Money in Colonial Transition: Cowries and Francs in West Africa

Mahir Şaul

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For about five decades, the French colonial government in the Volta region of West Africa failed in its repeated attempts to replace the local monetary form of cowry shells with its own monetary system of francs, largely because of local opposition. This article provides an account of these events and explores the reasons for the opposition and why the opposition was successful. Despite government prohibition, the cowries even acquired increased vitality as they became the main money in the emerging urban market. Government measures were partly motivated by practical difficulties that stemmed from the conflicts that the colonial system and monetary policy generated. The article ends with a critical discussion of how money and the colonial transition are treated in anthropology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-84
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2004


  • Bobo
  • Colonialism
  • Economic anthropology
  • Jula
  • Money

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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