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- Kuba artist
- Label Text
- Kuba artists of south central Democratic Republic of the Congo create friction oracles known as itombwa. Regarded as infallible divinatory instruments, itombwa were used by the Ding, Kuba, Lele, Luluwa and Wongo peoples to mediate between diviners and omniscient nature spirits in order to determine the cause of illnesses and appropriate courses of treatment, as well as to expose dishonesty. Itombwa often take the form of animal figures, their backs forming the rubbing surface. The animals, such as bush pigs and dogs, as seen here, are associated with hunting prey or rooting out a plant, thus symbolizing a diviner's quest for knowledge and insight, as the diviner seeks to uncover the agent or cause of misfortune, controversy and suffering. To quote William Sheppard, the first outsider to visit the Kuba capitol at Nsheng in 1892, "The [diviner] rubs the button-like attachment over the back of the animal. If it sticks the person in question is guilty, otherwise innocent…. [The] crocodile never lies is the native saying."
- The friction, that is the smooth movement of the wooden rubber, is created by the addition of specially prepared root juices and oil as it is used by the diviner. Traces of red camwood powder may still be seen, typical of the finishing touch on almost all Kuba carvings.
- The surface of this itombwa is finely carved with geometric ornamentation, yet the figure is relatively recent, suggesting art school influence.
- Wood rubbing oracle in the shape of a dog with a long rounded snout, forward pointing ears, conical eyes, long tail, interlace pattern on sides, concentric circles on head and flat, smooth back. Seperate knob on its back.
- Eliot Elisofon, New York, collected Mushenge 1947 to 1973
- Published References
- Elisofon, Eliot. 1958. The Sculpture of Africa. New York: Praeger, p. 211, no. 269.
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- High resolution digital images are not available for some objects. For publication quality photography and permissions, please contact the Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives at https://africa.si.edu/research/eliot-elisofon-photographic-archives/
- Credit Line
- Bequest of Eliot Elisofon
- Mid-20th century
- Object number
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- H x W x D: 7.9 x 30.2 x 10.2 cm (3 1/8 x 11 7/8 x 4 in.)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
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