Lot 8
  • 8

Senufo Oracle Figure (Kafigeledjo), Ivory Coast

20,000 - 30,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • feathers, wood
  • Height: 42 in (107 cm)


Allan Stone, New York

Catalogue Note

The shrouded kafigeledjo figures created and used by Senufo diviners are among the most visually poetic of all African figural sculpture.  Discussing the example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, LaGamma (2000:26) notes, "this oracle figure deliberately provokes anxiety through its shrouded anonymity and the sense of suffocation and entrapment it suggests.  Such works and the ritual practice in which they are used are both known as kafigeledjo, a term that is variously translated as "he who speaks the truth", "tell the truth", or "saying true things".  The figures give a visual representation to invisible bush spirits and function as divination devices.  In contrast to the sublime humanism of works of Senufo Sando divination [...] they clearly embody a wild and unsettling anti-aesthetic."

She continues (ibid.): "Kafigeledjo divination is used to uncover misdeeds, false testimony, and culpability.  [...] this pursuit of truth ultimately seeks to preserve and uphold Senufo social guidelines concerning descent.  It does so by unveiling illicit behavior and by punishing with supernatural sanctions those who violate rules pertaining to forbidden sexual relations and exogamous marriage.  The kafigeledjo figure is concealed within a small hut, and although it has the potential to affect all members of a Senufo community, access to this oracle figure is restricted to the most enlightened senior male and, occasionally, female members.  These elders occupy positions of leadership, as initiates into the highest level of esoteric knowledge imparted by Poro, the Senufo men's initiation association.  Poro and its counterpart, Sandogo (the Senufo women's association), function as a system of government and oversee religious education and all ritual practices."

Invisible beneath the textile shroud, which is covered with thick crust of ritually-applied mud and other sacrificial materials, is presumably a fully-realized human figure, as we can surmise from the example in the Barbier-Müller Museum in Geneva (see Koloss 1990: 30, fi. 22) which has had its head covering partially removed. It is by the denial of access to this secret knowledge that these haunting sculptures draw their power.