Ritual Messengers

The Peoples of Central Africa

| The Luba | Luba Royal Emblems | Luba Masks | Luba Ritual Figures |

Cupbearer. Luba. Buli workshop. Shaba, Zaïre. Wood.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren

  The Luba

Until the end of the nineteenth century, the Luba cultural area formed a kingdom encompassing a number of more or less autonomous chiefdoms under the authority of the mulopwe or sacred king. A myth about the kingdom's origins tells of a foreign hunter, Mbidi Kiluwe, whose son, Kalala llunga, became the first true mulopwe, with the help of a powerful diviner. Around 1870, the kingdom controlled a territory of about 200,000 square kilometres. In the twentieth century, the kingdom splintered into various chiefdoms, all of which now claim kinship, alliance or fealty with the dynasty founded by Kalala llunga.

Female representations prevail in Luba art. And although it may be true that the feminine image here, as elsewhere, is a symbol of fecundity, this does little to explain the ubiquitous female figure in court art. The explanation lies partly in the belief system. To make contact with the supernatural world, chief diviners let themselves be possessed by a spirit that could speak through them. According to Luba belief, women have intrinsic qualities that make them ideal communicators with the supernatural world. At the turn of the century, many more women than men became mediums of the great vidye spirits. In the past, when a sovereign died, his spirit took possession of a woman, who then became the chosen medium or mwadi. She would move into the former capital (each successor built a new one) and virtually embody the deceased king, thereby continuing his reign. In addition, the king frequently offered women of his lineage as wives to neighbouring chiefs, thus founding a network of alliances with royal wives as the essential links. Luba sculpture, in portraying the female image, illustrates the socio-political world of human beings as well as the supernatural world.

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