Prestige Basket with Coins and Shells
MediumGrass, cowrie shells, British West Africa coins, leather
DimensionsWork : 11 1/4 x 9 x 9 in. (28.58 x 22.86 x 22.86 cm)
Credit LineHope College Collection
LabelBaskets were used in traditional Yoruba culture for many different purposes, from collecting food and firewood to storing clothing and personal possessions. This basket originally had a matching lid, and was probably used to house a personal spirit fetish called an ori inu. The decoration of the basket with cowry shells and coins was intended to signify the owner’s wealth and social importance. Cowry shells were historically used as a form of currency in many West African cultures, including the Yoruba. During the Colonial period, the British introduced the use of coins as a way to standardize values and simplify tax collection. The coins on this basket range in date from the late 1930s to the late 1950s, suggesting that the basket was probably made in the 1960s, after Nigeria’s independence but while the old colonial coinage was still readily available.