Torque (currency) (Primary Title)
Torque (Former Title)

Unknown (Artist)

17th-18th Century
Yoruba (Nigeria, Republic of Benin)
Coins and Currency
Copper alloy
Overall: 10 3/4 × 10 1/4 × 3 3/8 in. (27.3 × 26 × 8.6 cm)

Given the scarcity of copper ore in western Africa, the metal was a highly prized commodity attained through trade with Europe or from other distant parts of Africa, such as Morocco to the north and Katanga in the Congo. When European ships started arriving along the African coast in great numbers during the 16th century and later, they carried brass (an alloy of copper) manillas, bracelet-shaped weights in different sizes that served as a medium of exchange. The Yoruba melted them down and recast perhaps twenty or so into larger currencies, or torques. This piece weighs ten pounds.

The Yoruba Ogboni (society of elders) created important ritual works from the metal extracted from manillas, including the plaque (2000.97) and ring (92.119) to the left. Manillas were also a source of metal for the famous royal heads and plaques created since the 16th century in Benin, including the example (83.136) to the right.

Gift of Jacques Hautelet
Image released via Creative Commons CC-BY-NC

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