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. 

Part of the process requires that a cylindrical wooden slit gong be commissioned for the new diviner.  The gong is struck by the diviner to call the spirits. The slit gong is seen as a representation of the diviner by the members of Yaka society.  It is carried at all times by the diviner, used as a seat, and as a container to prepare medicines (Bourgeois 1984).  To begin the process of divination, the client’s family presents the Yaka diviner with a piece of cloth that has been placed on the afflicted or deceased person.  By smelling the cloth, contact is established with the patient.  René Devisch has compared this fiimbu, or heightened sense of smell, to that of a hunting dog.  The diviner is able to smell out and unmask hidden sorcery in the same way that a dog is said to be able to detect a secret gathering of witches in the forest (Devisch 1991).