Diphomba (Diviner's Mask)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

A respected member of the Yombe is the nganga diphomba, a specialist who seeks out the cause of various problems, from crime and accidents to death and drought. Nganga diphomba were held in incredibly high esteem, without equals in their ability to detect and expose the contributing factors behind such events.

The Yombe believe that most misfortunes are caused by some form of sorcery, likely driven by malicious actions from within the community. Therefore, the nganga diphomba would be dispatched to detect witches and other dark forces that may be motivated by malice, greed or envy.

To reach a conclusion, the diphomba would interpret signs using purpose-built devices such as friction oracles to act as a conduit for communication with ancestral spirits.

When handing down a verdict, the nganga diphomba would identify the culprit while painted black, wearing a skirt of feathers and a ceremonial mask. The mask, an idealised representation of its wearer, was believed to instil fear into the guilty and demonstrate the diphomba’s authority over the trial.

Distinguishing Features

  • Skull cap
  • Naturalistic modelling of face
  • Sunken cheeks
  • Carved eyebrows
  • Eyes edged with lids
  • Sunken cheeks
  • Straight nose
  • Partly open mouth
  • Pointed teeth
  • Low chin
  • Stylised ears
  • White face
  • Black sometimes painted on cheekbones
  • Red, blue and brown also used as pigment to highlight facial features
  • Beard attached

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