Monday, 01 September 2014 00:00


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In the African cultural world, there is an active and dynamic relationship between the world of the living and the spiritual world. The two, in fact, form one world. The main distinction between them is their degree of materiality and visibility. 

There are several modes of communication between the living and the spirits. They include dreams, visions, transcendence, revelations, as well as messages via divination and intuition. 


Divination is particularly important in Africa. Indeed, it allows the living to initiate communication with the spirits. This initiative becomes necessary when, as this is bound to happen in the course of life, an individual faces an extra-ordinary situation, for which regular prayers will not suffice. Urgent and critical answers are sometimes needed. Divination is available to answer this extra-ordinary need, and Africans (even when they claim to have embraced alien faiths which prohibit divination!) have never hesitated to resort to it. Divination rests, at the same time as it reinforces it, on the belief in the reality and superiority of the spiritual world. 

Divination is a standardized process. This process varies from one society to the next, but it always follows a predetermined pattern, thanks to which otherwise inaccessible information is retrieved. The diviner’s task is extremely important, and it is therefore only after a long, difficult, and often onerous training, that one may become a diviner. Among the Yoruba, for example, priests devoted to Ifa (Orunmila), the Orishsa of divination, are the Babalawos (`fathers of secrets’), while the priestesses of Ifa are known as Iyalawos. Babalawos and Iyalawos must, among other things, learn by heart and memorize no less than 4.096 verses, the Odu Ifa, in order to master their art. At the end of their training, which may easily exceed ten years, they are tested by other Babalawos and Iyalawos who pour burning oil on the initiates’ hands. The latter must not show any sign of burn, as this is taken as evidence that the initiates are now properly protected and may start serving their community (Imasogie, 1985). Naturally enough, Babalawos and Iyalawos enjoy tremendous respect and are the only priests and priestesses allowed on specific occasions to wear certain ornaments typically reserved for royal figures (Bascom, 1984). 

Given the African predilection for divination as an epistemological mode of communication with the spirits, one may find individuals responsible for divination in almost all African communities. In Igbo land, it is the Mboni who divines; in Kongo land, it is the Nganga, while in Fond land, it is the Bonon or Bokonon. The latter works with the Fa. Fa is the messenger of Mawu-Lisa. Its role is to enlighten, guide, and control human destiny. Fa is capable of identifying the source of a problem, and to make recommendations on how to fix it.  Fa sheds light on the past, and prescribes specific actions so that one may experience peace and prosperity. In Fond land, like elsewhere in Africa, it is imperative to consult with a Bokonon before undertaking anything important. In fact, one must seek advice from the spirits, and receive their agreement. 

In Haiti, Houngans (Vodou priests) and Mambos (Vodou priestesses) are responsible for divination. 


Ama Mazama is a Mambo. In addition, she took the Fa in Benin.

Read 3461 times Last modified on Monday, 01 September 2014 20:25


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