The Kingdom of Luba
or Luba Empire
(1585-1889) was a pre-colonial Central African state, which arose in the marshy grasslands of the Upemba Depression
Upemba Depression or Kamalondo Depression which is more commonly known by its French name Dépression de l'Upemba is a large marshy bowl area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo comprising some fifty lakes, including 22 of relatively large size including Lake Upemba and Lake Kisale...
in what is now southern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Archaeological research shows Upemba depression had been occupied continuously since at least the 5th century AD. By the 6th century, fishing people lived on lakeshores, worked iron
Iron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...
, and traded palm oil
Palm oil, coconut oil and palm kernel oil are edible plant oils derived from the fruits of palm trees. Palm oil is extracted from the pulp of the fruit of the oil palm Elaeis guineensis; palm kernel oil is derived from the kernel of the oil palm and coconut oil is derived from the kernel of the...
. Soon they began trading dried fish to inhabitants of 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 copper and charcoal which they needed
in smelting. Traders exported salt and iron items, and imported glass beads and cowry shells from the distant Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world's oceanic divisions, covering approximately 20% of the water on the Earth's surface. It is bounded on the north by the Indian Subcontinent and Arabian Peninsula ; on the west by eastern Africa; on the east by Indochina, the Sunda Islands, and...
The Luba Kingdom was founded by King Kongolo Maniema around 1585. His nephew and immediate, Kalala Ilunga
Kalala Ilunga was one of the emperors of Luba, an empire which spread over the province of Katanga into Zambia and Zimbabwe. Kalala Ilunga was the eldest son of Ilunga Mbili and nephew of King Kongolo Mwamba...
, expanded the Empire over the upper left bank territories of the Lualaba River
The Lualaba River is the greatest headstream of the Congo River by volume of water. However, by length the Chambeshi River is the farthest headstream. The Lualaba is 1800 km long, running from near Musofi in the vicinity of Lubumbashi in Katanga Province. The whole of its length lies within the...
. At its peak, the state had about a million people paying tribute to its king.
The kingdom of Luba's success was due in large part to its development of a form of a government
Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...
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
Luba may refer to:*Slavic origin feminine name which means "someone who has love"*Luba, Equatorial Guinea*Luba, Abra, a municipality in the Philippines*Ľubá, a village and municipality in the Nitra region of south-west Slovakia...
model of governing was so successful, it was adopted by the Lunda Kingdom
The Kingdom of Lunda , also known as the Lunda Empire, was a pre-colonial African confederation of states in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, north-eastern Angola and northwestern Zambia. Its central state was in Katanga....
and spread throughout the region that is today northern Angola, northwestern Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....
, 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 who kept the memory of the Luba alive and taught throughout the realm.
tradition states that all 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. 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 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.
The Luba Kingdom kept official "men of memory" who were part of a group called the mbudye. They were responsible for maintaining the oral histories associated with kings, their villages and the customs of the land. Parallels to these kinds of officials can be found in neighboring kingdoms such as Kuba and Lunda.
The local economy lead 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.
By the formation of the Luba kingdom, the economy was complex and based on a tribute system which redistributed agricultural, hunting and mining resources among nobles. The ruling class held a virtual monopoly on trade items such as salt
In chemistry, salts are ionic compounds that result from the neutralization reaction of an acid and a base. They are composed of cations and anions so that the product is electrically neutral...
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...
, and iron ore
. This allowed them to continue their dominance in much of Central Africa
Central Africa is a core region of the African continent which includes Burundi, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda....
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.
Arts & Beliefs
Like in the Kuba Kingdom
The Kuba Kingdom was a pre-colonial Central African state bordered by the Sankuru, Lulua, and Kasai rivers in the southeast of what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo...
, the Luba Kingdom held the arts in high esteem. A carver held relatively high status, which was displayed by an adze
An adze is a tool used for smoothing or carving rough-cut wood in hand woodworking. Generally, the user stands astride a board or log and swings the adze downwards towards his feet, chipping off pieces of wood, moving backwards as they go and leaving a relatively smooth surface behind...
(axe), 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 their creation myths and political society resulted in many objects of prestige being decorated with female figures.
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 which one slept on. 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.
Ultimately, however, long-distance trade destroyed the kingdom of Luba. In the 1870s and 1880s, traders from East Africa
East Africa or Eastern Africa is the easterly region of the African continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics. In the UN scheme of geographic regions, 19 territories constitute Eastern 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
The Congo Free State was a large area in Central Africa which was privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Its origins lay in Leopold's attracting scientific, and humanitarian backing for a non-governmental organization, the Association internationale africaine...