Discussions of women’s power in Africa often focus on how much the role of senior women is symbolic and how much is real. Studying the Kingdom of Kongo reveals that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries women initially exercised power indirectly through influence on male relatives. However, following the beginning of the civil war after 1665 women began to exercise more open and overt power, taking effective control of some sections of the country and working less through male relatives. However, elite Kongo women never took formal control of the state as they did in Ndongo and Matamba.
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