Manillas are generally accepted to be open bracelets in various sizes, cast in copper alloyed with lead, zinc and tin for example and traded as currency from the late 15th to the early 20th centuries. Their circulation was mainly within West Africa and in particular in south-eastern Nigeria. These manillas were crafted by unknown artisans and while definite attribution is difficult, the bulbous ends are typical of the Yoruba tribes who make up nearly one fifth of the Nigerian population. The aluminium manilla shares many features in common with the silver manillas crafted by members of the Tuareg tribe of the Mali-Niger area, or alternatively with the arm rings worn by the Agadez people, also of the Mali-Niger region. Francine Farr suggests that two of the manillas in this group are Tuareg and Johansson (Nigerian Currencies, figure 4, p.17) attributes to the Sokoto Province a manilla that is stylistically similar to one of the group . The twisted body may indicate usage in bride-price settlements and the characteristic polyhedron endings are typical of Saharan jewellery. It is possible their composite metals either were sourced locally or were melted down from European manillas and reformed.
The origin of the word manilla could be either derived from the Spanish for necklace (monilia), or from the Latin for hand (manus). Manillas have a function that is both decorative and ritualistic, playing a role in the ceremonial customary practices connected with marriage and burial. It is unclear if these manillas were in fact worn or merely amassed as a sign of wealth and status. The complexity and execution of detail as well as aural/resonance factor and reflective quality probably enhanced their value and desirability.
Karen Adams, December 2007
Grey, R.F.A. 'Manillas', in The Nigerian Field, Vol.16, p52-56.
Johansson, Sven-Olof. Nigerian Currencies: Manillas, Cowries and Others.
Norrkpoping, Sweden: printed by Alfa-Tryck for the author, 1967.
Quiggin, Alison Hingston. A Survey of Primitive Money: The Beginnings of
Currency. New York: AMS Press, 1979.