The role of the King in African thought

As the political institutions inherited from colonization are a proven failure in Africa, we will go back in time to discover how our ancestors theorized the role and function of the Head of State. It will be up to Africans to rethink Black states throught this ancestral legacy.  

To understand what we will say here, the reader might first collect information about the African Spirituality and the African matriarchal tradition.

Resurrected Osiris

For our ancestors, in the beginning was the primordial and disordered water of the Nun. The Nun contained all the seeds of life in a chaotic state. One of these seeds became aware of Himself-Herself. Our ancestors called this first Spirit Imana/Amen (God). Imana analyzed the disordered state of the Nun, and decided, by making the Energy (Ra) spring forth from Himself-Herself, to put the Nun in order to create the world. This action of Imana was the first victory of order over disorder, of good (Ma’at) over evil (Isfet).

Imana-Ra, masculine form

Imana’s Energy led to the creation of two types of elements: matter and antimatter. It is fertile matter – symbolized by the Osiris-Isis couple – that would produce all life. Sterile antimatter – symbolized by the couple Seth-Nephtys – would oppose the emergence of life. So there was a fight between Usiré (Osiris) and Suté (Seth).

Usiré was initially killed by Suté, but thanks to the good heart and efforts of his wife Aisata (Isis), who implored the Creator, Imana granted Usiré resurrection. This resurrection was in fact the immaculate conception of Aisata, who gave birth to the resurrected Osiris, that is her son Horo (Horus). Once adult, Horo resumed the fight and eventually defeated Suté. The victory of fertile matter over sterile antimatter marks the second victory of good (Ma’at) over evil (Isfet).

After the material creation of the 4 primordial elements (water, air, sky, earth), vegetation, symbolized on the earthly level by Usiré, had to appear. It opposed and triumphed over drought. This victory of life through the advent of vegetation marks the third victory of good (Ma’at) over evil (Isfet).

Finally, when the time of humanity came in Africa in the Holy Region of the Great Lakes 300,000 years ago, people had good and evil in their hearts. The choice of the Anu (the first Humans) to follow the teachings of Usiré by doing good, marks the fourth victory of good (Ma’at) over evil (Isfet).

It thus emerges from all this that Imana-Ra (God), just like his son Usiré who died, just like the resurrection of the latter (Horus), fought Isfet and made Ma’at triumph, to allow the emergence of life (Ankh). The emergence of life was the result of a fight against the forces of evil.

The king in Africa is therefore the continuity of Imana-Ra and Osiris. He is resurrected Osiris, that is Horus. His mission is on the earthly level to make Ma’at (truth, justice, equity, harmony, order), to defeat Isfet (falsehood, injustice, inequalities, conflict, disorder), so that life (Ankh) continues. He must continue the fight to perpetuate life. This is what the Head of State represents. He is the Horus and thanks to him, vegetation will continue to be flourishing, animals will continue to be numerous, food will always be abundant and women will continue to give birth.

Usiré (Osiris)
Like almost all African rulers, he holds on the left the fly whisk (Nekhakha) which enables him – as Neb Ma’at (Master of the Ma’at) – to chase away evil spirits. On the right he has in his hand the staff of command (Heka) as king. He is the first mythical king in history.
Musée du Louvre
This image of the Trinity is the model on which power is built in Africa. The power of the deceased Usiré (at the center), is protected by his wife Aisata who saved him and his son Horus who is his avenger (ndjety). It is therefore up to Horus and his mother to continue the work of Osiris; that is, to fight the forces of evil in order to continue life.
Horus holding the cross of Ankh which symbolizes life, and somehow instilling his mission of perpetuating life to his living counterpart, who is here Ramesu Maryimana (Ramesses II).

The coronation and the reign

Horus having appeared thanks to the action of his mother Aisata, then it is to the woman – moreover superior Being because she gives life – that the throne belongs. The king’s mother is the incarnation of Aisata (Isis) on the earthly plane. The Isis is, following the example of the Namwari in Zimbabwe, the Asantehemaa among the Ashanti or the Magira in Kanem-Bornu (Lake Chad), the highest honorary figure of the State.

In an absolutely dominant way in Africa, the king is chosen according to his maternal sonship. The king is the son – the husband among the BaSwahili – of the most powerful woman in the royal family. He must have the most divine energy in order to fight Isfet (evil). In doing so, the council in charge of electing the king often chose the strongest of the pretenders to the throne. The pretender can increase his strength by using amulets. This strength is determined by a race among the Bamun of Cameroon. Among the baKongo, the one who sits fastest on a chair is the winner.

The king arrives at the enthronement ceremony in the simplest of clothes, just a pair of trousers among the Mossi of Burkina Faso. He must understand, once he is dressed in his luxurious clothes, that it is the people and the elders who made him and who can undo him. The priests and priestesses of Ma’at make him swear in the name of the ancestors, including the First Ancestor (God), to respect his mission, a mission that he learned during his initiation.

As from that moment, his divine descent is consolidated. People throw themselves on the floor when they get closer to the pharaoh or the king of the Mossi, the Moro Naba. The Mani Kongo is also seen as God’s representative on earth and consequently, he is called by the name of the Creator: Nzambi Mpungu. The king is so mystical that he is often hidden behind a curtain as the Pharaoh, the Mai of Kanem-Bornu around Lake Chad, or the Mansa of Mali. A servant through whom he transmits his orders in a very low tone is his voice during official ceremonies.

The Pharaoh, the Mansa of Mali, the Oba of Benin in Nigeria, the Somali King or the Mwene Mutapa of Zimbabwe have the bird, associated with Horus, as their totem. This bird allows the king to have an overall view and to scrutinize the application of the Ma’at. The duration of the reign is limited, really or symbolically.

In reality, the Alafing of the kingdom of Oyo in Nigeria does not spend more than 14 years ruling. The Mfalme of the BaSwahili in Kenya-Tanzania, cedes power to the prince chosen from the next Ndugu (generation).

But generally, if the reign is unlimited, it is estimated that after 8 to 10 years the king’s strength is weakened. This weakening of Horus, if nothing is done, will mean the victory of Isfet (disorder). This weakening of the strength is so feared, that the Damel of Cayor in Senegal cannot reign with wounds. So every 8 to 10 years, the ceremony of the regeneration of the king’s strength is organized. Through a series of rites, the aging king regains all his strength, he is reborn, and thus continues to reign.

Throughout the reign, a fire is lit and maintained by women. For the Shilluk of Sudan, the baTéké of Gabon-Congo and in Zimbabwe, this fire symbolizes the divine energy of the king.

Moro Naba Sagha II, 35th king of the Mossi in Burkina-Faso (1942-1957). He is venerated by his subjects who are on the ground. Moro/Mogho is, in its deep sense, Ma’at among the Mossi. Moro Naba means therefore Master of Ma’at.
The prestigious kingdom of Benin in Nigeria; Illustration by Olfert Dapper in the 17th century. The royal birds of Horus can be seen at the top of the buildings.

Countervailing powers

If the Pharaoh’s power is absolute, he nevertheless has the clergy, who, as the guardian of tradition, can oppose him. It was the conflict between the King and the clergy that caused the upheavals during the reign of Akhenaten. Later in our history, power was increasingly open to the people, to the point that we can speak of democracy. As society is divided into ethnic groups, clans or socio-professional castes, the royal council is composed of members of each ethnic group/clan/caste, including the lower caste of the dependents.

The king cannot dismiss one of his ministerial counsellors, who takes his legitimacy from his clan/caste. Among the Yoruba-Fon and Ashanti, the king was assisted by a council of men and a council of women. At the level of the people, in each community, there is the palaver tree where people come freely to give their opinions on the functioning of the country. The minutes of the debates are submitted to the corresponding king’s adviser, who can thus influence the king and as well as national policy.

When the Horus has seriously violated his duty to do good, criticism is directed at him only by the griots, who, under cover of songs and poems at public ceremonies, let him know the people’s displeasure without making him lose face. The matriarch, the highest figure in the State, has the power to remove the king from the throne. The guardians of tradition can also order the king to commit suicide.

The Kgotla still today in Botswana, the local palaver tree. This institution of participatory democracy was present throughout Africa.
Kuba Nyimi Kok Mabiintsh III, King of the Kuba in DR Congo. The matriarch in the Kuba kingdom could dismiss the king from the throne. The guardians of tradition could also decide on the death of the sovereign.

The death of the king

The natural death of the king is considered as the death of Horus and the defeat of Ma’at, and consequently the victory of Suté and Isfet. From then on, everywhere in ancient Africa, a feeling of apocalypse crosses the country. Everybody thinks that life is going to stop, that drought is going to hit the country, that women are no longer going to give birth.

In what is a theatricalization that has become unconscious over the course of history, detainees are allowed to escape, thugs commit their crimes, and total chaos takes over the country. Order returns only with the enthronement of the new Horus and the return of Ma’at.


We can say this about the role and function of the king in Africa:

  • He is the Horus, initiated to ancestral thought, and therefore charged with doing good (Ma’at) as God, in order to continue life.
  • His legitimacy to rule is bestowed to him by a woman, most often by his mother.
  • His mandate is actually or symbolically limited from 8 to 10 years.
  • He is assisted by representatives of all strata of the people, who reign with him, and whom he cannot dismiss.
  • The clergy (priests and priestesses of Ma’at), ensures that he obeys his duties and can put an end to his reign.

Above is a summary of the structure of the state in African vitalist (animist) empires and kingdoms. The Royal Mother is the highest character, she is the incarnation of Ma’at and Isis. She ensures by her feminine nature, the harmony and cohesion of the nation. She is assisted by the clergy when she chooses among her sons, nephews or grandsons, the candidates for the throne.

When there are several candidates, the federal council of ethnic groups or clans or castes proceeds to an election. The King reigns with the council. Each ethnic group is organized as a federeted state, thus maintaining political control over its territory, its language and culture.

What has been the result of this system in the past? Well it is simple: famine was almost non-existent, everyone had a roof over their heads, the feeling of the great majority of people to be listened to by the power brought peace and harmony, kings were loved, civil wars were almost non-existent, revolutions and coups d’état were rare. Before the apocalypse of the European slave raids and then colonisation, not only was Africa very rich because it controlled its enormous natural resources, but the good governance dictated by Ma’at and the inclusion of the people in the management of the State ensured well-being.

Without having been perfect, ancient Africa was a land of security and happiness. This is evident in the stories of the time. We should therefore think our future through our own political legacy.


By : Lisapo ya Kama © (All rights reserved. Any copying or translation of the text of this article is strictly forbbiden without the written approval of Lisapo ya Kama)

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