Politics of Divination [the Sisala of northern Gold Coast]

/E/ (e-psilon), in other transcriptions /e/ or else dotted /e./ is lax /e/

eta is written for /n/ (velar nasal continuant)

/j/ is pronounced as in German

pp. 80-81 faafaa vs. sisElE

p. 80

"faafaa is an occult or mythical condition. It is an eternal realm where occult entities live. ... God (wia) is seen as being "in the sky," the fairies are "in the bush," and the ancestors live in the village below the earth’s surface; but all belong to the faafaa. It is the realm of the mythological events concerning the beginning of the world, of the exploits of culture heroes ... . Occult causation is thought to originate in this state. The only way to determine such causation is to consult a diviner, who has the power (dolon) to receive feedback of the ancestors, the underpinners of the cosmos."

"SisElE is the sphere of miisun-tina, or "living things." All time within sisElE is cyclical, recurring, and all eventually "returns" to faafaa. ... the Sisala word bua is the word for time, ... or the rim of something like a jar – clearly a connotation of a circular concept of time."

"At birth the soul comes from God, and at death it returns to faafaa, specifically to lElEEjan, the ancestor’s village. ...

p. 81

Death returns the soul (dima) to faafaa, whence it came."

"The living can relate to mythical events because such events have spatial correlates in sisElE – shrines, rocks, rivers, and groves of trees, which figure prominently in mythical tales. Upon the instructions of a diviner, persons and groups experiencing misfortune perform sacrifices at such places ... . These sacred places, or vesin (sing. vene), are thought to be points of powerful connection between the realm of faafaa and the realm of sisElE."

p. 81 wisdom of the ancestors

"Myth relates that God (wia) gave divination (vugun) ro mankind (nihuobiinee) in order that people might be able to communicate with the ancestors, since the ancestors are charged with the responsibility (bene) of upholding the order. ... In this regard, divination is a means of "looking backward," or tapping the moral wisdom of the ancestors. Faafaa is, therefore, seen as the moral foundation of sisElE, and the wisdom (wu-jimin) contained there is available to the living in the form of traditional ... customs (kisinin) and through the institution of divination."

p. 112 fae:ries as instigators of shamanism

"The fairies ... are not ancestral spirits ... . ... diviners usually become fairy callers because the fairies have caused their illness, especially mental illness. One fairy caller told me that the fairies "seized" him and made him insane for several months. Eventually, though, he learned to control their power, which he now uses to divine."

"fairy callers communicate with God through fairies about general problems ... . ... Fairy callers also deal with the future ...; that is, they tell the client what to do in order to achieve an end."

pp. 112-113 vugira

p. 112

"The vugun diviner (vugira) is a person who occupies an accepted, traditional position in Sisala society. ...

p. 113

The first diviner is said to have been chunchusumun (the black ant), who descended from god by way of the baobab tree. {The baobab tree is hollow (usually filled with water); cf mt. Meru, containing in hollows within itself, various divine cities : it was (according to Bauddha lore) climbed by the Asura-s in their guise as emmets.} ... God ... sent down the Black Ant to instruct man in the Art of Divination and the proper use of shrines. Today chunchusumun remains ... the divinatory link between God and man. For example, ... when people purchase medicine from daalusuntiina, they must discard any remaining medicine on a black-ant anthill because "the medicine must be returned to God." The black ant is thought to be like God. Both are omnipresent ... . The Sisala say that black ants never sleep." {"he that keepeth Yis`ra>el shall neither slumber nor sleep." (T-hilli^m 121:4)}

p. 120 apparatus of divination

vuya (‘diviner’s shrine’)

purun (‘goatskin bag’), where are kept :

vugira kpasin (‘code-objects’),

vugira daan (‘divining-wand’),

tayanba (‘two iron disks’),

c^ika (‘divining-rattle’).

nEEn purun (‘ox-hide’), whereon "he and the client sit during the consultation."

p. 120 phases of a consultation

"The consultation is an institutionalized ritual process having five sequential phases :

(1) contact,

(2) the opening of the skin bag,

(3) the invocation of the ancestors,

(4) the removal and interpretation of the code objects, and

(5) interrogation."

p. 120 initial contact

"Normally a client goes to the house of the diviner ... . If he finds the diviner out but the diviner has left the divining bag behind, the client may take the bag home with him, and the diviner will have to go to the client’s home upon hearing of this. If the diviner is in, the client enters his room without speaking and removes the skin bag from its hook on the wall. Not greeting the diviner is a sign that this is an official visit. {Non-greeting would be for non-distraction of attention of the ancestors/deities whose mental concentration must be maintained during the consultation.} ... If the diviner also has his cow skin hanging on the same wall hook, the client remove this too."

pp. 120-121 opening of the bag

p. 120

"The diviner opens the bag and removes the wand rattle and the two metallic objects. He touches these metallic objects to his lips {cf. Catholic kissing of the medallion of a saint}, the ground, his shrine, and the bag, and then rubs them up and down on the wand. Then this is done he places the instruments before him and picks up the rattle in his right hand.

p. 121

Diviners explained that this process is designed to infuse the power of the earth (ancestors) into the divining objects."

p. 121 invocation

"Once the diviner begins to shake his rattle, often he yawns several times. {to invoke the god of yawning = [Hellenic] Khaos?} ... Here is one such invocation ... : "... Which gods should I call? I should call Jevaha and Fokorbawie. They should call Gominanbaah and Navrije. They should ask Salfuo and Jallo. Jallo should ask Janawia, the eldest river, and he should ask Dajare. Dajar is the eldest farm ... . ...

"My shrine is a __."

"big bush pig"

"fish under water"

"star in the sky. It is able to see everyone’s door."

"black ant that carries away every grain of millet."

"razor that cuts away the pus without causing blood." {lancing a boil}

p. 122 removal of the code-objects

"Attached to each object are two strings that are rubbed together in the palms of his hands so as to spin the object. Each object is said to have a pair of eyes." These are the knots of the string. If they point toward the client, this indicates that the object has something to do with his problem."

pp. 122-125 interrogation

p. 122

"The diviner takes the wand by its top, and the client grasps at the bottom. The client is now expected to question the ancestors about the cause and cure of his affliction ... until he ascertains

the ancestor responsible for his problem,

the sin committed by one of the ancestor’s descendants,

the exact shrine upon which the sacrifice must take place, and

the kind of animal or animals to be sacrificed on that shrine."

p. 123

The client "does ... asking silent binary questions about each code object ... . Once he has formulated the question in his mind, he indicates to the diviner that he is ready to receive and answer, and the diviner guides the wand so as to strike one or the other of the metal objects, providing the "correct" answer to the binary question."

"When the diviner finished with the invocation he spat on the metal disks and threw them down on the skin between himself and the client. ... Then the client placed one disk carefully on his right. ... Then he placed the other disk down about six inches to the left of the first disk". The diviner tapped each disk to answer the quaestions :

"What brought us here?"


"Who is it?"

"What did it ask me to do?"

p. 124


"Who is it that wants me to do it?"


Thereupon, the diviner said : "All the gods come in." Baka, Fuon, Tomon

p. 125

"the diviner is not given specific information about the client’s trouble, nor is he expected to discern it. Rather, the client provides possibilities that are ... selected by the oracle."

Eugene L. Mendonsa : The Politics of Divination. U of CA Pr, Berkeley, 1982.