Mboko (Female Bowl-Bearing Figure)


By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


The Luba typically turn to a bilumbu (diviner) when seeking identification of an illness or misfortune. It is the bilumbu's responsibility liaise with the spirit world to identify the cause of the aliment and recommend a remedy, without prior knowledge of the client or his/her situation. An mboko gourd and a bowl-bearing female figure (also called mboko or kabila) form part of the divination ensemble. During the divination process, the mboko figure (believed to be the wife of the spirit possessing the diviner) is used to hold a mixture of white kaolin clay (mpemba) and medicinal herbs. It is placed beside the bilumbu and the white chalk from it applied to the diviners face to instigate his trance and help facilitate the identification of ailments and misfortune.

Mboki (pl.) bowl-bearing figures are also used by Luba royalty to reinforce their roles as authoritative leaders connected directly to the spirit world. An mboko is commissioned by a newly inducted ruler; the bowls are filled with magic chalk and are displayed during ceremonies that honour the first mythical diviner, Mijibu wa Kalenga and his role in founding the Luba kingship. It is believed that a chief's mboko also plays an important role in protecting the community.

When divination apparatus is not in use, they are stored in a basket (kitumpo) handled only by the diviner.

Distinguishing Features

Common features among all mboko vessels:

  • Kneeling or standing female figure
  • Figure holding bowl
  • Most have scarification marks on torso, arms, back and/or thighs
  • Inside of bowl usually contains traces of white clay

Regional variations (Luba Shankadi - Mwanza region):

  • Coiffure has five lateral buns distributed in a fan-like manner
  • Fourth bun becomes almost semi-circular, overlapping the lowest one
  • Oval face, often without scarification
  • Wide shoulder plane covered with scarification marks
  • Shoulders projected forward
  • Bust covered in raised diamond motifs
  • Sometimes adorned with glass beads
  • Head-shaped lid on cup
  • Protruding shortened legs
  • NOTE: A prominent artist from this region is Kitwa Biseke (ca. 1880s–1950s), Malemba Nkulu, Shaba province

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