Bright Lights: Queen Diambi Kabatusuila Sheds a New Light on Africa

Bright Lights: Queen Diambi Kabatusuila Sheds a New Light on Africa

Queen Diambi's journey from Boca Raton to Congo royalty showcases resilience, cultural heritage, social justice advocacy, and environmental activism.

In 2016, before she became queen of the Bakwa Luntu people of the Dimbelenge territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Queen Diambi Kabatusuila was a 48-year-old therapist going through a difficult divorce, living in Boca Raton, Florida, and having a recurring dream about an old woman in an African village.

That dream, which spanned years, sparked a yearning to learn about her ancestors, who were part of the Luba, one of the largest ethnic groups in the Congo. When she was making plans to visit the village in the Central Kasai region where her father was born, he told her she was named after her late great-grandmother—the first wife of the late king of the Bakwa Indu, which made her great-grandmother the queen.

“My brain just exploded,” she recalls. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘You are from the royal house—you and your sisters are princesses.’ I was thrilled to find out I was a princess, but I wish he told me when I was 5 so I would have known that a girl who looks like me could be a princess. I remember watching all of the Disney movies where little Black girls were never represented as royalty.”

Child of a Diplomat

Her father was born during the Belgian colonization of the Congo—a period marked by forced labor, murder, torture, and other abuses of the Congolese people. Colonial rule ended in 1960, and when her father then went to Europe to study, he met her mother, a Belgian European.

Diambi Kabatusuila was born in Belgium where her father worked as a diplomat in the Congolese embassy in Brussels. When she was 6 months old, her family moved to Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They left Kinshasa to return to Europe when she was 16, and she later moved to the United States for college.

Queen Diambi, now the mother of two adult sons and grandmother of three, holds a bachelor’s degree in business finance and economics from the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, and a master’s in psychology and mental health counseling from Lynn University in Boca Raton.

When her father shared their family history in 2016, she also learned that he was supposed to sit on the throne but refused. What he didn’t tell her was that someone from his bloodline would have to be chosen—and the elders had their eyes on her.

When she visited her father’s village, she received a blessing to honor her as the princess of the royal house. When she was asked, “Are you ready to take responsibility for your people?” she immediately said yes.

“It seemed like I was ready for that question for my entire life,” Queen Diambi says. Still, she had no idea what being queen involved. “At first I thought it was like the queen of Mardi Gras—I was going to wave on the float and there would be a big party and then I’d take my beads off and go on living my life.”

Appointment Leads to Despair

She soon learned that what was required of her as queen was not what she expected.

“A queen in our tradition is not a ruler or a governor,” she explains. “I am more like a sacred being—I represent the legacy, the history, and the door to the ancestral realm. I just had to hold that sacred space and they would be satisfied with that.”

Queen Diambi returned to Florida with one simple instruction: “Just do what your heart will tell you to do.” But back home, she fell into despair.

“I was in shock. I cried every day,” she says. “It was too big for me. I told my dad, ‘I think they made a mistake. Don’t they know my mother is white?’ I was trying to get rid of it and thought that would disqualify me. It didn’t.”

Amid her despair and confusion, she heard from a Nigerian king who had been a friend before she knew she was a princess. “He asked how I was doing,” she says. “I cried and told him I felt they made a mistake. He asked, ‘What did your people ask you to do for them?’ It dawned on me—they asked me for nothing.”

At the king’s invitation, she visited Nigeria—the first time as a queen. There, she was seated among kings. “Here I was, no longer a young woman, beaten down because I had gone through this bad divorce,” she says. “Now I was seated with the kings of Africa.”

The kings met with her in private and told her not to be afraid—they would help her. While shadowing the kings at a conference, one deferred a question to her. She was terrified but spoke from her heart. When she put down the microphone, she received a standing ovation.

“After that moment, there were many people lined up to invite me to events,” she says. “I went from being a girl with an empty dance card one day to having a full dance card the next. One thing led to another and another, and I became who I am today.”

Changing Perceptions

Not content to just be a figurehead, Queen Diambi got to work. When she returned to visit the territory one year later for her enthronement rituals and ceremony, she learned that the villagers wanted clean water, schools, medical centers, and motorbikes to get around on the dirt roads. She wasn’t paid to be queen—and she knew she couldn’t make that happen on her therapist salary.

“I knew I needed to become somebody in this world,” she says. “I needed to come out there and trust life so that people would be compelled to work with me and hear me out.”

Since embracing her role as queen, she has worked as an economic consultant and on various advising boards. Her goal is to present Africa in a different light and to create equitable partnerships that result in long-term benefits for her country and its people.

“I make sure that people understand that the way they approach Africa really has to change,” she says.

Because of her accomplishments, she was also crowned traditional queen of the African descendants of Brazil in 2019 and, in 2022, traditional queen of the Congo descendants of Panama, who are part of the historical African diaspora.

She is also an environmental activist who has been outspoken about issues like plastic pollution in the oceans. She founded the Elikia Hope Foundation, a New York City-based not-for-profit organization that raises funds to address needs like building wells in the Congo.

“Whenever I was scared, that inner voice would say, ‘Just trust and keep on going,’” says Queen Diambi, who was included in the new Netflix docuseries African Queens, which highlights the stories of prominent African female rulers.

Her background as a therapist helps her in her work, she adds: “You have to have empathy and you have to love to listen, communicate with people, and generally like to see people happy. I was like that from the time I was small. I always want to bring people together.”

This piece appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine. Subscribe now.

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