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Rev Joseph Marie Stanislas Dupont

Photo added by Eman Bonnici

Rev Joseph Marie Stanislas Dupont

Bishop Joseph Dupont, nicknamed "Moto Moto" (Fire Fire) by the Bemba people, was a French Catholic Missionary pioneer in Zambia's Northern Province, then part of North Eastern Rhodesia from 1885 till 1911. He persuaded the Bemba, feared by the Europeans and by neighbouring tribes, to allow him to become the first Missionary into their territory around Kasama. At the time the British South Africa Company chartered by Britain to administer North Eastern Rhodesia was not in control of all the territory.

Joseph-Marie-Stanislas Dupont was born in Gesté, Maine et Loire, France, on July 23, 1850, to a peasant family. After a short and quite successful military service, he studied to become a Member of the Catholic White Fathers Missionary Society now called the Society of the Missionaries of Africa. Ordained to the priesthood on December 21, 1878, he then taught at the College of Saint Louis of Carthage at Thibar in Tunisia and was sent to Karema Mission on Lake Tanganyika in 1892.

The White Fathers arrived at Mponda west of Lake Nyasa in 1885, and in 1891, moved up the Stevenson Road which had been made to connect Nyasa with Lake Tanganyika, stopping at Mambwe Mwela. They attempted to set up in Bemba lands but the Paramount Chief of the Bemba, the Chitimukulu, was fiercely opposed to any incursion by Missionaries. When Dupont arrived at Mambwe in 1895, he found that some of the independently minded Bemba Senior Chiefs were not opposed, and one of them, Makasa at Kayambi, gave Dupont a foothold in his area in 1895. Dupont tried to expand into the Bemba heartland and though gaining favour from many of the Chiefs, was still opposed by the Chitimukulu.

A story goes that one day the Chitimukulu sent two warriors armed with bows and arrows to kill Dupont, and they hid to ambush him where he used to shoot guinea fowl. Suddenly a bird burst from the bush and Dupont hit it with a single shot and it landed almost on the head of one of the warriors. This put them in such awe of his power they stayed hidden and did nothing.

On February 12 1897, Joseph Dupont was appointed as the First Vicar Apostolic of the Vicariate of Nyasa, which covered today's Malawi and the whole northern half of present day Zambia. Four days later, he was named Bishop of the Titular See of Thibaris, receiving his episcopal consecration on the following August 15, from Bishop Adolphe Lechaptois M. Afr.

There are several versions of the origin of the nickname "Moto Moto". One is that it was in recognition of his energy, another that Dupont smoked a pipe and was constantly calling for a light, another was that it was a Chewa war cry from the Nyasa area, another, more unlikely that he had an early kind of motorbike.

In 1896 Chitimukulu VII Sampa Kapalakasha died and the title remained vacant while the succession was worked out. Dupont tried to get permission from the most powerful Senior Chief, Mwamba III at Milungu, to expand the Mission but was rejected. However in 1898 Chief Mwamba fell ill and sent for Dupont, who had some medical skills and a reputation for healing. Before the Chief died the next year he and his Council were sufficiently impressed by Dupont's help they asked him to succeed as Chief. This provoked a crisis because firstly the coronation of a new Chief requires human sacrifices, and secondly a Bemba civil war threatened over the succession of the Chitimukulu. At first Dupont, who had become very knowledgeable about Bemba Culture and Traditions, agreed to act as Chief to forestall trouble, joking that he should take on Chief Mwamba's wives. Meanwhile he gathered support from the 33 Subordinate Bemba Chiefs for his next action.

To avoid bloodshed Dupont asked the BSAC Administration based in Fort Jameson to take control of the Bemba lands. On November 3, 1898, the BSAC sent Charles MacKinnon and R.A. "Bobo" Young from Mbala with a force which did the job and paved the way for a new Chitimukulu and Chief Mwamba to be installed and eventually led to a BSAC Boma being based in Kasama.

Despite the fact that this must have been one of the few occasions in history when a Frenchman pushed a territory into the British Empire, MacKinnon in particular was opposed to Dupont's presence in the Country, not only because of the strife which it caused with the Chitimukulu, but also because Protestant Missionaries of the London Missionary Society had set up in Mackinnon's district of Mbala and there were some rivalries with the White Fathers. To Dupont's amazement Mackinnon told him that he had no permission to remain there, according to orders of the new Administrator, Robert Codrington. Dupont protested that it was he who had opened up the Bemba to British Control, and he stayed put. Codrington accepted the reality of the situation, and as a gesture of reconciliation and gratitude invited Dupont to sit beside him at the installation of the next Chief in 1899.

That same year, Bishop Dupont founded the Chilubula Mission enclave which still stands today near Kayambi. Later he had some quarrels with colleagues who found his discipline too military and who felt he devoted to much attention to the Bemba and not enough to many other groups living in the huge area of the vicariate.

He left for Thibar in Tunisia, following his resignation on February 28, 1911, where he died, aged 79, on March 19, 1930. Msgr. Dupont was buried there but his remains were re-buried at Chilubula at a ceremony in 2000. The remains arrived at Lusaka's International Airport on Saturday, December 9, on their way to Chilubula as their final resting place through St. Peter's Catholic Church in Serenje, Mansa Cathedral, Lubwe's St. Joseph's Church, Samfya Catholic Church, Chilonga Catholic Church and Kasama's Cathedral of St. John the Apostle. In each of these places a Memorial Mass was celebrated. The reburial Mass took place at 9 am., on Friday, December 15, 2000, during which the remains where interred in the church, the late famous bishop built at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Moto Moto Museum in Mbala is named in his honour.

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  • Created by: Eman Bonnici
  • Added: 10 Jul 2008
  • Find A Grave Memorial 28168821
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Rev Joseph Marie Stanislas Dupont (23 Jul 1850–19 Mar 1930), Find A Grave Memorial no. 28168821, citing Cathedral Of Chilubula, Northern, Zambia ; Maintained by Eman Bonnici (contributor 46572312) .