Kakishi (Divination Object)

By: Kathryn Cua || Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Luba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo use divination to address and remedy misfortune. Divination, which is done through various mnemonic devices, practices and performances, is a process that reconstructs the past to better understand what caused the present disaster. One of the devices the Luba use for divination is called the kakishi, an object used in the divination practice called kashekesheke.

Luba people believe that every person’s life is guided by bafu (“the dead”) and their presence is thought to affect the quality of a person’s life. According to the belief, bafu grant mercy to those who honour them. One of the ways in which the Luba invoke bafu is through kashekesheke. Kashekesheke is a personal, therapeutic form of divination. Combining familial spiritual invocation with medicinal mechanisms, kashekesheke is practised with the intention to solve problems on both a personal and collective level.

Diviners (typically women) use two different types of oracles—a cup-shaped kabaya gourd or a kakishi, which takes form as a small sculpted figure. The meeting begins with the client expressing the problem for which they would like to consult their ancestral spirits. After a fee has been negotiated between the diviner and her client, the diviner will then prepare the kakishi sculpture by rubbing its surface with aromatic plants. This is intended to awaken the spirit and get its attention.

The diviner will then pronounce an honorary praise phrase and the kakishi will be placed on a mat between the diviner and client. Then the diviner and client will both make contact with the kakishi by grasping it with their first two fingers. After contact has been made with the spirit, the diviner will ask questions to determine the root of her client’s misfortunes. Movement indicates the spirit’s response.

The kakishi travels across the ground in coded patterns. As it moves, it makes a "sheke-sheke" noise and the diviner interprets its sounds. The answers are typically simple, either yes or no. An affirmative response takes form in a forceful, counterclockwise circular motion while a negative response is signalled by a tipping forward and backward. This process continues until both parties, diviner and client, are prepared to discuss the problems in light of the kakishi’s movements.

Kakishi figures would only be washed on the day of a rising new moon. During the night of said new moon, the object would be rubbed with chalk to express gratitude to the spirit world. Today, kashekesheke diviners tend to use kabaya gourds, aluminium cups, or a tin can. It is rare nowadays to see diviners using wooden devices such as the kakishi figures when practising kashekesheke.

Distinguishing Features

  • 3 to 6 inches tall
  • Always female
  • Can be abstract or figurative in form
  • Some examples are Janus
  • Intricate, backswept coiffure
  • Wide-set eyes
  • Rectangular, hollow body
  • Some have engraved or raised designs representing scarification
  • Smooth, worn, often slanted base
  • Sides of implement smooth
  • Beads often added by the diviner

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