Ndembo (or Kita)
A former African secret society that had widespread influence
in the lower Congo, and especially in the districts lying to
the south of that river. Initiation was made through the ganga
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Ndembo
or chief, who instructed the neophyte at a given signal suddenly
to lie down as if dead. A shroud was spread over him, and he
was carried off to an enclosure outside the village called vela
and pronounced to have died a ndembo.
Perhaps 20, 30, or even 50 candidates ‘‘died’’ at one time.
It was then assumed that persons ‘‘dying’’ in this manner decayed
until only a single bone remained, and this the ganga
took charge of. The process varied from three months to as
many years, and the ganga was supposed by art magic to bring
every one of the dead back to life within that period.
On a festival day of the ndembo, the members marched
through the village in a grand procession amidst universal joy,
carrying with them the persons who were supposed to have
died. The neophytes who were supposed to have perished comported
themselves as if in reality they had come from another
world. They took new names, pretended that everything in the
terrestrial sphere was new to them, turned a deaf ear to their
parents and relatives, and even affected not to know how to eat.
They further desired to have everything they set eyes on, and
if it was not granted to them immediately, they might fall upon
the unhappy owner and beat and even kill him without any consequence
to themselves. It was assumed that they were mere
children in the affairs of the terrestrial sphere, and therefore
knew no better.
Those who went through this rite were called nganga, or the
‘‘knowing ones,’’ while the neophytes were designated vanga.
During their occupation of the vela they learned an esoteric
language, which they constantly employed. Perhaps the best record
of the group was made by ethnologist Adolf Bastian
(1826–1905), who stated
‘‘The Great Nkissi (who here replaces the fetish) lives in the
interior of the woodlands where nobody can see him. When he
dies the Nganga carefully collect his bones in order to bring
them back to life, and nourish them that they may again put on
flesh and blood. But it is not well to speak about it. In the Ambamba
country everybody must have died once, and when the
Nganga (replacing the fetish-priest) shakes his calabash against
a village, those men and youths whose hour is come fall into a
state of lifeless torpor, from which they generally rise up in
three days.
‘‘But the man whom the Nkissi loves he carries off to the
bush and often buries him for a series of years. When he again
awakens to life, he begins to eat and drink as before, but his
mind is gone, and the Nganga must himself educate him and
instruct him in every movement, like the smallest child. At first
that can only be done with the rod, but the senses gradually return,
so that you can speak with him, and when his education
is finished the Nganga takes him back to his parents. These
would seldom recognize him but for the positive assurance of
the Nganga, who at the same time reminds them of earlier occurrences.
Whoever has not yet undergone the experience in
Ambamba is universally despised, and is not allowed to join in
the dances.’’
This account in curiously reminiscent of the Haitian tradition
of zombies

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