Women as Diviners

By Eileen Moyer
University of Amsterdam (formerly University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the CongoLuba peoples

Mboko (female figure with bowl)


H. 28.6 (11 ¼”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.278

Mboko figures, like this one, contain mpemba, or white kaolin clay, which is representative of the power of the ancestors and is applied to the client during the divinatory process to establish contact with the spirit that the figure is said to represent (Nooter Roberts 1996).  It is also used by the diviner during the investiture of a chief.  The figure of a woman embodies the ideas of secrecy, protection, and healing associated with the ancestors and history of the Luba empire.  Through contact with the ancestor and knowledge of the Luba past, the diviner is able to invest power and confidence in the throne. The leader must be validated by history if he is to be respected, and among the Luba, this history is symbolically linked with the power of women.  

Luba peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, royal diviner. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.