Figure 13: L 7 1/4"
Figure 14: L 8"
It is interesting to compare fig. 13 with rubbing oracles from peoples outside the Kasai area. An extraordinary sculpture from the Lower Kongo, formerly in the Mestach Collection in Brussels, is unlike any other rubbing oracle ever collected (fig. 14). Given Mestach's commitment as an artist and collector of twentieth century Modern "primitivism," as well as African art, it is not surprising that it caught his eye. (See Evan Maurer's study of Mestach's collection in The Intelligence of Forms: An Artist Collects African Art (1991); William Rubin, "Primitivism" In 20th Century Art (1984).) According to Felix,
"The basic form was copied from the cereamic neckrests used by the Chinese labourers who were working on the construction of the railway Kongo to Ocean. When put in a vertical position the whole represents a Chinaman on his knees with his hands behind his back. We have no reference as to the existence of a similar piece and the above is an educated guess. The other solution would be that this piece was made by the Songo or the Holo since in that area some shop keepers were Chinamen from Macao (16 July 1985)."
Figure 15: W 3 1/2" L 4"
Figure 16: L 12"
Two ritual artifacts from northern Zaire, one from Ngbaka (fig. 15) in the northwest and the other from the Zande peoples in the northeast (fig. 16) are highly abstract in their composition. E.E. Evans-Pritchard's extensive writings on the Zande include his monumental work, Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (1937), the first extensive study of divination in sub-Sahara Africa. It remains the formative work which all other studies must address. A large and diverse group, incorporating over time numerous other peoples, Zande art, including figural sculptures, is often highly stylized in abstract and geometric forms, none more beautifully than the rubbing oracle in fig. 16.
According to Evans-Pritchard, the Zande "rubbing-board," called iwa, is the most used of all Zande oracles (1937:359-374). In contrast to the Luba kakishi and Songye katatora, it is assumed that every male has created an iwa and carries it with him at all times in a leather or raffia bag for consultation on questions concerning him, ranging from whether or not to take a journey to identification of the witch who has made him suddenly and violently sick. In extreme cases where the greatest care must be taken in resolving a matter an alternative form of divination referred to as the poison oracle will be consulted, for it cannot be humanly manipulated as is the risk with the rubbing oracle. Otherwise, the iwa serves his purposes for coping with life's vexations.
The iwa consists of a small table-like construction, which is thought of as the female portion. The rubber is considered male. Any individual may make an iwa so long as he observes the appropriate taboos, such as abstaining from sexual relations for two days and not eating certain foods, and follows prescribed procedures which include burning the surface of the wood with a red-hot spear, preparing and annointing the object with a mixture of boiled root juices and oil over which he has prayed:
"This is my rubbing-board oracle which I am going to doctor. When I consult it on a man's behalf may it speak the truth, may it foretell the death (threatened death) of a man. May it reveal things to me, may it not hide things from me. May it not lose its potency. If a man eats tabooed food, such as elephant (and comes near my oracle), may it not lose its potency" (Evans-Pritchard 1937:363).
Incisions are made in the rubbing pad and the "medicinal" preparations rubbed into the surface. After the oracle has been buried beneath a path for two days, it is ready for use.
When using the iwa, the man sits on the ground and steadies the oracle by placing his right foot on its tail. After squeezing the juices of certain plants or grains from selected trees on the surface of the oracle, he rubs the lid towards and away from himself, at times dipping the rubber into a calabash of water. The surface of the oracle begins to bubble. The diviner jerks the rubber backwards and forwards with his right hand and begins to ask his questions. If the rubber slides without sticking, the answer is affirmative. If it sticks, it is a negative response. Or there may be no answer should the rubber or lid move in a circular fashion.
The rubbing oracle in the Maurer Collection is similar in its composition to one collected by Evans-Pritchard in the thirties (Pitt-Rivers Museum; see Evans-Pritchard 1937:Plate XXIV). The simple and beautifully related geometric forms have, as noted above, far more than aesthetic significance for the Zande. There is a gender identification and the acknowlegment of the female as the source of hidden realities.
Equally powerful in its minimalist formal properties is the rubbing oracle from the Ngbaka (fig. 15). The concavities in the lid call to mind the manner in which Ngbaka artists depicted the area of the eyes in face masks. To divine is to "see."
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