Kibango (Staff of Office)

By: Kathryn Cua || Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


There are at least three different types of staffs, varying in degrees of importance, carried by Luba chiefs and high-ranking officials.

  • Dilanga is the simplest staff. It is tall and sticklike, often accompanied by a bell that rings as the titleholder walks.
  • Misupi is a paddle-shaped staff. Its design imitates the fishing paddles Luba ferrymen used. It is said that kings gave Luba ferrymen sculptural paddles as they recognised that ferrymen protected areas critical to trade and political welfare.
  • Kibango staff holds the most power. As staffs of office, kibango are emblems of status among those entitled to owning them—including members of ruling classes such as kings and chiefs and other titleholders of high statuses such as governors, village leaders and female spirit mediums.

The epic of Luba origins (in which Mbidi Kiluwe, the cultural hero who brought royal ideology to the Luba kingdom, presents a royal staff to his son Kalala Ilunga) serves as the inspiration for kibango. It is said that the original staff has been passed down from generation to generation and is now preserved in the royal treasury at the court of Kabongo. It is clear that the Luba epic remains a central point of reference to Luba society. Staffs as symbols indicative of authority are an idea widely held.

Luba kibango staffs depict a certain narrative specific to the owner’s family history. For this reason, no two kibango staffs are identical of the several hundred known. Kibango staffs take on a graphic format with the intention to convey the owner’s family history, encode genealogies or chiefdoms or explain certain lineages. The pictorial nature of many kibangos may also serve the owner as a memory aid. Each staff has a precise meaning that can be provided only by the original owner of the staff and/or his progeny and the spirit medium who consecrates the staff.

Like stools, Luba staffs are conceptually complex. However, they are more diverse in iconography, and their ownership, more democratic. Unlike caryatid stools, Luba staffs aren’t restricted to the highest ranking members of political offices. Instead, Luba staffs may belong to a greater range of people—territorial chiefs, titleholders, Mbudye members and diviners. High-level officeholders who carry staffs use them at public proceedings to both honour their ancestors and guide their descendants, teaching them about their relationship to the Luba kingship. Kibango staffs are also used during the investiture of a new territory's king—his sister or wife plants the staff in the ground to the right side of the king. He then grasps the staff after which he swears his oath of office. In addition, kibango staffs were said to be carried into battle and "stuck in the ground among the slain enemy as signs of bloody victory."

Distinguishing Features

  • Summit of staff
    • Female figure(s) carved seated or standing at the summit of staff (represent female founders of specific royal lines, or the king himself)
    • Figure has oversized head that tilts slightly to the ground
    • Half closed eyes
    • Scarifications on figure's torso
    • Figure holds her hands to her breasts (a sign of respect and indicates the possession of royal secrets)
    • Figures sometimes arm-in-arm or in an embrace
    • Many staffs include a pair of Janus heads (represent Mpanga and Banze, twin tutelary spirits of Luba kingship)
  • Middle broad section (represents dibulu dya bwadi bwa Mpanga; the administrative capitals or courts of kings)
    • In form of single or multiple triangles, lozenges, or keyhole/hourglass forms
    • Rare examples are round
    • Some include relief carvings of duiker horns (representing healing and protective powers of the staff)
  • Long shaft (represents expanse of uninterrupted savanna)
    • Unadorned, or copper-wrapped
    • Usually a metal point at bottom of staff (represents material wealth and strength of chiefdom)
  • Oily patina (from years of palm oil application)

Share this