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Dibia- Holistic and Spiritual Practice


Diviners and divination, Dibia afa, and igba aja
Patrick Iroegbu

Igbo diviners, as empowered mediators between the visible and invisible realms of reality, are known as Dibia afa, Dibia ogba-aja, Dibia nnyocha, or Dibia nlepute. Igbo terms for divination include igba afa, (to name); igba aja (to identify a form of sacrifice); iga n’ajuju (to seek out by asking); nnyocha (to examine); nlepute (to look and find out); and ahu n’anya ekwe nke eshishi agugo (seeing is believing without doubt.) These terms are connected with the revelation of secrets and the undoing of the hidden agenda of the cause and effect of things that upsets daily life. The table below lists these important references to divination:

Table 1: List of divination terms

Igba afa


Igba aja


Iga n’ajuju






Ahu n’anya ekwe nke eshishi agugo


Nkpughe ihe nzuzo


Ago ndimmuo

To name illness, i.e., giving illness appropriate name


To identify an appropriate sacrifice


To go and ask, inquire, question, seek out by asking


To probe, examine


To gaze out, sort out, look and find out


Seeing is mainly believing so as to put out doubt.


Opening up secrets, laying bare the hidden strands, disclosing matters


Seeking justice in a case involving spirits

Becoming a Dibi afa, Diviner

Healers in Igboland practice various specialities within their calling. A Dibia afa, for example, is a diviner who is generally perceived as a skilful clairvoyant. To be a diviner is to be viewed as holding a key to the secrets of lifelines, having knowledge of the underworld, and possessing an ability to see things and transmit that knowledge to others in need. In order to become a clairvoyant, a candidate is usually called upon by the ancestral line’s deity of the art of studying and practicing clairvoyance. The diviner is often captured by an extra-human force and compelled to initiate and practice divination. Some diviners attempt, unsuccessfully, to flee their calling, and some cross sexual and territorial boundaries, gaining uncommon identities in order to become technicians of the sacred, hard-earned knowledge. Often, the source of clairvoyance comes from the crossing of boundaries; namely, entering into liminal or borderline states of mind, which is sometimes paid for in suffering or dislocation (Karcher 1997:13). Divining, and learning to divine, involves tapping into the intimate power latent in human’s innate intuitive capacity and the invisible relay of forces. The learning of divining involves seeing patterns that interconnect time, spirit, and soul, and cultivating and training in this innate capacity in order to see beyond human’s usual perceptions.

When tested and approved by a master healer, a candidate undertakes initiation into the prescribed stages. A special eye-wash ritual (itu anya afa), lasting about eight market days, is undergone. The most important stage in this ritual is called the isolation stage (ngbazo nwa Dibiaafa), during which a candidate is excluded from public view and contact. This is aimed at resonating with a psychic or extrasensory connection and enacting sacredness, purity, and diligence with the deity of divination. The only contact the initiate has is with his or her medicine deity, called chi okwe, agwu okwe. During seclusion, a candidate maintains direct focus on his or her agwu symbols. Eating and drinking is minimized, and renders the initiate vulnerable and eager to receive insights and “hear” voices that will guide his or her divination life-path. A leading master healer guides the initiate and instructs him or her on important divinatory symbols and significations, and prohibitions to effectiveness. In essence, the initiate is instructed on how to see clear - clairvoie and interpret received messages by drawing from the experience of this rite of passage (echiche, itu ugo ihu uzo, amamihe). Also crucial are learning how to beckon the deity for intervention and interrogation processes. At the end of the training and rite of passage, other healers gather to a feast of ibo ebi, (the finding of secrets or sources of suffering and attacks.) This rite enables the new healer/diviner to demonstrate his or her new diagnostic skills, including the categorization of suffering and its implications, thus gaining recognition and blessing from both the community of healers and the lay people. A diviner is accorded great honour insofar as the practitioner is effective and brings clients from near and far to the community.

Typically, those who accept the call to divine and heal view their bond with the forces as a long-term relationship. They operate in a consultation hut that is kept sacred—a divination house (ulo ajuju), which is built in the compound for the forces that are thought to dwell there. Divination shrines, sites, houses, or spaces (ogige afa) are surrounded with the rule of sacredness for purity, which includes such rituals as clients taking off their shoes and crossing the medicinally prepared foot-mat at the entrance of the house in order to thwart evil forces. The chancel (ulo ogwu) must be kept pure and sacred. Diviners also purify or neutralize themselves before consulting with clients. They clean their hands, chew whitish clay (nzu), rub yellowish chalk (odo) on their eyes, mark their hands with three or four strokes, and then pour libation with palm wine or hot drink, alligator pepper (ose oji) and kola nut (oji). Most diviners conceive of their relationship with their spirit forces as sacred, much like a marriage to the underlying force (ikuru mmuo). This constitutes a formal invitation to, and domestication of, the forces at work, and involves the sharing of tasks and obligations in the collaboration.

Common myths around divination are found in stories relating to the ability of diviners to identify the causes of problems and remedial strategies. Diviners are clearly aware of a public expectation and, indeed, a healer (Dibia) knows that he or she will always be tested, and required to endorse and re-endorse his or her credibility, expertise, reliability, cultural wisdom, and community support. Through accurate presentation of the facts in cases involving health and life, misfortune and progress, crisis and stability, failure and success, defeat and victory, offence and revenge, a diviner must be able to recognize the best options for healing, as calculated by the superhuman forces available. Once a divinatory course completes its action appropriately, it cannot be disputed. The voice of the oracle, that “other voice,” is unquestionable, because it does not blunder or play games. That is, the methods and results of establishing aetiology are culturally believed to attest to the truth, thus codifying sense to its practitioners and clients. In all these representations, a diviner (Dibiaafa) primarily “sees,” but does not heal, as such, like other healers do (Amadi 1983:106). The type of formation a diviner undertakes differentiates his or her area of interest from those of other healers in the cultural context.

When people go to consult a diviner (ogba afa), they express this action as “going to ask” (iga n’ajuju.) Primarily, this means to go and consult with a view toward finding the answer to a specific social, health, family, economic, or political problem. The term also, however, refers to the question one puts to the diviner (Dibiaafa) or oracular agent. When the Igbo say that they are going to ask the reason from forces that exist beyond the human realm, they mean that they want to ask the presumed agent of misfortune to reveal itself; that is, to say who it is and what it wants (White 1997:60; De Boeck 1993; Devisch 1991, Soldier & Pierre 1995, Iroegbu 2001). Divination is the formal occasion for making uncertainty explicit and developing views on how to take proper action.

Given their activities, diviners have been referred to as “diplomats formal to the night”. Sources, such as Chidi Osondu, strengthen this view when they describe how diviner-healers engage in research (iwa ohia) into the powers behind Igbo medicine and their efficacy in healing in a much deeper way than they are ordinarily perceived to do. A great diviner is described as one who shows a great sense of precision and the ability to pinpoint facts. He or she is said to have a deep and clear insight (idi omimi na ihu uzo nke oma). In order to reveal the secrets of herbs and roots, forces of the night, namely wind-forces (ikuku), are confronted and pacified.[8] In this way, night idiom is an important dimension for healers in the subject of knowing and relaying the appropriate remedies for a crisis. Folklore holds that the divination ritual is capable of cooling down the heat of crisis. The Igbo say, “when the mouth is oiled, it changes what it says” (onu raa ngo ya kwugharia). In that sense, divination must bring about such cooling down of the forces of disturbance by discovering what the forces are, and discovering what they require so that their untamed desires, which cause misfortune to humans, might be quieted.

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