Women as Diviners

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

Burkina FasoCôte d’Ivoire, and MaliSenufo peoples

Figure with animal


H. 40.01 cm (15 3/4")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.377

In reality, it is almost impossible to isolate divination from its role in African society.  It is inextricably intertwined with day-to-day life. This fact is clearly illustrated in the Senufo Sandogo society.  This powerful women’s divination organization links the female leadership of all the households in the community.  Its main social function is to ensure the sanctity of marriage.  Members are invested with power to punish adulterous men and women through beatings and fines.  They are also responsible for maintaining balance between people and the forest spirits, acting as mediators through divination (Glaze 1981).  This small horseman and its female partner were used by a member of the Sandogo divination society.  Its subject is the Senufo version of the man of honor, the figure that supports the Yoruba divination bowl.