Between the seventeenth and twentieth century in the Kasaï region located in the southern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a sophisticated and beautiful civilization flourished. The study of the Kuba civilization is particularly interesting since it escaped from the black holocaust and reached the twentieth century to be pictured. As a consequence, it reflects and makes tangible the elders’ tales about the high level of Africa’s civilization before the slave trades.
The birth of the Kuba civilization
It is on the particularly fertile lands between the Kasaï and Sunkuru rivers that a people, the Kubas (baKuba in plural), settled by conquest at the end of the seventeenth century. The Kubas were pretending to have come from the extreme north. Based on the similarities between their organization and the one of Ancient Egypt, the African-American researcher and religious William Sheppard suggested that they or might originated from Egypt.
The tribes comprising the Kuba kingdom were the Bushongos, the Ngeendes, the Ngongos, the Shoowas, the Bieengs, the Ngombes, the Balibas, and the Kaams. That is how the multi-ethnic Kuba kingdom was born around 1690 with the Bushongo tribe leading it. Thanks to its geographic position which ensured a relative isolation and thanks to its defence mechanism, the Kuba kingdom succeeded in protecting itself from the European and Arab slave trades devastation and experienced a sustainable prosperity.
It was only destabilized by the total destruction of Congo by the Belgians at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The organization of the Kuba Kingdom
Like in the whole Africa, the Kuba society was matriarchal and according to the laws, it is the son of the king’s sister who was taking the throne over. The eldest woman from the royal family was the true sovereign and she could make the king step down. In the Monomotapa empire, the king was crowned by his mother and married his sister. In the Ghana Empire, the king was ruling with his mother and his sister.
The king like in the whole Africa was the political and religious leader in the Kuba tribe. The indirect democracy was applied. The elders could direct the king in his ruling or even have him killed. This can be linked to the Yoruba tribe where an order could be given to the king to commit suicide if his ruling came out unsatisfactory.
The royal house in the Kuba kingdom consisted of ten thousand and counting members and hundreds of royal wives among them. The Kubas were forbidding foreigners to enter their lands. The one who breached the laws was sentenced to death. The African-American religious William Sheppard was one among the first to be allowed to enter their territories. That man has left his writings on the Kuba civilization to the posterity.
The beauty of the Kuba kingdom
The esteemed German historian Leo Frobenius tells us: “in 1906, when I penetrated the Kasaï-Sankuru territory, I found again villages of which the main streets were edged on each side with four rows of palm trees for several feet and of which the decorated huts, each in a charming way, were art works as well. No man who did not wore sumptuous iron or copper weapons, blade inlaid with the handle covered with snake skin.
Each cup, each pipe, each spoon was an art object perfectly worthy to be compared to the European roman style creations. But all of that was only the particularly tender and shimmering down which decorated a marvellous and ripe fruit; gestures, manners, the moral canon of an entire people, from the little kid to the old man although they were remaining in the absolutely natural limits, were marked with dignity and grace, in the princes’ and rich families like with that of the faithful and the dependants.” . Like in the neighbooring Kongo empire, we could find sumptuous textiles made of vegetal fibres, raffia, bark and palm tree leaves in the Kuba kingdom.
By : Lisapo ya Kama © (All rights reserved. Any copying or translation of the text of this article is strictly forbbiden without the written approval of Lisapo ya Kama)
- Catholic Theological University, Chicago
- William Sheppard: Congo’s African American Livingstone; William E. Phipps, page 79 à 82.
- Université libre de Bruxelles (Free university of Brussels)
-  Leo Frobenius quoted in Quand les Africains étaient l’or noir de l’Europe, Afrique : actrice ou victime de la traite négrière (When Africans were the black gold of Europe, Africa: actor or victim of the slave trade) ; Bwemba Bong, pages 145 and 146.