The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kajiji village); Chokwe artist
Ngombo ya chisuka (divination basket) with instruments, 1930–1950
Fiber, wood, gourd, vegetal and animal parts, metal, pigment, earthenware fragment, glass
Dimensions variable
University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Gift of Joy Reich, 2015.296j


Chokwe divination at Kajiji

The late missionary Elisabeth Shannon created this 16 mm silent film at Kajiji (southwest of Kahemba), Democratic Republic of the Congo, before 1953. It features an unidentified Chokwe diviner using objects that were soon after given by "Chief Sakuku" to the late Clyde Shannon, a missionary stationed in the area. In a letter written by Clyde Shannon, dated June 1951 and addressed to "Dear Friends and Prayer Partners," Clyde writes that Chief Sakuku gave "a sorcerer's kit to me to keep and to show to Christians in the white man's land." Joy Reich, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Shannon, inherited the divinatory objects and she donated them to the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art in 2015.

In spite of the rather restricted nature of Chief Sakuku's intended audience, the Chokwe divination basket and related instruments featured within this film are now available for viewing to a general audience online and for visitors to the UIMA exhibition. Presented in the context of Art & Life in Africa, UIMA has chosen to present these objects among other examples of divinatory arts from Africa. Through careful inspection of the contents within this particular basket, it is clear that the Chokwe diviner adapted an important Christian icon (see the crucifix at the upper right) to empower his practice.


-Cory Gundlach, 2016