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139060.  Thu Jan 25, 2007 8:49 pm Reply with quote

Cowries are the shells of marine snails found mainly in the tropics. They are usually smooth and shiny, often colourful, ranging in size from 5mm to 15cm.

They were used as a currency in Africa and China, and also worn as jewelry or used as charms, because they were often seen as symbolic of womanhood and fertility (possibly because of the shape of their openings), birth and wealth. In North America, the shells were sacred to the Ojibway tribe.

Cowry shells were sometimes used for gambling, being thrown like dice with the score counting the number landing with their aperture up. They were also used for divination in Dahomey.

A more unusual use was as a 'mushroom' over which sock heels were stretched for darning, because ridges in the shell allowed the needle to get under the cloth more easily than with traditional wooden mushroom shapes.

Sourced from, which I looked up in response to an article in today's Guardian, which described them as 'trivia', a reference I have yet to elucidate.

King of Quok
139079.  Fri Jan 26, 2007 5:08 am Reply with quote

The Latin name of the European cowrie is Trivia monarcha. I used to be something of an amateur conchologist!

gerontius grumpus
139795.  Sun Jan 28, 2007 6:45 pm Reply with quote

When I was at primary schoolI read a book called the Winkle Society.
It was all about a selection of marine animals trapped in a rockpool betwen spring tides. They passed the time by each telling a story.
Anyway,they used cowrie shells as currency. I'm not sure howhe cowrie shell would standagainst the Euro or the Metabele bongo bean though.

244598.  Thu Dec 13, 2007 5:20 pm Reply with quote

My family call the little pink cowries that you find on beaches in the UK 'groaties'. I always thought it was because the beach we found them on was near John o' Groats.

King of Quok
244613.  Thu Dec 13, 2007 5:44 pm Reply with quote

They are also known as maidens in the Highlands, as nuns or groats around the Clyde and as groatie buckies in John O'Groats. I've no idea if the 'groatie' word cold be at all etymologically linked to the word 'groat' for a unit of currency at all, as well as John O'Groats. Whilst I don't think they've been used as currency in this country, they have been used as counters for games, and as tokens to ward off the evil eye (presumably because their slit-like shape could resemble a half-closed eye) and as fertility tokens (presumably because their slit-like shape might resemble something else). I'm not sure, but this latter migh be connected to the Latin generic name Trivia, which was associated with the goddess Hecate, connected both with female fertility and the evil eye in her threefold function.

244618.  Thu Dec 13, 2007 5:59 pm Reply with quote

Ah, now a buckie is something quite different to a groatie. A buckie is what i'd call a winkle (Littorina spp.). As kids we'd collect them off the rocks and sell them to the fish house by the bucket load. They'd give us 50p and we would live like kings on penny sweets and mojos.

244686.  Fri Dec 14, 2007 4:13 am Reply with quote

I thought "buckie" referred to this fine beverage :)


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