The cowrie shell is mother nature’s gift to man and it is free of manmade qualities, shines gloriously as a divine voice connecting the human race with the supernatural spirits. The cowries are called “Cypraea Annulus” or “Cypraea Moneta” which are commonly used for divination and was known as money cowrie, formerly used as currency in Nigeria. The cowries means a lot of things for a lot of Nigerians; the Igbo named it “Ego Ayoro”, Yoruba called it “Owo Ero” for the unperforated cowries and “Owo Eyo” for the perforated cowrie shells and the cowrie shells are worn most often for good-luck and good-fortune which is popularly referred to as “Wuri” by the Hausa of northern Nigeria. All across the country people move about with the cowries in their pockets, bags or used as part of accessories, wrap it up and tie to the inner ends of women wrappers.
The cowries in Nigeria has been used as a medium of exchange in trade, held a powerful spiritual position for divination, a treasured artifact in museums, used also as traditional homes decorations, customized and used as necklace, pieces of jewelries and clothing, it adorn gorgeously the hairstyles of both the men and women who respectfully cherish their native costumes and cultural heritage. A symbol of fertility and child birth, resembling the status of a pregnant woman; worn by priest and priestess for fortune telling, adorns the Yoruba hunters vest and guns, signifying good fortune, a talisman of protection and picking the prize of hunting.
The cultural beliefs of the Nigerian people is seen in traditional festivals, rituals, and customary celebrations with diviners and fortune tellers adorned with the cowries. The mystical perceptions of the Nigerian cowries still lingers on, moving ahead to pave the perfect path for fortune seekers, with its supernatural powers never holding sway in a modern world that hold tight the beliefs of the ancient days.
The Eshu is a great deity, spiritually the divine messenger of God, “Olodumare” in Yoruba, the most important Orisha, the god of fate the one who maintains balance, who through divination intercedes, guides and guard the fate of people by changing the destinies of its believers; a guardian protector, the divine communicator, the spiritual master who enables the paths of its believers to achieve the unattainable, through invocations and appealing directly to “Orishas” god of the Yoruba spiritual believers. A symbol of wealth with the believe that the god will bless the bearers who seek with it good fortunes, reasons to why the Eshu is covered in cowries and used also as an amulet for traditional folk medicine, and most often having a shrine located near market places.
The Eshu is a carved wooden figure elaborately decorated with a long strands of cowrie shells perfectly threaded on leather and on every part of the figure is a written divination carved into its body. Eshu for the Yoruba’s of western Nigeria is a figure that mediates between the people and the gods of the land, to deliver the prayers, wishes, and sacrificial offerings of its believers to the gods; which is often called “Orisha”. The Eshu figure for its believers is the beginning and the end, the opening and closing of paths in life; always pleased with sweet and toy offerings, Eshu must be happy in order to mediate, and must always be mentioned first in any traditional ceremony because without his permission, the doors to communication with the powerful “Orisha” stays forever closed.
The Ibeji is the Orisha of the divine twins by the Yoruba of western Nigeria, the Ibeji are the Orisha of joy, mischief, abundance and childish glee; they are the first twins born on earth, the children of the great Shango and Oshun, they bring joy, happiness, and abundance to their believers. A Yoruba carving of small standing figure, a shaped head with elaborate and conical hairstyle decorated with cowrie shells cloak, glass beads and metal to enhance its status as a representation of the Yoruba ideals.
The Nigerian cowries are a symbol of increase fertility, a great gift from the Goddess of the Oceans and the queen of the deep seas: As an accessories, it is beautifully stringed together into fashion items; giving a traditional look in modern fashion statements. The traditional waist bead cowries are worn by the Nigerian female, as an adornment for feminine fashion to showcase her femininity while seeking fertility. The cowries worn by most Nigerian women adorn their hair, ear, neck, fingers, wrists, ankle, elbow and waist as a cultural costumes to connect with their ancestors which always makes their beauty charmingly enchanting. The cowries for the people of north-east and northern parts of Nigeria are seen with a lone cowrie in the middle of a black string tied around the tender necks of little kids. A cultural expression on gorgeously adorn hairstyles of both men and women; Kanuri distinctive hair styles such as the “Klayasku” for maidens, “Goto’o”, “Shangalti” for married and elderly women, beautifully rocking the intricately woven traditional hairdos with daintily placed cowrie shell in the front of their elegant hairstyles, seen dangling all the way down to touch their foreheads; it is for some placed among stringed coral beads known as the “Mirjani”. The Fulani’s adore the cowrie shells and it is attached on almost all parts of their bodies, and every inch of their costumes, from head to toe, for hair, ears, neck, dress, veil, wrapper. The cowrie shells are used as home decors, crafted into baskets, calabashes and woven into their traditional garments which is a must to be beaded with the cowries for both the males and females, it adorns the Fulani men’s cap, hair, wrist, neck, costumed mirror and attached to the “Laya” which is the “Amulet” of the dwellers of northern Nigeria. Cowrie shells are often threaded into leather wrist bands to make bracelets and the number of cowrie shells used depends on one’s choice, as many as one wishes. At times a lone white cowrie shell is fixated in the middle of a necklace beads or chain for a unique piece; countless uses of the Nigerian cowries are amazing encompassing with it every and all aspects of the traditional life of a Nigerian.
The modern society in Nigeria today hold the cowrie shells as a talisman, with a powerful spiritual significance much more than just a physical every day accessories; but a lucky charm with the powers to make the impossible possible.
Cowries are a gift from the goddess of the oceans and seas; the cowries are also given as gifts to love ones and serves as offering to the gods, as a spiritual gifts, the giving as gift of the cowrie shells symbolizes an offering of wealth and progress in life, with a much more deeper significance spiritually. The cowries are used in rural communities for traditional games such as a “Ayo” by the Yoruba of western parts, used also for gambling and betting in other parts of Nigeria.
The Cowries Crown:
The cowries are an adornment for priests and priestesses from head to toe, common among kings, village heads, and herbalists. The cowries symbolizes the power of destiny, and prosperity; the pieces or rolls of cowrie shells have been attached to masks, crowns, hunters vest and the warriors shields which symbolizes great wealth, royalty, prestige and bravery. Cowries are used for charms and amulets worn on the battlefield by warriors and warlords as a protective and good luck charm; the Yoruba hunter’s tools, guns and vests are all decorated and adorned with the cowrie shells when going out for hunting, worn for peace to ward off wars and the forces of darkness. A must used for decorating deities, statues, masks, ceremonial costumes and households pieces such as the basket, calabashes, peacock feather fans, the horsetails that is often held by royalty as a staff of authority and power. The “Ile Ori” which means the house of the head, and the “Ibori” meaning head covering of the inner head is housed in the “Ile Ori”, a physical symbol of one’s nature and spiritual life, it is mostly filled with items belonging to one’s ancestors, deity or god, and the “Ewo” which is the taboos and the forbidden. The crown “Ibori” and “Ile Ori” is an ornamental chest, believed to hold and determines one’s destiny, four sided and cone shaped just like a crown. The cowries covering the shrine is a symbol of wealth and social status of its owner; the very reasons to why it is elaborately decorated with cowrie shells, expensive beads beautifully made out of glass seeds, a regal royal crown fit for any Yoruba monarch. The only time ever the crown must be dismantled is upon the death of its owner and only then will all the beads and cowrie shells scattered all over the grave of the deceased’s owner but at times can be given as inheritance. The shrine “Ile Ori” is a house for the soul of its believers, and it determines the fortunes of its owner, smaller shrines are at times imbedded in the house of the head and prayers to sustain the power and potency of the head.
The Cowries Divination, Magic And Mysteries:
The cowries is the eyes of the gods and the womb of the goddess, the connection between people and the spirit world; the oceans and seas are sources of treasures, riches and wealth, it is believed that being closely drawn to the cowries is suggestive of ones family ties with the water spirits. The Ndigbo’s are of the belief that only the custodians of the ocean spirits are often seen with the cowries adorning their hair or body parts, who are generally referred to as families of the “Mammy Water” who is known as the water goddess possessing spiritual powers. The cowrie shell is used in divination to connect and consult with the gods and goddesses; the Igbo tribes called the cowrie divination as “Igba Afa” with the flipping or dropping of the cowries on a circular surface or board to foresee and foretell the future. The cowrie is the a spiritual connection to the soul and identity of the Nigerian people, used majorly by the diviners, fortune-tellers and during traditional celebrations.
The cowry shells are used loosely or threaded together on strings counting 7, 14, 16, or 18 on the divination board for fortune telling; The number of cowries thrown depends on the diviner and their cultural beliefs. When the cowries fall, the diviners interpret the patterns of the beads thrown, which is used to tell the future whether facing up or facing down known as “odu”, items like kola nuts and bone fragments are place on the ground or board. The original cowrie shells used for divinations are never manmade but the gifts of the water goddess, the best cowrie shells used are the white and the smallest with the ocean waters naturally wearing off its back to create the “OPEN” and “CLOSED” positions or points. The IFA or Orisha divination cowrie shells used are generally 16 pieces stringed together, by subtracting 4 out of the 20 pieces. Cowries are a part of the religion and ritual of the traditionalist; praises and oriki must be recited before the throwing of the cowries. The cowries are placed on a piece of white cloth, and then it is lightly sprinkled with cool water and sweet smelling perfumes, placed beside it is the Obi in Yoruba or Oji in Igbo of the 4, 5, 6, or 7 lopes of the kola nuts. Then the oriki and praises are recited to the great Orisha. The diviner will either bend forward to touch the cowries with his/her forehead, or place his/her right fingers to lightly touch the cowries and then place same on his/her forehead before the divination starts. The throwing of the cowries indicates the answer through the pattern displayed by the cowries; if the sides that is “OPEN” shows face-up, it means “clean” which indicates that the answer is a “YES” which always comes with blessings; Whereby the “CLOSED” ridged side showing up indicates a “NO” meaning “DARK” suggestive of a bad outcome ahead. The cowries that appears face up are considered favorable, a sign of good fortunes ahead and a positive sign in achieving the best out of what one seeks, while the face down cowries means just the opposite of the former.
The process of divination for some diviners are for them a trance to foresee a vision for the seeker and the Diviners are expected to make “EBO” the sacrifice for the divination board, plate or tray for an effective direct communication, remedy and healings.
The reader of a divination or fortune teller uses the influence of the goddess of the deep seas who is the giver of the cowries, during divination because the goddess has access to every deity, being in human or spirits forms, and all the unimaginable places. Amazing myths are known to surround the cowries with a strong belief that the cowries as the symbol of the goddess and of the womb; most women in Nigeria seeking the fruits of the womb wore them for fertility, during pregnancy where most women in rural communities are known to tie the cowries and a piece of stone on the edges of their wrappers for the protection of their babies and such women are seen holding tight in the grasp the cowries during childbirth to assist them during delivery.
As an ancestral offerings; the cowrie shells that follow the dead into the grave is believed to serve as an intervention and a medium of connection between the living and the dead.
Cowries are believed to possess magic powers, and it is believed to be destined to transfer such powers and good fortunes to the lucky few but the opposite can also occur as punishment for evil doers; the circumstance and use of the cowries determines it outcome to either reward or to rebuke. The blockages in life are sometimes attributed to ones kinsmen in the rural villages, when fail people feel that someone is after their successes in life; they often retrace their path back to the villages for a breakthrough in their pathways in life, thereby seeking remedy and healings from the god of the land through the diviners.
The pre-modern era, those days when the cowrie shells reigned as the Nigeria Currency, the dowries of most brides are paid for with cowries. The cowrie money as it used to be still finds its way into civilization where in some parts of Nigeria, the cowries still form parts of the bride’s dowries not only for its value as a beautification accessories but for its cultural and spiritual pricelessness. The cowrie shells were a part of every aspect of the culture and the day to day living of Nigerians, used as exchanged for all important agreements, and transactions in payments for dowries, debts, goods and services, settlements of fine.
Wealth And Fortunes:
The cowries are a symbol of wealth used as money in the ancient days for buying and selling; serving as a medium of exchange with all the attribute of money. The charming charms of the cowries are so attractive, unique, and priceless; “A currency of choice” during the days of old, a valuable means of payment, asset, symbol of wealth, power and prestige. The Nigerian currency started off in the past with the cowrie shells, which was changed to the pound sterling but not without refusal to use the “foreigners money” for cultural sentiment, to the present day naira and coins; A precious piece of treasure is the cowrie shell.
Cowries Artifacts, Ornaments, Musical Instruments:
The Yoruba “Shekere” is made out of dried gourd with a skillful cowrie shells woven into a net-like covering it; it is shaken, beaten and at times hit against the hands to make music during traditional celebrations. Cowries are inserted into homes walls and floors to ward off evil. The Igbos are known to decorate their masquerades and masks with the cowries; also used for decorating cultural musical instruments, such as the flutes, and drums.
The cowries are found in most home decoration not just as an artifact but as a cultural identity which represents the historical journey of the Nigerian people holding on to the past as an awesome symbol of the rich cultural heritage of Nigeria.
Mastering The Mysteries In The Nigerian Cowries:
A spiritual symbol for seeking good fortunes and blessings in life. The mystic powers of Ifa and Orisa is mysterious; the cowries must never be burn, the cowries are use as charm when it adorns the hunter’s vest, the king’s crown, the herbalist’s tools, the oracle’s shrine and for the traditionalist it is a spiritual vest worn as charm for protection, wisdom, magic and the mystical powers of the unknown.
The cowrie shells are spiritually used for divination; when the casting or throwing of the cowries reveals the unseen, foretell the relevant in the lives of the seekers and also serving as an amulets for the Ifa tradition in the worship, praise and adoration of the Orisa in the Yoruba kingdom.
The fortune tellers seven, fourteen or sixteen cowries during divination is an important tool, to see through the obstacles to the unseen, revealing the hidden action that must be taken in order to blast through blockages of life and turning burden into blessings. The cowries divination is a path of reconnecting with the ancestors, a process of self-awareness, self-accountability, and spiritual self-purification as a pathway to developing a spiritual link with Orisa, who helps to reveal through “ebo” referring to worship, that which must be done to achieve breakthroughs out of the road blocks in life and often times requesting for offering to the gods to eliminate evils and speed up good fortunes. The divination starts off with casting of the cowrie shells, the reading of the cowries displayed after the throwing or the casting, only several repeated throws can reveal and unravel vital knots that must be unknot to achieve progress. And in most cases the gods Ifa or Orisa will then request the seeker to perform “Atutu” which means a spiritual cleansings to seek for acceptance, forgiveness and good fortunes in life. The cowrie shell divination is a life turning moment, an enriching life experience and a life transforming phase which brings into focus the way forward as a means to an end in changing the seekers life forever. The Obi responsible for divination in the Igbo land must suggest, prepare and follow the ritual sacrifice to a successful end for the deity or Orisha to accept it because no divination is complete without meeting up its obligations, of all that the Odu or Ifa requested for achieving result from the potency of the divination, which is often a sacrifice called “Ebo” by the Yoruba. The casting is done on a plate, or a raffia tray atop a piece of white cloths and the diviners are generally seen costumed in complete white dress especially for the Orisha or Oshun which signifies purity. The healing and remedy follows in solving all identified problems through “ATUTU” which is the purification and the sacrifice by the diviner on behalf of the seeker.
Cowries Health Benefits:
The cowries are believed to have amazing health benefits in most cultural settings in Nigeria; Cowries were used as medicine for healing spiritual and physical ailments. Cowries are a part of the costumes and cultural amulets in Northern Nigeria; mostly worn as amulets for little babies and kids for protection against evil eyes, envy and jealousy that brings with it hatred and evil. The cowries are believed to guarantee fast and safe deliveries; a spiritual remedy for childbirth is prepared with a calabash, bitter leaves and cowries, that are used to reposition the placenta in pregnant women. It is prepared by extracting the juice from the crushed bitter leaf into the calabash with seven cowries soaked in it for several hours after which it is given to the pregnant women; a potent remedy that works magic with a believe that as soon as the woman drank from the potion the placenta will move into its rightful position for easy, painless and safe delivery of both the baby and the placenta. As a treatment for hernia in kids it is soaked in lemon juice for a day to dissolve for use as treatment. The cowrie are used as a mystical object to cure “Boil” which is an inflamed pus-filled swelling on the skin that at times occurs on the eyelids; it is believed that just a piece of the cowrie rub on the swollen spot, then thrown away immediately. A mystical thing will happen, the swelling will mysteriously disappear and whoever picks that “cowrie shell” from the ground will be afflicted with the boil by a magical transfer, it is advisable to NEVER pick things found on the way, because it might have been used for diabolical things.
The precious gifts of ocean depths the cowrie shells; sentimentality for it combined with it’s spirituality, keep on pushing it into the future, forever blooming the bonds of love for the treasures of all ages the cowries, a significant symbol of the past, a cultural stamp and the blessed ritual offerings for the gods. The modern science of technology and artificial intelligence are speeding off with the world into space, it is time for humanity to take a swim into the very depth of the soul of the oceans and seas to grasp once again the serenity and purity of mother nature through the eyes of the cowrie shell!