Luba Art and Divination

by Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Bilumbu diviners in consultation, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.

 

The most prestigious type of Luba divination is called Bilumbu, which accompanied the introduction of sacred kingship. According to the Luba epic, the first sacred king named Kalala Ilunga would never have acceded to the throne without the counsel and clairvoyance of a diviner named Mijibu wa Kalenga. Every Bilumbu diviner, male and female, past and present, incarnates Mijibu wa Kalenga when they enter a state of spirit possession. Spirit possession is triggered by a combination of percussive rhythms and religious songs, called "songs for twins," used to summon the spirits and to sustain their presence. Once the spirit has come to mount a diviner’s head, the diviner has the capacity to read and interpret the divinatory signs in the gourds that are used to “see” a problem and to construct meaning frommisfortune. Here, a highly reputed father and son team perform morning consultations.