Archaeology of Rule

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Luba peoples

Lukasa (memory board)

Wood, beads

H. 40.64 cm (16")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.570

In a number of African precolonial states, history was a specific and highly valued form of intellectual activity, and art often served as a vehicle for the making of history. In the Luba kingdom, an entire institution was dedicated to the maintenance and transmission of historical knowledge. Called Mbudye, its members were "men of memory," court historians who used visual memory devices to assist with oral recitations of history. Principal among Luba memory devices is the lukasa, a flat, hand-held wooden board studded with beads and pins or covered with incised or carved ideograms. During Mbudye rituals to induct rulers into office, a lukasa is used to teach sacred lore about culture heroes, clan migrations, and the introduction of sacred rule and to recite genealogies, king lists, and the episodes in the founding charter. Each lukasa elicits some or all of this information, but the narration varies with the knowledge and oratory skill of the reader.

Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, leadership art. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.