Pair of Manila Bangles

  • Tribe: Unknown
  • Origin: Nigeria?
  • Approx Age: 19th - Early 20th Century
  • Materials: Bronze composite metal
  • Dimensions cm: 6.5 outer diameter x 4.5 inner
  • Ref. Number: 0256

A lovely pair of Manila bangles  were collected by a world war 2 veteran during his post out in Nigeria during WW2, and part of his very large collection . We purchased them from a deceased collectors estate auction. These are lovely examples of old Manila bangles.

Most West Indians refer to them as ‘bangles’ however, historically they are known as manillas or okpoho/Okombo/abi. Once a form of currency for West African peoples, manillas would become one of the main currencies of choice during the slave trade to the Americas. Their usage during this time in history was of such prevalence that they were often referred to as “slave trade money.”

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The Africans of each region had names for each variety of manilla, probably varying locally. They valued them differently, and were notoriously particular about the types they would accept. The price of a slave, expressed in manillas, varied considerably according to time, place, and the specific type of manilla offered. Internally, manillas were the first true general-purpose currency known in west Africa, being used for ordinary market purchases, bride price, payment of fines, compensation of diviners, and for the needs of the next world, as burial money. Cowrie shells, imported from Melanesia and valued at a small fraction of a manilla, were used for small purchases. In regions outside coastal west Africa and the Niger river a variety of other currencies, such as bracelets of more complex native design, iron units often derived from tools, copper rods, themselves often bent into bracelets, and the well-known Handa (Katanga cross) all served as special-purpose monies.

While there are many theories surrounding the origin of manillas, it is known that it was worn by women along the West African coast as a symbol of their husband’s wealth. The horseshoe shaped bracelet or ‘bangles’ are often decorated with balls on each end. In its inception, these bracelets/’bangles’ were predominantly made from copper as it was the “red gold” of Africa. Noticing the importance of this piece of jewellery to West African, Portuguese merchants began to produce these pieces as a means of currency.

Manillas are typically horse-shaped with flared ends. Africans from each region had names for each variety of manila and were very particular about the types they would accept. They valued the Manillas by the sound they made when struck and used them as the dominant form of currency for many things including everyday market purchases, bride price and burials. The main purpose of the manilla – the trading and purchase of slaves- fostered a system where the incoming voyage of Europeans took manillas to West Africa to obtain slaves, who were then taken to the Americas to live a life of bondage. The price of a slave valued in manillas varied depending on the time, place and type being offered.

The demise of the slave trade resulted in the prohibition of manillas as a form of currency. A constant reminder and a tangible symbol of slavery and the slave trade, the British initialled a major recall of all manillas and replaced them with the British West African currency. Many of the existing manillas were collected, confiscated and sold as scrap. Much of it was melted and transformed in other usable goods.