The Kuba people live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and are surrounded by other tribes such as the Suku, Yaka, and Pende (Cole, 381). This tribe is composed of eighteen groups located in the southern most part of the Great Equatorial Forest; which is on the boarder of the tropical forest and the open savannah. The Kuba people always refer to themselves as the Bakuba which translates to “people of the throwing knife” (Washburn , 17). When the kingdom of tribes was first brought together, the people were ruled by the Bushong people from the hill country of the central Congo (Caraway);these people have contributed most of the rulers to the Kuba. Whenever a king dies, the capital is moved to the location of the new King (Washburn , 19). Intertribal trading occurred often because the Kuba were such a powerful empire (Meurant , 121). Supernatural powers are the basis for the beliefs; spells, witchcraft, and channels between the living and the dead are some of these powers. The king is the chief of the sorcerer’s and bridges the boundary between the natural and the supernatural (Meurant , 122).
The king who brought the local tribes together to form a kingdom was named “Shyaam the Great” and rose to power in 1625. He brought ideas and products from other areas such as raffia cloth and foods including maize, cassava, and tobacco. “Shyaam the Great” created a political system with rulers placed in the nineteen different ethnic groups who worked under the king (Cole , 381). Kings are not integrated into society like all of the other members. Royalty is always royalty, they never cross into actual society. Once a man becomes king they hold that position for their whole life and they are not able to change their post. The royal family is very rich and the king’s power is determined by how much money he spends (Meurant ,122).
Three ways the Kuba people gather and grow food include farming, hunting, and fishing. Both women and men are involved in farming. The women work on the plains by both planting and gathering; when they finish their work in the fields, they help the men in the forests. The society’s diet is mostly composed of vegetables. Meat is only eaten in the dry season because the men are able to hunt without the responsibilities of farming. Men trap animals in groups; trapping takes place in the brush. Fishers use both fixed and flying nets; their fishing status is determined by the danger in the water. Fish ponds are created and harvested by the women twice a year while streams are also used to gather small fish and mollusks (Meurant , 122). Because the tribe is located between three vast river systems, the Sankuru, Kasai, and Lulua, fishing is one of the ways that the Kuba people to build their economy (Cole , 381).
Kuba religion was focused on the King and all of the ceremonies and royal symbols show religious importance. Kings are very spiritual and they draw all of the Kuba tribes together (Leuchak, 19). The king is called ngesh or the nature spirit, he is always surrounded by his wives and servants. The mwaaddy or oldest son is enlightened of all the knowledge, stories, and rules by the highest ranked woman in court. Seven creation stories are present within the Kuba culture; most believe in one or two gods possessing the nature spirit. Each village has a ngesh and a woman diviner communicates to the people through dreams. She then tells the community how they can make up for the mistakes that they have made (Leuchak, 19). Burial ceremonies begin by dressing the body in many layers of different textiles, mostly composed of small squares of embroidered and raffia cloth. While the funeral is occurring, the body is prepared for viewing by wrapping the textiles around the body; when this part of the ceremony is over, the body is placed in a large well decorated coffin made with a bamboo frame covered by decorated mats. The shape of the coffin sometimes represents the form of the typical Kuba house with a pitched roof. Items are then placed into the grave after the body is lowered; these may include drinking cups, textiles, costume decorations, and items that would be needed in the world of the dead (Cole ,389). If a person was good, they become a ghost in the spirit world before they are reincarnated or reborn. The bad people must stay in limbo for eternity. The only way that problems can arise between the spirits and living is through witchcraft and sorcery (Leuchak, 21).
The first explorer to discover the existence of the Kuba people and enter their kingdom was William Sheppard, a black American Presbyterian, in 1892. German explorers were the next to visit this kingdom between 1907-1909; they have gathered the most complete ethnographic history to date. Their studies included that of the social, political, economic, and religious aspects of the Kuba culture (Washburn , 21). After the Kuba people were colonized, the art form began to change, it became less naturalistic and it began to disappear. Wood engravings began to match the new art forms that were influenced by the European settlers. More abstract art was being made to satisfy the European occupiers. Basketwork was no longer created like all of the other surrounding tribes; instead, they began to create baskets and containers like those of their European counterparts (Meurant , 116).