West Africa’s ‘red gold’

copper-african-manillas

Such was the value accorded to copper in early African civilisations that it came to be known as ‘red gold’. This was the prinicipal currency along the West African coast for hundreds of years and these ‘manilla’ or bracelets were worn by women to display their husband’s wealth. While some wore them on their wrist or ankle, a more ostentatious wife might wear a ‘King’ manilla (top right) as a necklace.

Other forms of exotic currency regularly traded at the market include katanga crosses, bochies (both also of copper), cowrie shells, silver Tok coins and base silver bar monies from Thailand in the shape of leeches, boats or a tiger’s tongue (with characteristic serrated texture).

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