The divinatory art of cowries… the shells that tell the future

It is undoubtedly one of the oldest divinatory arts in the world. Practiced throughout West Africa, cowries are those shells that tell the future to the seer, to the clairvoyant. Based in the Hautes-Pyrénées, Aoua is the heir to a long family tradition.

She lives not far from Tarbes. A discreet house whose ocher can recall its country, Mali. The comings and goings of all those who discreetly consult her… Sometimes, a gleaming Ferrari parks in front of her house. A lady comes down and kisses him effusively. But sometimes also, it is she who travels in first class, towards Africa, at the invitation of her clients. “Proof that people are happy with my predictions,” she smiles.

She ? It’s Aoua. “Aoua Dilika, Dilika being the name I chose to practice clairvoyance,” she explains. Because “Dilika”, “it means “the premonitor” in my language, in Bambara”. A gri-gri hung above the kitchen door, “to counter any bad thoughts from visitors”, two discreet scars on each temple, “because we are Fulani on my father’s side” the gift, him , “it comes from my mother’s side, from my great-grandmother and my grandmother”, specifies Aoua, placing a carefully folded carpet on the table.

“My great-grandmother saw, she had flashes and was not mistaken. My maternal grandmother who raised me, she made the cowries, but only for us, not for people and I learned a lot from her, ”recalls Aoua.

And in her shells, precisely… she had even seen that later Aoua would marry a Frenchman, “a white man”. “She gave me details of her family and it was true. I was 17 and at the time I couldn’t believe it. But she said lots of other things that were true for my girlfriends too… I also had flashes since childhood, but all that scared me when I was young.

However, one day, now married in Bigorre, out of curiosity or nostalgia… she started making cowries, “just like that, for friends”. And “it worked so well for them, my predictions, that they pushed me to settle down officially”. So what she did in the rules, eleven years ago.

On the kitchen table, she now unfolds the rug. And takes out her “working tools”, she says with a respectful smile. Small rectangle in leopard skin, “against bad waves”, mirror “to protect from the evil eye”, but also wooden stick, incense and small bottle… “Before any consultation, there is a rite of purification with incense and this special potion that I bring back from the country,” says Aoua. And then there’s the belt “for protection geniuses,” she explains, tying it around her waist.

Because the cowries are not just throwing these seventeen white-beige porcelains that she takes out of their plastic bag, nor deciphering what their feminine forms say or the alphabet of their helicoidal structure revealed by the open shell. It is to be, for centuries, since the vanished empires of West Africa, Mali, Songhai, Ghana, the intercessor between two worlds. That of the shadow, of the protective spirits of the family which are transmitted from generation to generation, but which “it is forbidden to name”. And that of the living in search of answers, consolation and above all an immemorial balm soothing all wounds: “love”.

Love, priority issue

“Love is what people want to know first, then health, work. In fact, I give them an inventory, an assessment of their life, what is going well, what is not, what will be better”, explains Aoua. Because if people are afraid of bad news, as it sometimes happens… “I will only tell them the good,” she sums up.

She draws four cowries for the consultant, adds the coin he has to lend. She bites into a wooden splint, chews it, asks the question of the shellfish client. Then throw the others. On the carpet, the little porcelains form their random figure dictated by fate, the first picture of the consultation which will be refined from jet to jet, for half an hour, an hour. “And each one is a symbol that you have to know how to interpret”.

Easy ? The handling of a complex ritual, rather, always linked to the country. Knowing how to protect yourself, not endorsing people’s evil, respecting geniuses: constant preoccupations of the clairvoyant… “At the beginning, it took a lot of energy from me, it caused me migraines, I slept badly too… Now it’s fine and over there, I have someone who helps and protects me,” explains Aoua. Who every summer therefore returns to Mali, “essential to recharge my batteries there”, she concludes.

Dilika means the “premonitor” in my language, in Bambara”

The number: 17

cowries > variable originally shells from the Indo-Pacific, cowries were already used as money more than 4000 years ago, particularly in China. The number used varies according to the diviner, 6,9,12, 16, 24 or even more. Aoua uses 17.

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The divinatory art of cowries… the shells that tell the future

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