Monday, 30 April 2018

J91 manilla from UCL Ethnographic Collections

Manillas have been in use in southern Nigeria since the end of 15th century, at first mostly used as ornaments. By the 16th century, manillas started being used as a mean of exchange for slaves, spices, ivory, and palm produce by the European merchants. The Dutch and English merchants followed the footsteps of the Portuguese and adopted manillas as means of payment. This manilla was compared to typical models produced in Birmingham and Bristol starting from the end of 18th century that were solely produced for the West African trade (Figures 1 and 2). In the comparison of the dimensions and shape, it mostly resembles the Okhopo type.
Figure 1 - J91 Manilla
Figure 2 - Nine typical manilla models produced in Birmingham compared to J91 manilla outline

After the cessation of the manilla use in 1948, most of them remained in use for ceremonial purposes. The ordinance in 1948 declared that manillas should be withdrawn from circulation and an arrangement was made that the state would pay a fixed price for the exchange. Towards the end of the 19th century introduction of English coins decreased the popularity and use of manillas, and in 1894 the importation came to an end since it was no longer profitable to manufacture them. 

Analysis conducted on manillas in the first half of 20th century has shown that the chemical composition was around 65% copper and a very high amount of lead, about 25% (Table 1). Birmingham manillas were cast using the sand casting process, which can be confirmed with the visible casting seams on the manilla (Figure 3).

Table 1 - Alloy composition of manillas gathered at the first half of 20th century
Figure 3 - Casting seams visible on the J91 manilla

This manilla was presented to the UCL Ethnographic Collections by D.A.F. Shute. It is stated that it was found in Long Juju, South Nigeria (Figures 4 and 5). When this object was acquired it was still being used as currency but the exact date of acquisition is unknown. 
Figure 4 - West Africa (the part where manilla was acquired)
Figure 5 - The area of British Cameroons (red circle indicates the locations where manillas were used the longest and red dot shows where Long Juju in Archukwu was located)

This manilla is labelled as “J91 manilla modern” and through the visual examination it can be inferred that it is whole, has no decoration and the surface is uneven with some corrosion spots, cracks and dirt layer (Figure 6). 
Figure 6- Condition of the J91 manilla's surface

This manilla is a part of teaching collection and as such, is expected to be frequently handled. 
In the past African societies saw a lot of significance in the shininess of copper and brass, its aesthetic value. Taking the present and the past significance into account, it can be inferred that the values of this object have changed. Intervention to show the manilla’s aesthetic value might be considered, but as it is not exhibited, remedial conservation is not necessary and its condition can be monitored through preventive conservation.

Figures and Tables sources:
Figure 2 - From Ballarini, R. (2009). The perfect form: On the track of African tribal currency. Milano, Italy: Africa Curio Sas.
Table 1 - From Johansson, S. (1967). Nigerian currencies: manillas cowries and others. Second edition. Norrkoping, Sweden: Alfa-Tryck.
Figure 4 - From Ballarini, R. (2009). The perfect form: On the track of African tribal currency. Milano, Italy: Africa Curio Sas.
Figure 5 - From Einzig, P. (1966). Primitive money: In its Ethnological, Historical and Economic aspects. Oxford: Pergamon Press Ltd. (Original work published in 1949).

This post refers to coursework done for ARCLG142 (2017-18), one of the core courses of the UCL MA Principles of Conservation. As part of their assessed work for this course, students were asked to investigate objects from the UCL EthnographyCollections at the UCL Department of Anthropology. Here they present a summary of their main conclusions. We hope you enjoy our work! Comments are most welcome.

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