Kuba people, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Divination Implement/Friction Oracle (itumbwa)

Kuba people, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Divination Implement/Friction Oracle (itumbwa), 20th century 

carved wood, braided sennit, brass bosses and wire (13040.1)

Gift of the Rogers Family Foundation, 2004 

The itumbwa or friction oracle was an implement used by a Kuba shaman for the telling of fortunes and consultation of spirits. Like this example, many are short-legged quadruped animals with long backs, elongated necks, pointed heads and short tails. The flanks of the animal in HMA’s itumbwa are decorated with cross-hatching which indicates it could represent a crocodile, albeit stylized. The back of the animal is polished and smooth, reflecting its use. The small wooden piece attached with fiber cord was moistened with oil and rubbed back and forth, its movements and whether or not (or where) it would stick interpreted by the shaman as the answers to questions being asked at the time.