Four-tablet divination as trans-regional medical technology in southern Africa

TitleFour-tablet divination as trans-regional medical technology in southern Africa
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1995
AuthorsW.M.J. van Binsbergen
Secondary TitleJournal of religion in Africa
Pagination114 - 140
Date Published1995///
Publication Languageeng
KeywordsAfrica, Botswana, divination, fieldwork, Zimbabwe

The forms of African divination which revolve around the use of a material apparatus, whose construction and application are more or less institutionalized and professionalized, constitute an important field of medical technology. This paper examines a system of divination revolving around four tablets, to which the author was introduced during fieldwork carried out in Francistown in northeast Botswana since 1988. First, it presents the main analytical characteristics of the Francistown divination system. Since the system is a combination of a random generator and an interpretative catalogue, the paper discusses its mathematical properties as well as the high degree of standardization, the classificatory vagaries, and the selective societal referents of its interpretative catalogue. Next, the paper discusses the origin and distribution of the four-tablet system. It emerged in the middle of the second millennium AD in the highlands of Zimbabwe from the interaction between pre-existing local divination systems and Arabian geomancy. After a slow spread over a limited part of southern Africa, the 20th century saw the rapid spread of the system over the entire subcontinent, where it is now the hallmark of noncosmopolitan practitioners. Bibliogr., notes, ref

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