Royal double-cup. Luba. East Kasai/Shaba, Zaïre.
© Africa-Museum, Tervuren
Although they were produced in
different areas and are stylistically different, eight of the Luba works
shown in the exhibit cup, bowl, caryatid stool, staffs, spear, axe and
arrow-rest can be classified as emblems of prestige associated with the
sacred kingdom. These sculptures, in fact, all belong to the regalia that,
according to Luba tradition, the mythical founder of the kingdom, Mbidi
Kiluwe, handed down to his son Kalala llunga, the first sacred Luba king.
The insignia on the sculptures are believed by the Luba to be replicas of
the first royal emblems. The king authorized local independent chiefs, also
called mulopwe, to reproduce them.
The cupbearer is an emblem of power that is also associated with the art of
divining. The term mboko, often used for this type of sculpture, describes
more specifically a cup or calabash containing white clay used in rituals.
This container has a direct link with the initiation quest that a future
king or mulopwe must undertake before his enthronement. As well as the king
or chief, important kilumbu diviners also use these special cups. The kaolin
inside the cup represents the means of communication between human beings
and the vidye spirits, who are the ultimate guardians of Luba territory.
The sculptor of the cupbearer has gained notoriety as "Buli Master." For
the first time in the history of African art, as a result of the comparative
studies of F.M. Olbrechts, a collection of sculptures has been successfully
grouped and identified as the production of a single workshop, and perhaps
even one artist.