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Africa's Modern History: The Oldest African Dictionary Written In 1651 by Nzita: 6:41pm On Sep 16, 2013
Dear everyone,
I take the opportunity to forward you Mbuta Edouard NSIMBA’s posting that highlights the main points associated with the compilation and publication of the First and Oldest African Dictionary by the Great African Intellectual of the second half of the 17th Century - Mbuta Manuel ROBOREDO - from Kongo dia Ntotila (= Kingdom of Kongo). To easy your reading, I have clarified below the meaning of some of the terms associated with the posting and the Kingdom of Kongo (=Kongo Dia Ntotila).

The « Greater Kingdom of Kongo » includes « the Inner Kingdom of Kongo » and « the Outer Kingdom of Kongo » in the same way that the Greater London consists of Outer London and Inner London. The German Confederation (Austria, Prussia and the independent German Confederation states), is perhaps a more suitable contemporary comparison bearing in mind that Adolf HITLER was born in Austria.
The term Mbuta means “Sir”, “Gentleman”, or “Master” in « KIKONGO », the language of the Kongo people, which is also called “KONGO”. Thus, for instance the « Kikongo - English Dictionary» or « Kongo - English Dictionary ». As it is already clear, « Kongo Dia Ntotila »” is the (Ki)Kongo name for the “Kingdom of Kongo”. The inhabitants of Kongo Dia Ntotila are called « Besi Kongo » or simply « Kongo » in short. Besi is le plural of Mwisi, an inhabitant.

The 19th Century Berlin Act 1885 creations - The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of Congo Brazzaville – draw their name « Congo » from the Kikongo term « Kongo » with the letter “K” substituted for “C”. The Kingdom of Kongo was dissolved and split in four parts in 1885. As a result, the Kongo people found themselves in four countries, artificially created by the signatories of the Berlin Act: Western part of the DRC (Kongo-Central) and of the Republic of Congo Brazzaville, in North and South-Western Atlantic Coast of Angola and the enclave of Cabinda, and in South-West Gabon. This leads to an additional clarification. A « Kongolese » means an inhabitant of the ancient Kingdom of Kongo whereas a « Congolese » is an inhabitant either of the DRC or of the Republic of Congo Brazzaville. So, the terms Kongo and Kongolese are not substitutes for Congo and Congolese.

Mbuta Nsimba’s comments and the University of Boston’s original and ground-breaking article are given below.
I wish you all a serene reading.

Nzita NN


From Mbuta Ed. Nsimba
(This is a French translation)

Dear All,
This article consists of four sections. The first section introduces a great modern African intellectual, the late “Ne-Kongo” or simply the “Kongo” Mbuta Manuel ROBOREDO, and a leading co-author of the world oldest Bantu dictionary published in 1651 in three languages: Kikongo - Latin – Spanish. Manuel Roboredo was not as lucky as his compatriot Mbuta NLEMVO and his research team, whose contribution was recognized by the Anglo-Saxon Baptist Missionary (see my posting: dictionary, grammar and syntax of Kikongo published first in 1887 and the second edition in 1895. It is worth noting that Mbuta Nlemvo’s and the Anglo-Saxon Baptist Missionaries’ dictionary was a bilingual dictionary: Kikongo - English.
Let us give scientific credit to Mbuta Manuel Roboredo and many thanks also to researchers at Boston University (USA) and the University of Ghent (Belgium), for their research and solid findings that has facilitated the rehabilitation of Manual Roboredo. Mbuta Manuela Roboredo dictionary had remained unknown for centuries because of a sordid and burlesque plot that made his manuscript to disappear for centuries even though it predated the dictionaries of the Age of Enlightenment (1650-1700): Frenchman Jacques Savary des Brûlons’ Dictionnaire universel de commerce (1723) (Universal dictionary of trade); Trévoux’s Dictionnaire universel françois et latin (1704) aka le Dictionnaire de Trévoux (1732) (The Dictonary of Trevoux); le Dictionnaire Philosophique de Voltaire (1764) (Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary)."These dictionaries contain proverbs, rhetorical and narrative fundamentally racist and anti-Semitic. For instance, in Voltaire’s Essai sur les moeurs " which is in fact an extension of his dictionary, one can read: "One regards the Jews in the same way as one regards Negroes, as subhuman”. Likewise, Montesquieu did not think less in his inflammatory articles in 1720.

However, we cannot suppress the truth forever. Recent research shows that “the oldest Bantu languages dictionary: Vocabularium P. Georgii Genensis. Leuven J. Kuyl -Otto", published by Van WING, Joseph CONSTANT and C. PENDERS (eds. and transl.) in 1928 was a copy of the manuscript written by Manuel Roboredo and Capuchin priests. Researchers at Boston University (Boston, USA) have carried out extensive research that has led them to conclude that: Van Wing, Joseph and C. Penders were practically plagiarists who had intentionally omitted the name of Manuel Roboredo as the main author of the dictionary. Similarly, research carried out by Jasper KIND of the University of Ghent (Belgium) came to the same conclusion (see Section I: Posthumous Rehabilitation of Manual Roboredo).
Proverbs in Kikongo are called “Bingana" and the latter had been used by Ne-Kongo since the creation of the Kingdom of Kongo. Bingana are indissociable to Ne-Kongo as wet to water. They are part of Kongo’s every day‘s life; they effect and enrich everyday vocabulary; moreover, they inspire, form solid cultural resistance strategies, boost the Kongo people determination and perseverance and are undoubtedly the cornerstone of Kongo wisdom. In this regard, Mbuta Emanuel KUNZIKA’s book is not only useful to Ne-Kongo but also to «All» Africans and the world (see section II: Dictionary of Kikongo Proverbs).

Although the Ne-Kongo were uprooted from their ancestral land and dispersed around the world through the illegal slave trade, nevertheless their significant contribution to their new homeland (North America, Latin America, the Caribbean and Asia) is well documented. Sadly, it is very so often disregarded. It is for this reason that Mbuta Jesus ALBERTO GARCIA took up the challenge to put an end to this long-standing injustice. His ten years of research culminated in a book that is a reference today: « The Diaspora los Kongo en las Americas y los Caribs » (The Diaspora Kongo to the Americas and the Caribbean). It lists the different contributions that are Kongo in the Diaspora (see Section III: The contributions of Ne-Kongo to the host country).

By intellectual and mental laziness or just ignorance, many Africans repeat frivolous platitudes of some racist Mindele (White men in Kikongo) who claim that African languages have a very limited vocabulary, unsuited for scientific teaching. Bad luck for them, Mbuta Nlemvo (with his team) and Anglo-Saxons Baptist missionaries works are a scathing refutation of all of that (see Section IV: Kikongo language and scientific disciplines).
Boston University’s researchers have published a study," Manuel Roboredo, Kikongo Sermon." For his part , not in parallel but in a series – Jasper de Kind and his research team at the University of Ghent (Belgium), announced an ambitious research project : " The Oldest Bantu Dictionary: Digitalization and Future Historical Research on Kikongo."

It is worth recalling that the University of Ghent is renowned for its reliable and serious research that is internationally valued. For four years on, Ghent University is the only Belgian university in the top 100 best universities in the world. This year, 2013, Ghent University has improved its score: 85th ranking of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University. The other three top universities in Belgium ( KU Leuven, Catholic University of Louvain, Free University of Brussels ) are in the Top 200 (see my posting : World Ranking 2013 : The Anglo -Saxon universities crush others).
Boston University, the University of Ghent as well as other researchers are trying to answer a question that is both simple and complex: who is or are the authors of the earliest Bantu Dictionary (The issue of authorship)?

In 1912, a Belgian priest Frédégand Callaey announced the discovery of the Latin - Spanish - Kikongo dictionary of the second half of the 17th Century in the Vittorio Emmanuel library of Rome (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale). The dictionary is not signed. However, the last two pages contain the writing of Gheel Joris van, a Flemish Capuchin priest. There is a problem. Joris van Gheel arrived in the Kingdom of Kongo in June 1651 and died on 17th December 1652. Researchers at Boston University, the University of Ghent and many others say it was impossible for Joris van Gheel to master the Kikongo language, compile the data and write a dictionary of 10,000 words in such short time. He must have copied a dictionary that already existed. Yet in 1928, the Jesuit Joseph Wing and C. van Penders published the most ancient Bantu Dictionary in French and Flemish and they referred only to Joris van Gheel. Surprisingly, the manuscript of the most ancient Bantu Dictionary co-authored by Manuel Roboredo and Capuchin priests had disappeared; but how unexpectedly was it found in Rome?

End of Part I
Re: Africa's Modern History: The Oldest African Dictionary Written In 1651 by Nzita: 6:45pm On Sep 16, 2013
Part II: The Oldest African Dictionary (cont’d)

Let us recall a few paragraphs of the Boston University:
« …more recent research favors a Kongolese priest named Manuel Roboredo working at the request of and in collaboration with a number of Spanish and Italian Capuchin priests…. Undoubtedly their method had been to ask their Kongolese partner, Roboredo, to supply Kikongo equivalents to each word in the dictionary, a task undoubtedly made easier by the fact that Roboredo spoke both Latin and Portuguese…If the Capuchins did not trust the interpreters they clearly did trust Roboredo, who was a member of Kongo’s spiritual, social and intellectual elite. He was a nobleman, the son of a Portuguese nobleman named Tomas Roboredo and D. Eva, sister of the King Alvaro V Kongo,[14] and moreover, he was not an interpreter but a priest, ordained in 1637. His education in local Kongolese schools included the study of Latin and Portuguese, in which he was considered expert. [15] These local schools were quite adequate for linguistic work, when the Capuchins arrived and began teaching in them they were able to offer advanced courses in grammar and theology immediately…..Not only did the Capuchins consider Roboredo their saviour on the linguistic front and a man of merit, but they also accepted him as a colleague …. In fact, we can argue that Roboredo was the principal author of the sermon as well as the other (unfortunately lost) Kikongo texts to which de Teruel referred….. Clearly, although we possess only the most rudimentary knowledge of the education of the Kongolese elite, they were skilled in languages and considered competent by European priests in higher studies as well…Locally born and educated Kongolese played a major role in linguistic work from the earliest days of the church in Kongo, beginning with King Afonso I’s theological study in the early sixteenth century…».

The above few paragraphs from the Boston University study are clear and unequivocal. Recent studies favour the Ne-Kongo priest Manuel Roboredo, who was considered by the Spanish and Italian Capuchin priests as a distinguished linguistic in both in Latin and Italian. He was not only a member of Kongo aristocracy but also a full member of the spiritual and social elite of the Kingdom of Kongo. Mbuta Manuel Roboredo was the son of a Portuguese Noble Tomas Roboredo and D. Eva, sister of Kongo’s King MPANZU-a-Nimi ALVARO V (27th Feb. 1636 - 14th Aug. 1636/38?) of the Mpanzu Dynasty. He was doubly a noble: by his father and marriage for he was ennobled by King Alvaro V. Manuel Roboredo was educated at kongo schools and his study included courses in both Latin and Portuguese.
The Boston University research conclusion highlights three major observations. First, colleges that educated Kongo’s political, social and economic elite had indeed existed in the Kingdom of Kongo. Apart from Manuel Roboredo, the Boston University’s research gives the example of Miguel de CASTRO, a member of the Kongo elite who completed his studies in local schools in 1643 and later became Ambassador of the Kingdom of Kongo in Brazil. He was also very skilful in poetry. He wrote a collection of poems in Latin. Moreover, the Kikongo language vocabulary was so rich that it accommodated other languages during translations very easily.
Finally, the Kingdom of Kongo had cooperation agreements with Western countries. If a large proportion of the Kongo elite spoke several Western European languages, they had to learn these languages from native speakers who had the mastery the languages. Capuchin priests played a significant and determinant role in the spread of Western languages, especially in the Kingdom of Kongo. José de ANTEQUERA, Bonaventura da SARDEGNA, José Francisco de PERNAMBUCO and Francisco de VEAS, constituted a solid research team with Manuel ROBOREDO. The research director José de Antequera died Mbanza-Kongo, the capital of the Kingdom of Kongo which is nowadays in Angola. Bonaventura da Sardegna took the leadership of the project and with the consent of all the team-Manuel Roboredo became co-director of the project with a heavy responsibility: to coordinate all inputs and produce the most ancient manuscript of Bantu dictionary in three languages: KIKONGO, SPANISH and LATIN.
To access the conclusion of the study of the University of Boston, please click on this link:

Jasper King (University of Ghent, Belgium), Gilles-Maurice de Schryver and Koen Bostoen published in December 2012, an article: " Pushing Back the Origin of Bantu Lexicography: The Vocabularium Congense of 1652, 1928, 2012.”
In the aforementioned article, the authors provide an inventory of all dictionaries produced in Africa since 1652. The purpose is to determine the most ancient Bantu Dictionary. Many dictionaries exist in Africa. For example, "Dictionary Luganda – French (1917)”, "Dictionary Madan's Lala / Lamba / Wisa – English (1913)", “Dictionary Bemba – English (1947)", "Dictionary Shona – English (1959)", "Dictionary Swahili – English (1882)”. The authors went back to 1652 when the Capuchin priest Joris van Gheel manuscript of "Dictionary Kikongo - Latin -Spanish" reached the West.
Like all researchers who have studied the subject, Jasper King’s team is baffled and haunted by the same question: who is the author of the manuscript? Joris van Gheel or someone else? And then, Jasper King’s team discovered the work of F. HILDEBRAND: "Le martyr Georges de Geel et les débuts de la mission du Congo (1645-1652) ("The Martyr George Geel and the beginning of the mission of the Congo (1645-1652)) Capuchin Archives; Antwerp: 1940". Hildebrand's testimony is unanswerable:
"The great merit of writing goes back to Roboredo, in a sense, the dictionary is his work. The compilation was made at the request of the Fathers; they can claim some credit for the great undertaking. The vocabulary seems to be the collective work of the new missionaries, especially Antoine de TERUEL and Joseph de Pernambuco, under the direction of Roboredo ... This was the genesis of the remarkable vocabulary Latin - Spanish – Kikongo, we know through the copy of P. Georges ".
Re: Africa's Modern History: The Oldest African Dictionary Written In 1651 by Nzita: 6:46pm On Sep 16, 2013
Part III: The Oldest African Dictionary (Cont’d)

A number of researchers such as CM DOKE (1935), J NSONDÉ (1995), THORNTON (2011), BONVINI (1996) and GRAY (1998) converge to the same conclusion. Doke for instance is adamant “.... There can be no doubt, however, that he [ Van Gheel ] copied a manuscript known to be in existence at the Mission Station of San Salvador before his arrival. Joris was only a beginner, having been under two years in the country by the time of his death. Though the dictionary is probably not the work of a single person, it is practically certain that in the main it is to be ascribed to Roboredo .... ".
It is curious that Joseph Van Wing and Constant Penders are heading to the wind and are the only defenders of Joris van Gheel. With regards Van Wing, the Ne-Kongo affectionately called him " Kitene ", meaning the "Solid". Please click on this link to read the contribution of Kitene in Kisantu and Kinshasa (Lovanium University):
(Kisantu is small City in the province of Lower-Congo (Kongo-Central) and situated between Kinshasa and Matadi. Kinshasa is the capital of the DRC while Matadi is the DRC’s main port on the River Congo.)
The debate continues and the University of Ghent has embarked upon an ambitious research project: " The Oldest Bantu Dictionary: Digitalization and Future Historical Research on Kikongo language. The most ancient Bantu Dictionary: Scan and Future Historical Research on the Kikongo."
Certainly all this work will enrich the Harn Museum’s Exhibition - The Cultural Heritage of the Kingdom of Kongo - jointly organized by the University of Florida (the Harn Museum of Art) and the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa, October 22, 2013 to March 23, 2014, see my posting: " Exposure to the Harn Museum : the cultural Heritage of the Kingdom of Kongo."
II. Kikongo dictionary of proverbs
The dictionary contains 1050 Kikongo proverbs translate in English, French and Portuguese. The book is a collection of proverbs that the Ne-Kongo use in various circumstances such as weddings, births, funerals, mourning, meetings of council of elders, political negotiations, commercial bargaining, conflict resolution, etc. . .
Kikongo Proverbs or “ Bingana ” were used by Ne-Kongo since the foundation of the Kingdom of Kongo. They accompanied the Ne-Kongo in their disastrous scattering (slavery) in the Americas (North America and Latin America), Asia, and the Caribbean, and formed a solid base of resistance, the pool of preserving Kongo Culture and the wisp of deliverance, and of recovery of dignity and hope.
Outside the political sphere, the Bingana also have a determinant sociological, psychological and mental role. It is almost unimaginable to have a " Kinzonzi " without Bingana. A Ne-Kongo in distress can be consoled with the help of Bingana. One cannot counsel, encourage and congratulate one’s relatives without Bingana. One cannot flirt and date without Bingana. One cannot enter into allegiance without Bingana. Likewise, one cannot throw arrows , spears , drubbing , reprimands, rants without proverbs.
The dictionary of Kikongo proverbs produced by Mbuta Emmanuel KUNZIKA (357 pages) is in alphabetical order and made up of two volumes: A to L (Volume I) and M to Z (Volume II). Each proverb is translated into English, French and Portuguese. The author is did not limit to just translation, he added value to the dictionary by providing clear explanations of the codified message behind each proverb.

Some examples of Kongo Proverbs (=Bingana):
ET = English translation; CM = Coded message; EX: Explanation
Kingana No 1
Kikongo: « A engi a dilanga mu longa se adila va makaya, ay’adilanga va makaya se adila mu longa. »
ET: "Many of those who eat on plates eat sooner or later leaves”.
CM: “This proverb teaches us that in this life, everything is subject to many vicissitudes, nobody knows today what tomorrow will bring.”
Kingana No 2
Kikongo: « Akwa Nguba Kangu nkatu , Akwa Kangu Nguba nkatu.
ET: "Those peanuts do not have stoves, those stoves do not have peanuts.”
CM: " Only the complementarity and non - exclusivity can guarantee social cohesion and collective happiness"
Kingana No 3
Kikongo: « Baba ka lunganga nkanu ko. »
ET: "The dumb never win the trial.”
CM: “Silence means consent and consent is complicit”.
Kingana No 4
Kikongo: « Dya kwa mene, makani nkokela. »
ET: « Who wants to eat in the morning, must provide for the day. »
Ex: “The past prepares the ground for the present while the present prepares the ground for the future.”
CM: "Do not spend what you earn in a day. Learn how to save to cope with the vagaries of the future. "
Kingana No 5
Kikongo: « Enti tuzengele, Enfuti Lengele. »
ET: "We cut down the tree, the leaves are wilted."
CM: "The problem is treated, the solution found and the debate is over."
Kingana No 6
Kikongo: « Funda kufula vata, kizitilanga. »
ET: "The burden seems heavier as we approach the village.”
CM: "Sowing is less painful than harvesting, because the difficulties increase when approaching the goal."
Mbuta Emmanuel Kunzika’s book enriches the works published by other Kongo researchers. It also establishes a link with the work of Mbuta Nlemvo and his team in collaboration with the Anglo–Saxons Baptist missionaries’ "dictionary, grammar and syntax of Kikongo” published in 1895 (second edition)."
It is worth remembering that several years earlier, the philosophers of the Enlightenment Period also got down to "compile" dictionaries. In 1723, Jacques Savary published “Universal Dictionary of Trade." He used proverbs that fundamentally were racist and anti-Semitic. In 1732, Theroux’s dictionary “Universal Dictionary“ vehemently attacked Jews and ... Negroes. In 1764, Voltaire published his “Philosophical Dictionary”, a work that helped him to write another book “Essay on Morals" in which he loosed his flurry upon Jews and Negroes and concluding that: "We look at the Jews of the same way we look at Negroes, an inferior species of men." Montesquieu in his inflammatory articles in 1720 – did not think less.

Edouard NSIMBA

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