The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Manillas

National Museum of African American History and Culture - Joy of Museums - Manillas

These Manillas were a form of money, made of bronze or copper, which were used in West Africa. Manillas became the principal money of the slave trade and were used as trade goods in the Atlantic slave trade. The trade involved taking manillas and other brass objects such as pans and basins to West Africa, to purchase slaves for delivery to America and then returning to Europe with cotton for the mills of Europe. The price of a slave, expressed in manillas, varied according to place, and the specific type of manilla offered.

Manillas were produced in large numbers in a wide range of designs, sizes and weights. Originating before the colonial period, as the result of trade with the early Portuguese Empire. Manillas during the slave-trading period became the general-purpose currency in West Africa, being used for everyday commercial transactions, payment of fines and compensation. Manillas were often hung over a grave to show the wealth of the deceased.

As the slave trade was eliminated in the 19th century, manilla production declined and become unprofitable. Many manillas were melted down by African craftsmen to produce artworks. Manillas continued to serve as money and decorative objects until the late 1940s.

Essential Facts:

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“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Abraham Lincoln

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons