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Cowry shell

Cowry shell

Place: Tahiti & Society Islands
Category: Tools

Tahiti and the Society Islands, h. 3.5 cm, Inv. Oz 396

Humphrey No. 203: ‘another [Cup] made of a Leopard Cowry Shell, from ditto [Society Isles].’

This is the natural shell of the cowry snail. According to Humphrey, the shell served as a drinking vessel. However, it is possible that the conch was only collected as an object of natural science, because a comparison with drinking bowls from other collections shows that coconut shells, wooden bowls and gourds were used as solid material (cf. Kaeppler 1978a: 146). Apart from these, leaves or small woven baskets also served as drinking vessels. Cowry shells do not appear in this context in, for example, an overview of the ‘Custom of Eating’ in Bunzendahl (1935: 266). Gundolf Krüger


Bunzendahl, Otto, Tahiti und Europa: Entdeckungsgeschichte der Gesellschaftsinseln, Studien zur Völkerkunde, Leipzig, 1935, vol. 8.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

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