Luba Art and Divination

by Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Mbudye public dances performances, Luba peoples, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.

 

In addition to serving as a check and balance to central authority, the Mbudye association also has a public entertainment dimension. Members are asked to dance for important state events, such as the occasion of a visiting dignitary, a chief’s investiture, or the death of an association member. These days, they also perform for Catholic ordination ceremonies. The Mbudye dances are intended to be both entertaining and mnemonic. Some of the skits are purely theatrical, while others reenact specific episodes of the Luba epic to remind the audience of the origins of Luba kingship. The dancers wear fur-laden skirts, which they hurl into the air, sometimes to reveal large medicinal bundles strapped to the back of their waists. The medicine empowers the dancers, who are thought to perform dazzling acrobatic feats as a result of being in a state of spirit possession.