Contrary to what is believed in the West, Ghanaians are intensely religious. African Traditional Religion (ATR) predates the introduction of Islam in the North and Christianity in the South. It is wrong to say that the Ghanaian society has no concept of God before the arrival of these two religions which are now firmly entrenched in the country. All religious conversions to Islam or Christianity are done within this context.
Traditional African Religion is built into the culture of the people and is responsible for many of their beliefs and traditions. God is constantly referred to in conversations, explanations of natural events, proverbs, children’s name and even greetings. Greetings always end with a prayer to God. At the end of every social interaction, God is invoked. “Naawuni Song” (May God help you) is a common phrase in the Dagbani language to end a conversation and of course the expected response is “Ami” (Amen).
ATR posits the existence of a Supreme Creator God, who has mediators in his dealings with humans. Beneath the supreme god are a number of spirits such as Nature Spirits and the Ancestral Spirits. By honoring these spirits, believers hope that the spirits would help them or would talk to the supreme god on their behalf.
For the African people, the natural and supernatural are one. The Africans have a dual worldview, the physical and the spiritual. This worldview impacts all aspects of their everyday lives including their work, family life and even their food. Any time there is disharmony between the physical world and the spiritual world, it manifests in problems, calamities and sickness. Therefore, anything affecting the socio-cultural life of the people has a solution if and only if the necessary steps are followed by the believer.
This is the reason why divination still plays a functional role in the life of the people even among Muslim and Christian converts. It is believed that in ATR certain persons, i.e., the diviners have access to both worlds and are able to communicate between these worlds. He plays a key role by diagnosing the problems of the people and also prescribing the necessary actions to remedy/solve their problems. He also givess warnings about impending danger and provides spiritual explanations for physical events in the lives of the people.
As part of the cross culturation experience at TICCS, we visited a local diviner. He explained to us that divining is a gift that is passed on only to a man from the matrilineal line of the family in the North and the patrilineal side of the family in the South. The person does not ask that it be granted to him but the ancestral spirits would make known to the family their choice upon whom this bequest is to be given. The selected heir is expected to accept lest some misfortune befalls him and/or his family for refusing. A ritual is performed before the “tools of the trade” for lack of a better word is passed on to the selected male. This gift must be protected at all costs by the new diviner.
(Note: The sack of tools that the diviner received from his ancestors. According to the diviner, it contains rocks, leaves, twigs, bones, and other items needed to communicate with the spirits.)
Divination readings are often based in nature, taking form through its elements. It can be done with things, such as tea leaves, bones, nuts, and water, as well as cards, and other non-nature-based components.
This diviner uses pebbles to interpret what the spirits want to make known. For specific questions or problems, he would request to have an object from the consulter that he can hold on to while doing the reading. The question/issue is never articulated by the subject as this is to be communicated by the spirits to the diviner. For general consultations, he uses the pebbles and shakes the bowl several times. He then picks up some of the pebbles depending on how they are laid out in the bowl after the shaking. This is repeated several times until he is ready to give the reading.
(Here, he is holding the pebble that represents the Almighty.)
(A closer look at all the other pebbles in the bowl. At the start of the reading , the Diviner would assign a pebble to represent the consulter.)
While divination has been disparaged and at the same time given some kind of religiosity by some scholars, it is worthwhile to note that its hold on the people may be because it serves as a positive reminder that while life involves suffering, it is not always futile – that humanity is equally capable of tenderness and mercy.