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Background to the Study

Africa as a whole, construe suffering as punishment for offence and health and prosperity as blessing from the gods and not merely fate. Thus suffering of any kind, whether associated with sickness, misfortune or death was seen as reflecting some faults either from the individual, parents, community or some acts of wickedness from malevolent spirits or from witches. This view is not peculiar to Africans. In line with this thought pattern, Kenneth (1984) writes; “in the early stage of existence, Israel like any other Semitic people interpreted suffering as divine punishment for sin…” This notion is also true of Umuebu people who like every other African society hold the same view concerning illnesses and misfortunes. The Umuebu society in an attempt to find out who or what is the cause of their problems and the solution to these problems adopted a method of inquiry called or known as divination or divinatory rituals. Divination is the religious art of consulting the divinities, or spiritual entities with primary aim of knowing the cause of the problem, and, to find the solution to the problem, and to prevent an impending doom or propel the expected blessings through sacrificial rituals.

According to Mr Nicholas., this method of acquiring the knowledge, solution and prevention could be done either through consulting with the specialist diviners or through direct revelation or (dreams) to individuals whom the divine chooses and reveals the unknown to. This method of knowing the mind of the divine through consultation, or dreams persisted until it became a vital part of the indigenous practices, and today, it is a very important part of the religion. Nabofa is of similar view when he said this about divination; “it is an important element in sacred duties because the devotee is always eager to know the wishes of the divine…’’Nabofa, (1981). The people of Umuebu believe that divination is as old as the religion itself. It could even be said to predate the religion, if one goes by the divination by dream theory. That is, knowing the cause as well as the solution to one’s problems through dreams. This view is in parallel with the popular notion that “if you have even counted your fingers, recite a chant (songs), or throw a coin to make a decision based on the part of the coin that faces up, then you are or have been a practitioner of the divinatory system.

However, popular among the Umuebu belief is the notion that divination as practiced today was not initiated by humans but by the divine, that is, God, divinities or ancestors. In the early times, these entities instructed their agents to relay messages to their subjects. Nevertheless, the practice gained popularity when subjects, no longer waited for the divine to pass message to them, but were eager to know the reason for their failings through consulting the seers. According to Mr Ossai it was at this stage that the method of casting objects by specialists with the aim of interpreting to arrive at an answer originated.

In Umuebu community divination is one of the most significant indigenous practices, today however. divination is practiced by both A.T.R. adherents and some Christians (though secretly), and has been attested to by many to be a reliable means of obtaining answers to specific questions and solving some difficult problems. In ancient times, divination was used in virtually all areas of the people’s lives. E.g what practical course one should pursue, how to deal with difficult conditions, how to put an end to bad afflictions and dying, social conflicts, determining the most reliable candidates for sensitive position in leadership etc. But today, diviners are consulted only in trying situations. From the above, one gets the impression that divination occupies a vital position in the people live, both socio-religious, political and economic spheres 0f life, that is, divination is used in dealing with any condition that presents or seems to have spiritual dimension. However, looking at the practice of divination today, that is the diminished state of the practice despite its earlier wide patronage, one is bound to reflect on reason for the decline. Could it be as a result of the coming of the foreign religions or efficacious problems? And if it is from the efficacy of the practice, what is the cause?.

This work therefore looks at the nature of divination, its characteristics or features, with emphasis on the problems associated with the efficacy of the practice, as regards the decline of divinatory practice today, specifically in Umuedu community.

Statement of the Problem

Divination as a method of inquiry in Umuebu had had very little written about it perhaps due to western and urban indifference to the practice or due to the view that the complexity of divinity rituals is mainly for outward effect to heighten impact on client. Nevertheless most scholars like, E.M. Zuesse, Mbitti, Awolalu, Pritchad, etc. have postulated many theories concerning divination. But most of these works fail to adequately capture the vitality of the practice and the place of interpretation in divinatory practices particularly with regard to the Umuebu community. This vacuum arouses a host of questions in one’s mind such as: does interpretation occupy a vital place in the practice, why are some divinatory predictions not reliable, why are sacrificial rituals (sometimes) not effective enough to prevent the predicted doom or enough to propel the expected fortune, could the fault be from the adherents or misinterpretation from the diviners? Or could the gods be manipulated? etc. As a result of these gaps, this research undertakes an investigation with a view to conceptualizing and interpreting the role of interpretation in the practice and to point out the factors that could hinder the efficacy of the practice within the socio-cultural context of Umuebu community in Delta State.

Purpose of the Study

Resulting from the lack of published works on divination as it relates to the people of Umuebu as well as the lack of satisfactory explanation concerning the failure to obtain the expected results the prescribed rituals were meant to deal with, that is, to solve the problems, there is the need to further investigate and to clarify the seeming contradiction that the above problem presents.

This research therefore aims at bringing to light the importance of adhering strictly to prescribed ritual patterns, the place of sincerity and accurate interpretation when dealing with the spiritual entities. This essay also seeks to correct the erroneous notions that divination is a part of magic and is practice solely by the fetish Africans in localized rural areas, as divination is prevalence today in the modernized and urban churches in the form of prophecies, prophetic utterances and ritualistic use of sacred texts.

Significance of the Study

At the end of this research, scholars will be well grounded on the concept of divination as the work throws light on the practice of divination and gives a holistic view on the divinatory rituals as practiced by the Umuebu people. In addition, this research also shows that what we call problems (as regards the efficacy of divination) are simply lack of understanding of the concept of the phenomenon and workings of the spiritual realm. The research also joins in laying the foundation to scholarly work on the subject and will serve as guide to tomorrow scholars who would want to research further on the topic.

Research Methodology

This research work depends largely on primary and secondary sources. The primary sources include oral interviews, while the secondary sources include published and unpublished books, textbooks, articles and journal that pertains to this study.

The research adopts historical, descriptive and analytical methods of data interpretation. In the historical perspective the research attempts a historical contextualization of the people, the descriptive method enables the researcher to describe the practice and belief of the people, while the analytical methods enables the research the analyse the findings within the Umuebu socio-cultural context.

Scope and Limitation

As has been stated earlier, this essay focuses on the concept of divination as believed and practiced by the Umuebu people. The work therefore examines the historical background of the Umuebu people, there socio-religious, political and economic worldview, it also examines the place of divination among the people, its effect, its problem as well as the people’s response to these problems of divinatory practices.

This research however suffered a number of setbacks; which includes paucity of written sources on the subject matter coupled with lack of adequate responses from the traditionalists.

Literature Review

According to Wikipedia, ‘’the word divination is derived from a Latin word divinare meaning to foresee, to be inspired by a god’’ It is the attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occult, standardized process or ritual and it manifests in various forms. Throughout history, diviners ascertain their interpretations of how a seeker should proceed by reading signs, events, or omens, or through alleged contact with a supernatural agency. This view portrays divination as similar to fortune telling. However, Mastin (2009) made a clear distinction between divination and fortune telling when he said “that divination is the ascertaining of information by the interpretation of omen or through alleged supernatural agency. It usually has a formal or ritual and often a social character. Often in a religious context, as opposed to fortune-telling which is a more everyday practices for personal purposes…’’ from this, one might conclude that while fortune-telling usually involves no thrown objects and often entails no spiritual entities or sacrificial rituals, divination is a social phenomenon often employed for social reasons, and entails all that and more.

Understanding this, (Bryant, 1966) said “diviners are often utilized when western medicine fails to provide a cure, when misfortunes (often seen as having spiritual or magical causations) arises or when health and fortunes are to be maintained…’’ Hirst, (1990) said divination being one of the techniques the diviner uses to heal, usually functions as a treatment for social problems. Andre Croucomp, states that divinations is a technology that is used to deliberately initiate a process of accessing and collecting information, through the use of randomly arranged symbols, and then, using the brains capacity for analogical thinking, making associations that are ordinarily inaccessible…” Awolalu following this line of thought i.e. of divinations as a social function, He said, “Divination is the practice of attempting to foretell the future, reveal the unknown or find out the wish of a divinity or spirit. Diviners he said may either be a priest connected with the cult of a certain divinities or simply men and power. He explains that diviners are consulted when there is an inexplicable disease, when one has a storage dream, finding the appropriate husband etc the diviner may employed any method, some uses objects which are cast or thrown severally before the right messages is given. Awolalu further notes that this is one of the most developed divinatory systems in West Africa and is connected to Ifa divinatory system as almost all West African divinatory system are associated with Ifa and the cult of Orunmila among the Yoruba (Awolalu and Dopamu, 1979).

Understanding the concept of divination, Pritchard in his Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azende notes that Africa do not attempt to account for the existence of phenomenon or even the action of phenomena by mystical causation. Rather, ‘’they are interested in and are capable of enunciating the experimental reductive theory of causation… he offers this example of a granary collapsing and injuring several people sitting beneath it, he said for the zande nothing is remarkable about this event, rather their concerns would be why it collapses at that particular time, to injure or kill, whether witchcraft is involved…’’. In this sense, divination seeks to explain why events are harmful to men and not how they happened…. Pritchards depicts divination as the particular providence of a close religious system that encloses its adherent within the very texture of their thought…. he said the diviner may choose any method, some may even asked for a list of names of neighbours out of whom one might be a witch. However, he strongly argues that it would be erroneous to suppose that the diviner guesses the witch at random… (Pritchard 1935). Coming from this background, Pemberton has this to say. “When misfortune occurs or failure in the hunt or some physical ailment, an oracle is consulted to find out whether witchcraft is involved… viewed from this point, he said divination is a means of understanding the present circumstances in connection with past event, especially in terms of the way people are affected by these event. Explaining further, he said divination is also concerned with future possibilities about almost all intended actions (Pemberton, 2000).

Zuesse distinguishes between intuitive divination also known as spontaneous divination, possession and wisdom divination”. In which the diviner decodes seemingly random pattern found in nature. All these divination system are largely concerned with understanding the present in terms of the past near or distant and its implication for the immediate or remote future, as well as with healing or protection against witchcraft and sorcery…. (Zuesse, 1952). Mair (1993), did a remarkable job when she said “divination as a worldview practice is a mystical technique for acquiring knowledge about past, present or future event that is unobtainable using ordinary explanatory methods... Rituals of divination she said are vast and varied and typically involves the use of oracles, omen ordeals, oracle require the participant of an experiment to determine the unknown, while omen need only simple observation usually of some natural phenomenon…..while ordeal are trials by divination whereby the accused person body becomes the determinant of the unknown. After examining several African populations, she concludes that although there may be doubt about their skill but there are no doubt whatsoever about the phenomenon of divination itself.

(Moon, 1999) says “divination is a technique of passive magic; which is receptive to the unknown, a magic of which the primary purpose is not the change in circumstances, but rather the perception of things which are commonly hidden…’’. Bered says the system and divination provide humanity with a more reliable way to decipher the will of the gods because they include a body of knowledge to guide one’s interpretation… (Bered 2007). In his view, divination is the universal method of deciphering the will of the gods through interpretation of symbolic objects. Tunner did a splendid job, when he explains that ‘’divination denotes inquiry about future event or matters hidden or obscure, directed to a deity who is believed will reply through significant token’’. He goes on to say that it usually refers to the process of obtaining knowledge of secret or future things… which may include invoking the aid of non-empirical trans-human persons or powers…’’. (Tunner 1975)

Divination from the above works could be seen as an attempt to know the past in relation to the present and how it would affect the future through intuitive analytical deduction or through spiritual consultation. However, for the Umuebu, it is a means of diagnosing social illness through attempting to know the course of an event. Divination is seen by the people as a religious practice of consulting divinities or supernatural entities with the aim of knowing the cause of one’s suffering or an event, for proffering solution to an existing problem and prevention of an impending doom or propelling a foretold fortune. Through divination the people gets to know if a particular illness would kill or end the life of an individual, if not, what could be done to hasten the recovery process? This also applies to other crucial situation such as bareness, successive deaths in a family or misfortune plaguing an individual. But beyond these, it attempts to know the will of the divine through mystical means.

A critical evaluation of some of these views on the concept of divination have shown that they lack exhaustive analysis of the realities of divinatory practices and the place of interpretation specifically within the framework of the cosmology and socio-cultural settings of the Umuebu people. It is from this point, that this essay attempts to carry out a detailed and unbiased analysis on the concept of divination as understood and practiced by the people of Umuebu.

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