Spider divination with Somié, Cameroon
“Nggàm dù” is a web portal by the spider diviners of Somié, Cameroon who are willing to share their practice of divination with others. The project has been made at their request, with the “Arachnophilia” community and its founding member Tomás Saraceno.
The word “ŋgam” (nggàm) is a word that refers both to the practice of divinatory logic and the ground-dwelling spider whose wisdom it consults. During ŋgam dù, a set of binary questions is put to the spider oracle, whose response is interpreted via the spider’s specific rearrangements of the arachnomancer’s divination cards.
“Nggàm dù” is a web portal for myriad translation between human and spiderly responses, passed across the interstices of language, time zone and species. To seek out a more equal balance of human, techno- and bio-diversity, a dialogue is opened with our arachnid kin. In collaboration with the spider diviners of Somié and friend of “Arachnophilia” David Zeitlyn, “Nggàm dù” meditates on the possibilities of reciprocal, intercultural and interspecies relations.
As local knowledge and practices are increasingly threatened across the world, the project emphasises an awareness of and sensitivity to the violence of historic encounters with non-European cultures. Its intention is not to appropriate objects or ideas, but to support spider diviners at their request by presenting a platform of their own which preserves the knowledge and practice they have chosen to share. Listening with acute sensitivity, an “art of noticing” (and valuing) spiderly wisdom will archive the historic practice of the Mambila in Cameroon.
In line with the project’s ambitions of preserving the practice of ŋgam dù and supporting the people of Somié, interested participants will be invited to consult with the spider(s) upon donation of a set fee. All of the money raised through each consultation will then be distributed to a programme of local projects and the remuneration for each diviners’ work. For more information on the process of participation and donation fee, please reach out to Studio Tomás Saraceno via the “Nggàm dù” web portal.
Among the community of diviners local to the village, “Nggàm dù” presents the work of Bollo Pierre Tadios, a painter and diviner who has been practicing most of his adult life. Bollo’s family are connected to the Chief of Somié and he has played a crucial role in village affairs, serving as a forest guard and helping to deter wildlife poaching in the area. David Zeitlyn, a professor of Anthropology at Oxford University who has been collaborating with the Mambila people in Cameroon since 1985, has been involved with a long-term exchange within the village, partly through his extensive research and publishing on Mambila divination.
The project has been made at the request of spider diviners in Somié, Cameroon, with the “Arachnophilia” community and its founding member Tomás Saraceno. All material published on the website remains the intellectual property of the diviners and people of Somié. Furthermore, all funds raised through “Nggàm dù” will be donated to a programme of local projects as detailed on the website.
Supported by David Zeitlyn and Penny Fraser, with Studio Tomás Saraceno, Aerocene and Arachnophilia, in particular Ollie George, Ally Bisshop, Sarah Kisner, Dario J Laganà, Lars Behrendt, Claudia Meléndez, Manuela Mazure and Jillian Meyer.
Move from arachnophobia to Arachnophilia with Tomás Saraceno
More about Tómas Saraceno’s interdisciplinary initiative “Arachnophilia”, dedicated to spiders and their webs.
Faced with the Sixth Mass Extinction, invert the digital to augment and re-prioritise analogue modes of interspecies relations; find ways that recognise, support and share other forms of situated and embodied knowledge that sit outside hegemonic Western narratives and extractivist frameworks for understanding the world. Calling for environmental justice that enables greater sensitivity to co-existence, Tomás Saraceno’s artistic collaborations open up renewed relationships with the terrestrial, atmospheric, and cosmic realms – particularly through his community projects “Aerocene” and “Arachnophilia”.
“Arachnophilia” is an interdisciplinary, research-driven initiative that emerged from Saraceno’s collaboration for over a decade with humans, spiders and their webs. Through this community, “Arachnophilia” explores concepts and ideas related to spiders and webs across multiple scientific and theoretical disciplines, including vibrational communication, biomateriomics, architecture and engineering, animal ethology, non-human philosophy, anthropology, biodiversity/conservation, sound studies and music. Since 2019, “Arachnophilia” has proposed new, speculative and technological pathways for cultivating affective relations between spiders and humans, harnessing digital tools to cultivate multispecies kinship in the technosphere and the biosphere.
As a way of expanding possibilities for vibrational communication across sensory worlds, the Arachnomancy App was launched at the 2019 Venice Biennale. Through this app, users are encouraged to notice the spider webs they encounter in both wild and urban spaces. By imagining possibilities for attuning to, and valuing, non-human ways of being, practices of arachnomancy not only posit that the spider/web has something to say, but that this is something worth listening to – or, rather, that it is something worth sensing: a message from vibratory, sensory worlds invisible to us. In this way, arachnomancy seeks to move beyond the human tendency to bind knowledge to language; allowing practices of sensing, rather than syntax, to rise to the fore.