Updated: Nov 13, 2021
This horseshoe-shaped bracelet is a Nkobnkob. A type special trade currency once used in West Africa. The Nkobnkob dates to the early phase of the English slave trade, circulating from 1560-1700. They are most commonly made from cast brass, although some bronze example exist. While most Nkobnkob vary in overall size and weight. They roughly average between 75-85mm (2.95-3.35 in) wide, with a weigh of 145-220g (0.32-0.49 lb).
A Brief Guide To West African Manilas
Manillas (Portuguese for bracelet) were a pre-colonial West African universal currency. Said to originated from the trade port of Akwa Akpa (Calabar), the powerful city-state of the Efik people. Their design was based on the prestigious copper (known as red gold) torques worn by West African kings and affluent elders/traders. Although can be made of other metals, such as bronze and brass.
Overall "manillas" were known locally by various names and types, based on the languages and customs of each particular people. Value was judge by weight and the sounds made when struck by an iron rod. As some traders and ports were keen on the quality of "manillas" they accepted. Wearability was particularly considered, ownership of many was a sign of affluence. As married men would display their wealth, through their wives. Leading to less affluent women to imitate a distinct walk/movements, to appear weighed down.
In everyday use "manillas" were used for purchasing goods at the local marketplace. Change for small purchases was given in the form of polished cowrie shells, taken from the East African coast. In addition to being used as payment for taxes, fines, and marriage payment. As man was expected to posses a certain degree of wealth prior to marriage. Similarly "manillas" were used as burial money, to pay tribute to the ancestral spirits.
In the 1500s, Portuguese Empire began trading "manillas" for slaves. Beginning the notorious Atlantic slave trade to the Americas. Leading to the Portuguese to begin producing their own "manillas" to monopolize the market. Little is known of these Portuguese made "manillas", although some account report some were refused on poor quality. According to the Portuguese, a slave could be purchased for 8-10 copper "manillas" during this period. While a young female were considerably more expensive, at 50 brass "manillas". The Portuguese monopoly was later broken by French, then the English.
The English monopoly period can be divided into 3 distinct eras, based on their dominate styles. Which become increasingly smaller, the closer one get's to the abolishment of slavery. Despite becoming associated with the slave trade, "manillas" remained in use long after its abolishment. These late variants called Okpoho (Efik for "money") circulated until 1948. When the British instituted "Operation Manilla", in an effort to replace them with the British West African Pound.
Even after "manillas" were replaced by coins and banknotes. They continue to have a symbolic value in modern West African culture. Many were melted down by local craftsmen to produce artwork, in their towns and villages. In Benin some women wear large large "manillas" around their necks at funerals. Which are later laid down at a family shine, to pay respect to the ancestors. Although the more modest practice of hanging a "manilla" over a grave is more common.
The Bantu people are believed to have originate from the Bamenda Highlands (Cameroon), a land west of the Niger River Delta (Nigeria). This Bantu homeland rests on top of a great plateau. The land is dotted by cater lakes. Made from collapsed ancient volcanos and fed by waterfalls. The weather is cool, with heavy rains, which span a 9 month "wet season".
The Bantu are believed to have made their migration after an agricultural revolution. Brought forth by the discovery of iron tools. Leading to them to become the majority people, in Sub-Saharan Africa. Bringing with them a common language family and iron age traditions.
Which included strict ancestral linages amongst blacksmiths. And the use of songs and rituals to ward off bad omens, from the creation of iron and bronze items. As the creation of such items symbolically represent fertility and the creation of life. Some traditional furnaces were even adorned to represent a woman.
The journey of the Bantu people can be separated into 2 great migrations. The first migration is believed to have began between 4000–3500 BC. Reaching into the heart of Central Africa, in which they took advantage of the fertile Congo Basin.
By 500 BC some Bantu people had past the great Congolian Rainforest. Into the vast savannas of Angola and Zambia. While others migrated eastward toward the African Great Lakes. Placing them in contact with Nilotic (Nubian/Dinka/Maasai) and Cushitic (Ethiopian/Somali) people by 1,000 BC.
The Bantu people from this Great Lakes branch, adopted the cattle herding traditions of their neighbors. By 300 AD trade ties were created between Bantu, Indian and Arab traders. Leading to the creation of the Swahili culture of the East African coast. Known for great ports spanning from Mombasa (Kenya) to Sofala (Mozambique).
The later second great migration was concentrated southward. While Bantu people had entered Southern Africa by 300 AD. This second migration was more extensive, ending with the establishment of trade kingdoms. Which were located inland, rather than coastal, such as the Swahili city-states. This final southern migration ended, in 1000 AD.
It's kingdoms include Great Zimbabwe (~1,000-1531 AD), Kingdom of Mapungubwe (1075- 1220 AD), and the later/long lived Kingdom of Kongo (1390-1914). Representing the end of the Bantu peoples' journey.
In which they became the majority people in the modern African continent. Represented by 400 million people, speaking between 440 and 680 distinct dialects. Created by an epic journey over 5,000 years. Spanning some of the world's greatest forests, rivers, and savannahs.