Basket lined with cowrie shells.
The cowrie shell is a globally recognized object. Cowrie shells have been historically used as currency, jewelry, and religious accessories. In Ancient Africa, these shells were highly regarded as symbolizing the strength of the ocean as well as the power of destiny and prosperity. In some African cultures, the cowrie shell was regarded as a symbol of fertility. Waistbands with cowrie shells were worn with hopes of increasing fertility. African cultures used cowries as currency from the 15th century into the early 1940’s. Their usage at this point was discouraged and outlawed but they continued to be used for bride price payment, accumulated in bags and given to the bride’s father during their ceremony. The basket in our collection remains very clean, with the white cowrie shells each sewn onto the leather. This indicates that this basket was not as much for functional use as it was a decoration or symbolic item for protection, strength, and fertility.
Onyioha, Amaka N. Afrostyle Magazine. Accessed October 13, 2020. http://www.afrostylemag.com/ASM11/significance_of_cowrie_shells.php.