Women and Political Power

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

A Mwadi spirit was the incarnation of the King Kasongo Niembo, who died in 1933, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1970s. Photo by Thomas Q. Reefe. Submitted by Mary Nooter Roberts.


Luba say that only a woman's body is strong enough to hold a spirit as powerful as that of a king. For this reason, when a Luba king died, his spirit was incarnated by a mwadi (female spirit medium). This mwadi was the incarnation of King Kasongo Niembo, who died in 1931. She resided in his former royal village, acquired all of his titleholders and his emblems of office, and received kings on a regular basis from the new king. In the past, each mwadi was succeeded at death by another woman in her lineage, thus ensuring the perpetuation of the title.