Divination Techniques

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

Zimbabwe; Shona artist

Divination objects


H. 9.53 cm (3 3/4 in)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Purchased with Stanley/Museum of Art-African Art Purchase Fund, 1995.53a-d

The method of divination most often used is known as “throwing the bones”.  These bones, or hakata, are carved from bone, wood, ivory or horn and are gathered either in the hands or a container and cast together onto a flat surface to form a pattern from which the diviner can base his diagnosis (Reynolds 1958). The practice of throwing bones can be found throughout southern Africa.  Although collected in 1994, the patterns are nearly identical to those recorded by Barrie Reynolds in the same area in 1958.  Often methods of divination are borrowed from neighboring peoples or are introduced to new areas as a result of migration. Novices may travel great distances to study under a powerful diviner.