google-site-verification: googlecb803562c78427f3.html History of Cowrie Shells and Cultural Significance | Kingdom of Africa



Posted by Florian Cheval on


Cowrie shells tend to send unmistakable vibrations from the Afro culture - and for good reasons. These little shells have a long and intriguing history in Africa and for the black community in general.

In keeping with the theme of educating the masses about black history and culture, this article will look at the history of the cowrie shell in Africa , including its cultural significance and its appeal to current fashion.


The cowrie is a small, shiny shell, similar to porcelain and usually light beige in color. It has a soft oval structure with a ventral opening that divides the shell in two . The cowrie shell, in its immaculate beauty, is more than just a fashion statement. In traditional African culture, small bumpy shells have significant spiritual and even monetary value.

Cowrie shells are found primarily in the coastal waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Cowrie shells are a relatively small family of around 200 species but are the most collected shells of all . The basic shape of the shell is the same for all species. A natural enamel coating on the exterior surface gives the shell a shiny, polished appearance.

Long prized by people for their attractive shape and colors, they were widely used for money in ancient times. While some cowrie shells are abundant, some species are quite rare today and fetch a very high price from collectors.


The cowrie, or cowrie shell, is believed to be the first form of universal currency. They were used to buy slaves to transport them to the colonies of the New World. The cowrie shells arrived in West Africa through trade with Arabia in the 14th century; they became an important means of purchasing slaves. The cowrie has been used as currency in many parts of the world, including Africa, Arabia and Asia.

The Thai folk tale “ Makato and the cowrie shell” is a well-known folk tale in which cowrie shells are used as payment from the king to the orphan Makato. He worked hard, became a trusted member of the king's court, and eventually Makato became king.


Cowrie shells have been a popular form of African jewelry for centuries.
Cowrie jewelry has been a popular form of African jewelry for centuries.

In the book " When Things Fall Apart" by the Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe , there are many references to gifts of cowrie shells, cowrie shells for payment, and cowrie shells as indicators of wealth. In a scene from Achebe's book, Okonkwo and other chiefs of Umuofia village are held in prison and will not be released until a fine of 200 cowries plus 50 cowries for court messengers is paid for each prisoner.

A British officer, who was in eastern Nigeria in 1776, said, speaking of cowrie shells, " I found no other currency in the country; and on one occasion, when an increase in the revenue of the province was applied, several shipments of cowrie shells were collected ". As late as 1801, British revenues were collected in cowrie shells, which were also the general medium of all financial transactions.


Cowrie Shell Jewelry

Cowrie shells are also used as decoration around the world. Cowrie jewelry has been a popular form of African jewelry for centuries. Many DIY jewelry kits contain cowrie shells for DIY jewelry. Jewelry projects like hair charms, necklaces , bracelets, earrings; their decorative uses are endless.

Cowries as Spiritual Artifacts: Case of Togo

Cowrie shells also play a very important role as charms and in the fetish worship of the people Ewe from Togo. These charms are worn on the neck, arm, wrist and ankle, and are considered talismans against injury and illness, and for good luck. In many coastal areas of Africa, it is common to see ornate cowrie shells.

Cowrie shells are popular artifacts used in clairvoyance. Divination or clairvoyance is the practice of interrupting signs in order to see into the future. The sorcerers, the Sangoma, the Nyanga and traditional healers believe that cowrie shells are spiritually gifted in bone divination readings. Traditional clairvoyance healing is linked to wider belief systems and remains an integral part of the lives of most Ewe.

There was a time in Togo when cowrie shells were paid for by the connections of a young girl seeking to be admitted among the sorcerers of the Ewe people. When the fiancé brought his wife home, he paid for her parents' cowrie shells.

During death ceremonies, relatives, friends and acquaintances place quantities of cowrie shells in the grave with the dead, so that the deceased can purchase food and palm wine. Cowrie shells and anything placed in the grave, including tobacco and wine, would be useful to the deceased.


In recent years, cowrie shells have taken root in pop culture - with people adorning instruments, clothing and hairstyles with shells. An article published in Vogue highlights the hipness of Cauris and how it continues to thrive in modern fashion.

One of the most common ways to rock the use of these seashells is to weave them into African braided hairstyles or traditional African-inspired hairstyles. For inspiration, you can look at how some celebrities such as Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Solange Knowles have achieved the cowrie shell look.

← Older Post Newer Post →

French Support

A dedicated Support team to answer all your questions.

Free delivery

Your order will be shipped from France and delivered free to your home via Colissimo

Secure payment

We entrust the management of our online payments to 100% Secure Stripe.

Satisfied or refunded

We offer money back guarantee for 14 days after receipt of the items!