Women and Political Power

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the CongoLuba peoples

Chief’s stool

Wood

H. 50.8 cm (20")

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.876

The predominately female imagery adorning the emblems of male kings and officeholders in Luba society reflects the ambiguity and two-sided nature of power. As one Luba proverb has it, "Men are chiefs in the daytime, but women are chiefs at night." For several centuries, women have played critical roles in Luba political life as counselors, ambassadors, queen mothers, and chiefs. In addition to their participation in politics, women also fulfilled spiritual roles that were fundamental to Luba sacred kingship. The representation of female form on Luba royal regalia, including this stool, reflects the importance of women to Luba political life.

Luba chief with a throne, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.