Manillas: The African Currency Used From the 16th Century to Early 1900s

Written by Jae Jones

West Africans used as their form of currency from the 16th century until around the early 1900s. Manillas are penannular armlets, which are usually made from bronze, or copper. Copper in West Africa was known as “red gold.” The manillas served as a form of commodity money, and in many cases as ornamentation. The money also became known as “slave trade money” after the Europeans started using them to acquire slaves for the slave trade to America.


The manillas were believed to have been made in Europe, perhaps based on an African original. After Bristol entered the African trade, manillas were made locally for export to West Africa. 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. brass bracelets were extremely heavy weighted, there are no known tools today of the same weight.


The bracelet was the most common money form used in Africa. It served the important monetary functions of portability and wealth display. Many wives would decorate themselves in the manilla to show the wealth of their husband. There were many different variations of the brass bracelets that were often accepted. 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.


“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. Manillas were the first true general-purpose currency known in West Africa, being used for ordinary market purchases, such as bride payment, payment of fines, compensation of diviners, and for the needs of the next world, as burial money. Earliest report on the use of Manillas in Africa points to its origin in Calabar the capital city of the Cross River State of coastal Southeastern Nigeria. It has been documented that in 1505 at Calabar, (Nigeria) Manillas were being used as a medium of exchange, one manilla being worth a big elephant tooth, and a slave cost between eight and ten manillas.” ( read more)



Untold story behind Bangles (Manillas) – A “Slave Trade Money” to the must have jewellery



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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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