By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Tabwa peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Heineken rattle. Photo by Allen F. Roberts.


Even those rituals deemed the most “traditional” by outsiders are always in states of perpetual transformation. Rural arts of divination and healing, for example, are forever modified to accommodate new circumstances, such as colonialism, capitalism, and Catholicism. Religious practices of divination and healing help people to reflect upon the nature of life and their livelihoods by providing explanations of and charters for action. As the contexts of action change, so must religion. On profound levels, such change may result in the introduction of new local spirits, while superficially it may be reflected through the incorporation of new materials and techniques. Tabwa Bulumbu adepts who practice spirit possession for purposes of problem solving use rattles made of both “traditional” and “modern” materials to accompany the chorus of religious songs. While earlier rattles were made from gourds, it is now typical to see them made with imported tin cans.