Baule Diviners Oracle Pot Gbekre-Se
Origin: Ivory Coast
Approx Age: Later 20th Century
Materials: Wood, Plant Fibre, Animal Hide, Brass Studs
Dimensions cm: 33 tall
Ref. Number: 1021
A truly fascinating and exquisite Baule Diviners Oracle Pot Gbekre-Se from Sakassou Ivory Coast. This pot is beautifully styled, depicting two small mask representations on either side of chamber an elevated figure to the rear. This lid being attached to the figure head by plant fiber rope/string and the neck of the chamber is adorned with a small piece of animal hide held in place with brass studs. A lovely patina showing this pot has been cherished and well used.
These mouse oracle pots are known as “gbekre-se” translation (mouse oracle) “gbekre” on its own (mouse). In modern day understanding the word “gbekre” is more commonly understood with reference to the Baule monkey, which is very wrong!! The Baule monkey is called “aboya or mbotumbo” not gbekre.
Mouse divination is probably of Guro origin and is one of several divination techniques used in Baule society; it is practiced in eastern and central Côte d’Ivoire by Agni-speaking peoples, which include the Guro and Yaure. Regional oral traditions recount that in the distant past mice could speak. At that time they lived in the forest with the earth spirits (asye usu) until a spiritual specialist carried them into the village to be kept in captivity. Their natural proximity to the earth’s surface and their ability to burrow beneath it permit mice to gain intimate access to the omniscient asye usu and the ancestors, thus enabling them to foretell events
Specialists spend several years mastering this divination technique. Their training emphasizes properly compensating the divinities and oracle for the enlightenment they provide, to ensure that they will remain favourably disposed. It also includes practical lessons on preparing medications and instruction in interpreting a vocabulary of visual signs. On becoming initiated into the secrets of the profession, the diviner is provided with his own mouse oracle (gbekre) and may establish an independent practice.
The physical apparatus of the gbekre is contained within a terracotta vessel inside a hollow wooden cylinder. A shelf divides the vessel into two distinct chambers, which are connected by a hole. The mice are placed in the lower chamber and pass through the hole into the upper chamber, in which the diviner has placed ten small sticks (originally, birds’ or bats’ bones were used). The small sticks, called gbekre nyma (literally, “eyes of the mice”), are coated with flour and attached at one end with fibre to the shell of an earth turtle. The actions of the mice in the upper chamber change the positions of the sticks, creating a new configuration that constitutes the sign to be translated by the diviner.
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