Sketchbook Pages

EDiM 13: Cowrie Shells

EDiM 13 Shells. Ink and watercolor, 5x7 in
EDiM 13 Shells. Ink and watercolor, 5×7 in

When I was a kid I had a little shell collection and my favorites were Cowrie shells (though I misheard the name and thought they were called Molly shells. I still get confused and have to look them up. They feel so nice to hold, with their smooth, shiny surface and egg-like shape.

Since I was looking up the name anyway, I read a bit about them on Wikipedia and learned these interesting factoids:

  • The term “porcelain” derives from the old Italian term for the cowrie shell (porcellana) due to their similar translucent appearance.
  • Shells of certain species have historically been used as currency: The Ghanaian cedi was named after cowry shells and starting over three thousand years ago, cowry shells were used as currency in China and India.
  • The Classical Chinese character for money (貝) originated as a stylized drawing of a Maldivian cowrie shell.
  • Cowry shells are used in sacred Objibway ceremonies and the Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba, Canada is named after cowries.
  • Cowry shells are also worn as jewelry or otherwise used as ornaments or charms and are viewed as symbols of womanhood, fertility, birth and wealth.