post-colonial state is now struggling for both effective domination and acceptance right down to the grass-roots level of the remotest villages. Expansion of the party and of other rural foci of state control (schools, clinics, agricultural extensions and courts) in itself cannot take away the fact that the state still has not legitimated itself entirely in the eyes of a considerable portion of the Zambian peasantry. This situation causes strain and insecurity among the Zambian leaders, and they tend to react forcibly against rural (or whatever other) challenges of their power and legitimacy. Of this Lumpa, again, offers an example.


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[1]                      Vansina (1966): 19f.

[2]                      Van Binsbergen (forthcoming (a)).

[3]                      Van Binsbergen 1979b, this volume, chapter 3.

[4]                      Carter (1972).

[5]                      Van Binsbergen (1972b, this volume, chapter 2); 1976a (cf. chapter 4),1977a (chapter 5); cf. this volume, chapters I and 7.

[6]                      Van Binsbergen (1976a); cf. this volume, chapter 4.

[7]                      Eliade (1949).

[8]                        Gluckman (1971).

[9]                      Rotberg (1965).

[10]                   Cf. this volume, chapters 6 and 7.

[11]                   On Nzila, see Muntemba (1972b); Van Binsbergen (1977a, this volume, chapter 5). on Watchtower in the period indicated, see, e.g., Hooker (1965); Assimeng (1970); Rotberg (1967):136f; Greschat (1967); Cross (1970, 1973) and by that same author a number of unpublished papers which I have no authority to cite. Hooker’s reference (1965 :99) to Watchtower in Kasempa district, north-western Zambia, as early as 1913 (instead of the correct date of the 1930s) is based on a mis-reading of Chibanza (1961 :81). In the 1910s, African Watchtower in Zambia was confined to the extreme north-east, where it was closely connected with the military campaign against the Germans in Tanzania, during the First World War (Meebelo, 1971: 133f; Rotberg, 1967:136f.). Much of African Watchtower in Zambia indirectly derived from the movement of John Chilembwe in Malawi, which ended in the 1915 rising (Shepperson and Price, 1958; for a recent reinterpretation cf. Linden and Linden, 1971). My views on the rural adaptation process in Watchtower are based not only on secondary literature, but also on the events in rural western Zambia in the 1920s and 1930s, as documented in Zambia National Archives files: KDD 1/4/1; ZA 1/9/181/(3); KDD 1/2/l; KDE8/1/18; ZA7/1/16/3;KSX l/l/I; ZA7/1/17/ 5; SEC/NAT/66A; ZA 1/15/M/I; SEC/NAT/393; ZA 1/9/62/1/6; ZA 1/10/file no. 62; ZA 1/10/vol. 3, no. 4; ZA 1/15/M/2.

[12]                   Rotberg (1967):142f; Ranger (1975).

[13]                   Ranger (1972a); Willis provides a lengthy bibliography (1970), including all the classic references; specifically for north-eastern Zambia - the area of the Lumpa Church - cf. Roberts 1972 :4f., 8f.

[14]                   Willis (1970).

[15]                   Douglas (1963).

[16]                   Aptly summarised in B.R. Wilson (1975):56.

[17]                        Henderson (1970a). A fascinating study could be written on the use of socialist catchwords, the adoption of Zambian humanism as a conveniently evasive ideology and the yielding to capitalist constraints and temptations among the Zambian nationalist leaders;cf. the useful remarks in Molteno (1974):80f., and Molteno and Tordoff (1974):388f.

[18]                        Examples of such successful latter-day Watchtower communities are described by Long (1968) and Cross (e .g.,1970).


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