African Art News

Luba memory boards.

Luba people of West Africa use a well-documented memory board known as a lukasa. Previous researchers have claimed that the ‘men of memory’ of the Mbudye society would spend years learning a vast corpus of stories, dances and songs associated with the bead and shells attached to a piece of carved wood.

This ancient mnemonic technique builds a palace of memory – Lynne Kelly | Aeon Ideas
In Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novel A Study in Scarlet (1887) we learn that Sherlock Holmes used the most effective memory system known: a memory… ( complete article found at https://aeon.co/ideas/this-ancient-mnemonic-technique-builds-a-palace-of-memory )

My initial attitude when I read this was complete skepticism. It was surely claiming far too much for such a simple device. So I made one. I grabbed a piece of wood and glued some beads and shells on it and started encoding the 412 birds of my state: their scientific family names, identification, habitats and behaviour. It worked a treat. I no longer doubt the research. Though simple, this is an incredibly powerful memory tool. Inspired by my success with the lukasa, I have also created songlines for more than a kilometre around my home. I have a location on my walk for each of the 244 countries and dependent territories in the world. I walk through them from the most populous in China to little Pitcairn Island. I also walk through time from 4,500 million years ago until the present, nodding to the dinosaurs, meeting our hominid ancestors and greeting numerous characters from history. My memory has been hugely expanded by using this ancient mnemonic technique.

It is the structure of the human brain that dictates the memory methods that work so effectively right across human societies. It is our dependence on writing that has eroded this skill. We can, if we choose to, implement these techniques alongside our current educational methods. I have taught schoolchildren to sing their science and to create memory trails right around the school grounds, with excellent results. We can and should learn from the intellectual achievements of indigenous cultures by adapting their techniques to contemporary life. But when we do this, we should acknowledge the source. These memory techniques are far older than our Western civilisation, and they are far more effective than the crude rote techniques that replaced them.

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Luba lukasa Wellesley College

Lukasas were carved panels decorated with pins and beads, used as memory devices by the Luba of central Africa to encode genealogies, historical events, and other important information.

Precolonial African representations of space were not limited, however, to political and economic issues. The most developed and striking forms of cartography used landscape references to express ideas about identity, migration histories, mythology, and relationships with spiritual forces. They were definitely created for internal use rather than communication with outsiders and might take the form of elaborate artifacts such as the Luba lukasa or wall decorations, temporary drawings on the ground, body tattoos and even compass orientations inscribed on to objects which do not themselves represent space (Bassett).

These complex forms of indigenous cartography provide evidence of African ability to think systematically and graphically about space and force us to extend our own conceptions of maps (which were not always such “practical” devices in earlier European history). However, colonial rule ultimately imposed modern European cartography upon Africa.”from: Ralph A. Austen (2001).”Mapping Africa: Problems of Regional Definition and Colonial/National Boundaries”

university of chicago Luba memory board

retrieved from: http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777122619/

Read more about this:  http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1977.467.3/

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/moment-mindfulness-luba-memory-device-hiroki-ishihara-baez/

IF YOU HAVE ONE Luba Lukasa memory board FOR SALE, please CLICK HERE to contact me