By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the CongoLuba artist



Felix Collection

Investiture rites of a king often involve a series of transformative rituals that change the candidate from an ordinary person into an extraordinary being with supernatural powers. In the past, Luba investitures consisted of a series of dangerous rites that categorically set rulers apart from other members of society. Aspiring chiefs were required to prove themselves by overcoming cultural taboos. First, incumbents committed incest with a female relative. Candidates were also to sleep sequestered away with the relics of their predecessors. Finally, blood was the agent that activated their reign. Royal candidates were to drink blood from the dried cranium of their predecessor in a ceremony called kutomboka, a practice that was later replaced by a sculpted wooden cup in the form of a human head.

Investiture ceremony for a Luba chief, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.