Figure 26: 8 3/4" in diameter

Another form of divination found in Central Africa is basket divination, represented in the Maurer Collection by objects from the Luba, Songye, and Tchokwe. Among the Luba it is called Bilumbu (see Roberts and Roberts 1996:185-204). Maurer was able to acquire a very fine example of a Luba mboko (fig. 26), a gourd with a fir pelt attached and filled with various items of forest, field, and human manufacture, including small carved wooden figures. It is similar to one that Mary Nooter Roberts photographed in Zaire in 1988 (Roberts and Roberts 1996:Fig. 189). He also found a pair of tiny male and female wood sculptures (figs. 27a, b) of the type held by the diviner in Mary Nooter Robert's photograph. This is an instance where art and artifact co-mingle. The mboko, a ritual artifact, contains carvings that may legitimately be called art, for they are the skillful, imaginative creations of a carver.

Figures 27a and b: both are 3 1/2" in height

Bilumbu divination entails trance states. When a male diviner is in trance, he is called Bwana Vidye, a female diviner in trance is Bifwikwa. Associated in Luba history with kingship, Bilumba diviners are looked upon as important links to the past, those capable of being in touch with and possessed by, Luba cultural memory. They are spirit mediums; and in their possession state they are likened to the rising moon shedding light upon darkness.

The mboko in fig. 26 contains chicken claws and feathers; fragments of animal bones; seed pods; beads; bits of metal; and small wooden carvings. While in trance, the diviner tosses the materials within the calabash, lifts the lid, and interprets the configuration of items that appear on the surface.

This is the raw material with which the diviner diagnoses a problem....Whichever objects or figures are standing or have come to the surface of the jumble of chaulk-covered pieces are taken as revelatory signs. From these the diviner begins to form "organizing images" and a hyposthesis concerning the client's difficulty. The process is repeated again and again until a relatively clear understanding of the problem has been formulated. As one diviner explained the process, "the Bwana Vidye looks at the wooden figures [among other things], which give him information that he surrenders to the client. Understanding the configuration of figures in the gourd is possible only when the spirit has taken possession of the diviner. At that moment he can interpret the different aspects of these statues. Ordinary people, or Bilumbu not in possession, cannot determine their meaning or function" (Roberts and Roberts 1996:195).

Figure 28: H 18 1/4"

Some of the most famous of Luba sculptures are of female figures holding bowls. A fine example in the Maurer Collection is fig. 28. Figures such as this one were the possession of Bilumbu diviners and "represent the wife of the diviner's possessing spirit" (Roberts and Roberts 1996:196). The reference is twofold: to the presence of the diviner's wife when the diviner is in a state of possession and the Luba association with women as spirit containers. The cascading hair style is found on many Luba figural sculptures (see figs. 1b, 32, 44, 45) and so too the body scarification. But her beauty and power as woman is also expressed in the ease with which she holds the bowl on her thighs as she is seated in a squatting position; the strength of arm and hands with which she grasps the offering bowl; fullness of breasts; and composure of face. From either the front or side the sculpture is splendid in its balance and composition. Only the horn of "medicinal" substances (bijimba) projecting from her head is off-balance when viewed from the front. An earlier photograph suggests that this may have been a later addition, although many Luba sculptures are adorned with small medicinally charged horns.

Figure 29:
L 7 1/4"

Figure 30:
13" by 13"

Two other seated female figures holding bowls, one from the Luba (fig. 29) and the other from the Songye (fig. 30), image the oracular power of women, their ability to assist the diviner in tracking down malevolent forces. During a divination rite, they would be positioned next to the diviner whose wife would also be present and seated next to him. The gesture of the Luba figure is the graciousness of gift giving, that of the Songye sculpture of woman as holding/being the container of spiritual power. Each bowl would have held kaolin powder with which the diviner would mark his face in preparation for and use during the rite.

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