Jesus the Sing’anga by Thomas Mpira

Thomas Mpira

Jesus the Sing’anga, 21st century, Wood, c. 67 x 40 x 36 cm, KuNgobi Art Craft Center/Mua Malawi, © Thomas Mirpa; Courtesy of Missionsarztliches lnstitut, Wurzburg

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Jesus the Sing’anga

Commentary by

Thomas Mpria is a master carver at the KuNgoni Art Craft Centre in Mua, Malawi. KuNgoni is one of the most outstanding art centres in Africa. In works that have Christian subject matter, its artists consistently seek and find successful syntheses between Christian faith and African culture, advancing an African theology in images.

In this carving by Mpira we discover Jesus dressed in the garments of a Sing’anga—a traditional healer in Malawi. He welcomes three people who approach him and ask for healing. These three Malawians are representative of the large numbers of people suffering with different afflictions in Africa. On Jesus’s right is a patient disabled by polio, and on his left a mentally ill person. In the centre is a blind man.

The New Testament describes three miraculous healings of a blind man: at Jericho (Luke 18:35; Mark 10:46; Matthew 20:34), at Bethsaida (Matthew 9:29; Mark 8:22), and at Siloam (John 9). Mpira’s sculpture is an especially appropriate accompaniment to reflection on the third of these—the healing of the blind man at Siloam—for the idea of holistic healing that is especially prominenet in John’s theology has affinities with an African worldview.

In traditional Malawian villages the Sing'anga is considered to possess the power to heal. He knows the properties and uses of herbs and his empathy enables him to discover the hidden sources of disease. His knowledge of medicine and gift of ‘insight’ makes him a connector to the invisible world of the ancestors and of God.

Portraying Christ in the role of both biblical healer and traditional African healer expresses how deeply the longing for healing and redemption is rooted in the cultural setup of the people of Africa. One of the most central concerns for African theology today is how the Christian churches relate to the deep-rooted desire of Africans for healing and purification (De Rosy 1992). If illness is a sign of the religious alienation of human beings from themselves, from their fellow humans, and ultimately from God, then healing and salvation must be viewed as inseparable.

It is only Christ, the traditional and cosmic healer who can restore health and peace. For this reason, African theologians like Kofi Appiah-Kubi, Cece Kolie, and Bénézet Bujo call Christ ‘the African Healer’.

 

References

Appiah-Kubi, Kofi. 1981. Man Cures, God Heals: Religion and Medical Practice among the Akans of Ghana (Totowa: Allanheld, Osmun)

Bujo, Bénézet. 1992. African Theology in Its Social Context (Maryknoll: Orbis Books)

De Rosy, Eric. 1992. L’Afrique des Guérisons (Paris: Editions Karthala)

Kolie, Cece. 1991. ‘Jesus as Healer?’, in Faces of Jesus in Africa, ed. by Robert J. Schreiter (Maryknoll: Orbis Books).

KuNgoni Art Craft Centre, available at

Ott, Martin. 2001. Jesus and the Witchdoctor/Jesus und der Wunderheiler. Holzskulpturen des KuNgoni Art Craft Centre Mua, Malawi (Würzburg: Missionsärztliches Institut)

———. 2000. African Theology in Images, Kachere Monograph 12 (Blantyre: CLAIM)

 


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