Matriarchal society in R. D. Congo
A political society
As a reminder, the peoples who are installed in the Congo River basin, from the watershed of the Nile to the watershed of the Zambezi, are considered as Bantu according to J. Ki-Zerbo ( 1978). In this region of sub-Saharan Africa, there were well-organized societies that mastered their environment.
Most of the communities are led by chiefs from the lineages of chiefdoms according to numerous studies and studies. The political group best known for its early contact with the Portuguese in 1482 is the Kongo Kingdom. The locals, who called themselves Congolese, according to one author at the time, demonstrated “high self-esteem.” Also as early as the 15th century, their music was already considered to be full of beauty and refinement. At its peak, this kingdom located on the banks of the Congo River called Nzadi by the Kongolese was an important kingdom. Between the 15th and 16th centuries, it covered the lands which are today assimilated to Angola, to the west of present-day DR Congo, to Congo Brazzaville and to Gabon. Its capital was called Mbanza Kongo (named after the Portuguese San Salvador). The King bore the title of Manikongo. The monarchical system will present some peculiarities.
The origins of a matriarchal society
In most European monarchies, there are hereditary systems of transmission of power from father to son such as that imposed by the Salic law on the kingdom of the Franks. None of this in Kongo Kingdom where matriarchy was more prevalent than you might think. This custom provided for its rules of succession and even inheritance. All of the king’s close relatives, that is, Manikongo, son or nephew, could theoretically run for the throne. But the preference was for matrilineal succession. Before his death, the king, the Manikongo indicated his choice.
There is a unique form of uncle-to-nephew power. But this power is not given to just any nephew. So that the succession is assured only with the eldest son of one of the king’s sisters.
Girl Power? Or feminine power
So the pre-colonial Kongo kingdom created its own dynasty, ensuring that power remained in the hands of one and the same family. Hence the importance of the succession by the nephew, born of the sisters of the ruler called Manikongo. It must be remembered that all the tribes in the Kongo Kingdom recognized polygamy. There is no doubt that this polygamy also caused damage, for example in terms of the rights of women, children, etc. Even the rulers and notables of the kingdom have not always been able to resist the temptations of the flesh. Here, we must not confuse second, third wife, with mistresses.
In traditional marriage, that is to say polygamous, the 2nd and 3rd wife was considered as a wife. Ordinary citizens could speak aloud about the real or supposed mistresses of the king or his entourage. In such a context, it was said that we were not sure whether the son was indeed that of the father. While it was certain that the nephew was of his blood.
Hence for the king the importance of the succession by his nephew. Power is thus found alongside the Queen Mother and the king’s sister, the Manikongo. It is important to note that the niece was not named.
The brief overview of this society leads us to examine the importance of the woman represented here by the king’s sister, the Manikongo or the Queen Mother. This matriarchy puts the woman first. The latter is the genitor of power. It is thanks to her that the dynasty endured. Today in the DR Congo, a French-speaking country of nearly 80 million inhabitants, rich in its linguistic and cultural diversity, a large number of people continue to perpetuate this tradition without even knowing its origins. But this sort of African Girl Power is worth naming because of its limitations.
Beyond respect for tradition, the female role deserves a thorough examination to face the challenges of our time, real equality of men and women still remains on the agenda.
Armand M’Batika, Ph.D.