Baskets of Wisdom

Prof. John Mack (University of East Anglia)

Baskets of Wisdom

In several parts of Central Africa covered baskets have names that translate as ‘baskets of wisdom’ or some cognate phrase. Such usage is recorded for the Kongo, Kuba, Luba and Tabwa, amongst others. Likewise winnowing trays are often used in divination whether to contain and ‘sift’ divinatory objects or to cover some other container which secretes primary knowledge (as amongst the Lovale or Chokwe). Whether the covered baskets contain anything is perhaps less important than the assertion that they contain everything, and that the basket effects their concealment as a condition of their efficacy. Many of these baskets are further associated with foundational myths of several kinds raising the question of whether in a cultural sense (to set aside discussions of technological evolution) basketry is accorded any particular priority. Is this a condition of their role as an instrument of epistemological efficacy? Why should a basket be the appropriate vessel of such fundamental knowledge?








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