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The cowrie shell's history visits the four corners of the world, much like music from Latin America that patches together Spanish, African, and Caribbean influences.
Queen of all shells, cowries are ancestral talismans that have long been symbols of spirituality, prosperity and fertility. The cowrie has a special significance in African culture — a form of currency in West Africa, an object of divination, a communication link between man and spirit, creation, femininity, and prosperity.
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Some of these values found in the Cowrie Shell migrated and evolved to Latin America, in the same way African rhythms migrated over and evolved. This is especially visible in music from Cuba. The core of all Cuban music can be found in rumba, a combination of vocal improvisation, elaborate dancing and polyrhythmic drumming based on African music and dance traditions.
Rumba, despite being considered secular music, holds an overlap with elements of Afro-Cuban religions such as Santeria born from traditions and rituals brought over from Africa.
This is where the cowrie embeds itself in the culture not of one but of many. The cowrie-shells are used by priests and priestesses of Santería in Cuba. These skilled diviners toss the cowries and are then able to interpret meaning based on the grouping, position and inclination of these shells.
Whichever way the cowries land, they continue to be worn as a talisman today to bring good fortune.