The African Heritage: Things You Never Knew About Cowries

The African Heritage: Things You Never Knew About Cowries

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The word cowry is not an English word.

When most people hear the word cowry, they immediately conjure up images of money and old rituals. Cowries, however, aren’t just another form of currency or a traditional activity; they are much more.

Here are some things no one would have guessed about the humble cowry shell, from ancient far eastern etymology, to African currencies and even Western pop culture!

1. The source of cowries

The cowry (also spelt cowrie) was not manufactured by the Romans, Africans or the Asians. The origin of the cowry is the sea.

A cowry is a shell of a sea snail. This is why it was also referred to as shell money.

2. The Ghanaian cedi was named after cowry shells

At first glance, the words cowry and cedi appear to have no relation, so this fact may be difficult to believe.

However, the Akan (a Ghanaian tribe) term for cowry shell is cedi. Ergo the origin of the Ghanaian cedi.

3. Origin of the word

The word cowry appears to be an English word but in actuality, it’s not. Cowry is a Hindi word meaning sea snails.

4. Shooting shot

Back when there was no tinder or dating website, African women, when they saw a man they liked, would wear cowries around their necks with the slit pointing outwards, to indicate they were interested in him.

Even to this day, some African women still wear cowrie necklaces with the slit facing outwards to show that they are ready for a relationship.

5. Fertility

Everyone, from North American aboriginals to the African coastal tribes, believed that cowries made women more fertile and beautiful. This is why ladies wore cowries on their hair, legs, arms and waists.

Some of this emotion has made its way into our present society, as celebrities of African descent now wear cowries not just as a fashion statement, but also as a way of identifying with their roots.

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