Explore and Understand Africa Through Her Food and Culture

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

What Are Cowrie Shells?

Cowrie or cowry shells are money, jewelry, and spiritual guides used throughout Africa and the world.



What is cowrie? It is a shell believed to be the first form universal money.
What is cowrie? It is a shell believed to be the
first form universal money. 
Cowrie or cowry shells are believed to be the first form universal money. What is cowrie? It is a shell. There are over 250 species of cowrie shells but only two in particular; Cypraea moneta and Cypraea annulus are used as money. The cowrie shells were used to buy slaves for transport to the colonies in the New World. Cowries came to West Africa through trade with Arabia in the 14th century; they became an important means of buying slaves. The cowrie shell has been used as money in many parts of the world, including Africa, Arabia and Asia.

The Thai folktale Makato and The Cowrie Shell is a well-known folktale in which cowrie shells are used as payment from the King to the orphaned Makato. He worked hard, became a trusted member of the King's court and eventually Makato became King. In the book When Things Fall Apart by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, there are many references to the gifts of cowries, cowries for payment, and cowries as indicators of wealth. In one scene in Achebe’s book, Okonkwo and other leaders of the village of Umuofia were held in jail and would not be released until a fine of 200 cowries plus 50 cowries for the court messengers was paid for each prisoner.
Cowrie jewelry has been a popular form of African jewelry for centuries.
Cowrie jewelry has been a popular
form of African jewelry for centuries.

Cowrie shells are used as a decoration around the world. Cowrie jewelry has been a popular form of African jewelry for centuries. Many DIY jewelry kits feature cowrie shells for do it yourself-jewelry projects as hair charms, necklaces, bracelets, earrings their decoration uses are endless. Cowrie shells are popular artifacts used in divination. Divination is the practice of interrupting signs in order to see into the future. Witchdoctors, Sangoma, Nyanga and Traditional Healers believe cowrie shells are spiritually gifted in bone divination readings. Traditional healing is linked to wider belief systems and remains integral to the lives of most Africans.


Did you know…?
The Ghanaian cedi is the unit of currency of Ghana. The cedi is the Ghanaian word for cowrie, from the Fanti language of the West African Akan people.

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The eye never forgets what the heart has seen - African Proverb

A tree without roots cannot survive the wind

A tree without roots cannot survive the wind
African Proverb