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Brass manilla (bracelet)


AOA 1946 Af21.64

Africa, Oceania, Americas

    Brass manilla (bracelet)

    Europe, probably 19th century AD

    Copper bracelets were used to make payments in West Africa before the arrival of European traders. The word 'manilla' comes from the Portuguese word for bracelet. When the Portuguese arrived in Benin, Nigeria, in the fifteenth century, they quickly started trading brass and copper for pepper, cloth, ivory and slaves. In the 1490s a Portuguese trader wrote that at Benin copper bracelets were more highly prized than brass ones.

    The number of manillas in circulation increased dramatically from the sixteenth century when they became one of the standard trade currencies. Millions were made in Europe, along with brass and copper pots and pans, and imported into Africa for trade. Research by British Museum scientists has shown that objects like these were melted down and made into works of art such as the Benin bronze plaques.

    J. Williams (ed.), Money: a history (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)


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