PERSPECTIVES ON THE PAST
Transcript of Audio Clip
Candice Goucher, Washington State University, Vancouver
In the Americas, the traditional Quiripa of the Orinoco basin (strings of shells), were one of the most important commodities for both Indians and Europeans. Both groups suffered from a chronic shortage of local coinage. Even in the 18th C, the dutch found that everyday exchange was not with their coins, but rather with the indigenous shells. The growing circulation and broadening function of the shell beads were the result of the expanding world economy. Shell beads assumed all the characteristics of western money. They had standard prices, they were used as a universal medium of exchange, they were used to pay taxes, and they were hoarded as savings. The shell beads acted as a kind of bridge between different economic systems.
Global commodities required global currencies, though remarkably, many currencies connected world regions even before 1500. Like the cowrie shell that linked the Indian ocean and the West Atlantic Coast of Africa. Even after 1500, currencies weren't imposed on conquered territories. Sometimes, currencies were still chosen by the indigenous peoples, who continued to dictate the choice of the highly-prized commodities they traded. And the currencies through which those commodities were valued and exchanged.