BaKongo Concepts of Health: A Tribute to Tata K.K. Bunseki Fu-Kiau by w Dr. Mark Bolden
In this fascinating presentation from D.O.P.E. 2014 Dr. Mark Bolden honors Tata K.K. Bunseki Fu-Kiau with a wide-ranging and powerful look at African perspectives on health, hip-hop and community.
Kotuswa mu Bukulu: The ancestralization of Tata Kimbandwe Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau*
by Mark A. Bolden, Ph.D. Washington DC Metro Chapter ABPsi The Fanon Project
Trinity Washington University
The passing of an elder is like the burning of a library according to Amadou Hampate Ba. Tata (Baba/father) Fu-Kiau informs us that the transition process is the setting of a sun from the upper world of the living, Ku Nseke, to the lower world of Ku Mpemba (Fu-Kiau, 1991, p. 8). One, particularly a master (fundi), becomes an nkulu (ancestor) by the virtue of leading a balanced life, which is evaluated by the bukulu (ancestors) and the living who choose to elevate the recent ancestor to the status of an nkulu (balanced ancestor). These proverbs fit well for our recent beloved Nkulu (ancestor) Tata K. K. Bunseki Fu-Kiau who went “on vacation” at the ripe age of 7 million and some seventy-odd years in December 2013. Dr. Fu-Kiau was an nganga (healer) initiated into the highest KiKongo systems of learning. He came to ABPsi formally through the conference in 2008 for our 40th anniversary celebration of ABPsi, on a panel devoted to the wisdom of traditional African religions along with Oulimata Seck, daughter of the ancestor Maam Fatou Seck and head ndeppkatt (practitioner of Ndepp) of the Sengelase tradition of Ndepp. It was there where he instructed us from the panel to protect the children, imploring elder Dr. Robert L. Williams to encircle the organization and to bestow his blessings and protection. It was a profound ritual to restore order in the moment of unrest within the audience and looming confusion. Moreover, it taught us that it is our responsibility to protect the children in our role as healers/therapists (mfied’i) of our community (boko) and patients (mbèvo).
To hear Tata Fu-Kiau is to hear an elder with the rich and beautiful African KiKongo accent, and the slow, deliberate, intentional speech and word choice to convey and communicate effectively the slow-cooked, readily edible wisdom for the ear. He would often remark that there is no English language or cultural equivalent to the KiBantu terms, phrases, and concepts when he wanted to stress that learning the language is prerequisite to learning the culture. To hear him is to sit patiently within oneself. He was not a spastic pontificator; he was measured, sure, and delicate in his speech. Through reading Mbongi, we can understand that his method and deliverance of speech is part of the KiBantu system of Kinzôni, which “as a branch of knowledge, the Kinzôni teaches administrative, organization, judiciary, clinical and diplomatic wisdom. As an art, it teaches and initiates in techniques and wisdom of “words” (speeches) and of eloquence (rhetoric) within the community.” (Fu-Kiau, 2007, p. 10) In one of his lectures available on the internet, he gave a profound overview and insightful instruction on the process of ancestralization. It is the quintessential Tata Fu-Kiau instruction.
While many of us indulged in the opportunity to learn the concepts associated with healing from the KiKongo traditions, what Tata Fu-Kiau possessed was a full system of understanding the African worldview from an African perspective in the KiBantu language. Tata Fu-Kiau taught us to speak powerful words powerfully, often saying that words could be bullets or medicine. Tata Fu-Kiau was similar to many of the powerful elder healers who embody the spirit and essence of the cultural group and African tradition from which they emerge. However, he had the additional process of being degreed in the western sense at the doctoral level in Education & Community Development (Ph.D.) and working in Suffolk County jail in Massachusetts as a librarian. Thus, he took what he knew to the people who needed it most. Thus, while some in our community may have met Tata Fu-Kiau in jail, the question emerges: when were you first introduced to Tata Fu-Kiau and his work? For some it came through the work of European scholars, specifically, R. F. Thompson, J. M. Janzen, or W. McGaffey, who introduced many of the concepts of the KiKongo traditions through being taught by Tata Fu-Kiau. Parenthetically, Tata Fu-Kiau had a self-portrait painting standing by a desk in a library with his hands on the stacked books of these scholars. It is a subtle signal that he touched the words on the pages of those books.
Others learned about Tata Fu-Kiau without the European middleman through a beautifully simple, slim black hard cover book containing the deep culture of the KiKongo entitled “Self Healing Power and Therapy.” It was from this book that we began to understand our Kongolese roots in the Americas, the concepts of kinenga (Balance) and ngolo (power), as we began the process of an intellectual eye opening (bulwa meso). We learned how the western process of single crop cultivation was destroying the polycrop diversity of the land and soul of the soil. Tata Fu-Kiau was already introducing us to the toxic nature of Western colonization in Africa. In this text, we came to know Tata Fu-Kiau himself and how he was learned in the western tradition later becoming a full human as he was initiated in his own systems as an adult between 1963-1973 under clandestine conditions and neo- colonial rule after the murder of the first democratically elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Afterwards, recognizing the importance of the indigenous learning institutions, he founded an institute to maintain these traditions in the Kongo. This process of collecting the wisdom of the indigenous learning institutions could be seen throughout his written works and presentations.
For example, we began to understand the concept of the Mbongi, not just as a meeting space for the boko (community) but a political institution where community members engaged in critical decision making processes in self-governance. Further, Mbongi offered an indigenous political economic system noting the inherent anti-Africanness of the Tumba/n’zo, or pyramidal/stockpiling capitalistic systems and noting how the African elite trained in western education were derelict in their duty to maintain these African systems when they embraced the western capitalist traditions. This indigenous horizontal economic system, the kimvwâma kia nkat’a dingo-dingo, provides for a spiral economy based upon the principle of kibôlebôle (collectivism). This value system of kibôlebôle, or togetherness, would then order an economic system in which the more that an individual accumulates, the more that individual is required to share with others. (Fu-Kiau, 2007, p. 66-69)
Tata Fu-Kiau (2007) linked capitalism and Christianity under the overall arching imperialism (Kimayâla) noting that the “success of Western religion in the Third World in general and in African in particular is the result of oppression and torture. Torture through colonial and neo-colonial oppression is the key success to western religion in Africa.” (p. 19) Tata Fu-Kiau was guiding Africans to return to the ancient, proven ways of the ancestors and eschew the ways of the European alien systems that have been part of the destruction of African systems, lands, agriculture, knowledge, katha wa katha (et cetera). For our business as Africans in the U.S., he has been urging us to connect to our African lands, languages, agricultural systems, economic models, and political organizations, for that is the work of healing our people. Ultimately, the powerful little book Mbongi, written circa 1981, is a revolutionary manual that introduces us to the local indigenous military, religious, socio-economic, and political rebellions in the Kongo intending to overthrow the African custodians of European (Belgian and/or otherwise) power.
We are thankful for the works of Tata Fu-Kiau and grateful for his family, fictive kin, friends, and students. Those African students who have expounded upon his work include linguist Dr. Obadele Kambon; the warriors including father and son Shaha and Khalil Maasi, Fundi Shakara, along with the countless capoeiristas and Angoleiros who practice the same traditions of Engolo brought from Angola and the Kongo to the Americas; scholar-dancers Dr. Yolonda Covington-Ward and Sister Rahema of Oakland by way of Africa; the publishers of his works including Paul Coates’ Black Classic Press; the African Psychologists who have employed his work including Dr. Huberta Jackson-Lowman, the Fanon Project, Drs. Wade and Vera Nobles, to name a few; and of course, the religious and cultural custodians of Palo including Danny Dawson and the countless others in the Caribbean, South America, and the Kongo. Again, we are all students of Tata Fu-Kiau and to our teacher we pay homage for having shared his kind, gentle spirit with us; for being the consummate, tireless elder and teacher who attended to our learning and healing and most importantly, re-Africanization. It is we, his students, who have interacted with him personally or have been touched by those students who share his words and work, or those who have interacted with his work directly who will carry on his legacy along with those Africans who are initiated directly into the systems that have informed and instructed Tata Fu-Kiau.
Foremost among those who are to be thanked is Dr. Ken Nunn. Baba Ken has taken on the lion share of the work coordinating the medical care and legal guardianship of Tata Fu-Kiau for the past few years. Those of us who have followed the caretaking of and fundraising for Tata Fu-Kiau have done so under the direction of Baba Ken. A recent interview conducted with Baba Ken Nunn on the legacy of Tata Fu-Kiau can be found at imixwhatilike.org. May the community of our strongest Kongolese and Pan- African healer and warrior bukulu (ancestors) welcome Tata Fu-Kiau as one of the brightest shining suns to ever rise from and set in Kalunga (ocean of radiating spirit). He leaves ABPsi with an explicit message and charge: “Finally, to my fellow Africans, especially those who constitute the modern therapy community, let this study be a step toward our own understanding so that we may solve the many African problems on the grounds of African reality. “ (Fu-Kiau, 1991, p. 3)
Fu-Kiau, K. K. (1991). Self-healing power and therapy: Old teachings from Africa. Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press
Fu-Kiau, K. K. (2007). Mbongi An African traditional political institution: A Eureka to the African Crisis. Atlanta, GA: African Djeli Publishers
Fu-Kiau, K. K. (2009). The Ancestors and our Connectedness to Them: The Real Power of Being. Video retrieved online at http://adiama.com/ancestralconnections/2009/12/18/the-ancestors-our- connectedness-to-them-ancient-teachings-from-the-kongo-by-dr-fu-kiau/
Nunn, K. Interview can be found at http://imixwhatilike.org/2013/12/07/fu-kiautribute retrieved on December 7, 2013.
* This is a revised reprint of an article published in the Winter 2014 Psych Discourse.