shell money

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shell money,

medium of exchange consisting of shells, the most widely distributed type of ancient currency. Shells are particularly useful as money because they may be strung in long strips of proportionate value or they may be used to provide a single unit value in exchange. Shells ultimately derived their value from their use as jewelry and in rituals. Relative scarcity of the type of shell used or the way the shell is fashioned often determines its value. Cowriecowrie
or cowry
, common name applied to marine gastropods belonging to the family Cypraeidae, a well-developed family of marine snails found in the tropics. Cowries are abundant in the Indian Ocean, particularly in the East Indies and the Maldive Islands.
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 shells have been the most common shell media and are probably the oldest in usage for exchange. Wampumwampum
[New England Algonquian,=white string of beads], beads or disks made by Native Americans from the shells of mollusks found on the eastern coast or along the larger rivers of North America, used as a medium of exchange and in jewelry.
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, used in North America, was usually fashioned from thick-shelled clams; dentalia, or tooth shells, were popular with the coastal Native Americans of W North America. Mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell are said to have been used for trade in ancient China. Oceanic peoples in particular use a variety of shells in trade.
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References in classic literature ?
"To commence with," Slim answered, "there were forty fat pigs, each worth a fathom of prime shell-money, and shell-money worth a quid a fathom.
A comparative perspective is developed using Epstein's (1979) psychoanalytic reading of the meaning of Tolai tambu shell-money, which he interprets in terms of anal symbolism.
This leads to a review of Epstein's discussion of tambu shell-money. I am not offering a critique of the use of psychoanalytic theory in anthropology, but rather a critique of the specifics of one argument.
Light can be shed on these and other issues by reflecting upon the dual references of tambu - as both shell-money and taboo.
Epstein quotes a missionary to the effect that 'All his life [for a Tolai] is nothing less than an attempt to amass shell-money .
The Tolai belief that tambu is divine and 'gives life' supports such a view, and is more convincing than accounting for shell-money prestations as an 'entrance fee.' The soul of a dead man was asked by a ghost at the gate to heaven -
It is not necessary to reduce explanations to the level of the unconscious to explain a 'compulsion' to retain shell-money. I am not denying a faecal or anal aspect to tambu, which does seem to be related in myth and ceremony to exuvia of the body and its orifices, or that the use of shell-money in exchange is appropriate because it embodies conflict over life and death, giving and keeping, but I do question the primacy of the assumption that anal eroticism is transferred to, and informs attitudes about, wealth (1979:168).
Shell-money is inalienable because KWG is the ultimate means for constructing a 'whole' person, one who can demonstrate her individuality by resisting the demands of kin or exchange partners.
The shell-money users of Papua New Guinea's East New Britain Province have been described as pre-adapted to capitalism.
Our suggestion, thus, is that the triumph of capitalism was by no means pre-determined, even among the shell-money users of East New Britain.
In these regards, big men were society: the shell-money expenditures of big men for these and other activities comprised both the politics of self aggrandizement and of social reproduction.
We have in this essay described 'Martin' and 'Tovetura' as personae who comprised two poles on the chart of political possibilities envisioned by at least some of East New Britain's contemporary shell-money users.