Divination Art


BOB ABERNETHY: In our Belief and Practice segment this week, divination art.

African tribal religions include diviners who are believed to communicate with the gods in the spirit world. Diviners discover and then relate what the gods want, and harness the gods’ powers to help followers overcome illness and other crises. Carvings and sculptures used to capture the spirits’ attention were gathered this summer at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.


We talked about divination art with curator Alisa La Gamma and Professor Rowland Abiodun, an art historian at Amherst College and a follower of Nigeria’s Ifa religion.

Professor ROWLAND ABIODUN: The Ifa divination process will start with a prayer invoking the presence of Orumila, which means the power that rectifies the unfortunate destiny.

These objects are being used to facilitate prayer. They’re being used to amplify appeals.

They’re supposed to energize. They’re supposed to make things happen.

The invocation and the citation that are delivered on this occasion helps in calming the patient, helps in healing the patient, helps in clearing shadows of doubt.


ALISA LA GAMMA: The work that you see here is a great Nkisi Nkondo. A great power figure from central Africa. Each of these metal elements was used to draw a spirit’s attention to a matter of grave importance.

This protruding element in the area of the abdomen is actually a container full of medicinal ingredients that would have really drawn that force to this particular site when it was invoked.

A lot of the divination systems bring together healing and psychotherapy as well as religious prayer, so it’s a convergence of a lot of different kinds of approaches to remedying a situation.

Prof. ABIODUN: What we see here is more than just a beautiful work of art but something that is active.