This belt from the Congo region of Africa is made from cowrie shells. They are the shells of a mollusc found only in certain areas around the Maldives and other Indian Ocean islands. When European traders realized how valued these shells were in Africa, they imported them in vast quantities to trade for slaves and other goods across the continent. The shells were used as a form of currency, as well as decoration to show the wealth and influence of the owner.
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Accession reference: Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives, E1545