African Art

Divination Kit (Mboko / Kilemba)

late 19th–early 20th century

Gourd, wood, brass, iron, shell, bone, bird skulls, seeds, eggs, claws, teeth, feathers, leather, and fiber

5 11/16 x 8 7/8 in. (14.5 x 22.5 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
2006.51.15
This set was used in divination. After shaking the gourd container, the diviner would interpret the configuration of its contents to decipher the cause of the criminal acts or the personal misfortune of a client. The arrangement of the contents is considered a visual code from the spirit world that could provide relief in times of personal difficulty and dilemma. The intriguing cast of characters represented by the tiny suspended figures provides a theatrical vocabulary that can be read only by the experienced diviner.
Culture: 
Songye
Period: 
19th–20th century
Classification: 
Containers - Other
Geography: 
Made in Central Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Status: 
On view
Provenance: 

Samir Borro, Brussels and Paris (orginally Abidjan), to Jan. 22, 1981; Charles B. Benenson Collection, Greenwich, Conn 1981–2004; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Bibliography: 

Susan Vogel, Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts, and George Nelson Preston, Sets, Series and Ensembles in African Art, exh. cat. (New York: The Center for African Art, 1985), 79, no. 85, fig. 85.

Alisa LaGamma, Art and Oracle: African Art and Ritual of Divination, exh. cat. (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000), no. 22.

Frederick John Lamp, “Charles Benenson and His Legacy of African Art to Yale,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2004): 40, ill.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Frederick John Lamp, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 89, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.