X2010.46a,b Divination bowl figure

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Divination bowl figure
Attributed to Kitwa Biseke, ca. 1880s–ca. 1950s
Luba peoples, Malemba Nkulu, Shaba Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Carved wood, traces of kaolin
Fowler Museum at UCLA; Gift of Barbara and Joseph Goldenberg; X2010.46A, B


The profession of divination was integral to the formation of the great Luba kingdom (17th–19th centuries), and continues to be practiced today. Luba diviners use an array of objects that enable them to communicate with the spirits, including a sculpture carved in the form of a woman holding a bowl. The bowl is used to store beads and white chalk, which are associated with the beneficence of the ancestors and also with the moon, a symbol of renewal, hope, and continuity. Some Luba spokespersons say that the figure represents the wife of the diviner’s possessing spirit. Others say that it incarnates the first Luba diviner who played a role in the origins of royal culture.

Gallery Wall Text, Fowler in Focus: Radiance and Resilience – Arts of Africa and the Americas from the Goldenberg Collection, 2011