The Hemba people (Luba Hemba) (or Eastern Luba) are a Bantu ethnic group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).



The Hemba people live in villages, recognizing chiefs as their political leaders. A chief will be the head of an extended family of landowners, inheriting his title through the maternal line. Hemba people may also belong to secret societies such as the Bukazanzi for men and Bukibilo for women. The So'o secret society is guarded by the beautifully carved mask of a chimpanzee, which is used in rituals that relate to the ancestral spirits. These societies serve to offset the power of the chief.

Hemba people map

Although the Luba people failed to keep the southern Hemba in their kingdom they did have considerable cultural influence. Art forms, including wooden sculptures representing ancestors, are similar in style to Luba sculptures. The Hemba religion recognizes a creator god and a separate supreme being. The Hemba make sacrifices and present offerings at the shrines of ancestors. When social harmony has been upset, religious leaders may demand offerings to the specific ancestors that have become displeased and are causing the trouble.b Each clan owns a kabeja, a statuette with one body and two faces, male and female, on one neck. Sacrifices are made to the kabeja, which will convey them to the spirits. A receptacle on the top of the kabeja is used to receive magic ingredients. A kabeja is dangerous to handle.



Near the end of the 16th century, the Hemba began their migration from an area to the northeast, probably modern day Tanzania. In the 1800s under the direction of Niembo and his son, Myhiya, the Hemba moved into their current location along the Congo River. The Luba unsuccessfully tried to incorporate the Southern Hemba into their growing kingdom. The Luba did succeed, however, in greatly influencing the Hemba in numerous ways, including artistic styles. In the late 19th century, the Hemba were subjugated to raids by Arab slave traders and again by Belgian forces during colonization.



The Hemba are primarily subsistence agriculturalists whose main staples include manioc, maize, peanuts, and yams. These crops are supplemented by small scale hunting and fishing done mostly by the men. Some alluvial copper is panned from the river and sold to outside markets.


Political Systems

Generally, the Hemba acknowledge chiefs who are heads of extended landholding families as their political leaders. Genealogy is recognized both matrilinearly and patrilinearly, but land chiefs inherit their positions through their maternal line.



The Hemba recognize Vidiye Mukulu (a creator god) and Shimugabo (a supreme being). Worship is primarily carried out through sacrifices and offerings to ancestor shrines. Diviners play an important role in society, often requiring that certain ancestors be appeased in order to establish balance in the community.


Types of Art

The Hemba artistic tradition is well known. Subjects include ancestral figures, spirits, human faces and ceremonial masks. The Hemba had very talented sculptors and the art of the tribe is mainly known for the ancestors figures, the Singiti, symbols of power who exude astonishing serenity and natural authority The Kabeja is a rare Janiform sculpture which represents the couple of founding ancestors of each clan. The statue was unique and owned by the chief, while each group had several Singiti figures. It was used in all Hemba ceremonies, as well as in court decisions.

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