Regional and historical connections of four-tablet divination in southern Africa

TitleRegional and historical connections of four-tablet divination in southern Africa
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsW.M.J. van Binsbergen
Secondary TitleJournal of religion in Africa
Pagination2 - 29
Date Published1996///
Publication Languageeng
KeywordsAfrica, Arabs, Botswana, divination, Shona

This paper examines a system of divination which is widespread in the Francistown area of Botswana and which features conspicuously in the area's various noncosmopolitan medical systems. The system involves the manipulation of four small rectangular or triangular tablets made out of wood, bone or ivory. A striking feature of the Francistown system is its fragmented and kaleidoscopic nature in terms of nomenclature, iconography and interpretative catalogue. The oracular system contains features which do not match closely with the local symbolic system, language and cosmology of contemporary users. The author argues that this indicates to the alteration and erosion of local elements and the accretion of foreign elements. A study of the four-tablet oracular system in space and time shows that the system has spread gradually over southern Africa from a Shona epicentre. Furthermore, a comparison of the four-tablet system with Arabian geomancy and the 'Sikidy' system reveals strong indications that the southern African four-tablet system in its current form emerged about half a millennium ago on the Zimbabwean Plateau under Arabian influence. Bibliogr., notes, ref

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