Gbékré Sè (Mouse Divination Oracle Vessel)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:

There is a traditional belief among the Baule that mice could once “talk”. Their ability to burrow into the earth and their closeness to its surface was thought to give them a strong connection with the earth spirits known as asie usu. This close connection was believed to enable mice to foretell significant events. For this reason, the Baule thought they could influence the earth through divination by mice.

As part of this process, spiritual leaders would take mice from the forest back to the village, where they could be held captive. During this time, these specialists would master their technique, preparing medications and learning how to interpret the vocabulary of the mice. Once they perfected their craft, would-be diviners were initiated into the secrets of mice divining by more experienced practitioners and given a mouse oracle known as a gbekre.

As the owner of a gbekre, the diviner was now free to open their own mice divination practice. Here, the finely carved oracle would be filled with a device made from flour-coated sticks designed to record and interpret the movements of the mouse. A mouse would be placed in the lower chamber of the gbekre and pass through to the top chamber where the stick device had been placed. The diviner would then ask the gbekre questions regarding family members and paying clients.

With each question, the oracle is struck, stirring the mouse into action. As the mouse feeds on the flour and moves through the upper chamber, the movement of the sticks creates a new configuration which is interpreted by the diviner.

Common interpretations of stick configurations include “sickness”, “successful labour”, and “death of an individual”.

Diviners are highly respected and would often carry their vessels on a strap, so they are clearly visible to others.

Distinguishing Features

  • Lidded vessel
  • Freestanding or seated figure carved in the round
    • Figure's hands resting on knees
  • Vessels often decorated with motifs instead of carved figure
    • Engraved surfaces and lid
    • Animal imagery, masks, or human heads carved lightly in relief
  • Terracotta vessel inside a hollow wooden cylinder
    • Shelf divides the vessel into two chambers
    • Chambers connected by a hole
  • Vessel feet shaped as broken chevrons
  • Vessel appears to rest on a stool

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