The ngombo ya cisuka method of divination used widely within the Democratic of Congo and neighboring Angola and Zambia entails the manipulation of a basket within which a diviner has placed a collection of signs, each with fixed meaning. These particular signs are used by Chokwe diviners (tahi) and are called tuphele. Sets include miniature figures as well as sticks, pods, seeds, and the horns, claws, and bones of animals. Tuphele derived from animal, mineral, and vegetal matter are embodiments of the creator Kalunga's power, while the carved figures are metaphors for human behavior. The miniature human figure with hands on abdomen displayed here evokes fertility and the hunt.

During the consultation the diviner achieves clairvoyance through possession by Ngombo, an ancestral spirit (mahamba) who guides the divinatory process. He begins by shaking a rattle to invoke the mahamba that serve as intermediaries between the creator Kalunga and humans. Mahamba may reveal the cause of crises but can also be the cause of problems if neglected by humans. With the client seated before him, the diviner shakes the contents of the basket. The tuphele that land near the edge of the basket facing the client are a response to the inquiry made to the mahamba. Since each tuphele carries a fixed meaning, reading their position in relation to one another generates a message.


  • Title: Miniature Divination Figure, Tuphele
  • Location: Angola
  • Physical Dimensions: 3 in. (7.6 cm)
  • Provenance: Ex coll. William S. Arnett, United States.
  • Subject Keywords: amulet, effigy
  • Rights: © Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White
  • External Link: https://collections.carlos.emory.edu/objects/1074/
  • Medium: Wood, organic materials
  • Art Movement: Chokwe
  • Dates: 19th-20th Century
  • Classification: African Art

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