Truth beyond doubt: Ifá oracles in Havana

Martin Holbraad


This article analyzes the concept of truth on which the practice of Ifá divination in Cuba turns. Motivated ethnographically by Ifá practitioners’ claims that the truths their oracles issue are indubitable, I argue that from the viewpoint of commonplace conceptions of truth such an assumption can only be interpreted as absurd. To avoid such an imputation, the article is devoted to reconceptualizing what might count as truth in such an ethnographic instance. In particular, it is argued that in order to credit the assumption of divinatory indubitability, representational notions of truth must be discarded in favour of what I call a “motile” conceptualization, which posits truth as an event in which trajectories of divinatory meanings (called “paths” by diviners) collide. In advancing such an analysis, the article exemplifies what I call an “ontographic” approach, dedicated to mapping the ontological premises of native discourse through the production of concepts which, while not the native concepts themselves, comprise their close equivalents. Elaborated in greater detail elsewhere (Holbraad 2012), this is put forward as my take on what the editors of Hau call “ethnographic theory.”

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau2.1.006