Status of the Diviner

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

Tanzania; Kwere artist



H. 91.44 cm (36")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1990.672

Diviners often are afforded many of the same advantages of political leaders.  Often it is the diviner’s prophecies that validate the office of the political leader.  Diviners are also often responsible for knowing the history of the people, and thus are able to confirm lines of descent. As a result, diviners are sometimes invested with regalia, which is otherwise reserved for leaders.  The Kwere staff, pictured here, is an example of that sort of regalia.  The staffs are recognized as a form of protection for the diviner, often figuratively representing the ancestors. They filter out truth from the sometimes false information that the clients give the diviner to challenge his power. It is significant that the filial of this staff represents a woman, because the Kwere, a matrilineal people from Tanzania, recognize women as being more powerful than men, and the summons to perform divination usually originates from this matrilineal association (Felix 1990).  

Athumani Jaswa Moto holds a staff that he carries as an emblem of authority, Zaramo artist, Tanzania. Photo by Diane Pelrine.