Mambila Divination: Framing Questions, Constructing Answers

(Routledge Studies in Anthropology) 2020
London: Routledge. ISBN 9780367199500

The image below links to the publishers website which includes a preview


This book offers a major contribution to the study and analysis of divination, based on continuing fieldwork with the Mambila in Cameroon. It seeks to return attention to the details of divinatory practice, using the questions asked and life histories to help understand the perspective of the clients rather than that of the diviners.

Drawing on a corpus of more than 600 cases, David Zeitlyn reconsiders theories of divination and compares Mambila spider divination with similar systems in the area. A detailed case study is examined and analysed using conversational analytic principles. The regional comparison considers different kinds of explanation for different features of social organization, leading to a discussion of the continuing utility of moderated functionalism.

The book will be of interest to area specialists and scholars concerned with religion, rationality, and decision-making from disciplines including anthropology, African studies, and philosophy.


The book was discussed on the CAMP linguistic anthropology blog with Stephan Feuchtwang on APRIL 27, 2020: See

The book was reviewed by Erwan Dianteill in 2023 in the International Journal of Divination and Prognostication. Vol. 4, pp 167-70. Available here. The review concludes: "The book, with its exceptional ambition and thorough ethnography, is essential for all social scientists studying divination."