Luba Art and Divination

by Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Investiture ceremony for a Luba chief, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.

During investiture rites, a Luba king or chief is transformed from an ordinary mortal into a sacred ruler. Here, two elder titleholders anoint a candidate to the office of territorial chief with white chalk to indicate ritual transition and accord with the spirit world. Chalk is a metaphor for the moon, which rises to brighten the sky each month after several days of darkness. Like the rising moon, a Luba ruler brings enlightenment to his people in the form of sound leadership and heightened vision. The investiture of a king is also compared to forging iron, for just as a blacksmith transforms raw metal into useful tools and weapons, so is an ordinary mortal transformed into a superhuman being through a ceremony called "the beating of the anvils," during which a dignitary would symbolically beat upon the knees of a king to signify the creation of sacred power.