Human beings need to archive information. This may be due to his innate curiosity and his unstoppable desire to know and not to forget. This is why we invented data storage media, designed to replace the oral transmission of knowledge, which is imperfect and subject to alterations. We quickly think of hard disks or USB sticks, but the truth is that this technology is very old, even older than the first civilizations.
Books, tablets, papyrus, petroglyphs, cave paintings, etc. are perhaps the best known mnemonic supports. However, there are some extremely peculiar and unknown, such as the African Lukasa, belonging to the Luba people, inhabitants of the southeast of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Lukasa” would translate as “long hands” or “claws”. They are tapered or hourglass-shaped wooden boards containing “circuits” made up of myriad elements of glass, metal, shells, stone beads and engravings on the wood. The arrangement of these elements and their shape encoded data of all kinds: from sagas and legends of local heroes, to topographies, historical records, counts…
This information was accessible to very few. Within the Luba people there was the secret society of the Mbudye, made up of the most powerful men and women of the tribe. Only the highest ranking members knew the methods to decode the Lukasa and access their valuable information (that is why they were called “bana balute“ or “men of the memory”). Such was the influence of this society that they were able to determine who would be the Luba rulers.
Consequently, the Lukasa served the socio-political and religious needs. In addition, this information would come from communication with spirits, increasing their mystical and esoteric nature. They are considered to have originated in the 19th century, but specialists such as Thomas W. Reefe significantly delay their antiquity due to their high level of integration into the structure of the society.