Fishhooks have served as money in the Maldives Islands, the islands of Micronesia, mountainous regions of the West African country of Cameroon, and portions of Nigeria.
The Maldives Islands, located southwest of the southern tip of India, were famous as a hunting ground for cowries, seashells that circulated widely as money in Asia and Africa. Cowries were the islands’ main export, and were used as local currency. In the 1800s, however, the main currency was a corrupted silver fishhook called the larin. The king of the Maldives issued larins, and put an official stamp on them, making them a state currency. For small change larins were divided into pieces, but a divided larin was worth only one-twelfth of a whole larin. The use of larins as currency seems to have gotten its start in the city of Larr in southern Persia.
In the Gilbert Islands in the west central Pacific Ocean, fishhooks circulated as money and were reported to be highly valuable. Pearl shells were cut into the shape of fishhooks, and were called fishhook money. Seashells strung on cords, sperm whale teeth, and discs of coconut also acted as currency on these islands.
In the mountains of Cameroon, called the Cameroons by the British in the nineteenth century, fishhooks served as a medium of exchange, along with cowries, soap, and gunpowder. Cameroon is on the west coast of equatorial Africa. Cowries were the chief medium of exchange in the Cameroons, while wives, goats, and bead necklaces acted as a store of value. Fishhook currency could also be found in parts of Nigeria.
Fishhook money fits into the category of nail money in Scotland, or needle money in India. Fishhooks are small and durable, easily stored and transported, serve a necessary need, and are restricted in supply because they can be produced only with labor. The logistics of storing and exchanging fishhooks is simple, and the restricted supply relative to demand preserves the value of fishhooks. Though of a small size, fishhooks are highly productive tools. The combination of smallness and utility contributes to their value as money.