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African Art  - Art Africain - Tribal Art -  菲洲艺术 - Afrikanische Kunst


Central and Southern African Tribal Art

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African Currencies - African Currency

Monnaie Africaine

Afrikanische Vormünzliche Zahlungsmittel




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African Shell Currency


 Iimba - Yimba - Imba - Monne - Ndoro - Andoro


Omba - Mpande - O'numpande - Omphande - Nepande


African Money - Conus Shell




Chief Shaloba - The Ila-Speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia


Shell disks obtained from the genus Conus Virgo or the Calcareous Operculum such as Conus Turbo were considered currency and traded in Africa. Their usage predates by centuries the arrival of Portuguese. Conus shell disks may be viewed at Dubai's 'Al Fahidi Fort' Museum, where they are identified as ancient buckles, buttons and stamps. The Naga of North Eastern India also made use of them. Centuries old Indo-Persian trade facilitated shell disk popularity into the interior of Africa. 




Trio of Imba from South Western Angola on offer.


Men, women, young and old, all considered these articles prize possessions. They were traded for gold, ivory, slaves, fabric, guns, gunpowder, etc. Chiefs and headmen are known to have worn many, as they signified wealth, rank and authorative power.  David Livingstone's wrote in Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa - 1857 :


As the last proof of friendship, Shinte came into my tent, thought it could scarcely contain more than one person, looked at all the curiosities, the quicksilver, the looking-glass, books, hair-brushes, a comb, watch, &c., with the greatest interest; then closing the tent, so that none of his own people might se the extravagance of which he was about to be guilty, he drew out from his clothing a string of beads, and the end of a conical shell, which is considered, in regions far from the sea, of as great value as the Lord Mayor’s badge is in London. He hung it round my neck, and said, “There, now you have a proof of my friendship.”

My men informed me, that these shells are so highly valued in the quarter, as evidences of distinction, that for two of them a slave might be bought, and five would be considered handsome price for an elephant’s tusk worth ten pounds.




Left - Hair-Styles, Head-Dresses & Ornaments in Namibia & Southern Angola


Shell currency disks are named differently over their vast area of distribution. In parts of Namibia and South-western Angola they are called Omba, O'numpande, Omphande or  Nepande. To the north eastern area of Chokwe and Lunda  they are known as Imba, Iimba and Yimba. To the south the Mbunda and so called Lozi refer to them as Mpande and Monne. To the east including Malawi, Zimbabwe and portions of Mozambique they are known as Ndoro. Use of shell currency extended into northern South African tribal groups.




Trio of Imba from South Western Angola - reverse.


Remnants of the shell trade reveal that the River Congo and Zambezi served as 'hi-ways'  of shell currency trade from either coast. The Portuguese are said to have introduced porcelain examples through these routes. Perhaps the earliest reference to the shell currencies are found in the journals of a 16th century Portuguese chronicler who observed: 'the Monomatapa and the Mocarangas (Karanga) and their vassals wear on their foreheads a white shell, as a jewel, strung from the hair, and the Monomatapa wears another large shell on his chest. They call these shells andoros'. At the time Europe lacked the knowledge of porcelain manufacture, so replicas are thought to have been manufactured in Portuguese Macau (China), while triangular glass examples are likely to originate from Bohemia.





Fibre, leather, brass, copper or iron wire was attached to the shell currency through a hole placed in the centre (above left). In Southern Angola and Namibia, natives added lead to the hole and attached similar bindings from the shells inside centre (above right). Shell currency buttons were passed down through the centuries which is exhibited from excessive wear.






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Shoowa Cloth - Kuba Fabrics


Velours du Kasai


Shoowa Raffia Fabrics




Shoowa embroidery - Zagourski


Kuba cloth or Kuba shoowa fabric is made by the Shoowa clan of the Kuba and related peoples in the Democratic Republic of the Congo - formerly Zaire. In earlier times, cloths were used as currency or offered as gifts. Value was determined by the complexity of the work undertaken. The fabric was made from a very fine fibre found inside young palm tree leafs. Leafs were dried in the sun, then torn into pieces approximately two mm wide called raffia. The fine leaf fibres were woven on a loom by men, while women were responsible for decorating the resulting fabric with Shoowa design (above).



The BEST Shoowa EVER!





We think the viewer will agree, there is no more extraordinary Shoowa example known then that seen above. Very old small currency pieces, seemingly made by the same weaver, were joined. The image colour became somewhat distorted, as it was taken in sections and joined.  





                                     Father Michael Perry 2009                      Friar Michael Perry 1983


Provenance: This fabric was owned by Father Michael Perry OFM. Friar Michael was a priest stationed in Kolwezi - Zaire (DRC), where he developed a keen interest in the material objects of the tribal people. Later he became Vicar General of the worldwide Order of Friars Minor - Roma.




Click the image above to view a 6.4 megabit image that allows you to zoom into and or save.





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Currency Fabrics


Kuba? Salampasu? Songye? Madagascar?




Fibre loom - Bakuba - Zagourski

In the Congo - men constructed looms and were given the task of weaving.




Example A / + - 60 x 68 cms


This currency fabric came to us in a circa 1900 context. Early related examples are known from the Kuba in the east, westwards to the Songye, including Salampasu and certain Luba groups in-between.




Example A


The size of fibre used in the above (and below) example is exceedingly fine.




Example B / + - 65 x 70 cms


Though both examples A and B came to us together and are of equal age, they may have different organs. It was suggested by a textile collector that this example may be from Madagascar, due to the extremely fine weave.




Example B






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Currency Fabric - Congo DRC


Mbole - Bambole




Mbole Currency Fabric


Woven panels as above date to the first part of the 20th century and are therefore rarely seen. They were traded as currencies with limited distribution. Individual designs are said to have characterized the original owner.



Mbole Currency Fabric /  + - 20 x 40 cms


Mbole live on the left bank of the Zaire River, in the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The name Mbole, is derived from their position, meaning "the people from downstream". They migrated to the forest region from north of the Lualaba River during the 18th century. Villages are autonomous, headed by chiefs chosen from the elders of each family. Lilwa (libwe), a graded men's organization, dominates Mbole life. It supervises ritual, educational, judicial, social, political, and economic functions. Boys of seven to twelve years old are isolated in the forest for circumcision and initiation, undergoing ritual purification and proving themselves through ordeals and fasting. The head of the lilwa society, known as Isoya, is so important that he is buried in a tree.






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Trade Beads - Slave Beads




From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Slave beads (often called Trade beads) were otherwise decorative glass beads used between the 16th and 20th century as a currency to exchange for goods, services and slaves (hence the name). Made to ease the passage of European explorers and then traders mainly across the African continents, the beads were made throughout Europe although the Venetians dominated production. Trade beads are also found in the United States and Canada, and throughout Latin America. The production of slave (trade) beads became so popular that literally tons of these beads were used for this purpose. Beads were used as ballast in slave/trade ships for the outbound trip. The beads and other trade items were exchanged for human cargo as well as ivory, gold and other goods desired in Europe and around the world. The beads traded were not of a set design, but were produced according to demand. Millefiori (thousand flower) beads from Venice, Italy were one of the most commonly traded beads, and are commonly known as "African trade beads." They were produced by creating flowers or stripes from glass canes, that were then cut and moulded onto a core of solid colour. Beads such as the kiffa beads of Mauritania are thought to have resulted from women creating powdered glass beads to mimic the appearance of millefiori beads.




The success of this form of currency can largely be attributed to the high intrinsic value African people put upon decorative items. Africans often used beads for currency, (often referred to as African money) and wealth storage, and social status could be easily determined by the quality, quantity and style of jewellery worn. This created a high demand for trade beads in Africa.





Most of the seven strings of trade beads on offer date to 19th century Venice, though the brass examples with cosmological symbols were made more recently by the Baule of the Ivory coast. Carnelian beads were made in Bohemia, India and the Sahara.




The group of trade beads are offered as "a collection".



Chevron Necklace



This rare 4 - 6 layered Chevron necklace of 28 beads has a circumference of 34 centimeters, or + - 13 inches. The largest bead (centre) has a 7.5 cm circumference, or + - 3 inches.



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Chevron Beads are special glass beads, originally made for trade in the New World and the slave trade in Africa by glassmakers in Italy as far back as the early 15th century. They are composed of many consecutive layers of colored glass. The initial core is formed in a star-shaped mold, and can have anywhere between five and fifteen points. The next layer of glass conforms to that star shape. Several layers of glass can be applied (typically four to seven layers), either star-shaped or smooth. After all layers have been applied, the glass is drawn out to the desired thickness and when cooled, cut into short segments showing the resulting star pattern at their ends. The ends can be ground to display the chevron pattern. Chevron beads are traditionally composed of red, blue, and white layers, but modern chevrons can be found in any color combination. Original beads made for trade to the New World and Africa were typically composed of green, white, blue and red layers.


Chevron beads are a specific, historically important type of trade bead. Africa was not the only outlet for these beads. As far back as Christopher Columbus' expeditions, these beads were traded to Native Americans for goods and slaves.


Chevron beads are very popular collectors' items and they are still highly valued in present day West Africa, where they continue to be worn for prestige and ceremonial purposes, and occasionally buried with the dead.



Follow this link to learn more about trade beads - slave beads.  







Many weapons of the Congo basin were used as currency.  




Weapons - Congo


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Southern African Tribal Art - African Art 


Central and Southern African Tribal Art


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