Kingdom of Luba: An Extinct African Empire

History offers an interesting insight into existing civilizations.  Most civilizations in history have a beginning an end point.  Some suffer conquest at the hands of invaders.  Some civilizations are felled by natural disasters.  Others blend into the dominant culture over a period of time.  I took some time to spend in the library on Black Friday and came across the Kingdom of Luba.  I started with research on the Civil War and ended with this extinct kingdom.

The Kingdom of Luba was a pre-colonial Central African state that arose in the marshy grasslands of the Upemba Depression in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.  I think the term pre-colonial is important because it denotes the fact that this country formed before the influence of invading cultures like the Portuguese, French and Italians.  This country's origins were based on fishing people who lived on the lake shores and traded palm oil and wrought iron products.  The pre-cursors to the established kingdom  established trade in copper and charcoal that allowed them to smelt metal.  This was not a dark continent as portrayed in American cinema.

The kingdom was founded by King Kongolo Maniema around 1585.  At its peak, the state had about a million people paying tribute to its king.  The kingdom was able to establish a durable form of government that withstood succession disputes.  It was also flexible enough to deal with foreign leaders and governments.  The king was a sacred figure who was to be revered by its people.  It was stated on Wikipedia that the Luba model of governing was so successful that it was adopted throughout the region that is today northern Angola, northwestern Zambia southern Democratic Republic of Congo.  This is very impressive considering the importance of these countries to the current African continent.

The Mbudye tradition states that all of the rulers of the Luba Empire traced their ancestry to Kalala Ilunga, a mystical hunter credited with toppling the cruel ruler known as Nkolongo.  Luba kings became deities upon their deaths and the villages from which they ruled were transformed into living shrines devoted to their legacies.  In the United States it can be compared to George Washington University, Thomas Jefferson University, Lincoln University and Brigham Young University.  Many other towns and cities are named after influential leaders.  I am happy to know that their leaders were revered also for their prowess.


Luba traders linked the Zaire forest to the north with the mineral rich region in the center of Zambia known as the Copperbelt. The trade routes passing through Luba territory were also connected with wider networks extending to both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans coasts. I am impressed with this aspect of their civilization.  There had to be a system of laws in place that allowed free trade to take place.  There had to be an overseer for the transportation that needed to happen for commerce to occur over the continent.  I will do further study on this aspect of their civilization.  The ruling class held a virtual monopoly on trade items such as salt, copper and iron ore. They dominated much of Central Africa as a result.

The arts were held in high esteem in this kingdom.  Because of the vast territory that the kingdom covered, the art was not very uniform.  Female figures were held in high esteem because of creation myths.  I wonder if the creation myths equate to anything in the Christian Bible. Dreams were believed to communicate messages from the other world.  The name Nkole appeared at the head of every genealogy.  The title literally meant 'the essentially powerful'.  The Kasala is a well defined form of slogans or free-verse poetry.  This includes proverbs, myths, fables, riddles, tales and historical narratives.  Sounds similar to a culture that I live in now.

Long distance trade led to the ultimate demise of the kingdom of Luba.  In the 1870's and 1880's, traders from East Africa began searching for slaves and ivory in the savanna's of Central Africa.  Lured by quick profits, in human chattel no less, warriors began raiding the empire for slaves.  The timing is interesting for me because slavery ended in the United States in 1865.  Which countries were still looking for slaves in this time period?  The slave raiding led to the rapid destruction of the Luba Kingdom.  In 1899, the empire was split in two by a succession dispute.  It was later absorbed into the Belgian Congo Free State.  This kingdom lasted over three hundred years and came to an end in part because of slavery.  I want to learn more about some of its leaders.  It might spur some of you to do research also.

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