Made by coppersmiths from heavy copper for hundreds of years, this primitive form of money named after a region in Africa along the Kasai River in Zaire was accepted as trade items throughout central Africa. The crosses were used to buy goods when barter was not possible. They were also often used to purchase wives or slaves. A single cross might buy 6 axes, but their principal use as currency was in making payment of the "bride-price" or dowry - hence they are sometimes called "wife-buying" crosses. One cross was worth ten kilos of flour, five fowls, three kilos of rubber or six axes. A bride price consisted of fourteen large crosses, one she-goat, one gun and one female slave. Seven crosses would purchase a slave. The large "coins" are known locally as "lunkana". And, since they have been found in burials, they have also been associated with ritualization. Large crosses were convenient for stacking in royal treasuries and for transporting to areas of heavy demand. The Congolese regarded the non-ferrous metals -- copper, lead, and tin -- as very precious materials.
Katanga is a rich copper mining region is the south-eastern portion of Zaire. While archaeologists believe that even unrefined lumps of copper were used as currency because of their standard size and value, the copper currency that possessed refined casting techniques and artistic value were the ingots shaped as crosses. By 1400 A.D. two distinctive types had developed. One was shaped like an H; the other was formed like an X. The crosses were cast directly on the ground in many sizes. The typical size was about nine and a half inches across, with weights varying up to four pounds. Archaeologists also believe that the larger crosses were made first, followed by the smaller ones as the demands of commerce rose. They also served as a source of copper for re-use in jewelry as well as for other currency.
Country of Origin:
2" x 2.5"
Quiggin, Alison Hingston. A SURVEY OF PRIMITIVE MONEY: THE BEGINNINGS OF CURRENCY. Reprint. London: Spink & Son, 1978. p103,plate1
Opitz, Charles J. ODD AND CURIOUS MONEY: DESCRIPTIONS AND VALUES. Second Edition. Ocala, FL: First Impressions Printing, 1991. p38 Roberto Ballarini, Armi Bianche Dell'Africa Nera (Black Africa's Traditional Arms), Africa Curio, Milano 1992.Pgs 128 p118#77