The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Luba Art and Divination

by Mary Nooter Roberts (1960-2018)
University of California, Los Angeles

Mbudye officials displaying emblems of office, including two lukasa memory boards and staff of office, Luba artist, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.


Luba kingship was counterbalanced by a number of institutions with specialized functions. Most important was Mbudye, an association responsible for the maintenance and transmission of historical knowledge. Mbudye court historians ("men of memory") still use sculpted memory devices to assist with the recitation of court history, king lists, and other aspects of Luba esoteric knowledge. 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. Each lukasa elicits some or all of this information, but the narration varies with the knowledge and oratory skill of the reader. Lukasas do not symbolize thought so much as stimulate it.