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The Evolution Of Cowrie In Africa

Trading dates back to the days of barter trade, which inspired the legend of the cowrie shells: West Africa's first official/unofficial currency. The cowrie's value has since been preserved in the memories of many generations and in money museums as a currency and fragment of the past, depicting the journey of West Africa's trade system.

Cowries are found in about 200 different countries around the world. The tiger cowrie, a mollusk in the Cypraeidae family, is the most beautiful of them all. They are originally small sea snails, and there are a lot of them in the Indian Ocean.

During the decades it thrived, the cowrie served a dual purpose for West Africans. It served as legal tender while also serving as a spiritual/divine element for the people. The cowrie also has a strong symbolic value due to its shape, which is aesthetic in nature and resembles a pregnant woman's belly; thus, it is a symbol of fertility. Cowries are worn by the chief priest of Fiji as a symbol of status and rank as a result of their deep symbolism, and if a priest and priestess make extensive use of it in foretelling.

Again, the gash is seen as a metaphor for warding off evil eyes, as the underside resembles a black pupil against a pearly white surface. Perhaps the cowrie's lingering mythologies/mystical perceptions have fueled the life it still carries in our modern world, despite its diminished financial value centuries ago.

As a result, the cowrie's current functionality is based solely on its supernatural properties, with no financial role in economics. It has since evolved into virtual money, such as bitcoins and ethereum, and some financial experts refer to it as the cowrie integrated system. This concisely depicts the evolution of currencies and how legal tender interacts with virtual money.

For a time, the cowrie was used as a currency in various parts of West Africa. As a result, in the 18th century, it was widely used along trade routes in West Africa, including India, South East Asia, and the Middle East. For money, the Chinese even shaped the shape of the cowrie into a pictograph.

 According to Dutch traders, African merchants in Dahomey, now Benin, were unfamiliar with paper and writing, skeptical of European promissory notes and constantly scrutinizing them to ensure that the writing hadn't vanished, hence, leaving them with worthless pieces of paper. Similarly, European traders were initially hesitant to barter their manufactured goods for shells until they learned that cowries were widely accepted as currency in the region. For a long time in West Africa, the cowrie coexisted with many other types of currency, including silver coins and gold dust, salt bars, brass and copper rods, horseshoe-shaped manillas, textile currencies, beads, etc. 

A cowry, known to Nigerians in Yoruba Language as "owo eyo,” was one of the world's most popular and widely used forms of payment, it also found its way into the cultural fabric of West Africa, taking on a deeper symbolic and ritualistic meaning that has never been completely lost.

Nigerians born in the early centuries are familiar with the value of cowries. The elegant white shell has all of the characteristics of money. It is light in weight, non-perishable, and suitable for both small and large purchases. Because of its shape, it is instantly recognizable and difficult to replicate. Cowries are also easy to count because they vary little in size and shape.

Cowries have become a popular artifact, used by craftspeople as an ornamental piece for tourists drawn to these rare antiques, not to mention African Traditional religion (ATR) believers who use them for ritual offerings, among other things.

The cowrie is an artifact that represents the historical journey of West African culture, whether viewed through the lens of its spiritual symbolism or its past connections with economic trading. Based on its dual nature, it has been used by people as ordinary as culture activists and as powerful as Ifa priests Furthermore, its transformation from a currency to a symbol of Africa's rich cultural heritage demonstrates both its dynamism and potency.Currency is more than just paper; it is a historical documentation of a people's struggles; thus, currencies are used to tell relevant stories and the beginnings of a nation. Though cowrie is considered extinct in some circles, it is still used as a form of cultural expression to adorn the hairstyles of both men and women. Moreover, cowries are also flourishing in the modern era due to their increasing popularity. It has recently been used as necklaces and bracelets, as well as in films and by priests to display their consultations Orunmila, preserving its presence and spiritual relevance.The cowrie's evolution from a currency to a symbol of Africa's rich cultural heritage demonstrates both its dynamism and potency.


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