Object Record

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Catalog number 2006.2.14
Title Bracelet
Object Name Currency
Description This bracelet, from the area known today as Mali, is known there as manilas, from the Portuguese word for bracelet, "manilha". Manillas (the anglicized form of the word) were introduced by the Portuguese as a new form of currency when European trading began in West Africa around 1450; bronze and copper-alloy metals were imported by Europeans and used for the exchange of goods. These metals also provided raw materials for local industries and manillas therefore also were used to promote African economies. Manillas eventually became decorative and were used as jewelry. Along with other jewelry, they indicated status and wealth in life and in death, for both women and men. The demand for manillas was so great that when the kingdom of Benin-today known as Nigeria-imported these bracelets, they paid for them with gold. This in turn helped satisfy the European demand for gold. Manillas became so entrenched in West African economies that they were not withdrawn from circulation until the late 1940s.

The Portuguese also discovered that the West African coast possessed remarkable traditional art. Consequently, a synthesis of styles arose in depictions of the Portuguese by Benin artists who incorporated their native motifs. For instance, one surviving bracelet combines motifs of Portuguese heads and African mudfish, since the Benin believed both were comfortable being on either land or water. Similarly, plaques depict Portuguese men with manillas, the currency they created, and the riches they amassed in the Benin kingdom. The manillas and hybrid art reveal major changes in the socio-economic landscape of Africa after European contact.

Citation: Extract taken from essay by Caroline Gerkis, in "SCHOLARS, EXPLORERS, PRIESTS, How the Renaissance Gave Us the Modern World," ex. cat. G -T M, Queens College, CUNY, February 2 - March 27, 2010, 60.
Medium/Material Bronze
Dimensions H-2.78 W-2.78 inches
Year Range from 1000.0
Year Range to 1400.0
Search Terms Africa
11th century AD
12th century AD
13th century AD
14th century AD
15th century AD
Personal ornament
Metalwork, bronze
Exhibition and Publication History * "SCHOLARS, EXPLORERS, PRIESTS, How the Renaissance Gave Us the Modern World," Curated by James M. Saslow, G -T M, Queens College, CUNY, February 2 - March 27, 2010, # 60, ill.
Culture Malian