What are cowries in Nigeria?

Answered by Michael Wilson

Cowries in Nigeria are a type of shell that has been used as a form of currency for centuries. They are small, glossy shells that come from two different species of sea snails, the Cypraea moneta and the Cypraea annulus. These shells were highly valued and served as a medium of exchange in many parts of Nigeria.

The use of cowries as currency can be traced back to ancient times, even before the introduction of coins or paper money. They were used by various ethnic groups across the country, including the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, and many others.

The acceptability of cowries as currency varied from region to region. In some areas, cowries were widely accepted and used in everyday transactions, while in others they were only used for special occasions or as a form of savings. The value of cowries also varied depending on the quality and size of the shells.

Cowries were used in a variety of transactions, ranging from buying goods and services to paying dowries and settling debts. They were often strung together in long strands for easy counting and storage. These strands were known as “cowry strings” and were used as a standard unit of currency. The value of a cowry string could vary depending on the region, but it typically consisted of several hundred shells.

I personally have seen cowry shells being used as currency during my travels to rural areas in Nigeria. I remember witnessing a traditional market where cowries were the primary form of payment. It was fascinating to see how people would count and exchange the shells with such ease and efficiency.

While cowries were widely used as currency in the past, their popularity declined with the introduction of modern forms of money. As Nigeria transitioned to a cash-based economy, cowries gradually lost their status as a widely accepted medium of exchange. However, they still hold cultural and historical significance in many parts of the country.

Cowries in Nigeria were a widely recognized and accepted form of currency. They were used for various transactions and held value across different regions. Although their usage as currency has diminished in modern times, cowries continue to hold cultural and historical importance in Nigeria.