Divination and Healing


pp. 29-54 – 1. Koen Stroeken : "The Healing Contingency of Sukuma Divination". [Northwest Tanganyika]

acts of divination




nhambo (mediumistic divination) : "receiving a twig (of the euphorbia bush) to which the subject’s saliva has been transmitted. Diviners commence by shaking the gourd rattle or their winnowing basket ..., with the twig lying on top. When addressing the subject, they have either reached their ancestral guide at that very moment or recollected a dream they had the night before.


"Most highly valued are diviners who started their profession following an affliction caused by an ancestor who summoned them to carry on their tradition of divining."


"The diviner’s epistemological stance leaves room for the role of the ancestors ... of coincidence commonly called "wind" (luyaga) or "eternity" (liwelelo)."


"Sukuma also use one word, ndagu, to signify oracle, fortune or spell, and ancestor."


anatomical terms in chicken-divination :-










" " " "





Meckel’s diverticulum



" " " "


"cattle tracks"


" " " "


"carriers of the vessel"


" " " "




" " " "

pocketlike zone beneath flesh of chicken’s breast

"granary" (ifuma)

p. 47 "consulters feel relieved and invigorated at the end of the diviner’s session".

acts of sorcery




"with the catatonic ... attacks of lusalo, which leaves the victim stuck to the ground, with one arm pointing to the sky ... the evil agent has intruded into the body from above ... to gradually descend."


"The Sukuma believe that debts can make you "ripe" to be harvested." {cf. [Bauddha]"ripening" of karman}


"the victim of bewitchment is litunga, meaning "tied," and referring to a zombielike figure unable to communicate".


"synonym for the witch, namely "intrusive gaze" (ngwiboneeji)." {cf. evil eye}


pp. 55-80 – 2. Edith Turner : "Drumming, Divination, and Healing". [Ndembu of northwestern Zambia]

pp. 55-58 seeking in the forest the plant-ingredients for a ritual




"Tribal doctors possess their own benevolent tutelary spirits. The person learning to be a ritual curer may acquire such a helper when the spirit of a revered healer ancestor chooses to visit him or her. Thereafter the spirit instructs the curer in the course of the work. The curer now works in the spirit mode : the divinations performed are effected not through the doctor’s own power but through that of the spirit."


"It was mufungu, the ishikenu, literally the "you-have-arrived" tree, the greeting tree, "the first." ... The curer "addressed the tree; [citing his parampara]. ... He addressed the spirits and indicated the red lines. "... Listen, you’re getting red honey beer, just give us your blessing ... .""


"a medicine component was a kind of person speaking to the spirit ..., who was also a kind of person." The curer "marked with red clay the first tree from which he took parts, so that Ihamba would "know" that it had to come out. ...

Another medicine was to make Ihamba "obey" ... .

Another was musoli, the "revealing" tree, to make Ihamba appear and stop hiding ... .

If the doctors were careful, ... "Ihamba would permit us to catch him without his running away.""

In readiness was a container "that was to receive [the ihamba spirit] when it came out [of the patient]. The lid was cut from strong-smelling soap root bark "because Ihamba ... won’t escape." The doctor also used castor oil leaves as a lining under the bark because Ihamba "fears" the leaves. ...

Many medicines "call" Ihamba out : the blood from a crowing rooster, medicine from a trumpeting elephant, the sound of clinking ax heads, a piercing whistle."

pp. 59-75 ritual to evoke the recalcitrant good-luck ihamba spirit out of the woman whom it had neglected properly to obey while it was within her body




"The libations were for the ancestors on one side and on the other for the ayikodjikodji, the useless spirits who must not be left out."

"Now [the chief doctor] medicated his doctors. He, ... the first apprentice, the second apprentice, and I drank some of the leaf tea. For a moment it made my head swim, then I recovered."


"Suddenly [the woman being cured] raised her arm, ... and I saw with my own eyes a giant thing emerging out of the flesh of her back. This thing was a large gray blob about six inches across – a gray, opaque thing, a kind of plasma in the shape of a sphere. ... The gray thing was actually out there, visible, and out could see [the chief doctor]’s hand working and scrabbling ... – and then [he] had it in his pouch, ... and capped the castor oil leaf and bark lid over it."


[relationship between ectoplasm and its materialization (material locus) :] "The doctors could "dissolve" from one to the other. The little hard [materialization], transmuted from its big shadowy spirit form invading the veins and arteries that was visible, audible, and palpable, reminds ... of a similar report made by ... a Native American Pomo shaman ... : "When that sick man is lying there, I usually see the power. ... It is just like seeing through something -- ... I see it inside. I see what happens there and can feel it with my hand – my middle finger is the one with the power ... it is pulling your hand towards itself ... . (Quoted in [Michael] Harner [: The Way of the Shaman. San Francisco : Harper & Row,] 1980 : 127-28)"


"When an Ihamba goes into a horn you feel it vibrating."

p. 73 [feeding of the materialized ihamba :] The doctor "obtained the duiker antelope ... . He cut out ... the gall bladder ... "to feed Ihamba.""


pp. 103-117 – 4. Jacob K. Olupona : "Ifa Divination and Healing among the Yoruba".




"The Yoruba universe ... consists of three tiered places :

the sky or celestial space (orun),

the world or earthly level (aye), and

the underworld ... (ile)."


"The sky ... is the powerhouse where the control of and knowledge about human destiny is maintained. ... it is here that individuals select their destiny (Ori) before they set out on their journey to the world."


"In addition to the gods, there are also the ancestors ... . These ancestors exist in the underworld."


"The diviner begins the divination session by the invocation of Ifa ... and the diviner requests Ifa not to mislead his client. The invocation consists of the diviner’s homage to ... the great diviners before him, and the four directions of the Yoruba universe as he moves the chain to the front, back, left, right, and center of the tray."


"The five important axes of powers are replicated in the Ifa divination tray. ... At times in the course of divination, the babalawo may draw these axes in the yellow powder on the Ifa tray". {cf. Bodish drawing of divine names in the powder on the altar-mirror}


"In the divination process, diagnosis and cure of illness directly invilve three spiritual deities : Ori / Ori Inu (divinity of destiny); Osanyin, god of herbal medicine; and Esu, the messenger of the gods." "Like Chi in Igbo tradition, Ori is the ego’s ontological self who directs movement and behavior. It is also akin to the Fon notion of Se, ... "the invisible force that directs life" ... . ... The Ori represents one’s destiny".


"Ifa is intricately connected with an individual’s Ori because Ifa was privy to the choice of the individual’s Ori in heaven. His presence ... enables Ifa to "access’ an individual’s destiny through the divination performance to provide prescribed ritual and herb remedies for turning around bad situations in the individual’s life."

"Osanyin guides the use of herbal leaves (ewe Osanyin). For example, if the odu ogunda-okanran appears on the divination tray in the consultation ..., ido, or idian shot (Canna bidenada bertoloni), is used as an ingredient in preparing a medicine to counter the forces of witches. ... In the Odu Ose Meji appears ..., Osanyin’s leaf of aje ko bale (Croton amatilis), literally, "witches dare not perch on it," will be used to make a medicine."


"Esu’s shrine sits at the gates of a city ... . Whenever a sacrifice is made to a supernatural being – whether deity, ancestor, or spirit – a morsel from the sacrificial food is offered first to Esu. This offering secures Esu’s cooperation to deliver the goods to the appropriate places. ... the divination tray carries an icon of Esu’s face carved in front. ...

A strong wind is the name we call Ifa.

A typhoon wind is the name we give to Esu."


pp. 207-226 – 9. Elliot Fratkin : "The Laibon Diviner among Samburu Pastoralists of Kenya".




"Laibons are male diviner-healer-prophets found among Maa-speaking peoples of East Africa ... . [ "Maa belongs to the eastern Nilotic group of Sudanic languages in the Nilo-Saharan family ... and is spoken by" : Maasai, Samburu, C^amus, Ariaal, Arus^a, Paraguyu (p. 225, n. 1).] Born with an inherited ability to "see" events or forces normally concealed from others, laibons practice divination with "stones" ..., and have the ability to make mystically powerful medicines used to protect against ... supernatural harm."


"Laibons (from ol-oiboni [il-oibonok, plural] in Maa) have an inherited ability to "see" or predict (a-ibon) past, present, or future events ordinary people cannot see. These predictions are achieved while dreaming (a-deitidet) ... or by divination, through throwing stones and other objects from a divination container, the nkidong. ... In addition to their ability to divine and prophesy, certain laibons acquire secret knowledge to prepare powerful medicines (ntasim), which are worn as charms or bracelets and protect ... against personal attacks of human beings using sorcery to inflict harm. Only a laibon’s divination can determine the presence of sorcery, and only a laibon’s ntasim can protect an individual from sorcery’s effects. Ntasim protective substances are made from the roots and barks of particular plants".


"Samburu share Maasai cosmology, which holds that their world was created by a supreme being (En-gai)". {cf. Sumerian /Ki-ENGI/ (‘land of ENGI’); S^into /ENGI/}


nkidon numerics :-





me-ata (‘nothing’)



n-kiook (‘the ear’)



n-keju (‘the leg’)

someone is coming


e-seki (‘cattle stick’)

pertaining to cattle


n-golon (‘strength’)

good fortune


e-lototo (‘journey’)

someone is departing


n-kiguena (‘meeting’)

important discussion


n-kiri (‘meat’)

ritual feast


n-kuenia (‘laughter’)

peace, safety


n-golon o-len (‘supernatural force’)

mystical danger, sorcery


The chief laibon "wore amulets made from dik-dik horns and crocodile teeth."


medicines classified by colors :-


roots of __ tree


iparamunyo (Toddalia asiatica Lam.)


ikokolai (Rhamnus staddo Rich.)


reteti (Ficus wakefieldii Hutch.)


The laibon "had cut the tail hairs from twenty-seven cattle. ... separated the cattle hair into eighty-one strands and then tied them into nine separate rings ... . Each ring was ... bound in leather, and presented to all the assembled adults to tie around their neck beads or placed on their personal ... containers."


person tying

person tied

place tied





string of green beads




beads & wire




cord of lion-skin




strip of ox


"Laibons ... are ... noted ... as wearing green or blue cloths (rather than white or red, as other elders wear), using odd rather than even numbers in their ntasim medicine, or wearing ... crocodile’s teeth on their necklaces."


pp. 243-263 – 11. Rene’ Devisch : "Yaka Divination". [southwestern Zaire]


noombu divination


"womb of the world (ngoongu). Beating out a rhythm on his or her small slit drum with a light drum stick, the diviner performs the oracle. ... The diviner ... crouches on his or her slit drum and may refer to visions experienced since the arrival of the clients."


"the diviner pronouncing the oracle declares him- or herself to be not its author. ... Nor does the diviner speak in his or her own name".


"The diviner’s drum ... is oblong, with a long, particularly wide slit. A head bearing an amalgamation of human and chicken features surmounts it. It is exclusive to the ngoombu cult and its usage is monopolized by fully initiated medium-diviners. Only the master-diviner may initiate the slit-drum, transforming it into a place of contact or mediation with the ancestor. The master-diviner takes the drum to the cemetery of the defunct diviner who conferred his or her clairvoyance on the novice in question. There, the master-diviner then lets it "sleep three nights" (-niimba yitatu)." "The master-diviner coats the slit of the drum with kaolin mixed with white nut, tonic (toondi), salt, and pepper; this is the principal offering inviting the elder, ancestor, or spirit ro proffer life-giving speech."


"The oracle ... is symbolically denoted by ... the three slit cowrie shells, called "ngoombu’s eye," that are fastened to the skin of an otter shrew the diviner wears on his or her head."


"The Yaka believe palm sap emerges from the uterine life-spring of the earth, from there flowing through ... the palm tree to the inflorescence. ... During seclusion, it is said, the initiate drinks only palm wine as nourishment; while divining, the diviner drinks the palm wine from the (vaginal) slit of his or her drum."

initiation into being a noombu diviner




[matrilineally transmitted divinatory mediumship :] "A few months following the death of a diviner, .. the ... diviner-to-be will experience some form of affliction ..., a symptom indicating that the ngoombu spirit is seeking to take possession of him or her.

Other symptoms include what are ... states of "eruption or dispersion" (n-luta) : individuals afflicted in this way tend to ... experience persecution complexes, or even suffer hysterical ... fits.

Some candidate-diviners suffer "a state of contraction" (yibiinda) : they experience chronic ... insomnia, anxieties, suffocation, asthma, ... or even show signs of melancholic withdrawal. Further symptoms may include ... nausea, amenorrhea, or stiffness.

Candidates sometimes complain of harassment by a spirit, likely that of a recently deceased diviner belonging to the extended family. Anxious, irritable, and incommunicative at times, candidate-diviners may undergo periods of manic-depressive frenzy accompanied by ... auditory, visual, or even tactile hallucinations.

According to diviners themselves, the sight of fire or a reference to sorcery induces in the candidate-diviner an irrepressible ... force to surge within oneself. At this point candidates tend to become agitated, often attempting to mutilate or throw themselves into a fire or to flee the village. In ASC, the ... candidate-diviner climbs to the top of a palm tree or jumps (-puumbuka, take flight) onto the roof of a nearby house, where he or she stands astride the ridgepole and begins to tear away the thatch. From this perch the medium then reveals, in the esoteric speech of diviners {"What I tell you in darkness, ... that preach ye upon the housetops." (Euangelion according to Mattaios 10:27)}, the name of the uterine diviner forebear whose divinatory spirit has taken possession of him or her."


"After the apprentice’s vocation has been endorsed by the family elders’ inviting a master-diviner for the initiation, the aspirant’s first typical ASC then ... begins with up to nine months’ seclusion supervised by the master-diviner, called the "mother-demiurge" (ngula ngaanga). ... The seclusion hut ... contains symbolic items (forklike sculptures, erodes river stones) denoting cult spirits and preancestral beings (bisiimbi) living in the water and the forest. ... Seclusion is understood ... as a time when the aspirant consolidates his or her sensory abilities in order to be able to perceive and scrutinize the invisible."


"Once the initiate has definitely left the house of seclusion, he or she proceeds to imitate, in an ASC, yet another amphibious animal, the otter shrew. Both the initiate and the diviner-initiator wear pieces of otter shrew skin on their heads during this phase of the initiation. ... Its lair has a double entrance, one underwater and one on the surface. At this stage the initiate’s face is painted white, the color of the deceased ... . The novice, imitating an otter shrew, digs a body-length tunnel".


The apprentice "emerges from this lair brandishing a knife".


Michael Winkelman & Philip M. Peek (eds.) : Divination and Healing. U of AZ Pr, Tucson, 2004.