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Dogon Bronze Bracelet Currency Manilla

Dogon Bronze Bracelet Currency Manilla

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Early to mid 20th century, Dogon people, Mali, West Africa

Beautiful cast bronze bracelet was created using the lost wax method and elaborately decorated with incised linear and circular motifs. The Dogon are an ethnic group of the central plateau region of Mali that spreads across the border into Burkina Faso. Majority of Dogon people live in the rocky hills, mountains, and plateaus of the Bandiagara Escarpment. Villages are built along escarpments and near a source of water. On average, a village contains around 44 houses organized around the village founder's house (ginna). The arrangement of buidings in a Dogon village is intended to symbolize a prone human body, with the most important structure "house of words" (called Tógu nà) representing the head. The Dogons are essentially animists including worshipping the ancestral twin spirit (Nommo), often depicted with a human torso attached to snakelike body. 

Manillas are a form of commodity money, usually made of bronze or copper, which were used in West Africa. They were produced in large numbers in a wide range of designs, sizes, and weights. Originating before the colonial period, perhaps as the result of trade with the Portuguese Empire, Manillas continued to serve as money and decorative objects until the late 1940's and are still sometimes used as decoration. In popular culture, they are particularly associated with the Atlantic slave trade. The name manilla is said to derive from the Spanish for a "bracelet" manilla, the Portuguese for "hand-ring" (manilha), or after the Latin manus (hand) or from "monilia", plural of necklace (monile). They are usually horseshoe-shaped, with terminations that face each other and are roughly lozenge-shaped. The earliest use of manillas was in West Africa. As a means of exchange they originated in Calabar. Calabar was the chief city of the ancient southeast Nigerian coastal kingdom of that name. It was here in 1505 that a slave could be bought for 8-10 manillas, and an elephant’s tooth for one copper manilla. Africans of each region had names for each variety of manilla, probably varying locally. They valued them differently, and were very particular about the types they would accept.

Good condition. Heavy wear consistent with age and use. Beautiful polished patina. Size approx. 6,8cm x 6,1cm x 1,3cm. 

Provenance: Private collection from Denmark.

References and further reading:

The Teach Yourself Guide to Numismatics, C.C. Chamberlain, English Universities Press. 1963, p. 92.

The West African Manilla Currency: Research and Securing of Evidence from 1439-2019, Rolf Denk, Tredition GmbH, Hamburg, 2020.

Primitive Money in its ethnological, historical and economic aspects, Paul Einzig, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1949.

Object biographies, Manilla or Penannular Bracelet Currency, Eric Edwards, Balfour Library, Pitt Rivers Museum, January 29th, 2010. (https://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/rpr/index.php/objectbiographies/78-manilla.html)

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