1st Edition

Cowrie Shells and Cowrie Money A Global History

By Bin Yang Copyright 2019
    308 Pages
    by Routledge

    306 Pages
    by Routledge

    Originating in the sea, especially in the waters surrounding the low-lying islands of the Maldives, Cypraea moneta (sometimes confused with Cypraea annulus) was transported to various parts of Afro-Eurasia in the prehistoric era, and in many cases, it was gradually transformed into a form of money in various societies for a long span of time. Yang provides a global examination of cowrie money within and beyond Afro-Eurasia from the archaeological period to the early twentieth century.

    By focusing on cowrie money in Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian and West African societies and shell money in Pacific and North American societies, Yang synthsises and illustrates the economic and cultural connections, networks and interactions over a longue durée and in a cross-regional context. Analysing locally varied experiences of cowrie money from a global perspective, Yang argued that cowrie money was the first global money that shaped Afro-Eurasian societies both individually and collectively. He proposes a paradigm of the cowrie money world that engages local, regional, transregional and global themes.


    Chapter One: Global Phenomenon, Local Varieties
    Chapter Two: The Maldives: Procurement and Export
    Chapter Three: India: In the Beginning
    Chapter Four: Southeast Asia: Intra-Asian Interactions
    Chapter Five: Yunnan: An Indian Influence in the Southeast Asian-Chinese World
    Chapter Six: Why Not in Early China?
    Chapter Seven: Cowrie Money in West Africa:  Connecting the Worlds, Old and New
    Chapter Eight: The Pacific Islands and North America: Out of the Bengali System
    Chapter Nine: More Than Just Money
    Chapter Ten: The Cowrie Money World



    Bin Yang is Associate Professor of History at the University of Macau. His research interests include Chinese history, frontier and ethnic studies, Sino-Southeast Asian-Indian triangular interactions, world history, and history of science, technology and medicine. His dissertation "Between Winds and Clouds: The Making of Yunnan (Second Century BCE – Twentieth Century CE)" won the 2004 Gutenberg-e Prize of the American Historical Association, and it was published online as well as in print by Columbia University Press. He has published research papers in some internationally prestigious journals such as The China Quarterly, Modern Asian Studies, Journal of World History, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, and Journal of Women’s History. He is one of the founding member of the Asian Association of World Historians and serves as Manning Editor of the Asian Reviews of World Histories.

    'Researchers and instructors will have much to gain from adding this text to their bibliographies and course syllabi... students and instructors of world history will benefit from this important text as they put together the pieces of our global past, one shell at a time.' - Eric Spierer, Assistant Coach, Groton School, Massachusetts, USA

    'Cowrie Shells and Cowrie Money [...]argues that its star commodity has agency. In this dense, erudite monograph, [...], Bin Yang focuses clearly on the global quality and scale of the agency that he attributes to the “money cowrie” (Cypraea moneta, or Monetaria moneta), the shell of a small mollusk of the Cypraea family, which was used as coin in Asia from ancient to modern times. This is the first comprehensive study of the “world of the cowrie.” It shows how the agency of cowries came from their utility in market exchange...Bin Yang deploys a vast array of documentary and archaeological evidence to describe the lost world of cowrie money...The global history in this book is innovative and path-breaking. The connected history of Asia and West Africa is a most impressive contribution.' - David Ludden, New York University, USA