Luba Art and Divination

by Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Luba artist sculpting a bowl figure, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1988. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.


Bowl figures are owned by both chiefs and diviners to honor and remember the critical role played by the first diviner, Mijibu wa Kalenga, in the founding of kingship. Rulers keep them at their doors, filled with sacred white chalk associated with purity, renewal, and the spirit world. Usually, however, these figures are the prerogative of royal Bilumbu diviners who use them as oracles and as receptacles for their possessing spirit's spouse. Although most bowl figures are rendered as women, this artist is sculpting a bowl figure in the form a male figure wearing an nkaka beaded headdress and holding his own mboko divining gourd. The sculpting of such ritual objects is considered to be only the first phase in a series of aesthetic modifications that the figure will undergo, from consecration by a ritual specialist with sacred chalk to the attachment of horns that enable the figure's powers of locomotion.