By OCTAVIA MUIR
Our latest LOVE BRAND & Co, print is inspired by cowrie shells. A beautiful shell, nostalgic of long beach walks in the sun while on holiday. Cowrie or ‘Puka’ shells were also one of the most successful universal forms of currency in the world…
Believe it or not, this shell was once one of the most successful universal forms of currency in the world. This humble shell, both attractive and withholding all that is required from money, for its durable, convenient, and recognisable characteristics. Is thought to have been introduced as a currency by the Caravans of Arab traders as early as the 8th century.
The cowrie shell is indigenous in the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. These little shells are easy to count as they are consistent in size and form. So it is no wonder by the 18th century despite coexisting with many other forms of currency, the cowrie was often the currency of choice along many trade routes and accepted as a means of payment in southern Asia, Africa, Oceania, and Europe.
From trade to everyday life in small villages and communities across the world, the cowrie shells were stored by elders to buy necessities such as tools, medicine, or cattle for the rest of the community. In payments, they were often threaded into bracelets or long strings of forty or packed into pouches to form greater quantities. For large payments, the shells could be tossed into baskets and weighed to determine their value. Although no longer serving as a currency in West Africa, traces of their history still remain on their money.
In Ghana, the national currency is the cedi, which is the Akan (Twi) word for “cowrie”. Despite lying in the past the symbolic value most certainly endures, as the Hausa say, people found chiefly in north-western Nigeria and adjacent southern Niger, “Whoever is patient with a cowrie shell will one day have thousands of them”.
The cowrie shells beauty, iconic shape and cultural significance makes for the perfect print motif in tropical hues of pink and blue. Oliver hand-draws the shell motif and arranges them in a sophisticated diamond shape geometric print. As with many of Oliver’s prints, there is a sophisticated geometric shape on first appearance and then on closer inspection there is the surprise of hidden animals and forms inspired by nature and his travels. “Cowrie Kiss”is available in our Staniel Swim Shorts for father and son and our Abaco printed linen shirts…