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Cowry shells (also spelled "cowrie"), are marine snails of genus cypraea (family cypraeidae), found chiefly in tropical regions, especially around the Maldives or the East Indies. The shell itself is smooth and more or less egg-shaped, with a long, narrow, slit-like opening (appeture). Sizes range from 5 mm (1/5") for some European species to 10 cm (4") for the Tiger Cowry, Cypraea tigris.

Cowries (esp. Cypraea moneta) were used as a currency in Africa (e.g., Nigeria) and elsewhere. They are also worn as jewelry or otherwise used as ornaments or charms, as they are viewn as symbols of womanhood, fertility, birth and wealth. (And the shiny, porcelain-like shells are simply pleasing to look at.)

Cowry shells are sometimes used in a way similar to dice, e.g., in board games like Pachisi, or in divination (cf. the annual customs of Dahomey). A number of shells (6 or 7 in Pachisi) are thrown, with those landing appeture upwards indicating the actual number "rolled".

The typewritten postage stamps of 1895 Uganda also are called "Cowries".
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