“I’d Rather Die than Wrestle”: Gender, Spirituality, and Agency Amongst the Luba Mai-Mai
This chapter explores the complex imbrications of gender, spirituality, and agency amongst the Luba Mai-Mai before and after the Congolese Five-Year War (1997–2002), in search of practices of hope in a context otherwise characterized by sociopolitical instability and precarity. The story of Chatty Masangu wa Nkulu, a female Mai-Mai fighter, provides an intimate and multilayered ethnographic account of the constraints that normative understandings of gender (based on western feminist scholarship) place on African women, particularly in contexts of conflict. Rather than providing a pathway for increasing the capacity of Mai-Mai women and girl fighters, applying western liberal feminist constructions of agency uncritically in the southeastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo hereafter) paradoxically highlights their vulnerability. However, Chatty’s lived experience as a woman and a warrior in the Upper Lomami province of Congo calls for a reimagining of gender, and a turn toward Luba epistemologies that celebrate personhood, locating agency and hope in the interplay of the material and immaterial worlds.
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