One of the most popular items used as money in Africa,
particularly in West Africa, was the manilla.
This item characteristically was used for large
transactions that included slave trade, funeral payment and dowery. Thus,
manillas were a symbol of wealth.
The history of the manilla dates back to the 15th century
when Portuguese merchants began to use Venetian-made copper
bracelets in the West African trans-Saharan gold trade. In this
time period, gold was the preferred metal of trade for slaves.
However, in the 15th and 16th century,
manillas increasingly became Europeans' standard to purchase
slaves, ivory and pepper in West Africa.
Manillas typically were made with copper or brass, often
combined with lead, tin and iron. During the
19th century, Birmingham, England, became the heart of
manilla production. In this time period, various styles and sizes
began to be produced. In West Africa, large manillas began to be
produced, which were dubbed king, queen or prince based on their
Manillas were used until the 1940s, but in 1948 there was a
recall, dubbed "Operation Manilla," to replace them with British West African Currency. Individuals were
allowed to keep up to 200 manillas for burials and marriages, but
in 1948 they no longer could be used as legal tender.
Today, manillas are still produced, but solely for tourist
purposes - they are no longer legal tender. Their designs
still hold a strong resemblance to traditional manillas but are
generally made with aluminum. A great way to learn more about traditional African money and other
continents' traditional money is to visit the History of
Money exhibit in the lower gallery at the Money Museum, 818
N. Cascade Ave., Colorado Springs, Colo, 80903.