There are only two small pockets of people who called themselves Luba during colonial rule. But this does not show the extent of Luba influence in Zambia. All the ethnic groups shown on the map have Luba heritage.
The Luba Empire existed between 1500 and 1900. It gave rise to the Lunda Empire during the 1600s. So, even those tribes which have Lunda ancestry, also came from the Luba Empire. Those shown in the map above were Zambian immigrants without passing through the Lunda kingdom.
Emigration from the Luba Empire continued over hundreds of years, so some of the tribes arrived much earlier than others.
One of the legends of the beginnings of the Luba kingdom begins with two serpents in the sky who had a child. The child became a cruel chief named Nkongolo, rainbow. Nkongolo had two sisters – Mabela and Bulanda. A nomadic hunter arrived at the village. His name was Mbidi Kiluwe and he was very handsome with black skin and filed teeth.
Nkongolo was so impressed by this man that he gave him his two sisters in marriage. Both sisters got pregnant by Mbidi Kiluwe, but then, Mbidi Kiluwe, the handsome hunter, left.
Bulanda, whose name meant sadness, gives birth to a son named Kalala, the warrior, Ilunga. When Kalala grows up he becomes a threat to Nkongolo, the Chief, who decides he must kill Kalala. After an attempt on his life, Kalala flees to his father’s land, collects an army, returns to Nkongolo’s chiefdom and defeats him. Kalala Ilunga became the first king, Mulopwe, of the Luba people.
Over the generations of kings of the Luba, groves of Mumba (lannea) trees were planted as a memorial to each reign. These groves were still evident in the 1900s.
Although, in the early days, like most of the Bantu, they could not read or write, the Luba did have a means of remembering their past through the use of Memory Boards called Lukasa. These Memory Boards were intricately carved and covered clusters of different coloured beads. Each collection of beads told a story which could be read by masters of the boards. These masters were part of the secret Mbudye Society. During special occasions the masters would take the Lukasa and tell the stories of the ancestors, accompanied by dance and song.
The Luba had expert carvers who produced furniture, heads and statues which are now housed in museums all over the world.
The Luba kingdom must have been very successful, and the kings powerful, to have supported men whose only job was to produce such beautiful crafts for the ruling class of the empire. The skills to produce such artwork would have been learned over many years. It is probable that the skills would have been passed down from father to son.
It is thought that the Luba shown on the Zambia Tribal map were refugees who had fled violence, probably during the slave trade era.