Before the formation of currency in the form of coins and bills, there was an alternative medium of exchange used to purchase goods and services in pre-colonial Africa.
Africans being ever so resourceful and crafty, used tools at their disposal to trade and barter needed items.
Scroll through to learn about the eight types of currency used in pre-colonial Africa:
Although used throughout the continent of Africa, it is widely known to have been utilized in Western Africa.
The shells were used individually or strung together to equal a greater amount. Cowrie shells were used in the Kingdom of Kongo and in West Africa up until the 20th century. The Ghanaian currency, Cedi, is named after the cowry.
Gold dust and coins
Gold dust was known to be used in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. On the west coast of Africa, an Arabic unit of weight called the Mitkhal was used to measure the amount of dust.
Gold coins were also used in Ghana; the abundance of gold in the Ashanti Empire made it possible.
In Ethiopia, blocks of salt tied with straw called amole tchew were found in 1899 by Major Powell-Cotton.
Salt being a raw material needed throughout the world made it a viable choice for use in barter.
Animals such as sheep, goats, cows, camels and chickens were used in certain parts of Africa.
Livestock is still used in certain tribes such as the Masai and Samburu of East Africa. Payment for a bride price often entails the quantity of animal given in exchange for a lady’s hand in marriage.
Within the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, brass rings were compiled together on strips of leather and worn as a belt.
The rings could be broken up into smaller pieces for small transactions. Belts were also used among the Fulani – a nomadic people that reside in Chad, Mali and Cameroon.
Though shaped like weapons, unsharpened iron blades were used in place of money.
Countries such as Gabon, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Guinea traded what appeared to be weapons used for defense. They were actually non-functional hoes, blades and spears.
Manilla currency was formulated from copper or bronze and prominent in West Africa during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Manillas were available in an assortment of sizes, shapes, weight and design.
Katanga, Katanga cross or handa was widely used in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was a copper cast shaped in the form of an X.
Katangas were made with copper, lead and tin – non-ferrous and precious metals at the time. Found in burial sites, they were used for trade, dowry payments and as proof of wealth.