Nature, Spirits and Arts in Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

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


The Lobi ritual specialist is called thildaar. He is a diviner, a person who specializes in communicating with God, or the gods. In other communities, he may be called a rabbi, pastor or priest, and he may communicate with God by means of prayer. This diviner uses cowry shells, which he casts in a sacred circle of chalk on the floor in front of him. This diviner, south of Gaoua, has covered himself with the same sacred chalk he uses to draw the circle, as a sign that he is in contact with the spirits. The spirits are represented by the three small wooden figures next to the cowries. It is through the diviner that the spirits pass down to their human congregation the religious taws they must observe if they are to receive the spirits' blessings.