Luba Art and Divination

by Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Mbudye official during initiation, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.


The most important function of the Mbudye association was to initiate potential rulers and other officeholders into Luba esoteric knowledge. Initiation rites consisted of four stages, during which didactic devices were used to convey complex information about the origins and premises of Luba kingship. During the third level of initiation, wall paintings were used to illustrate migrations and to show sacred sites where spirits reside across the Luba landscape. During this level, each initiate adopted a spirit persona and became clairvoyant, as reflected by the white lines of enlightenment painted around the official’s eyes. But only during the fourth and final stage of lukasa did an initiate achieve full mastery of the nuances of Luba royal precepts and prohibitions. As guardians of such knowledge, Mbudye officials could remove a king from office if he transgressed the royal codes.