Thursday, 31 May 2018

Copper Anklet Calabar Province

            
Object Assessment Project 
No. J0014


This twisted copper alloy anklet is attributed to the Ibibio people of the Calabar Province in Southern Nigeria.  According to UCL records the anklet is categorised as body decoration and currency. 

The anklet consists of a single strand of copper alloy, which would have been heated to become more malleable then folded and twisted around itself.   The anklet would then have been shaped into a coil around the wearer.  The anklet is in a stable condition with small signs of corrosion.  There is however an extensive amount a dirt caked into the creases of the twist. 

Fig 1:  Two views of the copper alloy anklet (Top and bottom)

In pre-colonial Africa currency bracelets also known as manillas or ‘okpoko’ to the indigenous of Calabar, were considered a form of currency.  The oldest examples of this type of currency were usually copper or bronze and originated within the Calabar province.  Copper was considered the ‘red gold’ of Africa and was the primary metal for exchange within the province. 

However, manillas used for trade were traditionally more simple in design then this.  A basic horseshoe shape with enlarged oval shaped flat ends.  They were also quite small barely large enough to fit around an adult human wrist.  Larger more elaborately decorated manillas such as this object were a very different type of currency.  These “king and queen” manillas; as they have become known to the historical and collector community; were used for ceremonial purposes rather then trade.  They were a display of wealth and a representation of an individual of high status.  Manillas such as this anklet would have been given as gifts for major events such as a birth or marriage.  

Manillas and currency bracelets were replaced by western currencies by the end of the 19th century however the use of manillas in a ceremonial context extended until present day.  For this reason it is impossible to date the above anklet.  The anklet was donated to the collection by an M.D.W Jefferys, a South African anthropologist, at some point before his death in 1975.  However he most likely acquired the anklet during his travels to the Calabar region as part of the British Cameroons in the 1940s. 

The anklet is an important addition to the collection in that as a ceremonial manilla, it represents a tradition of a display of wealth, which was adopted and warped into a form of intercontinental currency, that would later financially support the African slave trade. 

Bibliography
Edwards, E.  (2010)  Rethinking Pitt-Rivers, Object Biographies. Balfour Library:Pitt-Rivers Museum.  http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/rpr/index.php/objectbiographies/78-manilla/index.html.  Accessed: March, 23, 2018.
Reese, A. (2000) ‘Manillas’, Coin News, 46-47 April, 2000.
Einzig, P. (1949)  Primitive Money, in its ethnological, historical and economic aspects.  Eyre & Spottiswoode: London.

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