Stephen Chan: Political thought on the just rebel­lion, part six. Last week we looked at the Māori rebel­lion in New Zealand, and we began look­ing at the nature of syn­cret­ic thought, thought from dif­fer­ent cul­tures put togeth­er to estab­lish a frame­work from which rebel­lion might be pos­si­ble. I want to con­tin­ue that par­tic­u­lar theme this week by look­ing at a num­ber of rebel­lions that you might loose­ly call mag­ic rebel­lions,” mythologically-based rebel­lions, but all the same look­ing at patholo­gies that are either gen­uine­ly very old, or which have been espe­cial­ly cre­at­ed for the pur­pose of rebellion. 

We can begin at the very start of the 20th cen­tu­ry, with the box­er upris­ing against for­eign rule in the great Chinese cities. The impe­r­i­al armies of the emper­or had failed to dis­lodge the for­eign occu­pa­tion. The use of box­ers, or what we would today call kung fu fight­ers, was an arti­fice devised not only by the rul­ing elite in China, but some­thing which had great pop­u­lar sup­port among the rank and file of the cit­i­zens of the dif­fer­ent Chinese cities. 

These fight­ers, who were recruit­ed from the streets, were promised that if they under­took cer­tain forms of mag­i­cal train­ing (kung fu train­ing), then they would become invul­ner­a­ble. The weapons of the for­eign occu­piers could not harm them. So, the upris­ing turned into some­thing which was simul­ta­ne­ous­ly extreme­ly brave, but also extreme­ly trag­ic. Because tens of thou­sands of box­ers were of course slaugh­tered by the guns of the occu­py­ing powers. 

I begin with the box­ers because curi­ous­ly, in Uganda many years lat­er, one of the sur­viv­ing boxers—or rather his spirit—surfaced in the head of an African rebel who rose up along mag­i­cal lines to chal­lenge the rule of the gov­ern­ment in Uganda. That per­son was Alice Lakwena. After the fall of Idi Amin, after unsuc­cess­ful inter­im gov­ern­ments, after a bloody suc­ces­sor gov­ern­ment led by Milton Obote, rebel­lion and war returned to Uganda. And it was won by a fac­tion led by the cur­rent pres­i­dent, Museveni, who all the same was unable to unite the coun­try. And the Acholi peo­ple, think­ing that their his­tor­i­cal priv­i­leges would be tak­en away from them rose up under­neath a prophetess who adopt­ed the name Alice Lakwena. 

Her head was said to have been inhab­it­ed by a high com­mand of spir­its drawn not only from Africa but from all around the world. There were scientists—one of them was a Dr. Wrong Element. There were field mar­shals from pre­vi­ous great bat­tles. There was a Chinese spir­it, Ching Po, who had sur­vived in one way or anoth­er the slaugh­ters of the box­er upris­ing and now inhab­it­ed Alice as one of her advisors.

All of this might seem to be the stuff of mys­tery and non­sense. But Alice also had an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly well-organized side to her rebel­lion. She wrote a mil­i­tary man­u­al for her sol­diers. She wrote a health and safe­ty man­u­al for prop­er con­duct dur­ing war. She infused her peo­ple with the sug­ges­tion that they too, if they adopt­ed cer­tain mag­i­cal prac­tices advised by her high com­mand of spir­its inside her head, that they too could be invulnerable. 

Of course, they marched for­ward, and of course they were slaugh­tered by Museveni’s sol­diers. The descen­dant, the spir­i­tu­al descen­dant of Alice Lakwena, is Joseph Koni, who con­tin­ues to be active today. Continues to be the sur­vivor of many attempts to bring him to jus­tice or to kill him. Is very very much the sur­vivor of all kinds of false dawns in terms of nego­ti­at­ed break­throughs with Museveni as to how to end the con­flict. Is also of course an atro­cious per­son in terms of the depre­da­tions and destruc­tions that he has brought to north­ern Uganda. 

But he’s also a very strange­ly ecu­meni­cal per­son. His spir­its are drawn from all faiths. Koni him­self cel­e­brates every one of the major reli­gious fes­ti­vals, whether they’re Jewish, whether they are Islamic, whether they are Christian, as well as a num­ber of African reli­gious fes­ti­vals, all in an ecu­meni­cal desire to have as much spir­i­tu­al pow­er from as many sources as pos­si­ble on his side.

These things would seem pre­pos­ter­ous had they not been so effec­tive. Because the rebel­lion of Koni sur­vives to this day. And this is not accom­plished only by atroc­i­ty. It is accom­plished in part because he has fol­low­ers who believe in him, and a pop­u­la­tion who, for many rea­sons, and despite many mis­giv­ings, might still see him as some kind of hero for their cause. 

The com­pli­ca­tion of thought, and the bod­ies of thought that one requires for suc­cess­ful rebel­lion are man­i­fold. So that in a coun­try like Zambia for instance, short­ly after inde­pen­dence, there rose up a Christian church—a so-called Christian church—led by a prophet­ess, Lenshina, who gave Kenneth Kaunda—the ecu­meni­cal, the embracive, the com­mu­nal­is­tic pres­i­dent of Zambia—a huge amount of dif­fi­cul­ty and a huge amount of trou­ble. She raised up her fol­low­ers along syn­cret­ic Christian but also local reli­gious lines, and declared rebel­lion against Kaunda’s Zambia. So that even the embrac­ing, accom­mo­dat­ing, inclu­sive Kaunda was forced to fight a war in which the church Lenshina was crushed.

And this was the first and prob­a­bly the only war that Kaunda fought with arms. He did not fight the armed raids of the Rhodesians, and the armed raids of the Apartheid South Africans. But he fought Lenshina with his own army—and this is for every odd for a man who was very very much brought up dur­ing his ear­ly adult years on the thought of Gandhi. 

So we turn now to the thought of Gandhi in India. The thought that made such a huge impact on the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle in that coun­try in the 1930s, the 1940s, before depen­dence final­ly came in 1947. Thought to do with non­vi­o­lent resis­tance. But Gandhi him­self had been formed by expe­ri­ences in more than one coun­try. In Great Britain, in South Africa, in all of these places he gath­ered the ammu­ni­tion of thought and strat­e­gy as to how best he might take the strug­gle forward.

Of course Gandhi was famous for the image of Gandhi. The image of a sim­ple man. The image of a man at his spin­ning wheel. The image of a man who was in touch with the spir­i­tu­al her­itage of India. Of course, all of this to a cer­tain extent was true. A lot of this was also some­thing which flat­tered to deceive. It meant he could leave the hard polit­i­cal work to some­one like Nehru. By hard I mean the often vex­a­tious and com­pro­mis­ing nego­ti­a­tions and dis­cus­sions which had to take place with the British.

And of course the draw­ing upon Hindu mythol­o­gy, the draw­ing upon Hindu leg­ends, meant an exclu­sion of the Islamic par­tic­i­pa­tion in Gandhi’s strug­gle for a new India. Whose India? How can you devel­op a unit­ed India where one part of the com­mu­ni­ty is exclud­ed from the foun­da­tion thought of rebel­lion which is meant to lead to an inde­pen­dent country?

All the same, the mytho­log­i­cal nature of Indian his­to­ry has made its way past Gandhi into the body politic in India today. The whole idea of Hindutva, the whole idea that there is a cos­mic jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the Indian nation, for the Indian state, as some­thing which still informs Indian pol­i­tics today. 

In a sense, none of us after suc­cess­ful rebel­lions ever get over our found­ing mytholo­gies, our found­ing leg­ends. A lot of this, how­ev­er, has to be con­trived. A lot of this has to be exclu­sive. Some peo­ple are kept out of the found­ing mytholo­gies. And a lot of this is quite inclu­sive in a way which would only be pos­si­ble in a 20th and a 21st cen­tu­ry, where­by the thought of many nations is brought to bear to achieve the suc­cess­ful rebel­lion of one.

Further Reference

Course infor­ma­tion