Yaka Diviners Slit Drum

  • Tribe: Yaka
  • Origin: DRC
  • Approx Age: 1930 - 1950
  • Materials: Wood
  • Dimensions cm: 38 (including stand)
  • Ref. Number: 1062
£600.00 (RESERVED)

Simply styled Yaka Diviners Slit Drum. This slender style of slit drum from the Yaka people, Democratic Republic of Congo is known as a Mukoku and would be used by the village diviner to assist in the divination process. Nicely patinated around the neck where this lovely drum would have been held whilst being beaten with a thick stick. Showing some facial features both eyes and nose.

Provence: Ex Belgium Gallery – Andre Van Hecke

Drums are among the most important art forms in Africa, used both as a musical instrument and as a work of sculpture significant in many ceremonial functions, including dance, rituals, story telling and communication of messages. The slit drum is an idiophone drum, made from a hollowed piece of wood in which a narrow groove serves as a sound opening. The slit drum is struck with a stick along both sides of the narrow groove, which produces two different pitches. The possibility of combining rhythm with pitch enables the slit drum to act as a means of communication.

Yaka Diviner sounding a Slit Drum.


Slit drums, with hollow chambers and long and narrow openings that resonate when struck, often take a human or animal form in which the drum becomes the body. Vertical examples from the Yaka people show careful execution.

Both mbwoolo sculptures and a type of carved slit drum known as a mukoku are used by ritual specialists. Mukoku help in the divination process, and mbwoolo are used to embody protective medicine. The Yaka also carve numerous masks and headgear for use in initiation and to be worn by traditional leaders. Hair combs and fly whisks often are carved with decorations as well.

Yaka diviners hut.


History suggests that the Yaka, along with the Suku, were part of an invasion against the Kongo Kingdom that came from the Lunda Plateau in the 16th century. Previous to that time Yaka culture was enveloped in Kongo language and agriculture. Lunda expansion and creation of the Inbangala Kingdom in 1620 greatly affected the occupants of the Kwango River area, which included both the Yaka and the Suku. At one time the Yaka kingdom was comprised of several smaller ethnic groups, including the Suku. In an effort to expand to the northwest and east, Yaka chiefs weakened their kingdom’s strength and were forced to become subservient to the Lunda. The Lunda-Chokwe empire collapsed in the 19th century and the Yaka regained some of their independence.

Taken from Visions of Africa “Yaka”


Among the Yaka, the males contribute to the local economy largely through hunting. They may hunt either individually or in groups and most often use bow and arrow or old rifles. Hunting dogs are a prize possession among the Yaka, and their ability to sniff out game is compared to the mgaanga’s ability to sniff out witches. The women contribute most of the food, primarily through cultivation of cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, and peanuts. They further supplement the diet through the gathering of wild fruits and berries and occasional fishing.

Image result for Yaka people

Each community has a local chief who is the direct descendant of the original land owner and usually is controlled to some extent by a paramount regional chief. Ritual specialists and diviners who achieve their prominence through display of their individual healing powers also inform political decisions. Ndzambyaphuungu (the creator who inhabits the sky) is responsible for life, death, and all unanswerable questions. There are no religious practices that actively pay homage to this god. Instead, religious celebrations focus on honoring the elders and bambuta (ancestors). The death of an elder is cause for a public ceremony performed by other elders. Bambuta may be honored by recognizing and practicing the traditional ways and through offerings and gifts. The offering place is usually a yipheesolu (clearing in the forest). This place is off-limits to outsiders and all women. Offerings may otherwise be made at the grave site of the ancestors. Divination is of prime importance to the Yaka, and the powers of a ngaanga (medicine person) are measured by the ability to discern the cause of illness.

Information taken from Art & Life in Africa.