Luba Art and Divination

by Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Kashekesheke divination, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.


An ancient non-royal form of divination practiced by Luba and Luba-related peoples is called kashekesheke in the Luba heartland and katatora in surrounding regions. Diviner and client together hold a small sculpted instrument that responds to the diviner’s questions through coded movements to reconstruct past events and to resolve present problems. Kashekesheke does not involve spirit possession, but rather derives its agency from medicinal substances implanted in the diviner’s right hand. When the hand makes contact with the sculpture, family spirits are invoked to assist with problems both personal and collective. The name kashekesheke imitates the sound of the instrument as it swishes across the mat, but it also means "to vomit the truth." As one Luba proverb says of this process, "There is no liar in kashekesheke divination, because you are holding [the instrument], and so am I."