Lukasa (Memory Board)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Mbudye (pl. Bambudye) is an association, believed to have been founded in the eighteenth century, responsible for a number of Luba functions:

  • Assisting in the installation of a king for office
  • Safeguarding heirlooms of Luba kings
  • Enforcing rules and regulations of nobility
  • Ensuring that kings do not overstep the bounds of their authority, removing them if necessary
  • Mediating during times of conflict
  • Entertaining crowds during royal rituals and ceremonies

Primarily, the association's members (members are considered 'men of memory'; bana balute) are charged with preserving and transferring knowledge of Luba court history, lists of kings, migration histories, 'the great Luba Epic', and other parts of Luba esoteric knowledge during the initiation of kings and senior titleholders. This sacred Luba knowledge and history is revealed during four stages of initiation exercises that the king must past through before he is installed.

The fourth and final stage, called Lukasa, makes use of mnemonic memory devices (including carved figures, incised gourds, thrones with painted ideographic symbols, and memory boards) as 'documents' that recount histories about the origin, cultural heroes, clan migrations, territories and premises of Luba kings and kingdoms.

One of the most important mnemonic devices used to recount history goes by the same name as the last initiation stage, lukasa (meaning 'the long hand') memory boards. Key events in Luba history are presented as lines, incisions, clusters of beads, iron pins, and carved figures in relief on lukasa boards—the colours and configurations of these items are 'read' during historical recollections.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all lukasa memory boards:

  • 20 - 25 cm long, 13 cm wide
  • Flat, rectangular, wooden board
  • Convex hourglass-shaped (representing a human torso)
  • Hand-sized (conforms to the shape of the left hand)
  • Each board's design is unique
  • Lusaka have an 'inside' (the front) and 'outside' (the back):
    • 'Outside' and sides of lukasa covered with geometric designs
      • Incised chevrons and diamonds on back (depict scales on tortoise carapace)
      • Striations within each scale
    • 'Inside' is concave
      • Inside of board divided across the centre (mound called lukala)
      • Designs vary by region

Regional variations (West of Lualaba River (around Kabongo) region):

  • 'Inside' surface studded with multicoloured and multi-sized glass beads, shells and iron pins
  • Arranged with large beads surrounded by smaller beads or a line of beads
    • White beads (symbolise titleholders who cover themselves in chalk)
    • Blue beads (considered black symbolise Mbidi Kiluwe, the cultural hero who brought royal ideology to the Luba kingdom)
    • Red beads (symbolise bloodshed and Nkongolo Mwamba, the tyrannical antihero of the Luba charter)
  • Anvil-shaped iron pin, cowries shell, large bead, or carved head in relief inserted into centre of lower section of some boards (symbolising the king or culture hero in whose honour the board was made)
  • Some have iron pins inserted into edges of board
  • May include a sculpted head emerging from the top

Regional variations (East of Lualaba River (Bene LAO) region):

  • Usually made without beads or shells
  • 'Inside' surface decorated with human faces carved in relief (represent chiefs, historical figures, and mbudye leaders)
  • May incorporate two or more heads or full figures, and sometimes a tail
  • Backdrop covered with incised zoomorphs, pictorial, symbols, and geometric ideograms

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