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 http://africaphotographer.blogspot.com/
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 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.
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 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:
#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 dialects||Eastern dialects||English|
|bidia||nshima||type of food)|
|Mankaji (shi)/tatu mukaji||tatu mukaji||aunty|
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.
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.
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
|1585||Foundation of the Luba kingdom|
|1781 to 1809||Ilunga Maniema Nsungu, muLopwe|
|c.1800 to ????||Kasongo Mukaya, muLopwe||In rebellion|
|1809 to 1837||Kumwimba Ngombe, muLopwe|
|1837 to 1837||Ndaye Muzinga, muLopwe||Usurper|
|1837 to 1864||Ilunga Kabale, muLopwe|
|1864 to 1865||Maloba Konkola, muLopwe|
|1865 to 1869||Kitamba, muLopwe|
|1869 to 1886||Kasongo a Kalombo, muLopwe|
|1886 to 1889||Nday a Mande, muLopwe|
|Division into two royal lineages|
|1889 to October 1917||Kasong'wa Nyembo, muLopwe|
|1917 to 1935||Umpafu Ilunga Kumwimba, muLopwe|
|1935 to 1957||Ilunga Kisuku, muLopwe|
|1957 to 1964||Kasongo wa Nyembo, muLopwe|
|1964 to 1964||Kisula Ngoy, muLopwe|
|1942||Maniema Nilemba Boniface , muLopwe|
|1948 Maniema Boniface Kalowa, muLopwe|
(Ilunga Balowa Boniface)
(Dibwe Kalowa Boniface)
|October 1960 to c1980||Kabongo Maniema Dibwe, muLopwe|
|c1980 to present?||Kumwimba Kabongo Kansh'imbu, muLopwe|
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).