Divination Techniques

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

Burkina FasoLobi peoples

Bateba (figure)


H. 62.9 cm (24 ¾”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.343

Among Yoruba and Zulu, that the extensive education that is required of a diviner brings considerable respect from members of the community.  This results in the diviner’s ability to influence the public and the likelihood that the diviner may derive considerable income from his or her practice. In contrast, among the Lobi peoples of Burkina Faso, diviners earn very little money or prestige, and individuals often actively resist the calling to become a diviner.  They often encounter hardships for years as a result of their defiance of the demands made by thila (spirits), which function as intermediaries to Thangba Yu, the Lobi supreme god.  In Lobi society, it is only the diviner, or buordaar, who can communicate with a thil, communicating instructions for worship to the community, yet many Lobi who are called resist the demand to become a diviner.

A Lobi diviner casting cowrie shells to communicate with God, south of Gaoua, Burkina Faso, 1984. Photo by Christopher D. Roy.