The Luba People

 

The Luba people, or the Baluba people as William Morrison referred to them, are the African group that William Morrison served while he was a missionary in the Congo.  Although there were two groups that lived in that region, the Bakuba and the Baluba it was for the Luba that William Morrison devoted the majority of his work while his compatriot, Sheppard, worked closely with the Bakuba.  William Morrison travelled thousand of miles to reach the remote area of colonial Congo where this group thrived.

 

The Luba people come from the Southeastern part of the Congo, in what are now Katanga, Kasai, and Maniema.  In the twentieth century the Luba people numbered over five million people.  The name Luba applies to a variety of peoples that although they came from different origins spoke closely related languages, exhibited many common cultural traits, and shared a common political history.  The Luba are savanna and forest dwellers who practiced hunting, gathering, and agriculture.  The Luba people established an influential central African kingdom in the latter half of the present millennium.[1]  It was located along the tributaries and lakes of the great Congo River and was involved in long distance trade because of its access to rich natural resources such as salt, iron, palm oil, and fish.  The Luba people have a patrilineal society, each ruler claiming he was a descendant of Kalala Ilunga.  When the colonists arrived in Africa they used the Luba, or Baluba, as they called them as porters during their explorations of the Congo.   Because the Luba have no written history from before the colonists arrived those who first made contact with the Luba made it their duty to write this history.  The idea that the Luba state was an empire came from these colonists.

 

Although the colonists in the area referred to the Luba state as the Luba Empire it cannot be technically considered a true Empire in the western sense of the word.  The “empire” was actually made up of smaller independent chiefdoms that were all interconnected because of their shared culture.  When the colonists came to the Congo and they heard the genesis myth from the Luba the empire theory was born.  According to the Luba all kings are descendants of one man.  This myth legitimized the Luba royal line since all male kings claimed they were descendants of Kalala Ilunga.  The myth begins with the journey of Mbidi Kiluwe.  He arrived among the Luba people from the east and met Kongolo, a local chief.  Kongolo was a local ruler who did not know how to act like a divine chief and so Mbidi Kiluwe taught him how to become a divine ruler.  While there Mbidi Kiluwe impregnated one of Kongolo’s sisters.  The sister gave birth to Kalala Ilunga who then challenged Kongolo and became the first true divine ruler of the Luba Empire.[2]   Since this myth is repeated among all the Luba people to describe the legitimacy of the current king it was easy to draw the conclusion that the Luba state was in fact an “empire.”

 

The myth of Kalala Ilunga is an example of the literature for which the Luba were famous.  Not only did they have elaborate epic stories they were also known for their woodcarving.[3]   It is to this rich culture that William Morrison found himself presented to when he became an African missionary.Taylor Congo Pic

 

William Morrison went to serve the Luba people in the late nineteenth century.  As was his duty as a missionary he attempted to convert as many of the Luba people to Christianity as possible.  However, he went beyond the typical duties of a missionary and created a written language for them, something the Luba did not yet have.  Although colonialism had a profound impact on the culture of the Luba, before the nineteenth century the Luba was a diverse culture the was spread over a vast territory that became the Congo Free State.

 


[1] Roberts, Mary Nooter and Roberts, Allen F. “Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History.” African Arts. 1996. Page 24

[2] Reefe, Tomas Q. “Lukasa: A Luba Memory Device.” African Arts. 1977. Page 50

[3] “Luba.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 08 Dec. 2013. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/350332/Luba>.

 

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