David M. Gordon
A discussion of the precolonial history of the interior south-central African polities first described by Jan Vansina in his influential book, Kingdoms of the Savanna, including the Luba (in particular the Luba-Katanga of the mulopwe titleholders), Lunda (the nuclear Lunda, also termed Rund, of the mwant yav titleholders), Lunda-Ndembu, Chokwe, Pende, Luvale, Luluwa, Kanyok, Luba-Kasai, Kuba, Eastern Lunda, Yeke, and Bemba. Considering whether the label “kingdom” applies to these diverse polities, this entry looks at critical and revisionists accounts of oral tradition as well as new interpretations deriving from the study of art, archaeology, ethnographic fieldwork, linguistics, and documentary sources. In addition to (and instead of) kingdoms, this article identifies the creation of alternative political affiliations, in particular a religious association concerned with fertility that became known as the “Luba” and alliances based on fictive kin that became known as “Lunda.” In both these cases—as with related polities—trade and violence during the 18th and 19th centuries ratcheted up the need for centralized polities resembling kingdoms rather than the dynamic affiliations that had existed in prior centuries. In the 19th century, as sovereigns struggled over legitimacy and subjects questioned the power of sovereigns, they both created art, oral traditions, and praises that projected kingdoms and kingship into a vague antiquity.