Manillas were metal bracelets of a large variety of shapes and weights, preferably made in copper which was considered the most valuable metal by pre-colonial Western Africa population, also known as the “red gold”. The thing about these bracelets is that they were not just bracelets, but coins, money used not only by the locals but also by the European colonists in the 15th century to trade with their African counterparts.
The origin of manilla goes back to Antiquity, but the actual term is most probably linked to the language of the European explorers as manilha means bracelet in Portuguese and manella in Spanish.
Manillas as exchange instruments widely accepted in the Western regions of Africa and therefore massively produced by Europeans are historically associated with the slave’s trade initiated by the Portuguese who were soon followed by the British, French and Dutch colonists.
At the beginning of the 20th century, manilla was gradually withdrawn from circulation, with the Brits decreeing its end in British West Africa in 1949.
However, manillas are still used in traditional ceremonies and even as informal currency in more isolated regions in Western Africa.
Beyond its past but in strict relation to it, manilla is today a museum object.
Images from Museo delle Culture in Milan, Italy.
Photos by ©Museum Anonymous