Raffia cloth currency

Belgian Congo, AD 1930s

Textiles are a symbol of wealth and culture across Africa, with different colours and patterns used for different purposes and occasions. Because cloth is important and valuable it has been used as currency. Arab chroniclers record cloth strips being used as money by the fourteenth century. Standard-sized pieces were used to make payments, especially symbolic transactions such as offerings at weddings and funerals. The size, quality and decoration of a piece of cloth would all alter its value, and people could literally wear their wealth.

The first official coinage for the Congo was issued in 1887 by the Belgian authorities who controlled the area at that time. The coins and banknotes were denominated in francs and centimes. However in the 1950s the Lele people in the Belgian Congo still had a cloth currency. Other money had to be converted into units of cloth before it could be used, at the rate of one cloth per 100F.

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More information

Bibliography

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

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Museum number

AOA Af2891

Location

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