Luba Art and Divination

by Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Luba chief with lukasa and staff, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.  

 

Both lukasas and staffs are memory devices used to delineate the cardinal points of a socially and ideologically significant space. Just as a lukasa often represents a king's royal residence, so are the broad sections expanding from the shafts of staffs called dibulu, a synonym for "royal court," but with more specific reference to the administrative precinct of a court. From one to three such administrative centers may be represented on a given staff, whose shaft symbolizes the uninhabited savanna that connects one town to another. Staffs with multiple flanges reflect distance from the Luba heartland and usually record how a particular king brought royalty to a local village grouping in order to create a client territory on the edge of the kingdom. In addition to their historical roles, some staffs are imbued with magical substances for the protection of the chief’s compound.