Posts Tagged ‘Kissi penny’

Currencies that you never knew existed

Monday, March 16th, 2009

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While modern day money is considered to have evolved from its most primitive stages, it’s worth noting that for our ancestors it would have not been so easy to carry money around. In Yap, Micronesia, locals have used a very unusual form of currency, in the form of stones called Rai stones. These special stones were carved out of limestone, with each Rai stone weighing an approximate 8800 lbs, and carried around using canoes and rafts. Perhaps, the most peculiar thing about this currency was the fact that its value was not determined by its denomination. Apart from its size and history determining its value, a particular Rai stone could be highly sought after if many people – or no one at all – died when the specific stone was transported. No wonder, that these special stones had the names of all previous owners carved on it.

During the 15th century, the Royal Courts of Malay Peninsula used small non-scribed tin ingots called the “Tin Animal Money”. This form of money which later evolved into a form of currency was used in the Sultanate of Perak during the 16th and 17th centuries. Later they were also used in Selangor and Negeri Sembilan and were usually in the shapes of crocodile money. These small pieces served as small change and were traded by weight. The currency denomination of these ingots was based upon the amount of tin that could be exchanged for one Spanish silver dollar (8 Reales). The ingots were minted in the shape of animals and insects, such as elephants, cocks, tortoises and grasshoppers. It is said that these models or shapes were made under the supervision of magicians.

Currencies that you never knew existed

At the end of the 19th century, the Kissi, Loma and Bandi peoples living in the border regions of today’s Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea introduced the ‘Kissi money’ or ‘Kissi penny’. This money is said to have circulated for many decades along with American, British and French money. The most peculiar aspect of the Kissi money was its shape. Its characteristic form is a twisted rod of iron with flattened ends: a flat, hoe-like spatula at one end and a sharpened ‘T’ at the other. Its length varied from 9 to 15 inches, the longer ones representing a higher denomination. If the iron rod broke, it was considered to be of no value, and its value could only be restored in a special ceremony performed by the Zoe, a traditional witchdoctor – who for a fee, would rejoin the broken pieces and reincarnate the escaped soul. Therefore, the Kissi money is also known as the ‘money with a soul’.

In the 19th and early 20th century, a cross cast out of lumps of copper known as the Katanga Cross was used as the currency in parts of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its name derives from Katanga, a rich copper mining region in Africa along the Kasai River in Zaire. For centuries, these crosses served as indications of wealth and were used in payments, trade and currency. It is said to be also used in bride wealth payments, and have been found in burials. During its primetime, one cross was worth six chickens, two lengths of good fabric, nine pounds of rubber, or six axes. Two crosses could be used to buy a gun. In 1961 after Katanga declared independence from the Congo, it issued its first coins. The coins pictured the Katanga cross as homage to their heritage.