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Tuareg Bronze Anklet Currency Manilla

Tuareg Bronze Anklet Currency Manilla

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Early to mid 20th century, Tuareg people, Agadez, Niger.

Wonderful cast bronze anklet with traditional U-shaped body and massive terminals faceted with etched and stamped geometric decorations. The thick design and substantial weight of this woman’s anklet gave a pleasing sway to the wearer’s step. The Tuareg people inhabit a large area, covering almost all the middle and western Sahara and the north-central Sahel. They are probably descended from the ancient Libyan people of the kingdom of the Garamantes, described by Herodotus. Tuareg are mostly nomadic pastoralists. For over two millennia, they operated the trans-Saharan caravan trade connecting the great cities on the southern edge of the Sahara via five desert trade routes to the northern coast of Africa. Skilled craftsmen made elegant forms from brass, copper and silver metals, most were worn as jewelry and were the principal method of storing and exchanging wealth. These brass forms were recognized and traded as currency, yet some were also used as bracelets, armlets or anklets. 

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. 10,2cm x 8,5cm x 3,2cm. 

Provenance: Private collection from Morocco.

For a similar examples see:

Bracelet, The British Museum, Accession Number: Af1979,01.1459 (https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/E_Af1979-01-1459)

Anklet, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number: 67.145.2 (https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/451912)

Bracelet, The Brooklyn Museum, Accession Number: 1995.172.2 (https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/154515)

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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