The Kuba

The Kingdom of Kuba,  numbering about 250,000 individuals,  is found in the area of central Republic of Congo (formerly part of Zambia) bordered by the Sankuru, Kasai, and Lulua rivers.  Although today most Kuba ethnic groups are organized into independent chiefdoms, they still recognize the authority of the Bushong king.

The tribe is well known for their art, which include textiles as well as metalwork. The Kuba metalsmith worked with copper, iron, and brass, making weapons and tools to be admired as well as used. In some cases, one metal was inlaid with another. Mashamboy and other masks—made of raffia and decorated with shells, beads, and even bells and feathers—were traditionally used to dramatize the founding of the royal dynasty and its matrilineal system of descent.

Kuba hilted weaponry can be divided into three basic categories war swords, dance knives and weapons only intended for show or ceremonial use - but there is overlap between the categories.

Example:  Ikul Sword

Knives, axes, currency blades and spears, all made of forged iron, attest to the skills in metal of the Kuba and related peoples of central Africa. Most exhibit an inventive variety of form and workmanship far beyond what was functionally necessary. The Kuba chiefs and sorcerors held these swords as weapons of prestige during important ceremonies.

The art of the Kuba is one of the most highly developed of all African traditions, and significant cultural accomplishments are part of their heritage. Mucu Mushanga, their 27th king, was credited with the invention of fire, and he was the first to make clothing out of bark cloth.

Shamba Bolongongo (c. 1600), the 93rd king, who introduced weaving and textile manufacture to his people, was also the first ruler to have his portrait carved in wood.

Shamba Bolongongo's portrait established a tradition of such portraiture among the Kuba people. The kings typically sit facing forward with legs crossed, the left in front of the right; the right hand, with fingers extended, rests on the right knee, and the left hand holds the royal dagger. Geometric patterns cover the stomach and are continued on the back of the figure. The sculptures also include objects significant to each particular king, identifying his own personal accomplishments.

Developing from the court style was a popular style, which utilized geometric forms instead of the well-modeled, full-volumed forms of the court figures. Kuba fetishes, emphasizing only essential organs, are highly schematic. The popular style can also be found in the utensils and textiles produced by the Kuba.

Read More:

The Kuba People

Kingdoms of South-Central Africa: Sources, Historiography, and History