Mbidi Kiluwe is a hero in the Luba culture, famed for his hunting skills. He is often depicted with his most cherished possession, his bow. That’s why ornate bow stands (nsakakabemba) often remind Luba people of their origins and relationship to Mbidi.
Here, the female figure with the fork represents the mothers who led the migration to the Luava region. The three prongs of the fork are understood to symbolise the three-branched tree used by Luba hunters to display the skulls of their kills, both human and animal.
While bow stands can be used to hold bows, more often than not, they are signifiers of power and authority. For this reason, they are considered highly sacred and never displayed in public. Instead, nsakakabemba are kept in houses guarded by female dignitaries known as Kyabuta. The Kyabuta can also be found following the chief with a bow between her breasts at public rituals and ceremonies.
Such is the importance of the bow stand in Luba culture that they are central to prayer and sacrifice and subject to lengthy and elaborate funerals once they have fulfilled their purpose.