Alongside Larry Achimapong’s Divid̶e̶d̶nation, we have commissioned the following short text by Aida Amoako, giving us more insight on the methods of divination and their implications. Aida Amoako is a writer from London.
Why does one ever resort to divination – the use of ritual or supernatural means to gain insight about the future? A desire for control, perhaps? But is not knowing worse than knowing, even if the news is bad? Forewarned is forearmed. Of course with all methods of divination, it’s rather like tossing a coin: heads or tails. As the coin leaves your hand and makes its journey through the air and back towards the earth, you know in your heart of hearts how you want it to land. And what happens when the portent is bad? Do you accept it as fate? Or do you perform the rite again hoping for a different outcome?
The hope for the future is that it will be better than the present. Of course treasured customs, values, and systems are expected to prove their worth and rightness through their perseverance. But the success of the future also relies on it not resembling all aspects of the present. The future must somehow have shed the infected skin of the past lest it be contaminated and not born anew, shiny and utopian. Larry Achiampong’s conceptualisation of the future avoids depicting it as simplistically utopian and technophilic, or dystopian and post-apocalyptic. There is an ambivalent stillness and emptiness to the terrains his cameras sweep in the Relic film series, which provides the sense that the (Western) world ended not with a bang but a whimper. There is no one to be found except the Relic Traveller, the representative of the Pan-African Alliance who journeys across the grassy expanses searching for the testimonies lost to colonial violence.
In this narrative are embedded the rituals of several methods of divination.
Ambulomancy: divination by walking
The Relic Traveller walks vast distances in search of lost histories. Walking seems like such a neutral term. One can tread, one can stride, one can saunter, march, roam, plod and each way of moving communicates something about the kind of journey being made. Does the Relic Traveller merely walk? Do they tread, or do they stride? A figure who saunters for example, surely conceptualises their future very differently to a figure who marches. And in this method of divination, they who perform the ritual often walk in circles – round and round, not forwards or backwards – to make themselves dizzy, disoriented, and unstable, to create a precarious state that might allow visions of the future to reveal themselves.
Stichomancy: divination by lines
Open a book on a random page and with your eyes closed, point to a random spot. That word or phrase will hold a message for you. But the message only really takes on meaning when it appears again in some form, either before the act of divination, or after, and makes you go “ahhh, of course.” When it appears again – synchronicity – it’s a kind of magic repetition that insists. One of Achiampong’s chalkboards, like the speaker in Relic 2, insists on this prophecy: Try all you want to shape and present history in your name but the Earth and ancestors will remember yours.
Abacomancy or amathomancy: divination by dust or the ashes of the recently deceased.
The debris of human existence is a heavy weight to shrug off and even heavier to bear. To shake the dust off your sandals and completely cut ties with the burdensome past is so tempting. But there is something in the dust that persists and bears heeding. And anyway, you cannot create the future ex nihilo.
Retromancy: divination by looking over one’s shoulder
The Akan cultures of Ghana have an Adinkra symbol depicting a bird looking over its own shoulder with an egg in its beak: Sankofa. It’s a Twi word which means “go back and get it.” However, the bird’s feet face forward; look to the past but do not dwell there. The fate of Lot’s wife ー who looked back at Sodom and was turned to salt ー won’t be your own. The philosophy of Sankofa emphasises the importance of carrying the good of the past into the present and then the future.
Divination draws out our deepest desires and fears for the future. It belies a need for the sense that there is order in the world. In response to this exhibition, I looked up arithmancy, found the numerical value of each letter in the word ‘divination’ as stated in the Agrippan method, added them up and got the number 54. 54 – the number of nations in Africa, the number of black stars on each Pan African flag. That “ahh, of course.” But then what? 54 also has other meanings. I was drawn to this particular one because it suited my purposes. Divination suggests we can find the answer. But there are multiple answers and each depend on our disposition. There is no uniting narrative about what happened or what will happen.
The world to which the Relic Traveller will return with their artefacts is not depicted. The focus is on the task: to walk in circles retreading your own path and those of others; to carry forward the dust; to find meaning in repetition and therefore purpose in insisting we should go back to move forwards. Archeomancy is divination by sacred relics. A lost story can be a relic, something that has survived the ravages of time. You may find those voices know something of the unknown into which we are walking.
- Aida Amoako