King Kongolo founded the Luba Empire in 1585 during the Upemba depression.  The Kingdom saw rapid expansion, encompassing the upper left bank territories of the Lualaba River; this was achieved under the reign of Kalala Ilunga, King Kongolo’s successor and nephew.  At the peak of the Luba Empire, there were about a million people paying tribute to its king.  The empire was severely weakened towards the end of the 19th century due advancing Ovimbundu people from Angola as well as the raids from the East African Muslims slavers, and eventually the Belgian colonials took control, and the Luba Empire collapsed under their rule.


Luba control and social cohesion was handled by the king, known as Mulopwe, with the assistance of a court of nobles, known as Bamfumus. The kings reigned over his subjects through clan kings known as Balopwe.   The diverse populations of the Luba were kept linked together by the Bambudye, a secret society who kept the memory of the Luba Empire alive and taught throughout its territory.


A carver held relatively high status, which was displayed by the adze, or ax, he carried over his shoulder. Variations are normal in Luba art as the Luba Empire extends over a vast territory, and objects of prestige were usually decorated with female figure on them.  This is probably because of the prominent role of the women in the Luba creation myth, as well as their acknowledged role in Luba political history.  With the Luba stool carvings, the seat usually supported by a kneeling woman, it was interpreted by some as a sign of servitude, and others as a sign of recognition of the privileged role of women in the formation and perpetuation of the kingdom.


Luba masking traditions were primarily from the eastern Luba kingdoms, some displaying incredible similarities to the Kifwebe mask of the Songye, though with features more rounded.  They also had zoomorphic masks, though rare and information on their use is limited.


Luba Headrests were intricately carved, serving as a pillow that is cool and comfortable in their tropical climate, and protecting their elaborate hairstyles by raising the head above the bed. Headrests were items of great personal attachment for the Luba people, and were also seen as the seat of dreams.  The Luba consider dreams as prophetic, foretelling important events, provided warnings and communicate messages from the other world. Therefore it is fitting that they are usually adorned with two priestesses, who in real life would serve as intermediaries and interlocutors for the spirits of the other world.


The Luba also created staffs as prestige items that were usually owned by kings, village chiefs and court dignitaries. When carved with dual or paired female figures, it is thought that they represent the twin spirits of Luba kingship.  When a single figure or head is carved, it is believed to represent a deceased king whose spirit is carried in a woman’s body.


The Luba Empire economy was complex, based on a tribute system and redistribution of resources from agriculture, hunting and mining.  The ruling class however had a virtual monopoly on the trade items such as  salt, copper, and iron ore, which allowed them to continue dominence.



Africa: The Art of a Continent - .  ISBN:

Tribal Arts of Africa- Jaques-Baptiste Baquart.  ISBN: