Divination rituals vary greatly from one culture to another; but they are practiced throught the world- in the United States and Europe, as well as by the peoples of Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Participants in such rituals are concerned with a gain in knowledge, insight into the dilemmas that vex human experience. Divination is not a type of prophecy or soothsaying. To be sure, it is concerned with the future, but only as the future is shaped by past events, present circumstances, and by known and unknown powers. Rituals of divination focus upon the present, addressing human suffering and the quest for meaning: illness, the untimely death of a person, failure of crops, loss in the market place, discord within a family, or an entire community, with or without the ministrations of a priest.

Figures 1a and 1b: H 5" and 4 1/2"

When Barry D. Maurer, a lawyer and book collector, became interested in collecting African art, he decided to focus upon ritual artifacts used in rites of divination in Central and West Africa. Within a few years he assembled a remarkable collection that is unique in its focus and cultural breadth. Portions of the collection, such as the Luba kakishi (figs. 1a and 1b), reveal the artistry of a single people and the variety of styles employed by carvers in various Luba sub-cultures. As Maurer recognized, the widespread use of kakishi, each charming in its own right, provides a splendid basis for art-historical and stylistic analyses. In a note from Marc L. Felix, through whom Maurer collected many of his Central Africa artworks, the kakishi on the left (fig. 1a) was probably made by the "master carver attached to the court of King Ksongo Niembo since it has the same features as adzes and staffs which we know came from that workshop" (9 July 1988). Similar ritual artifacts used by the neighboring Songye people known as katatora exhibit an entirely different style to depict the human head and face in terms of geometric forms in contrast to the Luba's more representational presentation (fig. 2).

As Maurer pursued his interests in the artistry of the peoples of Zaire (recently re-named The Democratic Republic of the Congo), he became aware of variation in divinatory ritual practices throughout Central Africa, as well as West Africa, and acquired additional pieces that caught his eye and represented various cultural groups. Unfortunately, he did not have time to address the numerous questions which the collection raises: the question of the relationship of artistry to ritual artifact and ritual efficacy; the determination of what constitutes a divination ritual artifact; and the hoary question of aesthetic valuation- whose?

Throughout this online catalogue, clicking on the image of an object will provide an enlarged, high-resolution picture of that object. However, for those viewing from off-campus browsers, the enlarged images will be inaccessible.

Click here for more.

Figure 2: H 5 1/2"