Author Topic: Africa's first coins  (Read 7654 times)

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Offline Figleaf

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Africa's first coins
« on: March 28, 2006, 11:43:05 PM »
Here's wondering what the first 'western' coins struck for sub-saharan Africa were. The Angolan coins of the 1690's, maybe?

Peter
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Offline Harald

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #1 on: April 02, 2007, 01:25:22 PM »
The first coins for use in Africa may be the Portuguese colonial issues for Angola (or Baixa Guin?, as it was referred to at the time), they were, however, European coins as they utilised Portuguese currency units, the macuta was defined as a multiple of the real.

In this sense, the first African currency was the gold dust currency of Gold Coast. The trade ackey coins dated 1796 were based on a weight unit used in trading gold dust against goods from the coastal area. This trade predates the colonial era, the name "akie" (in today's spelling) derives from an Akan word for some sort of seed or nut. The attempt to introduce such a silver token coinage failed, and already the second issue of the trade ackey in 1818 was used only for presentation purposes. The gold dust trade continued until the 20 th century.

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Harald
« Last Edit: November 06, 2013, 10:47:49 PM by Afrasi »
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #2 on: April 02, 2007, 02:02:28 PM »
That's a pretty good point, Harald. Moreover, thinking of coins as western discs of metal may be ethnocentric.

I am a bit shocked to read the 1818 series was for presentation purposes only, but also relieved, because that takes some very expensive coins off my want list. ;) Question: if the 1818 coins were showpieces, what was the function of the 1796 series, which is generally even more expensive? Question 2: where does the unit Takoe come from? Question 3: what was the first coin issued by black Africans in an independent nation (depending on your definition of "independent, Liberia would be my guess).

Peter
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Offline Harald

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2007, 02:26:58 PM »
The "Company of Merchants trading into Africa" lost their rights in the Gold Coast in 1821, when the British crown took over. According to D. Vice's book the 1818 pieces therefore did not go into circulation, but later seem to be given as a reward to natives who were sending their children to a colonial school (question marks are added, and personally I'd say, such a generosity is rather doubtful). The 1796 and 1801 issues were used in trade, but apparently disappeared quickly from circulation. Vice quotes a report from 1807 which states that none of the coins were around anymore at that time. Presumably they had gone to the melting pot or the jeweller's workbench.

The "takoe (or taku)" was one the base unit of the Akan gold dust currency (famous for the so-called Ashanti gold weights). It is interesting to note that the "akie" was outside this traditional system and the unit of 8 taku was called "borofofa", derived from the Akan word for "British". The origin of the word taku is not clear, could be an Akan word with the simple meaning "weight", again derived from some sort of seed.

The general understanding of African history is that the before the 20th century the only independent countries were Liberia and Ethiopia (but only after its unification in 1889, although the predecessor states can be traced back to at least 12th century AD). In any case, AFAIK, none of the medieval African nations did issue any coins, not even local copies of trade coins.
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2007, 03:39:56 PM »
The general understanding of African history is that the before the 20th century the only independent countries were Liberia and Ethiopia (but only after its unification in 1889, although the predecessor states can be traced back to at least 12th century AD). In any case, AFAIK, none of the medieval African nations did issue any coins, not even local copies of trade coins.

According to KM, the first coin series issued below the Sahara by an independent nation would then be the 1847 series of Liberia. You can argue about Liberia's status, though. Freed American slaves behaved at least as much as colonists towards the indigenous population as the European colonizers and there's more than a trace of US influence on the coins  :-\

If for those reasons Liberia is disqualified, your next choice would be the common pysa 1299 AH (1881 AD) of Zanzibar. I think the silver coins with the same date were playthings for the rich. Of course, Arabs had taken over the island, but it was independent 1860-1890. The coin is purely Arabic in influence, with some British colonial influence thrown in for good measure.

If you don't like Zanzibar either, you end up with a pretty scarce piece of the city of Harrar of 1883 AD.

Peter
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Offline muntenman

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2007, 01:04:02 AM »
I do not know what you mean with western: wasn't it so that Carthago was issuing its own currency before and during Roman Times?
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2007, 12:29:32 PM »
Certainly, but Carthage is not sub-saharan...

Which reminds me of an interesting tale.

The Berbers must have been the main source of traffic across the Sahara for centuries. Being caucasians, they thought of themselves as closer to Arabs and superior to blacks (what else is new?). They called all the land south of the Sahara "land of the blacks". The word (I don't know what it might be, maybe Harald knows) was picked up by the Portuguese, who deformed it to Guinea. It lives on in Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau), Spanish Guinea (now Equatorial Guinea) and French Guinea (now Guinea).

From there, the word muddled its way through to Dutch, who used it for Netherlands New Guinea (now part of Indonesia). The other half of the island became (British) New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea). Why? Because, like in Australia, the original inhabitants are melanesian, rather than polynesian, making them blacker than the people around them.

Peter
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Offline Harald

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2007, 02:05:03 PM »
the question which ancient cultures are whose ancestors is pretty political (and therefore slippery).

AFAIK the Euro-centric view is that Carthagians (likely to be of Phenician origin) are Mediterranean while their neighbors to the South, the Numidians, are African. Similar discussions are also ongoing about the Egyptians and the Nubians.


more interesting indeed is the origin of the word "Guinea". According to A. Cherpillod "Dictionnaire etymologique des noms g?ographiques" it derives from a touareg (tamazight) word "aginaw" (black).
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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2007, 03:34:15 AM »
The first African coins in my view,would have to be the coins of Ancient Egypt,which was then under the rule of the Ptolemaic Dynasty (323-30 BC.).

Aidan.

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2007, 09:39:36 AM »
Yes, if you drop the sub-saharan restriction the coins of the Ptolemaians, Carthago and Cyrenaica come into view.

Moreover, your post reminded me that there are much earlier sub-saharan African coins: those of Axum, now in Ethiopia. Though I never saw coins dating before the third century, I have read reports of first century Axum coins, mixed with Roman coppers.

Peter
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Offline Figleaf

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #10 on: June 30, 2007, 12:13:49 AM »
Very interesting, lusomosa. From what you say, I gather that the Libongo's value was the market value of the cloth. Otherwise, it would have been forged and made in always smaller pieces. However, if that is so, its value would not have been stationary. As productivity increased by more and better textile making machines and better farming methods, the Libongo must have lost value compared to silver. At the same time, new silver mines would have driven down the price of silver expressed in other goods (including the Libongo). This means that it is impossible to predict the price of the Libongo in silver without further information.

What you say implies that the value of the quantity of Libongo was held constant in terms of silver. This means that the quantity of Libongo must have changed. Even so, the value of goods one could buy with 700 reis, either in silver or in Libongo would have changed over the years.

Matters are even more complicated since the Libongo was apparently not replaced by silver, but by coins, whose quality would have been such that they'd buy even less silver, which again would have an effect on the amount of goods one could buy with a soldier's ration. That would indeed make the Libongo a stronger currency, since its diminished size would already have been reflected in its rate of exchange.

Having said that things are never simple, it still sounds unbelievably stupid to diminish the salary of the soldiers you rely upon for power. There should have been reports of the local governors on what was happening, but if you say the situation was maintained for centuries, either they didn't report. or their reports were used as toilet paper...

Peter
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Offline lusomosa

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #11 on: July 01, 2007, 12:19:18 AM »
greetings figleaf,

I went through my documentation and came across a few mode details :

The lack of copper coinage was already a problem at the time of the first gouvernour of Angola during the reign of the Spanish Philip the II ( First of Portugal ).
many letters went off to Lisbon and back to Angola untill the first copper coinage arrived in 1694.
The pacification of Angola or rather ; the conquer of the area of the kingdon of Congo that later became Angola was one other reason why the Portuguese authorities wanted to introduce copper coinage. Sinse the Libongo ( wich was made of straw ) was used all over Congo as an accepted currency they thought that if the area under Portuguese control could jump out of the comercial influence , the populations would accept more easily the Portuguese rule.
This did not happen !
The libongo was worth through the 17th century, 50 reis . 10 libongos were one MACUTA ( 500 reis )
For Portugal the macuta in 1694 was worth 50 reis. the size of the libongos was reduced as well but this was largely due to the instability in the kingdon of Congo.
The big problem was the fact that in Angola the coinage was worth its weight of metal. Copper was used as lumps of metal called cruzetas.
This cruzetas weighted rughly between 550 g and more than 1500 g.
Those 550 g for example were worth 350 reis , enough for 5 - 6 chickens on a market
One libongo was good for ( 700 reis )  10 - 12 chickens
200 reis were good for 2 -3 chickens.


These coins were not recognized as worth as face value but as weight. So the idea that one shipment of coins would change an economy of straw into an "european" economy based on face value did not prove wright. Portugal was thinking in terms of face value and that the whole economy would adapt by itself.
But if you think the copper discs used to mint the 20 reis for Angola were the same as for the 10 reis in Portugal you are asking a lot of acceptance for this first coinage.

One small remark : in 1649 the Gouvernor of Angola at that moment proposed two coins to be minted , One called Libongo with the Angolan weight in copper of the straw piece and a face value of 12 1/2 reis.
And a second coin called MEIO PANO ( half cloth ) . The cloth of congo was a bigger piece worth more than the libongo. This coin would carry the weight in copper accepted for this half cloth and a face value of 25 reis.
Had this be done no problems would have arrived but no, the authorities disregarded the local values and costumes and got the discs of copper already produced and just minted the double of the face falue in Portugal and said : here you have your money , let the market economy establish the relative value of your products.....

Well, thats what happened.....

All the best

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #12 on: July 01, 2007, 10:12:33 AM »
Great story, lusomosa. Thanks! I gather from your information that the libongo preceded the Portuguese colonial coinage and that it was fully functional as money. However, if we would be ethnocentrentic about it, the libongo has more in common with a banknote than with a coin. That brings the gizzy pennies, manillas and Katanga crosses into mind, but I doubt if they are as old as the oldest Portuguese colonial coin...

Meanwhile, lusomosa warned us that coins marked Angola could very well have ended up in Brazil. The question remains open. What was the first European styly coin of sub-saharan Africa?

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Offline Afrasi

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #13 on: July 28, 2008, 09:41:56 PM »
If you don't like Zanzibar either, you end up with a pretty scarce piece of the city of Harrar of 1883 AD.
Peter

The oldest coin from Harar is AFAIK of 1783 AD (1197 AH), earlier coinage of this town sultanate is mostly of Ottoman (Mint of Zabid in Yemen) origin and sometimes of Mamluk (Egypt and Syrian) origin. There - at East Africa - existed more older but undated Arab coins of Mombasa, Pemba, Mogadishu, Zanzibar and Kilwa.

Afrasi

Offline Figleaf

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Re: Africa's first coins
« Reply #14 on: July 28, 2008, 11:21:44 PM »
Thanks, Afrasi and welcome on board. You're quite right about Harar, of course. Wikipdia also mentions a possible coin of Harar from AH 615/AD 1218/9. That would beat all the other sub-saharan candidates, except Axum. Could you post some pics, please. KM doesn't have any. Same question for the coins of the other East African towns.

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.