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Cowrie-shell divination

2 In the African diaspora

Cowrie-shell divination is found in Latin America where
it plays an important role in religions like Santera and
In Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, it is
called dilogun.[5]
In Brazil, it is called merindinlogun.
Though they share a common root, Caribbean and South
A throw of merindinlogun, resulting in an Odu (sign). American cowrie shell divination have subsequently de-
veloped in independence from West African practice. For
example, among Caribbean diviners, the rst throw of the
Cowrie-shell divination refers to several distinct forms
shells involves throwing them twice to derive a composite
of divination using cowrie shells that are part of the
rituals and religious beliefs of certain religions. Though
best-documented in West Africa as well as in Afro-
American religions, such as Santera, Candombl, and
Umbanda,[1][2][3] cowrie-shell divination has also been 2.1 In Santera
recorded in other regions, notably East Africa and
India.[4] The cowrie-shells, called dilogun, are used by priests and
priestesses of Santera, who are called Santeros and San-
teras, respectively. Both men and women who have been
initiated into Santera can read cowrie shells.[6] There are
1 In West Africa a combination of 256 possible odu and a skilled diviner
can interpret the meaning of each one, depending on the
Several forms of cowrie-shell divination are distributed orientation of the reading. If the reading comes in Ire,
broadly throughout West Africa. the client will experience good fortune, and if it comes in
Osorbo, the client faces obstacles that can be overcome
While there are many variants using from eight to 21
with the help of the Orichs.
cowrie shells, West African-derived forms most com-
monly use 16 cowrie shells on a prepared table or on a
mat on the ground, interpreting the patterns that result
which are known as Odu. Before casting the shells, the 2.2 In Candombl
priest/priestess invokes and salutes the Orishas, and puts
questions to them. The Orishas answer the questions by
inuencing the way the shells fall on the table.

1.1 Merindinlogun

Merindinlogun (from the Yoruba mrindnlgn six-

teen, literally four taken from 20) is a cowrie-shell div-
ination method practiced in the Yoruba religion.
The number 16 holds important signicance in Yoruba
mythology as it was the purported number of original di-
vinities that established life on earth. In merindinlogun
divination, the shells are thrown and the number of shells
that fall with the opening facing up is associated with a
certain odu. This system of divination is used when con- Cowrie shell modied for divination, showing the natural
sulting the Orishas. and contrived openings.


7. Anne Regourd, with the collaboration of A. Jul-

The cowrie shell, as collected from a beach, has a at- liard, Le jet de coquillages divinatoire en Islam arabe
tened side with a longitudinal slit, and a smooth, rounded et en Afrique subsaharienne : premire contribution
side. Like a coin, the shell has only two stable positions on une tude comparative, Journal of Oriental and African
a at surface, with the slit side facing either up or down. Studies 11(2000-2002), 2003, 133-149. 8. Anne Re-
A few cowrie-shell diviners use the shells in this natural gourd, Divination par lcher de coquillages (wad)
state; then the outcome of the throw, for each piece, is Sanaa, Ymen, Annali dellIstituto Universit degli Studi
either open (slit up) or closed (slit down). di Napoli LOrientale (AION), 69/1-4 (2009), 37-57,
Most priests, however, use modied shells whose rounded
part has been ground away, creating a second, articial
opening. The two stable positions of the shell are still
called open or closed for divination purposes. In
most Candombl houses, open still means that the nat-
ural opening is facing up; but some traditions (mainly in
Candombl Ketu) use the opposite convention. The num-
ber of open shells is used to select an item (od) which
direct the diviner to a xed list of oracular verses.

3 References
[1] Pierre Fatumbi Verger (1954): Dieux D'Afrique Paul
Hartmann, Paris (1st edition, 1954; 2nd edition, 1995).
400 pages, 160 photos, ISBN 2-909571-13-0.

[2] Pierre Verger, Notas Sobre o Culto aos Orixs e Voduns.

624 ages. Portuguese translation by Carlos E. M. Moura.
Editora da Universidade de So Paulo, Brazil, 1999 ISBN

[3] Jos Beniste (1999), Jogo de Bzios - Um Encontro com o

Desconhecido. Editora Bertrand Brasil, 290 pages. ISBN

[4] J. Wilfrid Jackson (1917). Shells as Evidence of the Mi-

grations of Early Culture. London: Longmans, Green, &
Co. (pp. 144-45, 170)

[5] Ocha ni'lele (2003). The Diloggun: The Orishas, Sacri-

ces, Proverbs, and Prohibitions of Cuban Santeria. Des-
tiny Books.

[6] Cynthia Duncan, Ph.D. About Santeria

Fatunmbi, Awo Flkun (2011). Mrndnlgn:

rs Divination Using 16 Cowries - Revised and Ex-
tended Edition. Ile Osomi'na Books. ISBN 1-4636-

Fatunmbi, Awo Flkun (1992). Awo: Ifa & the

Theology of Orisha Divination. New York: Original
Publications. ISBN 0-942272-24-2.

Abraham, Roy Clive (1958). Dictionary of Modern

Yoruba. London: University of London Press.

Bascom, William (1993). Sixteen Cowries : Yoruba

Divination from Africa to the New World. Indiana
University Press. ISBN 0-253-20847-5.

4 Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

4.1 Text
Cowrie-shell divination Source: Contributors: Ihcoyc, Jorge
Stol, Picapica, Bgwhite, Pigman, Sfan00 IMG, Auntof6, Excirial, Editor2020, Good Olfactory, Addbot, Favonian, Tassedethe, Yobot,
FrescoBot, Patchy1, Pinethicket, Qdcraw, Ochunmimadre, AvicAWB, Manytexts, Masssly, Helpful Pixie Bot, Oian41, Anne.regourd,
Agata59, Omo Obatal and Anonymous: 6

4.2 Images
File:Buzio_aberto.jpg Source: License: Public domain Con-
tributors: No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims). Original artist: No machine-readable
author provided. Jurema Oliveira assumed (based on copyright claims).
File:Buzio_fechado.jpg Source: License: Public domain Con-
tributors: ? Original artist: ?
File:Odu_Irosun,_Merindilongun.JPG Source:
Merindilongun.JPG License: Public domain Contributors: foto by user: User:Toluaye --Toluaye (<a href='//commons.wikimedia.
org/wiki/User_talk:Toluaye' title='User talk:Toluaye'>talk</a>) 12:02, 16 November 2008 (UTC) Original artist: Toluaye

4.3 Content license

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