Cowrie shells came originally from the Maldive Islands in the Indian Ocean. They were used as currency in many areas of West Africa. Olaudah Equiano tells of being sold for 172 cowrie shells. There is more information about the capture and sale of slaves on this website.
Cowrie shells were also used as decoration on precious objects in Africa to denote wealth and position.
This headdress is on display in the 'Economics: Trade goods' section of the museum in the Middle Passage gallery.
Cowrie shells with roan antelope horns
Kon Kombo, West Africa
Accession number MMM 56.25.161