By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the CongoLuba peoples


Wood, cowrie shells

H. 66.36 cm (26 1/8")

Private Collection of the Lee Family

During the Luba "age of kings" (1700-1850), the enthronement of a new ruler included a ceremony called "the beating of the anvils,” through which the making of a king is compared to the process of forging iron. Ironworking informs the ideology of Luba kingship through references to smelting and blacksmithing as arts of metamorphosis through which memory, and kings, are "forged." When a hammer-shaped anvil is struck against his knees during enthronement, a king is created in memory of the original culture bearer who introduced ironworking technologies. Just as a blacksmith uses an anvil to transform raw iron into an object of art or utility, so the once common man is forged into a king through ritual. Objects decorated with conical iron pins echoing the form of the sacred anvil recall the transformative power of sacred rule (Dewey and Childs 1996).