The Kongo people, indigenous to the region encompassing the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, and Angola, have a rich cultural tapestry that is vividly reflected in their religious beliefs, mythology, and rituals. Central to Kongo spirituality is the veneration of a pantheon of deities, each with distinct personalities, roles, and narratives that offer insight into the community's values, cosmology, and understanding of the universe.

At the core of Kongo religious belief is the concept of Nzambi Mpungu, the supreme creator deity, who is often perceived as remote and detached from the day-to-day affairs of the human world. Nzambi Mpungu is acknowledged as the architect of the universe, having set the cosmos into motion, but is not typically the focus of regular worship or personal devotion. Instead, the Kongo people direct their religious practices towards more accessible spiritual entities and ancestors who act as intermediaries between humans and the supreme deity.


The Kongo pantheon includes a range of lesser deities, known as simbi, who serve specific roles and govern various aspects of the natural world and human life. These deities are often associated with particular places, such as rivers, mountains, or forests, and are believed to offer protection, guidance, and support to their followers. The simbi are not universal gods but rather local entities, each with a distinct personality, story, and set of attributes that reflect their domain of influence.

Simbi of the Water (Simbi d'Maza or Simbi Andjela): These are water spirits known for their association with rivers, streams, and other bodies of water. They are believed to be powerful healers and are often invoked in rituals related to healing and purification. Water Simbi are also thought to provide fertility and abundance, reflecting the life-giving properties of water.

Simbi of the Land (Simbi dia Nkita): These spirits are associated with the land, forests, and terrestrial environments. They are considered guardians of the land and are often called upon for matters related to agriculture, hunting, and land disputes. They are believed to influence the fertility of the soil and the well-being of crops and animals.

Simbi Ancestral Spirits: Some Simbi are regarded as ancestral spirits who have retained a strong connection to the physical world. These spirits are revered ancestors who continue to guide and protect their descendants. Ancestral Simbi are often invoked in rituals to seek guidance, wisdom, and support from the forebears.

Simbi Nzila (Path Simbi): These are spirits associated with pathways, roads, and travel. They are believed to protect travelers and to govern the crossroads of life. Invoking Simbi Nzila is considered essential for ensuring safe passage and for making important life decisions, as they are thought to provide clarity and direction.

Each Simbi has its own personality, attributes, and domain of influence, reflecting the diversity and complexity of the natural world and its interconnectedness with human life. The Kongo people interact with these spirits through various rituals, offerings, and practices designed to honor them, seek their favor, or appease them. The relationship with the Simbi is reciprocal; humans offer respect, acknowledgment, and offerings, while the Simbi provide assistance, protection, and guidance.


Central to Kongo religious practice is the veneration of ancestors, who are considered pivotal figures in the spiritual and social life of the community. The Kongo people believe that the dead continue to play an active role in the world of the living, influencing fortune, health, and societal harmony. Rituals and ceremonies are conducted to honor the ancestors, seek their advice, and appease their spirits to ensure their benevolence.


Another significant aspect of Kongo belief is the concept of minkisi, which refers to objects imbued with spiritual power. Minkisi are used for various purposes, including healing, protection, and divination, and are central to the practice of Kongo medicine and spirituality. These objects are often created in collaboration with spiritual specialists, such as nganga, who play a crucial role in the religious and ceremonial life of the Kongo people.

Minkisi are not mere inanimate objects; they are considered active, potent entities that contain spiritual forces. These objects can vary widely in form, including statuettes, containers, natural objects like shells or stones, or even bundles containing various substances. The power of an nkisi is activated and augmented through the addition of bilongo (singular: lulonga), which are materials that may include herbs, minerals, and other organic or inorganic substances believed to have spiritual efficacy.

Activation and Purpose

The activation of an nkisi is typically performed by a spiritual specialist, such as a nganga (healer or priest), who imbues the object with spiritual energy and specific intentions. The process often involves rituals, prayers, and the invocation of specific spirits or ancestors. The purpose of an nkisi can be wide-ranging, addressing physical, spiritual, or social needs. Some common purposes include:

  • Healing illnesses or injuries
  • Providing protection against malevolent forces or enemies
  • Ensuring success in various endeavors
  • Divination and communication with the spiritual realm
  • Enforcing social norms and resolving conflicts

Interaction with Minkisi

Interaction with minkisi is a dynamic process, where communication with the spirit or spirits residing within the object is essential. This may involve rituals, offerings, and the use of specific language or symbols. The effectiveness of an nkisi is believed to depend on the proper observance of these practices, as well as the moral and ethical integrity of both the practitioner and the user.

Ethical Dimensions

Minkisi are not solely about personal benefit; they are deeply embedded in the ethical and communal fabric of Kongo society. Their use is often governed by a set of moral expectations, where the misuse or abuse of these spiritual objects can lead to social censure or spiritual repercussions. This reflects a broader Kongo worldview where individual actions are closely intertwined with communal well-being and the balance of the spiritual and physical worlds.

Evolution and Adaptation

The concept of minkisi has shown remarkable adaptability, evolving over time, especially in response to historical changes, such as colonialism, and the spread of Kongo people and their descendants through the African diaspora. In different contexts, such as in Afro-Caribbean religions, elements of the minkisi tradition have been adapted and integrated with other spiritual practices, showcasing the resilience and dynamism of Kongo religious heritage.


The Kongo cosmology is characterized by a profound sense of interconnectedness between the physical and spiritual worlds, with a strong emphasis on the cyclical nature of life, death, and rebirth. This worldview is encapsulated in the Kongo cosmogram, a symbolic representation of the universe that illustrates the interplay between the living, the dead, the natural world, and the divine.


Unique to Kongo mythology is the belief in Kalunga, the concept of a boundary or liminal space that separates the world of the living from the realm of the dead. This boundary is not insurmountable; it is traversed by the souls of the deceased and can be accessed through dreams, trances, or specific rituals. The interaction across the Kalunga line is a central theme in Kongo spirituality, reflecting a nuanced understanding of life, death, and the continuity of existence.

Nature of Kalunga

As a Boundary: Kalunga is often conceptualized as a body of water, such as a river or the sea, which serves as a metaphoric boundary between the physical and spiritual realms. This water symbolizes a transitional space, one that is both a barrier and a conduit for communication and interaction between the living and the dead.

As a Realm: Beyond being a mere boundary, Kalunga is also understood as a realm where the ancestors reside. It is a space of profound wisdom and power, from which guidance and protection can be sought by the living. The ancestors, while residing in Kalunga, are not detached from the worldly affairs but remain actively involved in the lives of their descendants.

Interaction with Kalunga

Communication: The Kongo people engage with Kalunga through rituals, prayers, and offerings, seeking to communicate with the ancestors and spiritual entities that reside beyond this boundary. Dreams and divination are also significant means through which messages and insights are received from the spiritual realm.

Transition: Death is viewed not as an end but as a transition to the realm of Kalunga, where the deceased ancestors assume a new role in guiding and protecting their living kin. Funerals and memorial rituals are crucial for ensuring a smooth transition for the deceased, reinforcing the ongoing connection between the living and the dead.

Moral and Ethical Dimensions: The interaction with Kalunga is imbued with moral significance. It is believed that one's actions in the physical world influence their relationship with the spiritual realm. Ethical conduct and honoring one's ancestors are seen as vital for maintaining harmony with Kalunga and ensuring the well-being of the community.

Symbolism and Representation

The concept of Kalunga is often symbolically represented in Kongo art and cultural expressions, such as the Kongo cosmogram (Tukula or Dikenga), which illustrates the cyclical nature of life and the interconnectivity of the cosmos. The cosmogram embodies the dynamics of the universe, including the flow between life and death, encapsulating the essence of Kalunga within the Kongo worldview.

Contemporary Relevance

The belief in Kalunga remains a vital element of Kongo spirituality, influencing contemporary practices and beliefs among the Kongo people and their descendants. It provides a framework for understanding the continuity of life, the importance of ancestral connections, and the inherent interdependence of all existence.

Tukula or Dikenga - The Cosmogram

The Kongo cosmogram, known as Tukula or Dikenga in the Kongo language, is a profound symbolic representation that encapsulates key aspects of Kongo cosmology and philosophy. It is a circular diagram that illustrates the interconnectivity of the universe, the cyclical nature of life, and the dynamic balance between the physical and spiritual worlds.

Structure of the Cosmogram

The Circle: The cosmogram is typically depicted as a circle, symbolizing the universe's totality and the cyclical nature of existence. The circle represents the continuous flow of life, death, and rebirth, without beginning or end.

The Cross: Within the circle, a cross is often depicted, dividing the cosmogram into four quadrants. Each quadrant represents different stages of existence, cardinal points, elements, and aspects of human life and the natural world. The cross symbolizes the intersection of the material and spiritual realms and the interplay of opposing yet complementary forces.

The Four Moments: The cosmogram delineates four key stages or moments in the cycle of existence:

  • Kala: Represents sunrise, birth, and the beginning of life. It symbolizes new beginnings, potential, and the emergence of existence from the non-physical realm.

  • Tukula: Corresponds to midday and maturity. This stage represents growth, development, and the manifestation of energy and action in the world.

  • Luvemba: Associated with sunset and the transition to the ancestral realm. It signifies completion, reflection, and the transition from the physical to the spiritual world.

  • Musoni: Represents midnight, the realm of the ancestors, and rebirth. This phase symbolizes the invisible world, the ancestors' wisdom, and the preparation for a new cycle of life.

Interconnectedness: The cosmogram emphasizes the interconnectedness of all things, illustrating how individual lives, the community, the natural world, and the spiritual realm are intrinsically linked. It serves as a guide for understanding one's place in the universe and the importance of living in harmony with the cycles of life and the cosmos.

Significance and Use:

Moral and Ethical Guidance: The cosmogram provides a framework for understanding ethical and moral behavior, emphasizing the importance of living in harmony with the natural and spiritual worlds.

Ritual and Ceremony: The cosmogram is used in various rituals and ceremonies, serving as a blueprint for connecting with the spiritual realm, honoring ancestors, and invoking spiritual guidance and protection.

Healing Practices: In the context of healing, the cosmogram can guide the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses, suggesting that health is a balance between physical, spiritual, emotional, and social well-being.

Cultural Identity: For the Kongo people and their descendants, the cosmogram is a symbol of cultural identity and philosophical heritage, encapsulating core values, beliefs, and cosmological understanding.

The Kongo cosmogram, Tukula or Dikenga, is not just a symbolic representation but a living philosophy, offering insights into the Kongo worldview and serving as a guide for living in alignment with the universe's cyclical and interconnected nature. It is a testament to the Kongo people's deep understanding of the cosmos, life, and the interplay between the physical and spiritual realms.

In summary, the religious beliefs and mythology of the Kongo people offer a rich and complex tapestry of deities, spirits, and cosmic principles that shape their understanding of the universe. These beliefs are not merely abstract concepts but are integral to the daily life, social structure, and cultural identity of the Kongo community, reflecting a deep connection to the ancestral past and a profound engagement with the spiritual dimensions of existence.

See also What is the Dikenga aka Congo Cosmogram?