TERA Gallery - African Art and Antiquities

"Altering The Way You View The World Of Art"
Type of Object:     
    Katanga Currency H-Cross  (left)
    18 c. - 1920s

    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.  

Ethnic Group:        
    Katanga Society     

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

    AND VALUES. Second Edition. Ocala, FL: First Impressions
    Printing, 1991.

    Roberto Ballarini, Armi Bianche Dell'Africa Nera (Black Africa's
    Traditional Arms), Africa Curio, Milano 1992.Pgs 128