Pub. date: 2009 | Online Pub. Date: January 26, 2009 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412964623 | Print ISBN: 9781412936361 | Online ISBN: 9781412964623| Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Seashells, in general, belong to the vast family of mollusks, which are a myriad mix of animals. They have been used by humans as a food supply, naturally decorated and collected items from the sea, as currency, decoration, adornment, signaling horns, protective amulets, and tools for spiritual divination. Cowrie shells, derived from small snaillike creatures native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, became important in the culture and religion of Africa. In the ethos, belief, and soul of many African-descended people, cowrie shells speak a symbolic spiritual language on artifacts, garments—and about the past, present, and future. They are also used as tools in spiritual divination oracle readings. This entry begins with a brief look at their natural history and then discusses their role in African religion past and present. Seashells as a food source are rich in protein and trace mineral nutrients. They are still in abundance and easy ...