Within Lukumi/Santeria, there is a system of divination known as Obi Obata. It uses a quartered kola nut used to acquire an answer from the ancestors upon consulting with the ancestors. In the New World, the kola nut was not to be found, so the coconut was used in replace of it. Some used the whole coconut, quartered and dropped upon the ground and read in accordance to how it fell, and others, such as in Palo, used the shell itself. Later on, others began using the cowrie shell, a variation of a sixteen cowrie (merindillogun) used by babalochas when consulting the Orisha.
The four-shell system of cowrie divination is to be used exclusively for communication with the ancestors. While known for being considerably accurate in proper interpretation, it doesn't allow for all of the dynamics found in the sixteen shell form that is used only by initates of Lukumi and only for consultation of the Orisha. The four-shell version of Obi Obata can very well be used by non-initiates. It never was made anything particularly secret, and families in Cuba used it before it hit the States post Cuban Revolution.
Obi is a yes-no system, BUT offers indepth anaylsis into it. It's not just a yes or a no, but a "why" to the answer may likewise be given. Once adjusted to the system, you will find that your answers go far beyond a mere no, but allowing for the specifics as to why or why not.
You need four shells. With the shells, you need to "open" their mouths-- that is, file a hole in the convex side of the shell, as within the three shown turned up in this photo.
After you have opened their mouths, which takes a little patience, the first thing you need to do is to cool Obi by dropping the shells in cool, clear water. You will need to libate Obi in such a way prior to any readings. I had a oyster shell that I filled with water and set Obi in before the readings. This keeps Obi's mouth hydrated and ready to talk.
Keep Obi upon your ancestor altar when not in use. This will acclimate Obi to the energies of your particular ancestors and thus, they will be able to better communicate through them. It may be wise to set them there first and then put to memory the divination process-- which while simple, is very accurate. Out of several hundred readings through Obi, I can attest that Obi has never once lied to me in conveying answers from the ancestors.
After calling your ancestors, through the water, to your altar, and having greeted them-- you may wish to ask for their consultation. There may be questions that you have of which you can find no resolve. Pick up Obi from the water, hold it up to your head and ask Obi to give you your council through the ancestors. Then ask the ancestors your question. Drop Obi upon the altar- I would recommend a bowl or tray with a flat bottom to catch them, so that they do not fly everywhere upon hitting your altar. Now interpret.
The open mouth up is the "light side" of Obi. This is the side that you opened up from the convex side of the shell. The mouth down, which is the natural opening up, is the "dark side" of Obi.
Here are your five initial interpretations:
When you read Alafia or Etawa, you should throw again. Alafia and Etawa, while meaning a "yes" in the immediate future, does not show whats later on down the road. Therefore, you should make one more throw to determine how it will end after the blessings have subsided, or that one shell that turned against the other three fares out.
After Alafia or Etawa, you get another Alafia, Etawa or Ejife, then this means the positive fruitition of your question will carry on beyond the immediate future. If Okanran or Oyekun, the positive affirmation of Alafia or Etawa will soon fade out-- so be on your guard. It's "all good" now, but tomorrow it may not be. That is what the second throw may show us. More specifically:
Once you have completed receiving council from your ancestors, cool Obi off by putting the shells back into the water and continue on with service to the spirits. Obi divination should not be taken lightly. Answers given to you by the spirits may and should be recorded in a book for further speculation. The questions you make should be fairly specific, too, when possible. The rule, as within all divination: Be careful in what you ask, you may not like the answer.
Treat your ancestors well and Obi with respect, and you'll find intuition increasing to expand upon the answers received and they will shed light on solutions of any problems that may come your way.
Great article.I bought ten cawries and two kola nuts last week end.How long does it take to become proficient at throwing the Obi ? If I can get kola, is it preferable to use but it?