Lulua people

Last updated
A 19th century statue of a Lulua war chief, Ethnologisches Museum Berlin. Statue Luluwa-Musee ethnologique de Berlin.jpg
A 19th century statue of a Lulua war chief, Ethnologisches Museum Berlin.

The Lulua people are a Bantu ethnic group settled along the Lulua River valley in south central Kasai-Occidental province, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Lulua are in fact a collection of small groups whose home bordered by the larger Luba state and the related Songye people and Chokwe people, with whom they share a very similar culture, history, and language. [1] [2]


Lulua lands are bordered on the south by other small ethnic groups, including the Mbagani, Lwalwa, Southern Kete, and the Salampasu. [3] [4] Rural Lulua remain mostly farmers. [5]

History of Lulua identity

The name Lulua seems to have appeared in the last quarter of the 19th century, previously these groups simply being ethnically Luba people outside the Luba (or Baluba) political structure. Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, in his history of Congo, describes the history Lulua ethnicity as an invented ethnicity. [6]

There is no better example of the invention of ethnicity or, in other words, of how artificial ethnic identities can be than the Lulua--Baluba conflict. [p.103]

In fact, the Lulua share language, matrilineal inheritance, and many other cultural traits with the Luba people and the Kondji or Luntu peoples. All three have been considered subgroups of the Luba, tracing their origins back to the Luba empire based in Katanga. [6]

In the 19th century, the Chokwe—another related group—identified a disparate collection of neighboring farming and hunting groups in the area between the Upper and Lower Kasai and Lulua Rivers as the "Beena Luluwa" (singular, "Mwena Luluwa") meaning "people by the Luluwa." The powerful Luba empire in the 18th century helped push these small Luba hunting groups into their present home, according to oral sources, coming from the west. Their collective identity was limited to the institution of the "Kalamba", a judge and war leader to whom these small groups turned to in times of internal or external conflict. Nineteenth century European missionaries and travelers contributed to this process of ethnic differentiation from the Luba, defining these small communities in contradistinction to the states of their neighbors. Father A. Van Zandijcke, a Belgian missionary, reported that until 1870 there was no agreed collective name for the Lulua, with each kinship group or chieftaincy identifying themselves independently. By the first decade of the 20th century, the coming of Belgian colonialism along with pressure from the Luba empire and other neighbors, began to develop a Lulua collective identity.

[7] Land disputes with neighbors helped lend a both a collective identity as well as feeding ethnic conflict, as did the Belgian colonial policy of formalising a "kingship", in the style of their neighbors, for the Lulua. [6] [7] [8] The tensions of the late colonial period finally culminated it what has been called the "Lulua--Baluba War", as communal violence exploded on 11 October 1959. [6] [9]

The Lulua–Baluba War

During the Congo Crisis at independence, there were violent conflicts with other ethnic groups, especially in the area of Kananga/Luluabourg's large self identified Lulua community. [10] In the late 19th century, Baluba demographic pressures drove Lulua groups into what became the Belgian colonial area of Luluabourg, later Kananga. [7] From the 1920s, Baluba farmers from South Kasi began relocating again into more fertile Lulua lands in Kananga. Following the Second World War, Belgium began to grant some limited forms of local self-government to the Congolese. At the same time, educated Lulua, concerned by the relative political power of the Luba/Baluba ruling classes led by Sylvian Mangole Kalamba, formed an ethnic educational and political group called The Lulua Brothers (Lulua Freres) to pressure the colonial authorities. [6] In December 1957, Baluba candidates won a number of municipal elections in Luluabourg, raising fears from Lulua elites that they were being displaced. Mobilizing politically around their Lulua identity, Lulua leaders swept the 1960 legislative elections for the provincial parliament. The Lulua led administration then proposed a plan to evict 100,000 ethnic Baluba farmers back to South Kasai. Ethnic based riots broke out in response on 11 October and escalated. [6] [7] This violence fed into already brewing political split between Lumumba's Congo nationalist MNC versus regionalists Albert Kalonji from Kasai and Moise Tshombe, president of Katanga Province, was a precipitant of the South Kasai secession of the Congo Crisis. [7] In Lulua territories, central government troops and United Nation peacekeepers were rushed in to quell violence. These areas became the frontline for government forces, sandwiched as it was between both the South Kasai and the Katanga secessionist states. When order was finally reestablished in the Lulua majority area in February 1962, some 3000 to 7000 were dead in both communal violence and military action. [7] The Congo Crisis would burn on until November 1966. [6]


Lulua arts are highly prized in the international collectors market. Lulua carved wood figures are identified with distinctive and extensive portrayal of scarification patterns (despite the fact that Lulua scarification traditions largely died out in the 19th century). [11]

Carved figures serve a number of spiritual and decorative roles and are known for their refined artistry, while Lulua wooden masks are confined to secret society rituals and are made to be disposed after use. [12]

Related Research Articles

Discovered in the 1990s, human remains in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been dated to approximately 90,000 years ago. The first real states, such as the Kongo, the Lunda, the Luba and Kuba, appeared south of the equatorial forest on the savannah from the 14th century onwards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Luba-Kasai language</span> Bantu language spoken in DR Congo

Luba-Kasai, also known as Cilubà or Tshilubà, Luba-Lulua, is a Bantu language of Central Africa and a national language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, alongside Lingala, Swahili, and Kikongo ya leta.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kasai-Occidental</span> Place in Kasai region, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Kasaï-Occidental was one of the eleven provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1966 and 2015, when it was split into the Kasaï-Central and the Kasaï provinces.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Congo Crisis</span> 1960–1965 conflict in the Congo

The Congo Crisis was a period of political upheaval and conflict between 1960 and 1965 in the Republic of the Congo. The crisis began almost immediately after the Congo became independent from Belgium and ended, unofficially, with the entire country under the rule of Joseph-Désiré Mobutu. Constituting a series of civil wars, the Congo Crisis was also a proxy conflict in the Cold War, in which the Soviet Union and the United States supported opposing factions. Around 100,000 people are believed to have been killed during the crisis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kananga</span> Provincial capital and city in Kasai-Central, DR Congo

Kananga, formerly known as Luluabourg or Luluaburg, is the capital city of the Kasai-Central Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was the capital of the former Kasaï-Occidental Province. It is the fourth most populous urban area in the country, with an estimated population of 1,524,000 in 2021.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Kasai</span> 1960–1962 unrecognised state in Africa

South Kasai was an unrecognised secessionist state within the Republic of the Congo which was semi-independent between 1960 and 1962. Initially proposed as only a province, South Kasai sought full autonomy in similar circumstances to the much larger neighbouring state of Katanga, to its south, during the political turmoil arising from the independence of the Belgian Congo known as the Congo Crisis. Unlike Katanga, however, South Kasai did not explicitly declare full independence from the Republic of the Congo or reject Congolese sovereignty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Languages of the Democratic Republic of the Congo</span> Languages of a geographic region

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a multilingual country where an estimated total of 242 languages are spoken. Ethnologue lists 215 living languages. The official language, inherited from the colonial period, is French. Four other languages, three of them indigenous, have the status of national language: Kikongo, Lingala, Swahili and Tshiluba.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">1960 Belgian Congo general election</span>

General elections were held in the Belgian Congo on 22 May 1960, in order to create a government to rule the country following independence as the Republic of the Congo (Congo-Léopoldville), scheduled for 30 June. The 137-seat Chamber of Deputies was elected by men over the age of 21. The seats were filled by district-based lists, although only two parties, the Mouvement National Congolais-Lumumba (MNC-L) and the Parti National du Progrès, submitted lists in more than one district.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Albert Kalonji</span>

Albert Kalonji Ditunga was a Congolese politician best known as the leader of the short-lived secessionist state of South Kasai (Sud-Kasaï) during the Congo Crisis.

This is a history of Katanga Province and the former independent State of Katanga, as well as the history of the region prior to colonization.

This is a history of the Kasai region in the Democratic Republic of Congo and of the political divisions which have occupied it since human settlement began.

The Songye people, sometimes written Songe, are a Bantu ethnic group from the central Democratic Republic of the Congo. They inhabit a vast territory between the Sankuru/Lulibash river in the west and the Lualaba River in the east. Many Songye villages can be found in present-day East Kasai province, parts of Katanga and Kivu Province. The people of Songye are divided into thirty-four conglomerate societies; each society is led by a single chief with a Judiciary Council of elders and nobles (bilolo). Smaller kingdoms east of the Lomami River refer to themselves as Songye, other kingdoms in the west, refer to themselves as Kalebwe, Eki, Ilande, Bala, Chofwe, Sanga and Tempa. As a society, the people of Songye are mainly known as a farming community; they do, however, take part in hunting and trading with other neighboring communities.

The Roman Catholic Prefecture Apostolic of Upper Kassai was a mission territory in the Belgian Congo. It was erected as a simple mission in 1901, and detached, as a prefecture Apostolic, from the Vicariate of Belgian Congo, on 20 August 1901.

The Confederation of Tribal Associations of Katanga was one of the main political parties in the Belgian Congo and was led by the pro-Western regionalist Moïse Tshombe and his interior minister, Godefroid Munongo. It became the ruling party of the State of Katanga whose declaration of independence sparked the Congo Crisis.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lulua District</span> District in Kasai-Occidental, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Lulua District was a district of the Belgian Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The city of Kananga was at the center of the district, but had a separate administration. In 2015 Lulua District became the province of Kasaï-Central.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kamwina Nsapu rebellion</span>

The Kamwina Nsapu rebellion, also spelled Kamuina Nsapu rebellion, was an uprising that took place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2016 and 2019. It was instigated by the Kamwina Nsapu militia against state security forces in the provinces of Kasaï-Central, Kasaï, Kasaï-Oriental, Lomami and Sankuru. The fighting began after the militia, led by Kamwina Nsapu, attacked security forces in August 2016.

Emery Wafwana was a Congolese politician. He served as Minister of Interior of Luluabourg Province and was a member of the Chamber of Deputies.

Barthélemy Mukenge Nsumpi Shabantu was a Congolese politician who served as President of Kasaï Province from 11 June 1960 to January 1962 and July to September 1962. He was a president of the Association des Lulua-Frères, a Lulua ethnic syndicate, and a leading member of the Union National Congolaise. Though initially allied with nationalist Patrice Lumumba, he later denounced him and aligned himself with more moderate politicians. Following the division of Kasai Province in late 1962, Mukenge became Minister of Health and Minister of Social Affairs of the new Luluabourg Province. He later served as Governor of Kivu Province and on the Political Bureau of the Mouvement Populaire de la Révolution. He withdrew from politics in 1974 and died in 2018.

In August 1960 troops of the Republic of the Congo attempted to crush the secession of South Kasai by invading the declared state's territory. Though initially militarily successful, the attack faltered under intense international and domestic political scrutiny and the Congolese troops were withdrawn.

Louis de Jaegher was a Belgian colonial administrator. He was governor of Kasaï Province in the Belgian Congo from 1958 to 1960, just before the country became independent as the Republic of the Congo (Léopoldville).


  1. Leo Frobenius, Ethnographische Notizen aus den Jahren 1905 und 1906 (ed Hildegard Klein), F. Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, Stuttgart, 1985, chapter III : Luluwa, Süd-Kete, Bena Mai, Pende, Cokwe ISBN   3-515-04271-7
  2. Mabika Kalanda, Baluba et Lulua : une ethnie à la recherche d'un nouvel équilibre, Éditions de Remarques congolaises, Bruxelles, 1959.
  3. William McCutchan Morrison, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. American Presbyterian Congo Mission. Grammar and dictionary of the Buluba-Lulua language as spoken in the upper Kasai and Congo Basin. American Tract Society, 1906
  4. Constantijn Petridis. Art and power in the Central African Savanna: Luba, Songye, Chokwe, Luluwa. Mercatorfonds, 2008.
  5. Mu?ammad Zuhd? Yakan Almanac of African peoples & nations. Transaction Publishers, 1999. ISBN   978-1-56000-433-2 pp.485-6
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja. The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: a people's history. 2002.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Leonce Ndikumana, Lisangani F. Emizet. The Economics of Civil War: The Case of the Democratic Republic of Congo. pp.63-88 in Understanding civil war: evidence and analysis, Volume 1. World Bank Publications 2009. ISBN   978-0-8213-6047-7
  8. Eugeen Roosens (ed). Creating ethnicity: the process of ethnogenesis. Volume 5 of Frontiers of anthropology. Sage Publications, 1989. ISBN   978-0-8039-3422-1 pp.118-123
  9. Congo-Kinshasa: La fin du conflit Lulua-Luba (1961) le Potentiel, 2009
  10. Thomas R. Mockaitis. Peace operations and intrastate conflict: the sword or the olive branch? Greenwood Publishing Group, 1999. ISBN   978-0-275-96173-2 pp.17-18
  11. Hope B. Werness. The Continuum Encyclopedia of Native Art: Worldview, Symbolism, and Culture in Africa, Oceania, and North America Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003 ISBN   978-0-8264-1465-6 p.185
  12. C. Petridis, « Luluwa masks », in African Arts (Los Angeles), 1999, vol. 32, No3, p. 91-94

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Lulua people at Wikimedia Commons