Cowrie (Cypraea sp.)
Subject: From the Sea jpg format color - sea0044.jpg
Date: 19 Jan 1998 21:24:33 GMT
Cowry or Cowrie (shell)
Cowry shells (also spelled "cowrie"), are marine snails of the genus Cypraea (family Cypraeidae), found chiefly in tropical regions, especially around the Maldives or the East Indies. The shell itself is smooth and more or less egg-shaped, with a long, narrow, slit-like opening (aperture). Sizes range from 5 mm (1/5") for some tropical species to 15 cm (6") for the Tiger Cowry, Cypraea tigris.
Cowries (esp. Cypraea moneta) were used as a currency in Africa (e.g., Nigeria) and elsewhere. They are also worn as jewelry or otherwise used as ornaments or charms, as they are viewed as symbols of womanhood, fertility, birth and wealth. Many find the shiny, porcelain-like shells pleasing to look at.
Cowry shells are sometimes used in a way similar to dice, e.g., in board games like Pachisi, or in divination (cf. If?? and the annual customs of Dahomey). A number of shells (6 or 7 in Pachisi) are thrown, with those landing aperture upwards indicating the actual number rolled.