FASHION: Manillas (Bangles), The African Money Slave Trade

FASHION: Manillas (Bangles), The African Money Slave Trade

 

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MANILLAS: AFRICAN BRACELET MONEY

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usslave.blogspot.com

Manilla. Manillas were brass bracelet-shaped objects used by Europeans in trade with West Africa, from about the 16th century to the 1930s. They were made in Europe, perhaps based on an African original.Once Bristol entered the African trade, manillas were made locally for export to West Africa.

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Records of a contract between the Portuguese government and Erasmus Schetz of Antwerp, who supplied the Portuguese factory at Mina with as many as 150,000 manillas per year, are widely quoted. The standard in 1529 was supposedly about 240m long, about 13m gauge, weighing 600 gram. However, no examples of torque-shaped bracelets in this weight range are known today, and a wreck dated to 1524 carried manillas of typical form but only slightly flared, averaging 306 grams. (usslave.blogspot.com)

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Copper was the “red gold” of Africa and had been both mined there and traded across the Sahara by Italian and Arab merchants. The early Portuguese explorers of the 1470s observed that copper bracelets and legbands were the principal money all along the west African coast. They were usually worn by women to display their husband’s wealth. The Portuguese crown contracted with manufacturers in Antwerp and elsewhere to produce crescent rings with flared ends of wearable size which came to be called “manilla,” after the Latin manus (hand) or from monilia, plural of monile (necklace). (usslave.blogspot.com)
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Most West Indians refer to them as ‘bangles’ however, historically they are known as manillas or okpoho/Okombo/abi. Once a form of currency for West African peoples, manillas would become one of the main currencies of choice during the slave trade to the Americas. Their usage during this time in history was of such prevalence that they were often referred to as “slave trade money.” Source: http://exquisiteafricanart.com

While copper bracelets dating prior to 1600 AD which likely had some exchange function continue to be excavated around Jenne-Jeno and related sites, we can only guess today at what prototypes may have inspired the distinctive flare-ended crescent shape. One theory is that Europeans copied a splayed-end raffia cloth bracelet worn by women, another that the well-known Yoruba Mondua with its bulbous ends inspired the manilla shape. Much closer in form to modern manillas, however, is this type, excavated at Igbo-Ukwu. In “Die sog. Geldeifen aus Benin,” Der Primitivgeldsammler Denk summarizes what is known about heavy, faceted pieces with enlarged ends such as this one (25cm across and 4.5cm gauge) from the Museum für Volkerkunde in Vienna, which may predate European manillas. (usslave.blogspot.com)

 

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Manillas are typically horse-shaped with flared ends. Africans from each region had names for each variety of manila and were very particular about the types they would accept. They valued the Manillas by the sound they made when struck and used them as the dominant form of currency for many things including everyday market purchases, bride price and burials. The main purpose of the manilla – the trading and purchase of slaves- fostered a system where the incoming voyage of Europeans took manillas to West Africa to obtain slaves, who were then taken to the Americas to live a life of bondage. The price of a slave valued in manillas varied depending on the time, place and type being offered. SOURCE: exquisiteafricanart.com PHOTO SOURCE: Scott Semans World Coins

The bracelet is the most common money form in Africa. It served the important monetary functions of portability and wealth display.Variants of this form were accepted virtually everywhere in Africa, with the result that today it is often difficult to know where a particular type originated or was used, and to what extent it was either money or jewelry. My essay African Bracelet Money: Unanswered Questions surveys what we do know about bracelets and manillas. For purposes of this listing I have somewhat arbitrarily sorted out the Calabar rod pieces (perhaps earliest bracelet forms), the manillas (best documented as money), and legbands (differently worn) as separate categories. Detailed Offering of Bracelet Money is under construction. SOURCE: usslave.blogspot.com

Neckring SOURCE: usslave.blogspot.com

The Africans of each region had names for each variety of manilla, probably varying locally. They valued them differently, and were notoriously particular about the types they would accept. Manillas were partly differentiated and valued by the sound they made when struck.

A report by the British Consul of Fernando Po in 1856 lists five different patterns of manillas in use in Nigeria. The Antony Manilla is good in all interior markets; the Congo Simgolo or ‘bottle-necked’ is good only at Opungo market; the Onadoo is best for Old Calabar, Igbo country between Bonny New Kalabari and the kingdom of Okrika; the Finniman Fawfinna is passable in Juju Town and Qua market; but is only half the worth of the Antony; and the Cutta Antony is valued by the people at Umballa.

The proliferation of African names is probably due more to regional customs than actual manufacturing specialization. The ‘Mkporo’ is likely a Dutch or British manilla and the ‘Popo’ is French, but the rest are examples of a single evolving Birmingham product. (wikipedia)

Manillas are typically horse-shaped with flared ends. Africans from each region had names for each variety of manila and were very particular about the types they would accept. They valued the Manillas by the sound they made when struck and used them as the dominant form of currency for many things including everyday market purchases, bride price and burials. The main purpose of the manilla – the trading and purchase of slaves- fostered a system where the incoming voyage of Europeans took manillas to West Africa to obtain slaves, who were then taken to the Americas to live a life of bondage. The price of a slave valued in manillas varied depending on the time, place and type being offered. (exquisiteafricanart.com)

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While there are many theories surrounding the origin of manillas, it is known that it was worn by women along the West African coast as a symbol of their husband’s wealth. The horseshoe shaped bracelet or ‘bangles’ are often decorated with balls on each end. In its inception, these bracelets/’bangles’ were predominantly made from copper as it was the “red gold” of Africa. Noticing the importance of this piece of jewellery to West African, Portuguese merchants began to produce these pieces as a means of currency. SOURCE: http://exquisiteafricanart.com

While many of us in the Caribbean know that these “bangels” are somehow linked to slavery and the slave trade, many of us are unaware of the exact history and circumstances surrounding their usage. Although the size and composition of these “bangels” have changed, their form remains the same. What is interesting about their prevalence and usage today, is that they still hold true to its orijinal purpose of being a symbol of wealth. Some might look at the continuation of these pieces in the form of fashion accessories as a way of preserving and honouring their culture and history, however, others might look at it as a reminder of an unfortunate part of African history where Africans sold each other for a piece of metal. SOURCE: orijinculture.com

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SOURCE: Safari Fusion

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SOURCE: Safari Fusion

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SOURCE: Orijin Culture

 

The demise of the slave trade resulted in the prohibition of manillas as a form of currency. A constant reminder and a tangible symbol of slavery and the slave trade, the British initialled a major recall of all manillas and replaced them with the British West African currency. Many of the existing manillas were collected, confiscated and sold as scrap. Much of it was melted and transformed in other usable goods.  (exquisiteafricanart.com)

 

SOURCES:

usslave.blogspot.com

wikipedia

 

 

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