Luba – (African Tribe)

Luba – (African Tribe) The relentless expansion of Luba Empire can be traced as far back as 1500, when it emerged from the Upemba depression, which is still the heartland of the Luba. Eastward expansion to Lake Tanganyika intensified under the leadership of Ilungu Sungu between 1780 and 1810. This was followed by north and southeast expansion until 1840 under Kumwimbe Ngombe and then to the northwest and northeast from 1840 to 1870 under Ilunga Kabale. The empire began to diminish after his death in 1870 as Arab slave traders and European invaders challenged notions of Luba supremacy in the region contributing to the decline of Luba power. The legacy of the great empire is still recognizable in the region today, where local customs and art styles often reflect a strong Luba influence. The art of the Luba people - The Shankadi are a subgroup of the Luba tribe. Luba ivory pendants represent ancestral spirits. As such, they belong to a broad category of Luba sculpture called 'Mikisi Mihasi' (Colle, 1913). The miniature figures represent portraits, or at least a likeness, and are named and honored in the memory of certain revered ancestors. Sculpted from ivory, as well as bone and horn, these delicate diminutive figures are suspended from bandoliers together with other objects, including amulets, beads, and horns. The bandoliers are worn diagonally across the torso or may be attached to the arm. Devotees anoint the figures with oil in homage to the ancestors. Such treatments, together with regular handling and contact with the human body, give the figures a smooth lustrous surface and a rich, caramel color ranging from yellowish brown to auburn. The figures are sometimes attached to scepters carried by chiefs. The pendant emphasizes head and torso to the total exclusion of legs. Large demure eyes dominate the head, which inclines along the natural curve of the ivory. The artist's careful attention to detail is evident in the description of the coiffure and scarification. Two sets of incised lines create raised swellings on the figure's abdomen, identifiable as 'milalo'. All Luba scarifications are named and each serves a particular purpose. 'Milalo' are considered particularly erotic and beautiful, and in the past, all women were expected to have these marks of femininity and Luba social identity. Neighboring Peoples are Chokwe, Ndembu, Kaonde, Bemba, Hemba, and Songye.


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