shells cyprcea coast
COWRY, the popular name of the shells of the Cyprceida, a family of mollusks. Upwards of 100 species are recognized, and they are widely distributed over the world, - their habitat being the shallow water along the sea-shore. The best known is the money cowry or Cyprcea moneta, a small shell about half an inch in length, white and straw-coloured without and blue within, which derives its distinctive name from the fact that in various countries it has been employed as a kind of currency. It is most abundant in the Indian Ocean, and is collected more particularly in the Maldive Islands, in Ceylon, along the Malabar coast, in Borneo and other East Indian Islands, and in various parts of the African coast from Ras Hafun to Mozambique. It was formerly in familiar use in Bengal, where, though it required 3840 to make a rupee, the annual importation was valued at about £30,000. In the countries of Further India it is still in use; and in Siam, for example, 6400 cowries are equal to a tical or about Is. 6d. In Western Africa - Congo, Yoruba, dm. - it is the usual tender, and before the abolition of the slave trade there were large shipments of cowry shells to some of the English ports for reshipment to the slave coast, As the value of the cowry was very much greater in A-Vestern Africa than in the regions from which the supply was obtained, the trade was extremely lucrative, and in some cases the gains are said to have been 500 per cent. The use of the cowry currency has gradually spread inland in Africa, and Barth found it fairly recognized in Kane, Kukawa, Muniyoma, Gando, and even Timbuktu. In Muniyoma he tells us the king's revenue was estimated at 30,000,000 shells, every full-grown man being required to pay annually 1000 shells for himself, 1000 for every pack-ox, and 2000 for every slave in his possession. In the countries on the coast the shells are fastened together in strings of 40 or 100 each, so that fifty or twenty strings represent a dollar ; but in the interior they are laboriously ecunted out one by one, or, if the trader be expert, five by five. The districts mentioned above receive their supply of kurdi, as they are called, from the west coast ; but the regions to the north of the Land of the Moon, where they are in use under the name of simbi, are dependent on Moslem traders from Zanzibar. Among the Niain-Niam and other tribes who do not recognize their monetary value, the shells are in demand as fashionable decorations, just as in Germany they were in use as an ornament for horses' harness, and were popular enough to acquire several native names, such as Brustharnisch or breastplates, and Otterapfellen, or little adders' heads. Besides the Cyprcea moneta various species are employed in this decorative use. The Cyprcea aurora is a mark of chieftainship among the natives of the Friendly Islands ; the Cyprcea annulus is a favourite with the Asiatic islanders ; and several of the larger kinds have been used in Europe for the carving of cameos. The tiger cowry, Cyprcea tigris, so well known as a mantelpiece ornament in England and America, is commonly used by the natives of the Sandwich Islands to sink their nets ; and they have also an ingenious plan of cementing portions of several shells into a smooth oval ball which they then employ as a bait to catch the cuttle-fish. While the species already mentioned occur in myriads in their respective habitats, the Cyprcea princeps and the Cyprcea umbilicata are extremely rare. Of the former, indeed, perhaps not more than two or three specimens are known, - one of them being in the British Museum, and another having drawn £40 at the sale of the collection of the earl of Mountnorris.