Azande rubbing-board oracle or euwa.
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The layman distinguishes between minor and common ailments that can be diagnosed and handled without seeking help from others, and serious sickness that needs the consultation of a diviner, a traditional healer, or a holy man who could intercede with the unseen powers. Sometimes, the signs and symptoms of a disease are clear, and easily recognizable by the patient, next of kin, or a neighbour.
In some cases the cause of the dis-ease may not be easy to guess, and divination is resorted to, to determine the cause and course of the misfortune. In general, divination is employed to settle such a problem. Divination is also employed to settle individual and interpersonal conflicts, to sanction various important undertakings, and to comfort those facing all sorts of anxiety-provoking events.
Divination procedures are concerned with practical problems; they provide information that limits uncertainty or suspicion, after which practical decisions can be made. They employ various magical, religious, and psychological methods, as well as inspired guesswork. The diviner either trusts his own capabilities (natural or supernatural) or acts through the medium of a human or animal agent. For example, the instrument of divination in the Azande can be a human being who is inspired by medicines, ngua, ghosts, atoro, or both. Alternatively, his inspiration may have been acquired through oracles known collectively as soroka.
Both men and women can be diviners. They may be kujurs, faqirs, fakis, zar practitioners, peddlers of medicine, or specially-endowed lay people. All have acquired credibility through dramatizing their roles, using special equipment and rituals, and, ultimately, of course, by the pragmatic judgment of their clients.
Divination procedures in the Sudan include oracular consultations and testing by ordeals, kujur séances, conscious revelations, dream interpretations, al-wad’ (cowry shell) divination, al-raml (sand divination), fath al-‘ilba (tin divination), al-mandal (water gazing), al-khaira (book divination), al-istikhara (invocation of God), al-tanjim (astrology), ‘ilm al-huruf, al-awfaq, and al-zayirga (science of magical letters and numbers), ghazal al-shamm, a gazelle drawing among the Kababish Arabs for divination purposes, and rattle divination in Mandari. It also includes good and bad omens that can be interpreted by observing the behaviour of certain animals and birds, or reading the weather signs. Among the Acholi, for example, writes Grove, an owl crying, or hyenas copulating in the vicinity of a village foretell death, or war.
Finally, there are certain specific harbingers of ill, which could be regarded as taboos. For example, it is a bad omen to face an ugly or a one-eyed man or animal. A lalobe, Acacia tree, is not grown in a house compound because it outlives family members; whistling is feared at sunset; a shoe is never left turned upside down for fear of causing harm to anybody around; and shaking the legs while sitting down may kill a parent. In the following pages we cover these divination and oracular methods in some detail.
Oracles are methods of divination that are practised by several ethnic groups in southern Sudan, namely the Azande, Dinka, and Acholi. The methods reported in great detail were those of the Azande; they included the poison oracle or benge, the rubbing-board oracle or euwa, the termite oracle, or dakpa, and the three sticks’ oracle, or mapingo. The Azande also speak of dreams as oracles, soroka, because they reveal hidden things; some of their men eat ngua musumo, dream medicines, to enable them to dream prophetic dreams.
Some Arab tribes have practised trial by fire ordeal. Crowfoot reported on one incident among the Rubatab. A woman accused of adultery is tried by the ordeal of fire, as follows: an axe, heated red hot in the fire, is put in the hands of the accused, who must move it about from hand to hand and carry it round the whole gathering of people, until everyone has seen it, then if there is no mark on her hands she is acquitted, but if there is a mark she is pronounced guilty, and secretly killed by her guardian though the guardian may be a woman herself: history records the case of a woman having been killed in these circumstances by her own sister. The Acholi also resorted to the trial by ordeal, called kwir, using fire and water. Examples of these ordeals were reported on by Grove in 1919.
Poison oracle (benge)
The poison oracle, benge, is by far the most important Azande oracle. It is used to divine the unknown by administering poison to fowls (or, rarely, to people). The Azande, says Evans-Pritchard, are the only people in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan who employ this type of divination. The poison used is a strychnine-like alkaloid powder prepared locally from a forest creeper. The Azande rely completely on its decisions, which have the force of law when obtained on the orders of a prince. The oracle is under the control of men, and women are excluded completely from anything that pertains to it, including mentioning its name. Though the Azande know that benge is poisonous to humans (and fowl), its use outside the oracular context is almost unknown.
The rubbing board oracle (euwa)
This is the most-used of all Azande oracles, though considered an inferior judge if compared with the poison oracle. It is a quick, cheap and handy method. The euwa oracle consists of two wooden parts, the ‘female’, or the flat surface of the table supported by two legs and its tail, and the ‘male’, or the piece which fits the surface of the table like a lid. It is operated by jerking the lid sideways over the juices of plants, while the operator questions the oracle which answers either by sliding smoothly or sticking firmly.
Errors in an oracle’s judgment are usually attributed to the non-observance of taboos by its owner. The oracle is operated by older men who observe certain taboos and who have absorbed certain medicines. Its potency is due to the medicines which it absorbs when the board is being made. A rubbing board is operated by its owner only, who alone consults it for his own affairs and for others’ in return for payment.
The termite oracle (dakpa)
The termite oracle is well-known and widely-used among the Azande. It is set up by inserting two branches of two different trees into a termite run. The question is asked while this is being done; the oracle is then left overnight. An answer is given the next morning, by observing which of the two sticks the termite has eaten. The decision of dakpa has to be corroborated by the poison oracle.
The three sticks oracle (mapingo)
The three sticks oracle is not a very reliable oracle and is sometimes used before the termite or poison oracle. It is the oracle of women and children. Two pieces of stick are placed side-by-side on the ground and a third piece is placed on top of and parallel to them. They are left overnight; the answer is given by whether the three sticks remain in position or not.
The Otoro of the Nuba Mountains buy magic charms called kidam from itinerant Arabs or West African charm-sellers, which are reputed to kill evil doers. Nadel reports:
“You can borrow such a charm, and wander round the village, passing every house, flourishing the charm. Then you sit down and wait: after a month or so the thief will either repent or die. Considering its publicity, this magic may well prove sufficiently persuasive; even after the sudden death of a suspected thief his relatives will offer to return the stolen animals, for the magic would continue to work until it is stopped by a complicated rite of purification. The Otoro, too, use these charms, though in a different fashion. The owner of the stolen animal collects the droppings of the animal or sand from its tracks; he knocks his charm against them and says: ‘No one shall eat my goats (or sheep, or cows); if he eats them he shall die. ‘ The thief will fall ill, his nose will bleed and he will pass blood; he will die unless he confesses and asks that the magic be lifted. This is done by washing the charm in water and sprinkling the water over the victim.”
The gourd of God and the two spears methods
Rev. D.S. Oyler described the Shilluk’s methods of divination for the various unknowns in every day life. For example, when a village is going into a fight it is very convenient to know before, who will be killed. They have at least two ways of learning this.
In one method two spears are stuck in the earth. They are connected at the top by a string, and another string passes between them at the bottom. All the fighting men bearing their weapons, must pass between the spears, and if a man or his weapons touch either the spears or the string he will be killed in the fight.
The second method is by the gourd of God. It is a gourd with a handle upon which is an iron band. The gourd is greased, and in it is put some grain. When the gourd is shaken the grain rattles, and that is God talking. The gourd is kept in the medicine man’s house, and an outsider is not permitted to approach it. A small space is mudded in front of the gourd, and thus a little court is formed in front of it, and a mat is frequently placed in front of the gourd to give it greater privacy.
When a fight is imminent the gourd of God is brought out, and each of the warriors casts his spoon on the gourd. For spoons they use mussel shells. When a spoon breaks it is a sign that the owner will be killed in the fight. When a bit is chipped from the spoon it is a sign that the owner will be wounded in the fight. When all the people have been tested the men who are indicated as liable to death are called, and they are told to bring a heavy fee, and the witch doctor goes through a form to avert the evil that is impending.
The gourd is used for other purposes as well. In sickness the outcome may be foretold by the gourd. Spoons representing different people are thrown on the gourd. If the spoon for the patient rebounds, and falls on the spoon for God it is a good omen as he will recover. The same test is made to determine the outcome of a fight. If the spoon of the suppliant falls on the spoon of the enemy, it is a sign that the adversary will be overcome.
Sortilege (khatt al-wad’)
Sortilege, or divination by the casting of lots, is performed using seven pieces of wad’a (cowry shells), or coffee beans. The seven pieces are drawn by the wada’iyya (cowry shells diviner), and scattered over ground which has been leveled; the unknown is revealed by interpreting the patterns the lots take. It is mostly consulted to foretell things such as whether someone is going to get married and to whom, who is going to get what and from whom, or who is going to arrive, and when.
This type of divination has a long history in the Sudan. It can be traced in popular proverbs, and appears in figurative speech. Shuqair reported in 1903 on the popular methods of divination in the Sudan at the end of the last century, and mentioned al-wad’, al-mandal, al-raml, al-tanjim, and al-khaira, as well as dream interpretation.
Casting wad’ is an exclusively female activity. Many women claim knowledge of the interpretation of the patterns the shells take. However, the most competent (sadiqa) are those who have learned its secrets in a dream, especially if that dream occurred during confinement. That is why seven shells are sometimes put under the pillow of a woman who just delivered; at this time genuine knowledge about al-wad’ is believed to be revealed during dreams.
Two pre-conditions must be fulfilled before a session of wad’ divination can take place. Firstly, the client should state the object of the quest silently. Secondly, a bayad, or nominal advance payment, should be paid as a sign of trust in the diviner’s abilities. The diviner then shakes the 7 shells within the palm of her hand and throws them on the leveled ground between herself and her client. She then studies the pattern and interprets it. Al-wad’ is not consulted to diagnose disease, but rather to follow the prognosis.
Sand divination, geomancy (raml)
Raml (sand) divination is practised throughout Muslim Sudan. Al-Tunisi, an Egyptian traveller, described the system of al-raml in Darfur early last century, and mentioned sixteen common patterns. It is not clear, however, whether the actual practices he describes were purely Sudanese, or Egyptian ones used as examples. When Ahmad Amin referred to al-raml in Egypt in his Qamous Al-‘Adat wa Al-Taqalid wa Al-Ta’abir Al- Masriyya, he mentioned that the practitioners were mainly Takarna (Nigerians) and Sudanese.
The process of divination is called khatt al-raml or darbb al-raml, and the diviner is called khattat or rammal. A haphazard number of four rows of dots is drawn on sand; the dots in each row are then checked in turn to form ‘odds’ or ‘evens’ at the end of each run. Interpretation of these patterns gives the answer to the query. In the absence of sand, the usual medium, the diviner takes a handful of beans, and drops them in pairs; the last beans left in the hand are counted, found to be odd or even, and interpreted in the same way.
In 1920, R. Davies described in Sudan Notes and Records, a system of divination prevalent among Sudanese Arabs. Members of the Mahamid and Ta’aiysha of western Sudan were noted to be skilful raml diviners, but the practice is also common in northern and central Kordofan as well as all over the northern Sudan. Non-Arab tribes like the Zaghawa, Nuba, and Kara also practice some form of raml.
To divine using sand the khattat first prepares a smooth patch of sand. Then, at the propitious hour, (noon, or one-third of the day before or after noon), his client places the tip of the middle finger of his right hand on the ground and states to himself, not aloud, the ‘niya’, or object of his quest. Next, the khattat, also with the tip of the middle finger of his right hand, makes in the sand four lines of finger prints of random length and then counts off the prints of each line in pairs, to see if it contains an odd or an even number.
Al-raml differs from other divination procedures, in that it is performed to solve one single problem at a time. For example, it would be asked to diagnose a disease, identify the place of a lost animal or property, or check whether a debtor is likely to pay up or not.
Too few documents are available to enable us to trace al-raml back in history. Ibn Khuldun has described al-raml in Al-Muqadima as an established Arab practice. Hasan Sala, a Sudanese scholar in the last century, gave an interesting description of the art, and traced its origin back to the Holy Quran. Hasan Sala (1842-1903) was born in Kordofan in western Sudan; later he moved with his family to the Hidjaz where he settled in Medina for 30 years, and where he became curator of its main library. During his lifetime, Sala gained wide reputation as an expert on al-raml, al-awfaq, al-tanjim, and al-zayirga. He was indeed said of the few to have mastered al-wafaq. When the Ottoman Sultan Abd Al-Hamid Ibn Abd Al-Magid sent to the Hidjaz looking for someone proficient in al-wafaq, Hasan Sala was selected for the job, and was the one who ordered the placing of alwafaq al-maini al-‘adadi on the war banners of the Sultan.
Hasan Sala wrote three books on the subject, the manuscripts of which are now kept in the Sudan Central Archives Office in Khartoum. One manuscript is on tanjim (astrology) and is called Mabariz Al-Nafahat wa Dalayil Al-Awqat fi ‘Ilm Al-Falak;the second, on numerology, is called Al-Jawhar Al-Takwini fi Al-Wafaq Al-Maini;in the third, Manba’ Al-Ishara bi ‘Ilm Al-Ithara,the author describes the art of al-raml at length, enumerates the sources he studied, and acknowledges the scholars in whose footsteps he followed.
Tin divination (fath al-‘ilba)
Tin divination is the main diagnostic procedure in zar. It is known as fath al-‘ilba (tin opening), and is carried out by opening a tin containing a special type of incense kept by the zar practitioner. The first step towards identifying the cause of the client’s troubles, is opening ‘the tin’. The novice is fumigated with some of the incense contained in the tin, and some selected zar khiyut (tunes) are played in a serial order. This is believed to stimulate the possessing spirit to reveal itself through the patient’s voice. The spirit will spell out its complaints and grievances, and on this basis the zar practitioner diagnoses the type of the dis-ease and suggests the treatment regimen. She then orders certain demands to be met and ceremonies to be held to appease the possessing spirits. All requests must be obeyed if recovery is to take place. Tumbura, the other variant of zar, involves sleep divination instead .
Water gazing (al-mandal)
Al-mandal is divination through the medium of a young child gazing into a water bowl. In Burri Al-Lamab, a suburb of Khartoum, a child under the age of puberty is asked to gaze into a bowl containing water, oil, or even ink. Sometimes the child is asked to look into certain figures drawn in chalk on a white paper together with some unidentified words and shapes. While gazing, the child is believed to see khadimat al-mandal (the mandal servant) known as khadra. After greeting her, she is asked to summon the shayib (the old man) who is asked to answer whatever query they have.
The constellations of stars in their rising and setting are known and used, together with the position and inclination of the new moon, in drawing omens of good or ill-fortune for the ensuing month and for deciding on appropriate times to perform several tasks. Throughout the Arab Sudan, especially among nomads and rural communities, the divisions of the moon’s monthly paths are known as ‘houses’ or ‘inas (mansions of the moon), or by their Arabic names manazil and anwaa, and, hence, ‘ilm al-anwaa. The ‘inas are the familiar divisions of the year into 28 periods, each 13 days long with the exception of one period (tarfa or jabha) which is 14 days.
Besides its practical value in precisely marking the start and end of the seasons, when the rain comes and when to sow and reap, knowledge of these mansions has been helpful in divination procedures and in foretelling the auspicious days for performing various social tasks. For example, marriage is not contracted, business conducted, travel started or medicinal plants gathered unless the moon is in a lucky mansion. Information is also drawn from these constellations as to whether a child is born in this or that mansion is going to be lucky, happy and prosperous or not, moral or immoral.
They also extended the knowledge of the seasons to include all days and hours of the month, which they earmarked as good or bad for writing charms, treating patients, mixing chemicals and poisons and for calling jinn. The days of the month which are unlucky are the third, the fifth, the thirteenth, the sixteenth, the twenty-first, the twenty-fourth, the twenty-fifth and the last Wednesday in every month. For example, ziana or hair-cutting is not done on a Wednesday or Sunday, and mushat (hair-plaiting) is usually practised on a Friday and occasionally on a Wednesday. A house should not be cleaned, nor clothes sewn at night. Circumcision should not be performed on a Sunday.
Some major social undertakings such as weddings should only be entered into after thorough consultation with the faki to divine for the occasion. The faki divines using the khaira (book divination), and he asks to be provided with certain items: the name of the bride-to-be, her ‘alaq (piece of cloth), and the name of her mother. He puts all these items under his pillow when he goes to bed. In the morning, he will tell if the occasion would be successful or not, and, if a wedding for example is to take place, he will identify the auspicious dates. Failure to act upon such advice causes all types of misfortune.
Numerology (‘ilm al-‘adad)
Since early times, numbers have been believed to possess intrinsic and mystic values, extended later to the letters of the alphabet; each letter was assigned a numerical equivalent. Certain combinations of these numbers (or letters) are believed to have magical attributes that affect human life. Others were thought to coin Al-ism Al-a’zam (the Great Name). This pseudo-science of numerology is known as ‘ilm al-huruf or ‘ilm al-‘adad, etc., and has frequently been associated with al-tanjim (astrology). It also gave rise to several other branches of numerology called al-awfaq, al-zayirga, and al-jafar al-asghar, al-jafar al-akbar and al-simiaa. These modalities are discussed at length in several of the relevant medieval Arab books listed in the relevant section of the appended Bibliography.
Al-zayirga is a set of magical astrological tables used in divination. The system was once popular in Morocco in North Africa, and was described by Ibn Khuldun in the Muqadima. The full name of this art is zayirgat al-‘Alim and it is believed to have been invented by the Sufi Abu Al-‘Abbas Al-Sabti who lived at the end of the 12th century A.D. Divination in zayirga uses a large circle enclosing several concentric ones filled with names of the planets, elements, magical numbers, etc.; the answer is found out using a specific verse of poetry.
In the Sudan, these arts were introduced by Arab missionaries who brought with them various medieval Arabic popular science books. The practice of numerology has been, and still is, confined to the literate fakis and faqirs. At the level of the layman, the system is known only through the auspicious numbers which play important roles in Sudanese rituals. Various books abound with these squares, numbers and seals.
Al-zayirga, though rarely practised now, was known in the Sudan a few centuries back. In the biography of Higazi Ibn Zaid Ibn Al-shaikh Abd Al-Qadir, Ibn Daif Allah enumerated the many talents of the shaikh,whom he said was as skilful in medicine as Avicenna, as good a poet as Ka’b Ibn Zuhair, and as exquisite a calligrapher as Ibn Muqla. These names he mentioned are notable figures in their fields in medieval Arab history. He added that the shaikh mastered many languages, and that he used al-zayirga to foretell the future as if he were Ja’far Al-Saddiq.
Al-zayirga has been mentioned in most Muslim medical books. Al-Boni in particular has dealt with the subject and described it as an honourable science when mastered. He also described what he called the techniques of Ja’far Al-Saddiq in divination.
Certain combinations of numbers (or letters) produce magical squares. The order-3 square is unique; it has the magic constant of 15 for its added rows, columns and diagonals. This square can be traced back at least 2000 years to ancient China. It is popularly known in the Sudan by the misnomer muthallath al-Ghazali (Al-Ghazali’s triangle) or khatim al-Ghazali (Al-Ghazali’s seal), after the famous Muslim jurist and exegesist Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali who popularized it and advocated the view that it possesses definite applications. This square (or triangle when the three rows of the sum-of-15 are considered) is also known as badouh (the Arabic word coined by replacing the four numbers in the corners of the square with their alphabetic equivalents), and it forms the core of most magical charms, divination procedures, and amulets.
God invocation (al-istikhara and al-khaira)
Al-istikhara and al-khaira are two methods of divination that are meant to guarantee the success of certain social arrangements and occasions. For example, it is mandatory to consult the faki to divine whether a man and a woman are suited to each other in marriage, and then to decide the most auspicious date for the occasion. The Prophet Muhammad sanctioned al-istikhara in more than one authentic hadith (saying). In this procedure, the inquirer prays two rak’as to God before petitioning Him for help.
On the other hand, in al-khaira, the faki intercedes with God to diagnose a disease, or to endorse a certain undertaking. The faki, as always, makes sure that his client is accurately identified. He is provided with the client’s name and his or her mother’s, as well as a piece of his or her clothing. He then repeats bism-Allah (in the name of God) seven times, and opens any page of the Holy Book; on this page, he counts the letters that start with ‘sh’ and ‘kh’, the initial letters of the two Arabic words ‘good’ and ‘bad’, respectively. Whichever word predominates in the count decides the outcome of the investigation. Alternatively, other books are used; these are special family compilations of medicinal recipes. These books will also be opened at random, and the recipe found will be followed.
A few points should be noted. Al-khaira and al-istikhara are applied to social arrangements, and give them at the same time a religious sanction. The matters at stake mostly involve clan and family relations; they demand observance of social norms and values, and entail serious thought in decision-making. These two methods, whenever invoked, work as strategies for buying time to probe for more information that would probably help in providing a spontaneous resolution of whatever problem is at hand.
The two methods are thus not meant to help resolve simple personal problems such as finding stolen property or identifying the thief; for these, raml divination is well-suited. Neither are they used to divine for the auspicious time for harvesting activities or to decide when the Nile flood will be due; these are natural phenomena that are explained through ‘ilm al-anwaa, which depends upon knowledge of natural phenomena and experience of interpreting them.
Revelations (al-ruyia al-sadiqa)
The ancient theory of the creation adopted by the Arabs states that it resulted from the intermarriage of the seven planets and the four elements (air, water, fire, and earth), producing the three kingdoms of minerals, plants, and animals, which are closely interrelated. Furthermore, all creation is believed to have a common soul that is capable of volition and perception. This soul derives its power to conceive and move, from the realm of angels. If this is so, then, as most medieval Arab scholars believed, the soul is potentially capable of raising humanity to angeldom at any time, and in such situations it acquires the power of prophesy. However, the question of who might achieve this state, remains unanswered.
Many early Arab thinkers were struck by the persistent appearance of certain numbers in the natural world. The influence of their observations pervaded Arab sciences and arts. For example, they noted that the number of knuckles, the permanent teeth, days of the lunar month, and letters of the Arabic alphabet, are all 28; the elements or substances that constitute the universe (earth, air, fire, and water), the parallel concepts of the qualities (hot, cold, dry, and moist), the humours (phlegm, blood, choler, and black bile), are each four; the planets, the spheres, the days of the week, and the seas are each seven in number, and there are 12 months, and 12 constellations. These numbers therefore acquired mystical and magical importance among Arab scientists.
If we regard these notions as the main premises that underlay Arab science, and if we bear in mind that the corpus of total knowledge in medieval times was not so enormous as to defy the comprehension of one man, and that almost all scholars contributed to many sciences with the conviction that all branches of sciences are interrelated, we understand the basic principles underlying Arabian medicine, and all other systems that were derived from it through succeeding ages.
Some verses of the Quran encouraged Muslims with Sufi proclivities to search for hidden relations between the different bodies in the universe, and to establish links between the natural and the supernatural worlds as well. If the soul is not pure in its own right, like the prophets’, it has to be released from the burden of the physical body and the distractions of its sensual demands. Ascetics (zahids) and Sufis who starve themselves, abandon worldly pleasures, and consume themselves in strenuous and prolonged meditation and prayer, are more capable than others in reaching this state of purity and liberated vision or mukashafa. Indeed, this is the state all Sufis seek, a state in which God bestows upon them powers beyond those of mortal beings. However much effort this might involve on the part of a sane and healthy individual, it is perhaps interesting to note that lunatics, imbeciles, epileptics, the sick, and the dying were all thought of as having this power of prophesy.
Ibn Khuldun included an interesting chapter on this subject in the Muqadima, and described extant medieval beliefs. Ibn Daif Allah in Al-Tabaqat narrated several stories of holy men to whom God granted superhuman powers. He told how, during the Funj era, some holy men, such as Hamad Al-Nahlan (Hamad the emaciate), Muhammad Al-Qaddal, Abu ‘Aqla Al-Kishshif and several others, attained this state of revelation or mukashafa. Further, he cited several of their prophecies that were proven to be true. Hamad Al-Nahlan, for example, went into seclusion for 32 months taking with him only three qaradat (sunt pods), and 7 dates. His khalwa (retreat) was sealed but for a small window through which he received his daily ration of water, and a piece of bread not larger than a camel’s eye. At the end of his seclusion, he left behind in the khalwa the dates, the sunt pods, the water, and all the bread untouched. He was, in fact, almost a skeleton when he came out and was henceforth called Al-Nahlan or ‘the emaciate’.
Ghazal al-sham and shajarat al-khalas
Abdullahi Ali Ibrahim has described a divination procedure called ghazal al-sham (the Syrian gazelle) among the Kababish Arabs of north western Sudan, believed to help women in difficult labour to ease their delivery. A pattern is drawn on leveled ground that simulates a gazelle fleeing captivity; they believe that the woman will likewise be relieved of her distress (as it were, sympathetically).
The same principle applies to another method utilizing a plant called kaff maryam (Mary’s palm) or shajarat al-khalas (literally salvation tree). This plant looks like the afterbirth, and a dried one is always kept at the bedside of a woman about to deliver. If it is soaked in water for a few hours, its convoluted branches imbibe water and unfold, and the belief is that the womb will similarly do so and expel the baby., They describe the state the woman is in by the word ithallat (relieved).
The kujur seances
In trance, the shaman divines auspicious times and conditions for various tasks such as war, framework, or rituals; he warns the people of impending events and prescribes the procedure, ritual or otherwise, to avoid or ensure particular happenings (rain, a famine, the discovery and punishment of offenders). Always, the shaman’s orders express the likes and dislikes of the spirits, and the conditions under which they will help or hinder.
The healing powers of the shaman correspond to the same conceptions. Consulted by the patient or his family, the shaman goes into a trance and discovers the cause and cure of the disease. Typical causes are the anger of ancestors, a sin committed by the patient, the power of the evil eye, or the hostility (perhaps employed by a human enemy) of other spirits. Typical remedies are expiatory sacrifices, gifts to the shaman’s spirit, or redress of the wrong which provoked the hostility in the first place. In simple ailments the shaman may merely announce their harmlessness and predict their eventual disappearance. In no case does the shaman perform anything in the nature of a therapeutic manipulation: this is the field of other healing experts, medicine-men proper, and the shaman sometimes instructs his clients to seek treatment of this sort.
Spirit possession is a means of discovering the right treatment, and not a part of it. The therapeutic effects that the shaman’s practices may be entirely psychological and rest on the suggestibility of the subjects. Clearly, where psycho-neurotic disorders are at the root of the illness, the shaman may indeed effect a cure. But this does not mean that he wisely refrains from treating ailments not responsive to such treatment by suggestion. He sometimes attempts to do so because this criterion, though not ignored, is only crudely applied.
The cure of all mental disease falls to the shaman, and no shaman would undertake the treatment of a broken leg, an ulcer or a septic wound; but the main conception underlying this division of labour seems to be that diseases of obscure origin which attack the whole being of man concern the shaman while diseases whose origin is empirically understood and whose effect is localized are outside his sphere. Thus shamans do not hesitate to ‘treat’ sterility, leprosy and what seems to be tuberculosis or infantile paralysis. Occasionally, they are reported to be completely successful.
 Divination is justifiably seen as magic applied to the future or to the unknown, to reconstruct the events according to the diviner’s prophesies.
 Grove, Captain E. T. N. Customs of the Acholi. Sudan Notes and Records. 2(2): 157-182.
 Crowfoot, J.W. Customs of the Rubatab. Sudan Notes and Records; 1918; 1: 119-134.
 Grove, Captain E. T. N. Op. Cit.
 Evans-Pritchard, Edwards E. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (1937): Abridged with an introduction by Eva Gilles. Clarendon Press: Oxford: 1976: page 121.
 Evans-Pritchard, Edwards E. Op. Cit., page 167.
 The charms are known by the Arabic name, kitab, or, in vernacular, as kdam, which also means ‘oath’ and ‘ordeal’ in general. One distinguishes two kinds of charms: kdam kidel buny, ‘aimless’ , i.e. harmless charms, and kdam kre, ‘bitter’ charms, possessed of deadly magic. Nadel. Op. Cit. 156.
 Nadel, S.F. The Nuba: An anthropological study of the Hill Tribes of Kordofan. London: Oxford University Press; 194-1: 156.
 Oyler, Rev. D.S. The Shilluk's Beliefs in the Good Medicine Men. Sudan Notes and Records; 1920; 3: 110-116.
 Oyler, Rev. D.S. l920. Op. Cit.
 Abd Allah Abd Al-Rahman: Al-Arabiya fi Al-Sudan, page 159.
 Naom Shuqair. Gughrafiyat wa Tariekh Al-Sudan (1903) [Arabic]. Beirut: Dar Al-Thaqafa; Many editions, 1972: page 284.
 Ahmad Al-Safi. An Introduction to the Study of Divination Methods in the Sudan [Arabic]; Typescript. Under publication.
 Muhammad Ibn Umar Al-Tunisi. Tashhidh Al-Adhhan Bi-Sirat Bilad Al-‘Arab Wa-‘I-Sudan (Arabic), (Eds.) Khalil M. ‘Asaker and Mustafa M. Mus’ad, Cairo: Al Dar Al Masriya Lil-Ta’lif wal-Tarjama, 1965: pages 333-9.
 Ahmad Amin. Qamous Al-‘Adat wa Al-Taqalid wa Al-Ta’abir Al-Masriyya [Arabic]. Cairo: Matba’at Lajnat Al-Taalif wa Al-Tarjama wa Al-Nashr; 1953: page 268.
 Unmarried sand diviners sometimes profess that they are married to banat al-hur (angels of the Nile).
 Davies, R. A System of Sand Divination. Sudan Notes and Records; 19.90; 3: 155.
 Ibn Khuldun, Abd Al-Rahman. Al-Muqaddima [Arabic]. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Al-Fikr; Undated.
 “Say: ‘Have you thought of what you invoke apart from God? Show me what they have created of the earth. Or do they have a share in the heavens? Bring me a Book before this or a trace of knowledge, if you are truthful.’”(4) The Bounteous Koran: chapter 46, surat Al Ahqaf.
 These manuscripts were reviewed by Yahiya Muhammad Ibrahim in Jaridat Al-Sahafa, 26 October 1978.
 Hasan Sala (1842-1904). Mabariz Al-Nafahat wa Dalayil Al-Awqat fi ‘Ilm Al-Falak [Arabic manuscript]: Central Records Office, Khartoum.
 Hasan Sala (1842-1904). Al-Jawhar Al-Takwini fi Al-Wafaq Al-Maini [Arabic manuscript]: Central Records Office, Khartoum.
 Hasan Sala (184-190 4). Manba’ Al-Ishara bi ‘llm Al-Ithara [Arabic manuscript]: central Records Office, Khartoum.
 For further reading see Crowfoot, J.W. Customs of the Rubatab. Sudan Notes and Records; 1913; 1: 119-134; Al-Amin Muhammad Muhammad Ahmad Ki’wirra. Mabadi Al-Kawniyat [Arabic]. Khartoum: Khartoum University Press; 1972. 200 pages, and Sullum Al-wujud [Arabic]. Khartoum: Tamdadun Printing Press; 1977. 128 pages.
 For rituals associated with the first hair-cut, see Baby Care, page Error! Bookmark not defined..
 There are two lists of equivalence of numbers and letters the one provided by the oriental Muslims is called abjad, the other by the Occidental Muslims is called aigash; the two lists differ in the sequence of letters.
 Allah, the ‘supreme Name’ (Al-ism Al-azam), is the name of the Absolute. In Islam, God is known also by ninety-nine other names, one of these names (nobody knows which) is believed to be irrevocable if used for petitioning, and the key to divine knowledge. Al-Boni developed a system of divination and invocation called al-simiaa using asma Allah al-husna (God’s Most Beautiful Names). Al-simiaa is said to have several branches ‘ilm al-‘adad, (science of numbers), ilm al-huruf (science of letters), ‘ilm al-tabayi al-arba’a (science of the four humours), tanjim (astrology), ‘ilm al-asmaa (science of the names), incantations and charms.
 These are the Arabic counterpart of the Hebrew Cabala.
 Ibn Khuldun. Op. Cit. Page 398-99.
 Ibn Daif Allah. Op. Cit. Pages 108-9.
 Ja’far Ibn Muhammad Al-Saddiq (80-148 A.H. /699-765 A.D.), the sixth Imam according to the Twelve-Imams of the Shiites (the Shi’a Al-Imamiya). He was known as a pious scholar who gained encyclopaedic knowledge of theology and arcane sciences. His disciples revered him to the point of worship. He provided esoteric doctrines of such importance that they were thought to be second only to those of Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib. The Shi’ites claim that he possessed a book of secret knowledge kitab al-jafar (the Book of Vellum), the knowledge in which is only in the heir line of the family of the Prophet Muhammad. Among Sunni Muslims this book is known as kitab Al-Mughayabat (Book of Hidden Things). During the passage of time, these books became sources for divination techniques.
 Al-Boni, Ahmed Ibn Ali. Shams Al-Ma’arif Al-Kubra [Arabic]. Cairo: Abbas Shaqrun; 1291; Many editions, pages 342-345.
 Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali, Algazel, (450-505 A.H./1058-1111 A.D.), philosopher, theologian, jurist, and mystic; he was born and died in Tus, Persia. His important writings include: Ihya ‘Ulum Al-Din (the Revival of the Religious Sciences). Al-Munqidh min Al-Dalal (the Saviour from Error), and Tahafut Al-Falasifa (the Destruction of the Philosophers).
 In Muslim prayer, a rak’a is a cycle including the recitation of Quranic verses, some formal speech, and movements including bowing, kneeling and touching the ground with the forehead. Canonical prayer is one of the five pillars of Islam, and is obligatory for all Muslims who have reached the age of reason, in this case 7 years. Prayers are prescribed to be performed five times a day, each prayer consisting of a series of rak’as. However, the prayer alluded to in the context of divination, and in other similar undertakings, is performed before embarking on many important ventures as an act of piety, and is a prerequisite for successful petitioning.
 In ancient astronomy, the planets are seven: Mercury, Venus, the Moon, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The ancient scientists categorized all heavenly bodies that were visible to the naked eye as planets, and, hence, erroneously included the Sun and the Moon. All planets were thought to revolve in heaven about a fixed Earth.
 “We shall show them our signs in the horizons and in themselves until it is manifest to them that it is the truth. Is it not sufficient to your Lord that He is witness over everything?” (53) Chapter 41, Surat Fussilat: The Bounteous Koran.
 The names kishshif, and mikashfi are common designations in the Sudan, and denote holy men with strong prophetic powers.
 Ibn Khuldun. Op. Cit., page 76.
 Wad Daif Allah. Op. Cit. Page 163 and several others.
 Abd Allah Ali Ibrahim. Irth budai fi fann Al-Kababish Al-sha’bi. Bulletin of Sudanese Studies: 1(2): June 1969, page 89.
 Shajarat al-khalas, kaff maryam, shajarat maryam (Anastatica hierochuntica L.) is the English chastity tree or rose of Jericho, and is imported from Egypt, but it also grows in the Khartoum area. It is a woody herb with convoluted dry branches that look very much like the after-birth. In the Sudan, the plant is put in a glass of water beside the woman in labour. In time, the branches imbibe water and stretch. Through the principles of sympathetic magic, the uterus and the after-birth are expected to unfold likewise and deliver the baby. Water in which it is soaked is not drunk, but occasionally some of it is rubbed over the woman’s belly. Daoud Al-Antaki in Al-Tazkira mentioned that if the solution of this plant is taken by a woman in labour, it will hasten delivery of the baby and the after-birth. The after-birth is also called khalas, hence, the name of the plant may also be ‘the after-birth tree’.
 Ahmad Abd Al-Halim. Native medicine and ways of treatment in northern Sudan. Sudan Notes and Records; 1939; 22: 27-48.
 Ahmad Al-Safi. The Magico-religious rituals associated with pregnancy in the Sudan. Al-Hakeem Medical Students Journal; 1969; 7(3): 256-60.