Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Small Seashell and the Fierce Maldivian Queen

 From The Marginalian:

The notion of imbuing a strange ocean shell with value had begun much earlier, with the twin forces of human vanity: superstition and personal aesthetics. As early as the Stone Age, cowries were used as jewelry, amulets, and healing objects. Strings of them — both real shells and gold-cast replicas — were found in Egyptian tombs, believed to bring fertility, protect against the Evil Eye, and bring good fortune in the afterlife.

So accustomed to seeing immaterial worth in these material objects, these vacant homes of tiny lives, people then readily harnessed their practical conveniences — small, light, portable, easy to see, hard to fake — for the perfect fusion of myth and merchandize. (Money, it bears remembering, has always been and will always remain a consensual reality — a handshake of beliefs with no inherent value and no direct equivalence to objects in the material world.)

Before the Romans and their first coins had even arrived onto the scene, Maldivian cowries had reached Europe and China. Cowries were found amid the rubble of Pompeii. By the fourth century, they were a primary coin in India, traveling from there on to the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, then to Thailand and Myanmar, and into Southeast Asia, where in some remote regions they remained the primary currency for a thousand years. Soon Arab traders were packing and hauling them across the Sahara dessert. They remained a currency in parts of Africa into the twentieth century. (Read more.)


No comments: