The Luba people also known as Baluba are a cluster of powerful ancient grassland and forest-dwelling hunters, kingdom-builders, highly spiritual cum agriculturalist Bantu-speaking peoples of Central Africa, and the largest ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are indigenous to the Katanga, Kasai, and Maniema regions which were historic provinces of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their population is close to 14 million.

Baluba dancer performing traditional dance at Kinshasa. Courtesy

The Luba people who are also great traders and sits on great natural resources in Central Africa are renowned for creating the powerful pre-colonial African kingdom of Luba in the marshy grasslands of the Upemba Depression in what is now southern Democratic Republic of Congo. Archaeologists have shown that the area where the heart of the kingdom was situated, east of the Kasai River around the headwaters of the Lualaba River, was likely inhabited by the 5th century (CE), with the beginnings of the kingdom emerging by the 14th century. The Luba Kingdom's expanded and became great due to its development of a form of government that was durable enough to withstand the disruptions of succession disputes and flexible enough to incorporate foreign leaders and governments. Based on twin principles of sacred kingship (balopwe) and rule by council, the Luba model of statecraft which was adopted by the Lunda and spread throughout the region that is today northern Angola, northwestern Zambia, and southern Democratic Republic of Congo.

                      A group of Luba men

The Luba had a wealth of natural resources such as gold, ivory, copper, frankincense and ebony but they also produced and traded a variety of goods such as pottery and masks.
The name Luba applies to a variety of peoples who, though of different origins, speak closely related languages, exhibit many common cultural traits, and share a common political history with past members of the Luba empire, which flourished from approximately the late 15th through the late 19th century. Three main subdivisions may be recognized: the Luba-Shankaji of Katanga, the Luba-Bambo of Kasai, and the Luba-Hemba of northern Katanga and southern Kivu. All are historically, linguistically, and culturally linked with other Congo peoples. The Shankaji branch is also connected with the early founders of the Lunda empire.The patrilineal Luba of Shaba (Shankaji) differ in their descent system from the Eastern Luba (the matrilineal Luba-Hemba, living east of the River Zaire); by their culture and language, they are distinct from the Western Luba (Luba of Kasai).

                              Luba people

Although the history of the Luba people is one of violence and warfare, their artistic style is characterized by harmonious integration of organically related forms. The splendid artistic achievements of the Luba are due to a felicitous intermingling of different racial and cultural elements, and to the high standards prevailing at the court. Luba arts counts amongst the finest that Africa has to offer. Artists occupied a privileged place in the hierarchy. The Luba artist carried a ceremonial ax on his shoulder, an emblem of prestige and of dignity of his position. Some apprentices would be recruited from among the deformed, who could neither hunt nor be warriors and who were believed to have a close connection with magic.
Titleholder Twite wearing ceremonial axe over his left shoulder to indicate status, Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.
 (Beautifully wrought ceremonia1 axes, with incised geometric designs on the blades and finely sculpted female heads on the shafts, belonged not only to Luba kings and chiefs but to high-ranking titleholders, female spirit mediums, secret association members, and diviners. They were worn over the shoulder to signify rank and title and also were wielded in dance and other court ceremonials. Ancient axes very similar to 19th century examples have been excavated in first millennium grave sites in the Upemba Depression and provide evidence for the antiquity of a political order based on metalworking technologies in the Luba area. Royal axes embody references to blacksmithing as a technology of transformative power, said to have been introduced to Luba by the first sacred Luba king, Kalala Ilunga. Through the making and wearing of an axe, a royal official remembers and commemorates the origins of Luba royalty.)

Among the characteristics of Luba sculpture are: intricate hair-dress, often in the form of a cross, or falling down like a cascade; a grooved diagonal band separating the hair-line from the forehead; eyes shaped like coffee-beans; small simplified ‘cat’s ears’; ornamental cicatrices in relief on the body; the surface elaborately worked and polished. The traditional carvings are for ancestor and spirit cults, for initiation, medical and divination purposes. The favorite theme in sculpture was woman since, according to the Luba myth, vilie was the first woman spirit, founder of the clan and guarantor of fertility and the lineage. Women were cult guardians, and the royal wives played an important role: sent as emissaries to the chiefs of neighboring ethnicities, they would contract profitable political alliances based on marriage.

Luba man, Laurent-Désiré Kabila, or simply Laurent Kabila, was President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from May 17, 1997, when he overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko, until his assassination by one of his bodyguards on January 18, 2001.

 Some figures are freestanding, almost always in a frontal position, often with their hands on their breasts; others are kneeling, sitting, or standing figures whose upraised hands serve as supports for bowls, seats, and neck rests. The figures are often characterized by elaborate scarification patterns on the body. The diviner, painted white, used the mboko, a seated or crouched female figure holding a bowl robbed with kaolin. He would shake her and analyze the position of the different objects the bowl contained. In the healing ritual, the sorcerer would use the kabila, or daughter of the spirit, which consisted of a figure and receptacle, which were also placed at the entry to the house during the childbirth. The female figures are modeled in rounded forms and have what is called dodu; that is, a stylistic tendency toward plumpness. One well-known Luba sub-style has been called the "long-face style" of Buli. It contrasts strongly with the roundness of other Luba figures. The faces are elongated, with angular, elegant features. Many Luba statues also carry magic ingredients on the top of the head.
Moise Tshombe, Luba man and one-time president of Katenga

Of the several mask types used by the Luba, one of the better known is kifwebe, a mask elaborated with whitened parallel grooves on a dark ground. The kifwebe masks, used by the secret society of the same name, originated in this territory. The Luba attribute its origins to three spirits, which emerged from a ditch near a lake. The female spirit was attracted by humans and went to live among them. The two male spirits stayed in the bush, but visited the village where they dazzled the inhabitants with their dancing to the point where the men begged to be initiated. These distinctive masks vary a great deal but in general are characterized by lineal patterns all over the face.  They were worn with a raffia costume. Danced in male/female couples and representing spirits, kifwebe connect this world and the spirit world. They are used to mark important periods of social transition and transformation, appearing at the death of a chief or any other eminent person, or when a person assumes an important political title. Worn on the night of the new moon, they are also performed in honor of ancestors. They also are perceived as having healing abilities.

Ethnic Luba man, Étienne Tshisekedi wa Mulumba, is a politician who leads the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), a political party in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A long-time opposition leader, he served as Prime Minister of the country (then called Zaire) on three brief occasions: in 1991, 1992–1993, and 1997.

Examples of large round kifwebe masks with broad noses, rectangular mouths, and flattened crests, entered European collections by the second half of the nineteenth century. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, the kifwebe masking tradition spread throughout the Luba and Songye regions of southwest DRC. Female masks are distinguished from male masks by geometric patterns that represent beauty, including dots, crosses, chevrons, and triangles. Entirely different are Luba masks with curved ram’s horns.
Luba artist sculpting a bowl figure, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts. 
Bowl figures are owned by both chiefs and diviners to honor and remember the critical role played by the first diviner, Mijibu wa Kalenga, in the founding of kingship. Rulers keep them at their doors, filled with sacred white chalk associated with purity, renewal, and the spirit world. Usually, however, these figures are the prerogative of royal Bilumbu diviners who use them as oracles and as receptacles for their possessing spirit's spouse. Although most bowl figures are rendered as women, this artist is sculpting a bowl figure in the form a male figure wearing an nkaka beaded headdress and holding his own mboko divining gourd. The sculpting of such ritual objects is considered to be only the first phase in a series of aesthetic modifications that the figure will undergo, from consecration by a ritual specialist with sacred chalk to the attachment of horns that enable the figure's powers of locomotion.

 Luba circular stools, carved from one tree trunk are of high artistic merit. They are usually supported by a caryatid figure of a kneeling or standing woman, the sit resting on her head and also supported by upraised arms. The headrests are also of great variety. The Luba produced ceremonial staffs and scepters of very great variety and beauty. Similar care is shown in adze and axe handles, with the blade inset like a tongue, arrow quivers, etc.  In Luba sculpture, one also finds drums, pendants, shields, bellows, and pipes.
Luba chief with a throne, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts. 
Seats are the most important emblem of Luba kingship and serve to generate memory and history. Not only is a Luba king's palace referred to as a kitenta ("seat of power"), but seating is a metaphor for the many levels in the hierarchy of Luba royal prerogative. Stools figured prominently in royal investiture rites, signaling the moment when the new ruler swore his oath of office. To attract the spirit world, the female figure supporting many Luba stools bear the marks of Luba identity and physical perfection, including scarification, an elegant coiffure gleaming black skin, and a serene, composed attitude. Yet, ironically, Luba stools were rarely intended for viewing. Swathed in white cloth and guarded by an appointed official, stools were brought out only on rare occasions and were otherwise kept in a separate village to protect against theft and usurpation of the throne.

Geography and Climate
Luba country stretches from the River Lwembe to about 50 kilometers east of the Zaire River, between 6°30′and 10°00′ S in north-central Shaba, in southern Zaire. Except for the Upemba Depression, where the Zaïre River flows through a system of marshes and lakes, the area is a wooded savanna. Annual rainfall exceeds one meter; the rainy season begins in October and ends in May, with a short break in January. The temperature keeps close to its annual average of 24°C.
mThe Luba form the largest ethnic group of Shaba. Their population is estimated at 13 million which would represent an average density of 12 people per square kilometer. Outside urban centers, high densities are found in the northern end of the Upemba Depression.

Traditional village among the Luba people near Mbuji Mayi Congo

Mythology (Creation story)
According to the genesis tradition of the kingdom, an aristocratic hunter hero coming from the East (Mbidi Kiluwe) met an aboriginal ruler (Nkongolo Mwamba). Nkongolo is said to be the son of a hyena; he is so ugly that no one resembled him before or since. His red skin symbolizes the colour of blood, and he is thus said to be “Muntu wa Malwa,” a physical and moral monstrosity who brings suffering and terror into the world—an uncivilized man who lives in an incestuous relationship with his own sisters.
It is said that Ilunga Mbidi, the black prince introduces the “civilized” practices of exogamy and enlightened government based on moral character, compassion, and justice. He is said to be beautiful, and the people identify with him.
Mbidi’s son, Kalala Ilunga, became a mighty warrior whom the ruler planned to kill. The young man had to flee to his father's country. Later, Kalala Ilunga came back to eventually defeat Nkongolo, and he (Ilunga) is recorded as being a first paradigmatic and sage king of Luba.

Baluba speak two distinct Bantu Luba languages known as Tisiluba (Ciluba; also called Luba-Kasai, Luba-Lulua, or Kikasai) and (Kiluba (Luba-Katanga or Luba-Shaba). These two Bantu languages belong to the larger Niger-Congo language phylum. The Luban languages are a group of Bantu languages established by Christine Ahmed (1995). They constitute half of Guthrie's Zone L. The languages, or clusters, along with their Guthrie identifications, are:
#Yazi (L20)
#Songe (Songye), Binji (L20)
#Hemba: Hemba (L20), Kebwe (L30), Bangubangu of Kabambare (D20)
#Nkoya (Mbwera) (L60) [perhaps in Luba]
#Luba (L30): Kaonde (L40), Kete (L20), Kanyok, Luba-Kasai (TshiLuba), Luba-Katanga (KiLuba)–Sanga–Zela, Bangubangu (of Mutingua, D20)
Of the remaining L20 (Songe) languages, Lwalu has been classified elsewhere.The others, Luna and Budya, presumably belong here.

                             Smiling Luba ladies

 Tshiluba language is spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it is a national language, along with Lingala, Swahili, and Kikongo. It is one of two major Congolese languages called "Luba". The prefix Tshi/ or Ci followed by the suffix Luba, means 'Luba language' or language of the Luba people or even the speaking of the baluba.
Tshiluba is spoken by about 7 million people, chiefly in the Kasaï Occidental and Kasaï Oriental provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.There are significant dialect differences between an eastern dialect of the East Kasai Region, spoken by the Luba people, and a western dialect of the West Kasai Region, spoken by the Lulua people. However, the differences are minor mostly consisting of differences in tones and vocabulary, but speakers understand each other without problem. Both dialects further are made up of sub-dialects. Additionally, there is also a pidginized variety of Tshiluba especially in cities where the every day spoken Tshiluba is enriched with French words and even other languages such as Lingala or Swahili.

Nevertheless this variety is not a typical form of a pidgin since it not common to every one, and changes it morphology, the quantity, and the degree to which words from other languages are used. Its form changes depending of whom speaks it and varies from city to city and from one social class to another, however, in general people speak the Tshiluba language itself in their daily lives not the pidgin. The failure of people not actually learning the language at school has resulted in the replacement of native words by French words in most part. For instance, when people are speaking they generally count in French rather than in Tshiluba; this situation where French and Tshiluba are used simultaneously makes linguists think the language has been pidginized while in reality it has not.
western dialectsEastern dialectsEnglish
luepumukela (e)salt
bidianshimatype of food)
malabamakelelayesterday/ tomorrow
Mankaji (shi)/tatu mukajitatu mukajiaunty
Example of Tshiluba Bantu language: "Bantu bonsu badi baledibwa badikadile ne badi ne makokeshi amwe. Badi ne lungenyi lwa bumuntu ne kondo ka moyo, badi ne bwa kwenzelangana malu mu buwetu." (All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.)-(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Kiluba on the other hand is spoken mostly in the south-east area of the country by the Luba people. It is spoken in the area around Kabongo, Kamina, Luena, Lubudi, Malemba Nkulu, Mulongo, Manono, and Kaniama, mostly in Katanga. Some 500 years ago or more, the Luba Kasai left Katanga and settled in the Kasai; since then, Luba Kasai (Chiluba) has evolved until it is no longer mutually intelligible with Luba Katanga.

Luba origin has two school of thoughts, one from historical and archaeological points of view and the other from oral traditions of Luba people. Historically, the larger Luba people of Africa including Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia (Lunda and Tchokwe people) were part of Bantu people that migrated out of West Africa in the Great Bantu migration. They are regarded as one of the earliest peoples to practice Ironworking in Central Africa. Their ancestors were farmers who, as early as 400 CE, inhabited the Lake Kisale region of Katanga.

                     Ancient Luba hairstyle. Circa 1888

According to the oral traditions of the Baluba, the genesis of the tradition of the kingdom, an aristocratic hunter hero coming from the East (Mbidi Kiluwe) met an aboriginal ruler (Nkongolo); unaware of the demanding customs of sacred kingship, notably of the meal rituals, he married the two sisters of this ruler and went back alone to his country. One of the sisters gave birth to a son (Kalala Ilunga) who eventually became a mighty warrior whom the ruler planned to kill. The young man had to flee to his father's country. Later, he came back, beheaded his maternal uncle, and became the first king of the Luba. These traditions gave rise to a controversy between, on the one hand, structuralists, who argue that the epic is representative of mythic ground shared by many Bantu-speaking peoples, and on the other hand, Africanist historians, who consider either that the epic contains traces of ancient historical facts or that it is a political charter legitimizing the prerogatives of the dynasty.
However that may be, the Luba Kingdom was founded in the eighteenth century or before, in the vicinity of the present town of Kabongo. It exerted a strong political influence on its neighbors and was the main reference point for many rulers' genealogies and many religious institutions of the Eastern Savanna peoples.

Archaeological research has revealed the Luba first appeared as a people around the 5th century AD, in the marshes of the Upemba Depression, in what is now the southeastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo known as the Katanga region. In the marshes of the Upemba Depression, large scale cooperation was necessary to build and maintain dikes and drainage ditches. This kind of communal cooperation also made possible the construction of dams to stock fish during the long dry season. By the 6th century the Luba were working in iron and trading in salt, palm oil, and dried fish. They used these products to trade for copper, charcoal (for iron smelting), glass beads, iron and cowrie shells from the Indian Ocean.
Around 1500, possibly earlier, the Luba began to coalesce into a single, unified state, under the leadership of kings ruling by divine sanction. The mulopwe, or king, was drawn from the balopwe, a group who acted as intermediaries between the world of mankind and the world of spirits and ancestors. The mulopwe had three sources of power:
*He headed a secular hierarchy of governors and under-governors, running down to local village headmen.
*He collected tribute from local chiefs, which was then redistributed in the form of gifts to loyal followers. In practice this tribute system amounted to a network of state controlled trade.
*The mulopwe commanded significant spiritual prestige. He was the head of the Bambudye (or Mbudye) secret society, to which all kings, chiefs and officials belonged. The Bambudye society, which included both men and women, transcended kinship lines and helped knit the realm together. Bambudye “Men of Memory” preserved the tribes oral tradition.
Russûna, a Luba chief, sits on a carved wooden stool in the form of a caryatid and rests his feet on his wife's lap.

The Luba system of ceremonial kingship proved durable enough to spread across much of Central Africa, being adopted, with modifications, by the Lunda, Lozi and other peoples.
From around 1585 the Luba expanded rapidly, securing control of copper mines, fishing, and palm oil cultivation. After c.1700, the Luba acquired maize and cassava (manioc). These new crops allowed a substantial increase in population and stimulated economic growth. This in turn added to the power and prestige of the royal authority.
Albert Kalonji, a moderate Luba tribal chief, was named President of the Mining State of South Kasai

Between c. 1780 and 1870 the Luba kingdom reached its height under three strong rulers: Ilunga Sungu (c. 1780-1810), his son Kumwimbe Ngombe (c. 1810-1840), and Ilunga Kabale (c. 1840-1874). Via intermediaries, the Luba traded from the Portuguese outposts in Angola to the Indian Ocean. Cross-shaped copper ingots and raffia cloth served as currency in a trading network where arrow poisons, drums, animal hides, ivory and dried fish were bartered for cattle, cotton, beads, iron, tools and implements.
List of Luba Kings
muLopwe = Kings/emperors
1585Foundation of the Luba kingdom
1781 to 1809Ilunga Maniema NsungumuLopwe 
c.1800 to ????Kasongo MukayamuLopweIn rebellion
1809 to 1837Kumwimba NgombemuLopwe 
1837 to 1837Ndaye MuzingamuLopweUsurper
1837 to 1864Ilunga KabalemuLopwe 
1864 to 1865Maloba KonkolamuLopwe 
1865 to 1869KitambamuLopwe 
1869 to 1886Kasongo a KalombomuLopwe 
1886 to 1889Nday a MandemuLopwe 
Division into two royal lineages
Kasongo Lineage
1889 to October 1917Kasong'wa NyembomuLopwe 
1917 to 1935Umpafu Ilunga KumwimbamuLopwe 
1935 to 1957Ilunga KisukumuLopwe 
1957 to 1964Kasongo wa NyembomuLopwe 
1964 to 1964Kisula NgoymuLopwe 
Kabongo Lineage
1942Maniema Nilemba Boniface , muLopwe 
1948 Maniema Boniface KalowamuLopwe
(Ilunga Balowa Boniface)
(Dibwe Kalowa Boniface)
October 1960 to c1980Kabongo Maniema DibwemuLopwe 
c1980 to present?Kumwimba Kabongo Kansh'imbumuLopwe

Twito-Kilukwe, a Luba Chief, 1930s

From around 1870 on the Luba kingdom went into decline. The kingship ultimately had no clearly worked out means of succession, so the kingdom was vulnerable to factional infighting. The Luba were also threatened by pressure from the Nyamwezi, a tribe from what is now Tanzania, moving around Lake Tanganyika, and by Swahili-Arabs, moving inland from the East African coast. The Nyamwezi and the Swahili-Arabs had access to guns and were allies, and this proved decisive. The Luba were not conquered, but the Swahili-Arabs were able to cut their access to trade with the jungle tribes to the north, while the Nyamwezi, under the leadership of the energetic Msiri, encroached on Luba trade to the south, where he set up his Yeke/Garanganze kingdom.
Hemmed in, the Luba now desperately needed guns, just as their economic position was eroding. To try to stem the decline, the Luba went into slave trading on a major scale, selling to the Portuguese in Angola. But the slave trade was slowly dying down, and slaves fetched less and less of a price. Also the Luba were less capable of raiding other peoples, so they began slave raiding among themselves, which sped the disruption of Luba society and the disintegration of political unity. In 1874 Ilunga Kabale was assassinated, and thereafter the Luba royal line was divided into quarreling factions. In the 1880s, much of the eastern Congo fell under the control of the Swahili-Arab adventurer Tippu Tib (Hamed bin Mohammed al-Marjebi), whose men incidentally brought smallpox with them.
The great leader baluba Kasongo Nyembo with Tshombe in 1961

In 1885, Leopold II, king of Belgium, secured European recognition of his control over the territories that became what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Leopold named this the Congo Free State, exploiting it as his own personal domain. The Luba resisted, most notably in a major rebellion in 1895, after which many Luba were sent to work as forced labor in the copper mines of Katanga. Kasongo Nyembo led another rebellion among the Luba that was not suppressed by the Belgians until 1917.
In 1960, the Belgians, faced with the rise of nationalism, granted independence to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That same year Katanga Province attempted to secede under Moise Tshombe. The Luba were divided, with one faction under Ndaye Emanuel supporting secession and another under Kisula Ngoye supporting the central government. In 1965, when Tshombe's breakaway regime collapsed, Kisula Ngoye became the dominant leader among the Luba.
Baluba girl, Lasambo, Belgian congo

Small villages are sometimes exclusively inhabited by members of the same lineage, but the larger ones are divided into lineage quarters. […] The layout of the houses of the chief, his wives, and his dignitaries followed a definite checkered plan.
An adobe building with a metal roof and a few partition walls more and more often takes the place of the ancient four-cornered house with a thatched roof and walls of branches plastered with clay. The household includes a dwelling for the husband and one for each of his wives. Young children live at their mother's house. If the owner is an important man, these houses are surrounded by an enclosure, and there is a special kitchen for his meals. “[ … ] a classic Luba house comprises three sections. First, the bed is always located to the right when entering the house, with the head always turned toward the door. The hearth is always at the foot of the bed in the right corner, away from the entrance. Over the hearth is a stand where items are laid out to dry. This is also where fish and game meat are dried. The left side of the house, opposite the bed, is empty except for the far-left corner, where a jug containing drinking water is kept. The remaining space is used for sitting on a chair, stool, mat or goatskin when it is raining outside. It is also used for sleeping quarters for close relatives when separate quarters were not available.”
The household includes a dwelling for the husband and one for each of his wives. Young children live at their mother's house. If the owner is an important man, these houses are surrounded by an enclosure, and there is a special kitchen for his meals. Among the most traditional people, next to the kitchen there are little huts for the ancestors' worship.
As stated above bed is always located to the right when entering the house.  Also, “Sometimes, out of respect for the guest, the host would give his or her bed to the guest and would sleep on a mat on the floor opposite the bed.”

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Luba practice slash-and-burn agriculture; fields are abandoned after a few seasons. The most cultivated plants are cassava and maize; to a lesser extent, one also finds sweet potatoes, peanuts, tomatoes, onions, beans, cucumbers, tobacco, and sesame. Millet and sorghum are now mainly used for brewing beer.

A women sell vegetables at a market in Lubumbashi, Katanga province, DR of Congo. Photo: FAO/Olivier Asselin

Two species are often cultivated on the same field. The main crops are produced by June. One can find banana, mango and Elaeis -palm plantations, as well as wild olive trees surrounding some villages. (Oil is derived from the fruits of the latter two.) Cotton cultivation has vanished since independance. In the Upemba Depression and, to a lesser extent, along the Zaire River, fishing is the principal economic activity. Everywhere hunting is a secondary activity. Great collective hunts take place when the savanna is set on fire, at the end of the dry season. The Luba breed sheep, goats, pigs, and some poultry, all of which are eaten on special occasions; they also breed dogs for hunting.
Industrial Arts. Among the Luba of Shaba there are blacksmiths, potters, woodworkers, sculptors, and weavers of mats, baskets, and nets. Salt making is still a viable activity in the marshes south of Kabongo. Once flourishing, the industries of iron smelting and of raffia-fiber cloth weaving have now disappeared.

At the Luwowoshi market in Lubumbashi.

 The discovery of copper crosses in eleventh-century graves proves that as early as this era, a long-distance trade connected the Upemba Depression with the Copperbelt. This trade intensified from that time onward, and it is also via the Copperbelt that the Luba acquired the glass beads and shells that were to become the means of exchange during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The currencies used for commercial and ritual purposes, although distinct, could be exchanged for each other. The Luba also traded with populations to the north and to the east: the Songye of Kasai bartered raffia cloths and other finished products for iron, copper, salt, and fish from the Luba. Commercial trips were undertaken by groups of usually less than twenty people. In the past, there were no marketplaces, as there are nowadays in the centers.

Luba man, Pépé Kallé, sometimes written as Pepe Kalle, was a soukous singer, musician and bandleader from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Pépé Kallé was born Kabasele Yampanya in Kinshasa (then Léopoldville) in the Belgian Congo, but later assumed his pseudonym in hommage to his mentor, Le Grand Kallé.

Division of Labor
 Men deal with political affairs, hunt, fish, fight, clear the bush, rear animals, make nets and fashion wooden tools, and build the framework of the house. Women do the rest of the agricultural work, brew beer, make pottery, deal with the children and the home, and tend the poultry. Children and adolescents are compelled to perform few tasks, although girls soon help their mothers at home. Political leaders, religious specialists, and specialized workers are the only people not to follow the common pattern of labor.

                               Luba woman in African wear

Land Tenure
 The first man to settle on a land is its "owner," and this title is transmitted to his successor. This dignitary has a right to a share of all that is taken from his land, whatever it may be: game, gathered or cultivated plants, salt, or iron ore. This right applies also to the lakes. As land suitable for cultivation is not scarce, its use is not the privilege of the lineage to which the landowner belongs.

Kin Groups and Descent. The patrilineages ( bisaka ; sing. kisaka ) may have alimentary taboos and may "own" some land or lakes. “The patrilineal ideology is not very developed: for example, a person's protective spirit, after which that person is named at birth, may come from either his paternal or his maternal family.” The Luba of Kasai recognize patrilineal descent and live in patrilocal villages. Luba nuclear families, whether monogamous or polygamous, were imbedded in a hierarchy of larger groups connected at different levels of descent. The most immediate descent level was the extended family. Luba extended families included seven generations of relatives identifiable by special kinship terms. These were siblings (brothers and sisters), parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In each generation, cousins were treated as siblings. “Male descendants of the same paternal grandfather were at the core of Luba extended families. These individuals had common responsibilities to the grandfather and to each other based on their fathers' position within the grandfather's household. Obligations were sanctioned by the ancestors, with rewards or punishments affecting the individual, his children or grandchildren. Extended families that were descended from a common ancestor, collectively sharing ownership rights over ancestral lands, formed the next descent level. Communal ownership of ancestral lands was the most significant feature of this level of common descent. Being a legitimate offspring of a Luba father gave a child automatic access to these lands.” “It would appear that the Luba of Shaba (Shankaji) and their neighbors had been predominantly matrilineal at some point in the distant past and that the shift to a predominantly patrilineal descent system has been a slow and on-going process. Special terms for “sister's son” (mwipwa) and “mother's brother” (manseba), found in kiLuba and languages closely related to it, are evidence fo the former matrilineal system. These matrilineal vestiges were far from incompatible with a Luba political system in which the royal patriline provided the contenders in succession disputes, and eligible royal males had to seek support from their mother's lineage and especially from their mother's brother.”

Luba man Dr. Oscar Kashala Lukumuena is a politician in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was a candidate in the 2006 presidential election. Doctor Kashala is a graduate of Harvard University and has held senior executive positions in the pharmaceutical industry.

Kinship Terminology. The Luba of Shaba (Shankaji) use Hawaian cousin terminology and bifurcate-merging avuncular terms. Joking relationships are maintained with maternal uncles and with all grandparents.

 Large-scale polygyny was the way of the ancient sacred chiefs, small-scale polygyny is the ideal of every man; monogamy is the norm and is gaining ground with Christianization. The matrimonial alliance follows a semi-complex pattern: the prospective wife may not come from any of Ego's grandparents' lineages, nor have a common great-grandparent with him, nor be a close relative by marriage (wife's sister, sister's husband's sister, brother's wife's sister, and so forth). According to Tshilemalema Mukenge, a former professor in the Department of African Studies at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, family occupies a "central place" in the personal life of each Luba, and in the social, economic and political organization of its society. The family is a source of legitimacy, social recognition, status, acceptability, and identity, and determines an individual's rights and privileges in society. The Luba are both patrilineal, in that descent, the inheritance of property rights, and the acquisition of citizenship are determined through the father's line, and "patrilocal," in that a man and his wife settle among the members of the husband's paternal lineage. The Luba practice polygamy, and "the first wife occupies a position of pre-eminence in respect to her co-wives" (Mukenge spring 2010, 21, 22, 26).
Levirate and Sororate: Sources indicate that the Luba practice levirate (Les anges du ciel 26 Apr. 2014; Mukenge spring 2010, 22) as well as sororate. Levirate is the custom of a man marrying the widow of a deceased brother (ibid.; Les anges du ciel 26 Apr. 2014). Sororate is a man marrying the sister of his deceased wife (Mukenge spring 2010). According to Mukenge, a marriage is preserved through these practices so the loss of a parent "does not become a major disruption in [the] lives" of children (spring 2010, 22). The representative of Les anges du ciel indicated that levirate was an obligation in the past, but that today it takes place if the woman consents (24 Apr. 2014). The Professor indicated that "it is quite unusual that [levirate] is enforced against the will of the widow in cities [but] it could be. According to Mukenge, a marriage is not a contract between man and woman but an "alliance" between their families expected to last beyond the lives of the spouses (Mukenge spring 2010, 22). Mukenge indicates that Luba children "are raised as sons and daughters of many fathers and mothers".
Potential marriage partners are thoroughly investigated by the two families. If they did not agree that the couple should marry, or the couple refused the families rejection of a potential marriage, “This could lead to the young man or woman running away with the candidate of his or her choice. This generally left the parents with no choice but to accept the accomplished fact when the two lovers returned to the village after consu[m]mating the union.”
Luba woman
According to Mukenge when a Luba woman accepts a marriage proposal, she invites the man to meet her parents and pay the dowry. The parents of the woman invite all close and extended family members from both families to meet on an arranged date. On that day, the father of the woman asks her if she consents to the marriage. In general, the answer is always yes. The man and his family present the dowry, which usually consists of a sum of money (the actual dowry), clothing and footwear for the bride's parents, two goats (one of which is given to her mother for the virginity of the daughter), drink, and accessories. In the past, the goat was not given to the bride's family if the woman was not a virgin, but nowadays this is not usually practiced. It is up to the family to decide what the accessories will be, but they always include oil and salt. The father of the woman considers whether the dowry and accessories satisfy his family wishes, and if they are insufficient, he indicates the correct amount to be added to the dowry. The couple can live together even if the dowry is incomplete, but the man has to complete its payment before the date agreed on with her parents. After the delivery of the dowry, the celebration begins and the families get to know each other. The woman goes to live with her new husband's family for one month, after which she returns to her family only to go back to her husband's house with the provisions for their new home.
Mukenge indicates in his article that the man usually has to rely on his family to pay the dowry since the cost is "too high" to pay himself (Mukenge spring 2010, 22). The Luba use the sale of corn, the main food crop in Lubaland, to finance the purchase of livestock, usually goats and chickens, and use some of it to pay dowries (ibid., 23). He notes that goats are "rarely" used for payment nowadays (ibid., 28). He further indicates that [t]o prevent exploitative accumulation of wealth by the beneficiary of a bridewealth, tribute by ancestral right, the ancestors obligate him to transfer wealth from his own work to another, and becoming the beneficiary of a bridewealth creates an obligation to reciprocate. The normal use of bridewealth is to obtain a wife for a family member. The ancestral norm obligates a man whose bridewealth is paid by anyone other than his own father to reciprocate with the bridewealth that comes to him from his first daughter's marriage.
Domestic Unit. The household includes a dwelling for the husband and one for each of his wives. Young children live at their mother's house. 1f the owner is an important man, these houses are surrounded by an enclosure, and there is a special kitchen for his meals; among the most traditional people, next to the kitchen there are little huts for the ancestors' worship.

Kabila family

 The possessions of a man are inherited by his brothers and his sons, the eldest taking precedence over the youngest. Levirate is frequent, and a sister's son may sometimes inherit one of his uncle's widows.

 Children stand close by their mother and are very protected until the age of weaning, at around 2 years old. Then, until the age of 7 or 8, they play with other youngsters, near their mothers. Girls begin to learn to do housework. By the age of 8 or 10, punishments are harsher; sexual dichotomy increases, especially in the games. Formerly, during the dry season, children built mock villages where they would imitate the adults' lives. Education tends to minimize the competitive spirit, for which there is no place in the games, and to emphasize conformity. Until the 1950s, children had to undergo a complex ritual initiation of several months, which was not the occasion for any utilitarian teaching. Circumcision ( mukanda in the west, disao in the east) was collective and followed by a long seclusion in a camp out of the village; nowadays the operation is carried out individually and casually on youngsters. The girls' initiation ( butanda ) was individual and took place long before puberty in the village; in the next years, the girl was tattooed and underwent manipulations aimed at developing her sexual organs. These manipulations are still usual practice.

Social Organization. The main cooperative work group is that of brothers, in particular for the building of a house. There is not much cooperation in the agricultural work. The secret societies are less powerful than in the past: the most important of them is the Mbudye society, which formerly was closely associated with political power. Synchretic churches have multiplied; among them, the Jamaa is a Catholic movement inspired by Father Tempel's famous book, Bantu Philosophy; it is focused on the union of the community and of the married couple.

Political Organization
 Before taking up his function, a potential chief (mulopwe) undergoes a test to show that the tutelar spirits of the chiefdom accept him. The critical point of the enthronment process is a four-day seclusion, during which the recipient has incestuous intercourse with a female relative and gains a new spiritual identity through close contact with some relics of his predecessors. He formerly had to be smeared with human blood to gain his full status.

Investiture ceremony for a Luba chief, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.
During investiture rites, a Luba king or chief is transformed from an ordinary mortal into a sacred ruler. Here, two elder titleholders anoint a candidate to the office of territorial chief with white chalk to indicate ritual transition and accord with the spirit world. Chalk is a metaphor for the moon, which rises to brighten the sky each month after several days of darkness. Like the rising moon, a Luba ruler brings enlightenment to his people in the form of sound leadership and heightened vision. The investiture of a king is also compared to forging iron, for just as a blacksmith transforms raw metal into useful tools and weapons, so is an ordinary mortal transformed into a superhuman being through a ceremony called "the beating of the anvils," during which a dignitary would symbolically beat upon the knees of a king to signify the creation of sacred power.

A chief has to submit to many prohibitions: he may not touch a lake, nor see a corpse, nor share his meal with anyone. In a mystical way, he is responsible for the well-being of his subjects, who are his "children"; in the past, he was killed as soon as he became mutilated or in poor health. Chiefs are surrounded by a court of dignitaries, whose functions are more or less specialized. The subdivisions of the chiefdom are controlled by local lineage headmen or secondary chiefs appointed by the court; they are responsible for the sending of tribute, the composition of which depends on the region's specialities. This tribute is the main sign of one's submission to the chief.
Luba man, Jonas Mukamba Kadiata Nzemba is a politician from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and former CEO of the state-run diamond company

Social Control. Having created life, the parents have a right to be respected: children who fail to perform their duties to their fathers may be struck by illness or great misfortunes, sent by their ancestors. Outside of this domestic setting, minor offenders are tried by judges from the village or by lineage elders; the more important cases are settled by the sacred chief, helped by his counselors. In the past, ordeals (by poison, etc.) were often imposed by ritual specialists on offenders.

Ethnic Luba man, Major General John Numbi, the Inspector General of the Congolese National Police of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Conflict. The expansion of the kingdom was the result of a warlike and matrimonial policy. In the past, after the death of a king, his potential heirs had to fight. The war dignitaries, once numerous, have become scarce since the pacification.

Religious Beliefs.
The Luba religion shares a common cosmology and basic religious tenets with many other types of African religions. Although the Kiluba language does not have a specific word for religion, it has an extensive lexicon that describes the nature of the Supreme Being, the supernatural world, and various religious activities. The Luba belief system includes the belief in the existence of a Universal Creator (Shakapanga), the afterlife, the communion between the living and the dead, and the observance of ethical conduct as a sine qua non condition for being welcomed in the village of the ancestors after death.
Mbudye official during initiation, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.
The most important function of the Mbudye association was to initiate potential rulers and other officeholders into Luba esoteric knowledge. Initiation rites consisted of four stages, during which didactic devices were used to convey complex information about the origins and premises of Luba kingship. During the third level of initiation, wall paintings were used to illustrate migrations and to show sacred sites where spirits reside across the Luba landscape. During this level, each initiate adopted a spirit persona and became clairvoyant, as reflected by the white lines of enlightenment painted around the official’s eyes. But only during the fourth and final stage of lukasa did an initiate achieve full mastery of the nuances of Luba royal precepts and prohibitions. As guardians of such knowledge, Mbudye officials could remove a king from office if he transgressed the royal codes.

Among the most-important components of the Luba religion, three important figures constitute the supernatural world: Leza (Supreme God), mikishi [sing. mukishi ], which are Territorial spirits responsible for the plentifulness of game and fish or bavidye (sing: vidye), which are mighty spirits able to possess human beings and bankambo (ancestors). In the world of the living, the main figures are kitobo or nsengha (priest), the nganga (healer), and the mfwintshi (the witch, the embodiment of evil and the antithesis of the will of the ancestors).
Religious activities include prayers, praise songs and formulas, dances, sacrifices, offerings, libations, and various rituals, including cleansing or purification and rites of passage. Besides prayers and invocations, means of communication with the divine include the interpretation of dreams and especially the practice of lubuko (divination) to consult the will of the ancestors before any important decision or to know the causes of misfortune.
At the core of the Luba religion is the notion of bumuntu (authentic or genuine personhood) embodied in the concept of mucima muyampe (good heart) and buleme (dignity, self-respect). Bumuntu stands as the goal of human existence and as the sine qua non condition for genuine governance and genuine religiosity.

Bilumbu diviners in consultation, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts. 
The most prestigious type of Luba divination is called Bilumbu, which accompanied the introduction of sacred kingship. According to the Luba epic, the first sacred king named Kalala Ilunga would never have acceded to the throne without the counsel and clairvoyance of a diviner named Mijibu wa Kalenga. Every Bilumbu diviner, male and female, past and present, incarnates Mijibu wa Kalenga when they enter a state of spirit possession. Spirit possession is triggered by a combination of percussive rhythms and religious songs, called "songs for twins," used to summon the spirits and to sustain their presence. Once the spirit has come to mount a diviner’s head, the diviner has the capacity to read and interpret the divinatory signs in the gourds that are used to “see” a problem and to construct meaning from misfortune. Here, a highly reputed father and son team perform morning consultations.

Although the Luba notion of bulopwe is rooted in the concept of divine kingship, no one in practice identified the king with the Supreme God during the time of the Luba empire. Power was never personal; it was exercised by a body of several people. The Luba understood that the power of the king should be limited and controlled to guarantee the welfare of the people. Thus, the Luba empire was governed by an oral constitution based on the will of the ancestors (Kishila-kya-bankambo). A powerful religious lodge, the bambudye, acted as an effective check on the behaviour of the king and even had the power to execute him in case of excessive abuse of power. It was assumed that the king had to obey the mandate of heaven by governing according to the will of the ancestors. Those ideals of genuine personhood and good government had their foundation in the spiritual values inculcated by Luba religion.

Luba diviners, Katanga, 1959.

The Luba religion was disseminated to the outside world by the publication of Placide Tempels’s Bantu Philosophy in 1945. The controversy generated in the international community by that book and its notion of “Bantu philosophy” placed Luba religion and thought at the centre of the vast intellectual debate that led to the birth of contemporary African philosophy and African inculturation theology.
Luba female diviner reading contents of a gourd, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.
While Bilumbu diviners communicate with their possessing spirits by incantations, songs, and percussion, the spirits respond through visual codes, including the kinetic arrangement of items in a gourd. The gourds contain a wide assortment of natural and manufactured items, including small figurative sculptures that stand for various conditions, states of being, and aspirations. Diviners shake the gourd while asking their possessing spirit a series of questions, then "read" the arrangement of figures as they land and fall next to one another. From these, the diviner begins to form "organizing images" and a hypothesis concerning the client's difficulty. The process is repeated until a relatively clear picture of the problem has emerged. The juxtapositions of the gourd's objects remind diviners of certain general rubrics and relationships through which they can classify the client's specific case.

Catholic and Protestant missions have settled in many regions of Lubaland; their influence is felt everywhere, but it has not put an end to the belief in the power of the spirits and of the sorcerers. Integration of Christian beliefs and traditional ancestor worship systems developed through several movements. The Jamaa movement was an attempt to revamp Christianity by organizing its teaching around selected compatible principles of the African worldview. Kimbanguism was born as a revolt against European hostility to Congolese peoples' values and interests. The Dieudonnes diviners used the Holy Spirit, a Christian weapon popularized by Kimbanguism, to fight sorcery; this was a deep-seated need in the traditional African belief system. Prophetic churches represent an amalgamation of elements from the two religious traditions designed to meet the spiritual and material needs of urban migrants, underpaid workers and middle-class individuals experiencing downward mobility. Synchretic churches have multiplied; among them, the Jamaa is a Catholic movement inspired by Father Tempel's famous book, Bantu Philosophy; it is focused on the union of the community and of the married couple.

Religious Practitioners
 Many specialists communicate with the spirits. The head of the household leads the familial ancestors' cult; he prays to them in front of their little huts in his courtyard when there is a problem or at the new moon, which is the day of the spirits.
Luba diviner wearing beaded headdress, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.
Once Bilumbu diviners have been "seized" by the spirit, they chalk their laces with pemba chalk, called "the diviner’s oil," and don accoutrements that reflect the spirit's special attributes. Bilumbu attire includes bead and shell necklaces, turtle-shaped arm bands, animal pelts, leathers, and the beaded headdress called nkaka, which refers to a pangolin. Pangolin scales are considered strong, durable, and resistant, and for this reason, they are often included in the medicinal compositions of Luba diviners and healers. An nkaka headdress is worn by all royal specialists who undergo possession, and the purpose of this colorful rectangular headband, with its juxtaposed isosceles triangles and lozenges, is to take hold of the spirit as it mounts the diviner’s head and to contain, control, and protect it—in the same way a pangolin wraps itself up in a ball, its horny scales defending it from danger.

Among the lineages possessing some lake or some land, a kitobo priest is in charge of offering beer to the territorial spirits when the game or fish disappear. Professional mediums (male and female) are possessed by the mighty spirits. When they go into trance, the spirits speak through their mouth; they carry out divination and are in charge of locating sorcerers and their charms.

Kashekesheke divination, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts. 
An ancient non-royal form of divination practiced by Luba and Luba-related peoples is called kashekesheke in the Luba heartland and katatora in surrounding regions. Diviner and client together hold a small sculpted instrument that responds to the diviner’s questions through coded movements to reconstruct past events and to resolve present problems. Kashekesheke does not involve spirit possession, but rather derives its agency from medicinal substances implanted in the diviner’s right hand. When the hand makes contact with the sculpture, family spirits are invoked to assist with problems both personal and collective. The name kashekesheke imitates the sound of the instrument as it swishes across the mat, but it also means "to vomit the truth." As one Luba proverb says of this process, "There is no liar in kashekesheke divination, because you are holding [the instrument], and so am I."

Ceremonies. The enthronement and the funeral of the mulopwe, of his dignitaries, and of the kilumbu are occasions for great ceremonies. The public announcement of a woman's first pregnancy, birth, marriage, funeral, and the end of mourning are regarded as being important steps in one's ritual life cycle. In the past, the coming of the first teeth, the boys' circumcision, the girls' initiation, the harvest of the first crops, and the great hunts at the end of the dry season were occasions for collective rites.

Arts. Luba wood sculptures (caryatid stools, bowl bearers, bowstands, cups, staffs, spears, paddles, axes, etc.) have earned their excellent reputation, but they are mostly ancient works. They are intended for the mulopwe, his court, and the ritual specialists. To gain any efficaciousness, a statue has to be activated by a ritual specialist, who introduces some charms into it so that it can serve as a receptacle for spirits. The Mbudye society uses a wood board ornamented with patterns of beads or other elements as a mnemonic device to relate the kingdom's history. The exact use of the numerous masks has not been cleared up; they seem to be connected with secret societies and with the circumcision ceremonies. Chiefs had their musicians.

Medicine. Every sickness is supposed to have originated from a spiritual cause, and a divination process is employed to discover it. The sick person either has to apply to the spirits responsible for his misfortune and to submit to some ritual obligations in connection with them, or must have a charm made up to protect him from the harm of the sorcerers.

Death and Afterlife
 Some people, even if sociable during their lifetime, become malevolent after their death. Expulsion rites are then required. In the past, the Tusanji secret society was responsible for neutralizing malignant spirits, by unearthing their corpses and ritually eating them. Usually, however, the spirits of the dead are benevolent and protect the members of their family who are still alive. Dead people who have no link with the living and who do not give their names to newborns sink into a deeper afterworld, more gloomy than the first (which is described as a continuation of earthly life).

The Kingdom of Luba or Luba Empire (1585-1889) was a pre-colonial Central African state that arose in the marshy grasslands of the Upemba Depression in what is now southern Democratic Republic of Congo. The Luba peoples occupy a land of rivers and savanna and as early as the seventeenth century, Luba society consisted of an extensive, centrally organized state structured on the principles of divine kingship and rule by council.
The emergence of the Luba and Lunda empires in the seventeenth century had a profound impact upon political and artistic practices in the Central African savanna. The Luba empire's expansion was due to its development of a form of government that was durable enough to withstand the disruptions of succession disputes and flexible enough to incorporate foreign leaders and governments. Based on twin principles of sacred kingship (balopwe) and rule by council, the Luba model of statecraft was adopted by the Lunda and spread throughout the region that is today northern Angola, northwestern Zambia, and southern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Archaeological research shows that the Upemba depression had been occupied continuously since at least the 5th century AD. By the 6th century, fishing people lived on lakeshores, worked iron, and traded palm oil. Soon they began trading dried fish to the inhabitants of the adjacent forest regions.
By the 10th century, the people of Upemba had diversified their economy, combining fishing, farming and metal-working. Metal-workers relied on traders to bring them the copper and charcoal that they needed in smelting. Traders exported salt and iron items, and imported glass beads and cowry shells from the distant Indian Ocean.
Dynastic rulers of the Luba empire traced their ancestry to the mythic Kalala Ilunga, a hunter who was credited with toppling the cruel and despotic ruler Nkongolo and introducing signature elements of Luba culture. Because of their divine status, Luba kings became deities upon their deaths, and the villages from which they ruled were transformed into living shrines devoted to their legacies. The Luba heartland was studded with these landmarks. Official "men of memory," members of the mbudye association, were responsible for maintaining the oral histories associated with these sites and interpreting historical precedent for the benefit of the community and current rulers.
The prestige attached to this vaunted lineage of sacred kings was enormous and rulers of small, neighboring chiefdoms were often eager to associate themselves with Luba culture. In return for tribute in goods and labor, these less powerful rulers were integrated into the royal lineage and adopted the sacred Luba ancestors as their own. Luba courtly traditions, including artistic styles and sculptural forms, were also passed along to client states. Kalala Ilunga was credited with the introduction of advanced iron forging techniques to the Luba peoples. Consequently, skillfully wrought iron axes and spears were important symbols of rule in the Luba empire.

The kingdom of Luba's success was due in large part to its development of a form of a government durable enough to withstand the disruptions of succession disputes and flexible enough to incorporate foreign leaders and governments. It was based on the twin principles of sacred kingship and rule by council. The Luba model of governing was so successful that it was adopted by the Lunda Kingdom and spread throughout the region that is today northern Angola, northwestern Zambia, and southern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Law and order were handled by the king, known as the Mulopwe, with the assistance of a court of nobles known as Bamfumus. The kings reigned over his subjects through clan kings known as Balopwe. The diverse populations of the Luba were linked by the Bambudye, a secret society that kept the memory of the Luba alive and taught throughout the realm.

The Mbudye tradition states that all of the rulers of the Luba Empire traced their ancestry to Kalala Ilunga, a mystical hunter credited with toppling the cruel ruler known as Nkongolo. This figure is also credited with the introduction of advanced iron forging techniques to the Luba peoples. Luba kings became deities upon their deaths, and the villages from which they ruled were transformed into living shrines devoted to their legacies.
Kalamata, chief of the Luba against watercolor by Dardenne, 2011 
Archival digital photograph on Hahnemühle PhotoRag, 100 x 128 cm 
Edition of five 
Sammy Baloji (Congolese, born 1978) 
(C) Sammy Baloji 

The Luba heartland was dotted with these landmarks. Central to Luba regalia for kings and other nobles were mwadi, female incarnations of the ancestral kings. Staffs, headrests, bow stands and royal seats featuring this subject represented the divine status of the ruler and the elegant refinement of his court. "Luba rulers and certain dignitaries possess elegant staffs that affirm their power and position. Hereditary objects passed down the royal line, staffs played a critical part in precolonial investiture processes, during which the chief’s sister and/or first wife preceded him with the staff and placed it next to the throne. The ruler held the staff as he swore his oath of office. Beyond their roles as prestige emblems, staffs still serve as historical documents; their forms and designs encode information about their owners' lineage history. Like chronicles and witnesses to the past, these emblems document the local-level political histories that constituted the larger Luba state. A Luba staff is like a map, to be read from top to bottom, for a staff tells the story of an individual family, lineage, or chiefdom and of how kingship came to a particular region."
When a Luba king died, his spirit was incarnated by a female spirit medium, whose title was Mwadi. Luba people say that only a woman's body is strong enough to hold a spirit as powerful as that of a king, which is why sculpture dedicated to kingship is almost always female in gender. This Mwadi was the incarnation of King Kasongo Niembo, who died in 1931. She resided in the former royal village, acquired his titleholders and insignia and received gifts on a regular basis from the new king who established his residence in a different locale. The residences of the thirteen Luba kings thus became sites of memory and were called spirit capitals where the Mwadis ruled their "kingdoms of the dead." Each Mwadi was succeeded at her own death by another woman in her lineage, thus ensuring the perpetuation of the king's memory.
A Mwadi spirit was the incarnation of the King Kasongo Niembo, who died in 1933, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1970s. Photo by Thomas Q. Reefe. Submitted by Mary Nooter Roberts.

Luba kingship was counterbalanced by a number of institutions with specialized functions. Most important was Mbudye, an association responsible for the maintenance and transmission of historical knowledge. Mbudye court historians ("men of memory") still use sculpted memory devices to assist with the recitation of court history, king lists, and other aspects of Luba esoteric knowledge. Principal among Luba memory devices is the lukasa, a flat, hand-held wooden board studded with beads and pins or covered with incised or carved ideograms. During Mbudye rituals to induct rulers into office, a lukasa is used to teach sacred lore about culture heroes, clan migrations, and the introduction of sacred rule. Each lukasa elicits some or all of this information, but the narration varies with the knowledge and oratory skill of the reader. Lukasas do not symbolize thought so much as stimulate it.
Mbudye officials displaying emblems of office, including two lukasa memory boards and staff of office, Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.

In addition to serving as a check and balance to central authority, the Mbudye association also has a public entertainment dimension. Members are asked to dance for important state events, such as the occasion of a visiting dignitary, a chief’s investiture, or the death of an association member. These days, they also perform for Catholic ordination ceremonies. The Mbudye dances are intended to be both entertaining and mnemonic. Some of the skits are purely theatrical, while others reenact specific episodes of the Luba epic to remind the audience of the origins of Luba kingship. The dancers wear fur-laden skirts, which they hurl into the air, sometimes to reveal large medicinal bundles strapped to the back of their waists. The medicine empowers the dancers, who are thought to perform dazzling acrobatic feats as a result of being in a state of spirit possession.
Mbudye public dances performances, Luba peoples, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.

The local economy led to the development of several small Luba kingdoms. Luba traders linked the Zaire forest to the north with the mineral-rich region in the center of modern Zambia known as the Copperbelt. The trade routes passing through Luba territory were also connected with wider networks extending to both the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts.

With the formation of the Luba kingdom, the economy was complex and based on a tribute system that redistributed agricultural, hunting and mining resources among nobles. The ruling class held a virtual monopoly on trade items such as salt, copper, and iron ore. This allowed them to continue their dominance in much of Central Africa.

Arts and beliefs
As in the Kuba Kingdom, the Luba Kingdom held the arts in high esteem. A carver held relatively high status, which was displayed by an adze (axe) that he carried over his shoulder. Luba art was not very uniform because of the vast territory which the kingdom controlled. However, some characteristics are common. The important role of woman in the creation myths and political society resulted in many objects of prestige being decorated with female figures.
Axe, 19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of Congo; Luba, Songye
Iron, copper, wood; L. 14 17/32 in. (36.9 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Werner Muensterberger, 1959 (1978.412.370)
(This magnificent axe was originally one of several chiefly accoutrements owned and displayed by a Songye ruler in what is today southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Its complex form and construction indicate that it was made by a master smith. The artisan worked with hot, malleable iron to create the axe head's overall form—its angular corners, curving blade, and twisting metal struts. Once it had cooled, he used a hammer and chisel to decorate the blade surface with incised lines and circles. The faces that appear on both sides of the axe head were produced using this technique. They may be miniature depictions of kifwebe masks, a type of face mask danced by members of the bwadi bwa kifwebe society. This association was charged with enforcing and expanding the political and supernatural strength of the ruling class, and was intimately linked to displays of chiefly power. The appearance of this emblematic mask form on royal prestige objects indicated the ruler's control over the association and, in turn, the association's support of his leadership.
The axe's massive handle matches the blade's solidity and scale. Its flared base and bulbous apex echo the blade's spreading curves, while the striking opulence of the copper sheeting counterbalances the visual complexity of the iron blade. A precious metal originating far to the south at the headwaters of the Zambezi River, copper was an expensive and rare material. Its extensive use in this piece not only beautifies it, but also indicates the ruler's participation in and mastery over long-distance commerce.
Axes were employed as symbols of royal power throughout present-day southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Angola. Elaborate versions of this functional tool were created as royal scepters that were potent symbols of civilization and cultural achievement. They represented the body of esoteric skills and knowledge associated with ironworking, an activity rich in practical as well as supernatural significance. Indigenous rulers often traced their ancestry back to culture heroes credited with the discovery of ironworking, and these metal implements reinforced those dynastic connections and suggested the leaders' control over potent processes of creation and transformation. The wooden handles of royal axes were often highly decorated, covered with exquisitely carved motifs or encased in precious metals or animal hides)

Headrests and staffs were of great importance in relation to beliefs about prophetic dreams and ancestor worship. Dreams were believed to communicate messages from the other world. Therefore it was common to have two priestess figures adorned on a headrest on which one slept. Luba staffs, usually owned by kings, village chiefs or court dignitaries, were also carved with dual or paired female figures. Single figures on art pieces, specifically staffs, represented deceased kings whose spirits are carried in a woman’s body.
Neckrest: Female Figure, probably 19th century
Democratic Republic of Congo; Luba or Shankadi
Wood, beads; H. 6 3/8 in. (16.2 cm)
Gift of Margaret Barton Plass, in Honor of William Fagg, C.M.G., 1981 (1981.399)
(Used by a member of the Luba elite, this diminutive sculpture elevated the head of its resting owner. Its function may appear prosaic but it served an important purpose by protecting the sleeper's elaborate coiffure, itself a work of art requiring some fifty hours to create. Here, the artist has composed a playful visual pun by emphasizing and enlarging the swooping curves of the sculpted figure's own hairstyle, mirroring the equally elaborate hair designs it helped to preserve.
This neckrest is one of a group of less than twenty works attributed to a single master sculptor. Because of the exuberant treatment of the fan-shaped hair arrangement, a typical hairstyle of this region in the nineteenth century, this artist is known as the Master of the Cascade Coiffure. Here, he interprets the human form as a series of acute angles and slender lines, creating volume by framing space with delicate limbs and fins of hair rather than filling it with heavy forms. Opposing forces create rhythms that lend harmony and balance to the figure's asymmetrical pose: the upward thrust of the left knee is answered by the downward push of the right elbow, while the bent right leg and left arm extend outward in opposite directions. Triangular openings created by the arms and legs echo the wedge forms of the complex coiffure design. Finally, the slight twist of the torso adds yet another layer of visual dynamism to this functional sculpture.)

Among the Luba, the name "Nkole" appears at the head of every genealogy. It is an honorific title, with the literal meaning of "the essentially powerful." It was given to the three most distant patriarchs and inserted symbolically in all genealogies.

In Baluba tradition, the "Kasala" is a well-defined form of slogans or free-verse poetry. It is chanted or recited, sometimes with instrumental accompaniment, by both men and women who are professional specialists. It dramatizes public events that call for strong emotions, such as courage in battle, collective joy at official functions, and bereavement at funerals. In both style and content, the kasala by itself is a quite diverse genre along with proverbs, myths, fables, riddles, tales and historical narratives.
Bow Stand with Female Figure, 19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of Congo; Luba
Wood, metal, beads, string; H. 38 1/2 in. (97.8 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift and The Wunderman Foundation Gift, 1963 (1978.412.486)
(This elegant bow stand was one of several royal sculptures owned by a Luba monarch. Such artifacts make a reference to the Luba culture hero Mbidi Kiluwe, a foreign prince who ushered in an era of enlightened leadership and founded a dynasty of sacred Luba kingship. Luba ceremonial bow stands were never displayed in public, but were kept within the king's residence and guarded by a female dignitary.
Female imagery is prominently integrated into insignia of Luba leadership. In Luba culture, women's bodies are conceived as receptacles for the spiritual power that protects and upholds the tenets of divine kingship. In this example, a female figure is represented as the shaft. Her extensively embellished skin and elaborate coiffure are those of a cultivated and highly respected member of society and embody an ideal of Luba civilization.
Royal bow stands refer to the culture hero Mbidi Kiluwe's identity as a hunter. They evoke the skill and rarified knowledge associated with that often dangerous activity. Five miniature antelope horns carved into the end of the central extension link the ruler not only to the power of nature but also to the arts of healing that draw upon such materials. The conical iron studs that appear on all three arms of the bow stand are tiny replicas of anvils used to pound and shape iron. They are at once a reference to Mbidi's introduction of ironworking technology to Luba society and the challenging rites of investiture a Luba leader undergoes. Like metal, a new king must be shaped and strengthened for the difficult tasks he will perform as ruler.)

Stool: Kneeling Female Caryatid, 19th century (?)
Democratic Republic of Congo; Luba or Shankadi
Wood, glass beads; H. 23 1/4 in. (59.05 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969 (1978.412.317)
(This ornate and impressive seat of leadership belonged to a Luba chief. Luba leaders trace their ancestry to a dynasty of sacred kings, and Luba royal seats are intended to replicate an original seat of office owned by the progenitor of this divine lineage. Such works associate their owner with the source of his legitimacy.
Despite their functional form, royal stools are never used for sitting but, rather, are sacred insignia preserved within a king's palace. They serve as metaphorical, not literal, seats of kingship. The design of Luba seats of leadership may either be abstract or figurative. Those incorporating female caryatids give expression to the Luba conception of the female body as a spiritual receptacle that supports divine kingship. The aesthetic refinement of the female body through elaborate skin ornamentation and coiffure serves as a metaphor for the civilization and refinement that Luba rulers disseminate within society. This particular caryatid displays filed teeth, a practice of beautification thought to render spoken language more "sweet" by weaving words and sentences into utterances of admirable clarity and beauty.
Blue and white beads such as those that embellish this caryatid are worn by important members of the court and provide spiritual protection for their owners. Here, the beads emphasize the caryatid's high social status and shield both the king and the stool itself from supernatural harm.)

The prestige attached to the lineage of the sacred kings was enormous, and rulers of small neighboring chiefdoms were eager to associate themselves with Luba culture. In return for tribute in goods and labor, these less powerful rulers were integrated into the royal lineage and adopted the sacred Luba ancestors as their own. Luba courtly traditions, including artistic styles and sculptural forms, were also passed along to client states.

Ultimately, long-distance trade destroyed the kingdom of Luba. In the 1870s and 1880s, traders from East Africa began searching for slaves and ivory in the savannahs of central Africa. Tempted by the lure of quick profits, warriors began raiding the empire for slaves, beginning the rapid destruction of the Luba Kingdom. In 1899, the empire was split in two by a succession dispute, ending the empire as a unified state. The empire was later absorbed into the Belgian Congo Free State.
Luba village chief and wife displaying staff of office, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.
Luba rulers and certain dignitaries possess elegant staffs that affirm their power and position. Hereditary objects passed down the royal line, staffs played a critical part in precolonial investiture processes, during which the chief’s sister and/or first wife preceded him with the staff and placed it next to the throne. The ruler held the staff as he swore his oath of office. Beyond their roles as prestige emblems, staffs still serve as historical documents; their forms and designs encode information about their owners' lineage history. Like chronicles and witnesses to the past, these emblems document the local-level political histories that constituted the larger Luba state. A Luba staff is like a map, to be read from top to bottom, for a staff tells the story of an individual family, lineage, or chiefdom and of how kingship came to a particular region.

Luba chief with lukasa and staff, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.   
Both lukasas and staffs are memory devices used to delineate the cardinal points of a socially and ideologically significant space. Just as a lukasa often represents a king's royal residence, so are the broad sections expanding from the shafts of staffs called dibulu, a synonym for "royal court," but with more specific reference to the administrative precinct of a court. From one to three such administrative centers may be represented on a given staff, whose shaft symbolizes the uninhabited savanna that connects one town to another. Staffs with multiple flanges reflect distance from the Luba heartland and usually record how a particular king brought royalty to a local village grouping in order to create a client territory on the edge of the kingdom. In addition to their historical roles, some staffs are imbued with magical substances for the protection of the chief’s compound.

Luba diviner’s wife with nkishi figures, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.
Diviners and healers use an array of nkishi (sculpted human figures) for particular problems and purposes: some provide general protection; some catch thieves; others help retrieve lost articles. The two figures shown here served to reverse sterility. An nkishi is considered an inanimate piece of wood until charged with bijimba (magical substances). Bijimba generally consist of tiny fragments of things and experiences that together create what Luba and Tabwa peoples call "a little world." Bijimba may be enclosed in a horn inserted in the figure's head, embedded in tiny holes carved at the figure's ears, temples, or other points of articulation. By charging a figure in this way, a spirit to inhabit the figure and endows it with extraordinary powers, so that it can assist the diviner in his or her attempts to change the world for the better.

Mboko divination, Luba people

Appuie-tête Luba-RDC

Luba Bowl Bearer Sitting Female Congo Africa

Caryatid throne stool from the school of the Buli Master, Kingdom of the Luba ( · Found on