cowrie, n. 1. thehighlypolished,usuallybrightlycoloredshellofamarinegastropodofthegenusCypraea,asthatof C.moneta(moneycowrie)usedasmoneyincertainpartsofAsiaandAfrica,orthatofC.tigris,usedforornament.
The most significant use of the cowrie is as currency among many cultures. For example, it was the first currency of ancient China. (Bonus: they can’t be counterfeited.)
In a number of cultures (though my quick research has been unable to pin down precisely which ones), the cowrie shell is a symbol of womanhood and fertility due to its resemblance to the vulva (i.e. cunt).
The resemblance isn’t perfect. I wonder if the cowrie played any part in generating the rather odd idea of vagina dentata.