Kuba (also called Bakuba) people are agriculturalist and a cluster of Bushong-speaking ethnic groups of the larger Bantu ethnicity living in the southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo between the Kasai and Sankuru rivers east of their confluence.
Kuba people Democratic Republic of Congo. friendsofafricaaz.org
The Kuba are surrounded by other tribes such as the Suku, Yaka, and Pende (Cole, 381). Kuba who are well-known for their advance ritualistic sculptures and masks is composed of eighteen groups located in the southern most part of the Great Equatorial Forest; which is on the boarder of the tropical forest and the open Savannah.
Wives of Kuba Nyim (ruler) Kot a-Mbweeky III, Mushenge, Congo (Democratic Republic)
Apart from the Bushong speaking principalities, other Kuba people includes the Kete, Coofa, Mbeengi, and the Cwa Pygmies. The Kuba people always refer to themselves as the Bakuba which translates to “people of the throwing knife” (Washburn , 17).
Artistic Kuba people of DRC exhibiting their indigenous arts
When the kingdom of tribes was first brought together, the people were ruled by the Bushong people from the hill country of the central Congo (Caraway);these people have contributed most of the rulers to the Kuba. Whenever a king dies, the capital is moved to the location of the new King (Washburn , 19). Intertribal trading occurred often because the Kuba were such a powerful empire (Meurant , 121). Supernatural powers are the basis for the beliefs; spells, witchcraft, and channels between the living and the dead are some of these powers. The king is the chief of the sorcerer’s and bridges the boundary between the natural and the supernatural (Meurant , 122).
In the West, very little is known about the Kuba Kingdom, however its whimsical sculptures and textiles featuring distinctive geometric patterns are famous throughout the world. Modern Cubism, which derived its name from the word, “Kuba,” was highly influenced by Kuba arts, eluded to in works by Cubist master artists including Picasso and Matisse. Due to their rarity in the West, Royal Kuba textiles and artifacts are highly sought by western collectors and occupy permanent exhibition halls in prominent art museums in New York, London, Brussels and Paris.
Their studies included that of the social, political, economic, and religious aspects of the Kuba culture (Washburn , 21). After the Kuba people were colonized, the art form began to change, it became less naturalistic and it began to disappear. Wood engravings began to match the new art forms that were influenced by the European settlers. More abstract art was being made to satisfy the European occupiers. Basketwork was no longer created like all of the other surrounding tribes; instead, they began to create baskets and containers like those of their European counterparts (Meurant , 116).
Mwashamboy (kneeling) and Bwoom (standing) maskers in a royal ceremony among the Kuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, late 20th century.
During the mwashamboy, the actor wears a mask made of leopard skin with wooden eyes, nose, ears, and mouth attached. Shells and cowries are added for detail along with an animal hair beard; a large headdress is also included to signify the one worn by the king and give more importance to the mask and its wearer. Everyone refers to this “as the king’s mask” even though he never wears it, only a man of his choice is allowed to wear it. Because there are not any eye holes in this mask, the dance is very slow and well choreographed (Cole , 389).