Divination Techniques

By Eileen Moyer
University of Amsterdam (formerly University of Iowa)

Mahunda Malaku with her divination drum, Yaka peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1976. Photo by Arthur Bourgeois. 

Yaka peoples of western Democratic Republic of the Congo believe that the ability of the diviner is passed on through the matrilineal line and that both men and women may be called into the order.  Rene Devisch (1991) has recorded the process in great detail.  According to him, a few months before or after a diviner dies, an eligible descendant will start to behave strangely, exhibiting symptoms of chronic stomach pain, nausea, and anorexia.  Candidates often demonstrate an advanced knowledge of societal traditions, fluency of language, insight and imagination.  During the patient’s depressed state, he or she will enter into a trance like possession, in which the candidate speaks the name of the deceased diviner. The person is then secluded for an initiation period where instruction from a senior diviner will be given for nine months, a symbolic equivalent to gestation.