This article is about African divination. Divination is used to help interpret situations that need to be dealt with and choices that need to be made. Its purpose is to define the meaning from the invisible from harmonious and conflicting relationships with the deities, spirits, and ancestors.
The most common divination techniques include throwing objects such as nuts, pebbles, and bones, and having someone read where and how they fall. The Yoruba of Nigeria and the Fon of Benin use divination by throwing kola nuts and depending on the results, lines are traced on a plate and creating 256 possible combinations that correspond to all of a man’s destinies. Animals are also used as part of the divination practices. The Dogon of Mali use a jackal as the animal of choice, since it was born from the union of the sky god and the earth and is the repository of God’s first word. The soothsayer attracts the animal with a left on the divination tablet on which Sam has been scattered and where the jackal will leave traces of his passage. And, on the other hand, the Bamileke of Cameroon use a spider as their animal of choice. Lines are drawn at the entrance of the spiders then representing both maternal and paternal ancestors, and objects such as flowers leaves pieces of: that’s twigs and small pebbles are placed in the den. When the spider comes out at night it will push some of the objects along that trace lines giving an answer to the soothsayer.
The Kuba use wood objects in the shape of animals for their divination process. Some are in the shape of crocodiles, lizards, warthogs or dogs. The animals back is moistened and robbed with a small wooden cylinder; but the cylinder remains attached to the surface, it means the question is the right one. According to my source, oracles are used to identify which is thieves and unfaithful wives. Animals used in the ceremonies are chosen on account of their nose or sight, or their ability to track and catch prey. Another animal used as a mouse. The diviner looks for signs regarding the client’s problems by looking at the arrangement of small sticks moved by a mouse inside a container. Diviners carry containers with a sculpture attached which depicts their client. Divination with a mouse yields less specific answers than those that would be obtained in a trance. In the case of a trance, it is induced by the sound of the small hammer struck rhythmically on a gong. It is said that the diviner is seized by a bush spirit or by divinities related to a specific family from generation to generation. The state of possession can be very violent, endangering the life of the possessed person.
The information in this article was taken from the book Africa, one of the Dictionaries of Civilization series by Ivan Bargna, pages 183-188.