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People, Locations, Episodes

Fri, 06.30.2000

The Luba people, a brief story

*The Luba people are affirmed on this date in 2000 BCE.  The Luba or Baluba people are an ethno-linguistic group indigenous to the south-central region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Majority of them live in this country, residing mainly in its Katanga, Kasai, and Maniema provinces. The Baluba consist of many sub-groups who speak various dialects of Luba (e.g. Luba-Kasai, Luva, a Bantu language, Luba-Katanga) or other languages, such as Swahili.  The Baluba developed a society and culture by about the 400s CE, later developing a well-organized community in the Upemba Depression known as the Baluba confederation. 

Luba society consisted of miners, smiths, woodworkers, potters, crafters, and people of various other professions. Their success and wealth grew greatly over time, but this also caused their gradual decline to marauding bands of slavers, robbers, and terrorists from among Portuguese and Omani led or influenced invasions.  Archaeological evidence proves that the Baluba had settlements around the lakes and marshes of the Upemba Depression by the fifth century CE.  The evidence suggesting an advanced Iron Age society by then comes from multiple sites, and these are among the best developed archaeological records in Central Africa.  

Archaeological studies suggest that the Luba people live in villages, in homes made of reeds and wattle, around the shores of numerous streams and lakes found in the Upemba Depression of Central Africa.  This Depression has been historically flooded from the water runoff from southern Shaba highlands for parts of the year, its water bodies filled with papyrus islands and floating vegetation, the region drying out after rains ended. As a community, the Luba people constructed dams and dikes as high as 6 to 8 feet using mud, papyrus and other vegetation, to improve the marshy soil conditions for agriculture and stock fish during the long dry season. With settled communities, states Thomas Reefe a professor of History, the Luba people had developed metal extraction techniques, skills to make utilitarian products from them and "high degree of craft specialization".  

The metal working techniques in use by the early Luba people included drawing out thin wires, twisting and laminating them, plaiting them into complex well-designed shapes such as necklaces, bracelets and hooks for fishing, needles for sewing and such. These products attracted interest and demand from far off ethnic groups, creating trade opportunities and traders amongst the Luba people. This trade and all economic activity in the villages of Luba people had a tribute system, where a portion of the hunt, fish or produce was given to the lineage head or the people guarding the borders. These were natural borders, such as that created by waters of Lake Upemba, where passage across required channels and bridges. The movement into and out of the Luba people lands was thus controlled and taxed.  This articles date was chosen to coincide with Democratic Republic of Congo’s independence from Belgum.  

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