The Pilgrimage of ECUSE – Democratic Republic of Congo 2009

And let men and beasts be covered with sackcloth, and cry to the Lord with all their strength, and let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the iniquity that is in their hands.

Jonas 3.8 

It is 10 pm in the village of Mbanza Zambi in the province of Bas Congo. In the halo of dust-gorged headlights, a never-ending ballet of uncertain trucks and buses crammed to the hilt, pour out their flows of men and women constricted in St. Sulpice coloured suits. Since early morning, the ECUSE faithful have arrived en masse to pay tribute to Tata Ngonda Wasilwa. Their God.The various parishes in Kinshasa, as well as those of neighboring provinces, of Congo Brazzaville and of Angola, have started settling in the courtyard of the school, along the paths and in the plots. The faithful sing, while pastors frantically recite verses from the Bible. Under the acronym ECUSE (Christian Church of the Holy Spirit Union) lies a new Congolese mystical movement, a mixture of Christianity and Africaness. Its doctrine, « Ngondism » presents itself as the religion of Africans in the direct lineage of Prophet Simon Kimbangu and Jesus.

The movement appeared in the 1980s. Legend has it that in 1982 Tata Ngonda was struck by a celestial vision in which God asked him to save Congo and Humanity as a whole. The man then left the capital to reach Mbanza Zambia. Inspired by the biblical stories of Jonah and the Apocalypse, he dressed in burlap and covered his body with ashes. He was soon imitated by dozens of apostles who, like him, wanted to wash their sins and save humanity, imploring the divine mercy: « We mourn so that God will listen to us, good will triumph over evil … We must pray to be spared. God will strike where he is not respected » explains one of them.
« Wearing the sackcloth is for bearing lamentation, » says the oldest of the Nkotists (of Nkoto, bag, Kikongo): « It’s a sign of distress, grief, humiliation. »

Their days are made up of prayers (every three hours), incantations, and working the land. Success is exponential: five hundred followers joined the church in the early months. In the late 1990s there were no less than 2000 praying to Ngonda Tata, the new Messiah, « incarnation of the Holy Spirit on Earth. » But in January 2001, stupor: the spiritual incarnation died. He left behind no direct heir. The race for succession  raged. Yet the movement survived, and after a few hiccups, believes again. New churches open in Kinshasa and in all other districts. Every first Sunday in October, Ecusians return in mass to celebrate the Matondo (« thanking », in Kikongo) marking the transition of a new liturgical year. It is also an opportunity for hundreds of pilgrims living in Kinshasa to visit the mausoleum of Tata Ngonda and to be blessed by Nkotists. Three days of mystical delirium, mixing prayers, political speeches and sermons given to the sound of the fanfare and liturgical songs.