Divination bowl, Luba, Democratic Republic of Congo, late 20th century
Gift of Lee and Rada Bronson, 2003 LB 8
Amongst the Luba people, women hold spiritual authority. The female presence in divination practices reinforces the importance of women as intermediary spirit containers and possessing oracular powers. The Mboko (figure with a bowl) expresses the most fundamental concepts of the power of women. The Mboko were filled with sacred chalk or kola nuts associated with purity, renewal, and the spirit world. The Luba people were able to communicate with ancestral spirits via the Mboko to receive guidance to ensure a balanced society. Prior to kneeling before the king, substances were to be rubbed over the chest and arms as a gesture of respect.
Female presence reinforces the importance of women as intermediary spirit containers and beings possessing oracular powers. This figure shows traces of reddish soil or clay and exhibits Luba aesthetics with its polished surface, high forehead, large, almond-shaped eyes, broad nose, and elaborate coiffure (hairstyle). Incised, repetitious geometrical patterning adorns the bowl. The figure’s rounded torso and upstretched arms with large fingers provide a marked contrast to the small legs at the base. In addition, Ntapo (scarification) around the protruding navel is a unique visual language referring to beauty, fertility, social status, and physical perfection.
Roberts, Mary Nooter & Allen F. Roberts. Visions of Africa: Luba. Milan: Five Continents Editions. 2007, 53-56.