The Black Numastic | Kissi Pennies of West and Central Africa

The Black Numastic brings you exciting content on the study and collection of currency with a nexus to Africa and the African diaspora. Currency is denoted as coins, paper money, tokens, metals, and related objects, used in trade. This video introduces viewers to the Kissi Pennies, a form of currency used among the coastal communities of West and Central Africa, including among the Mende tribe of today's Republic of Sierra Leone. 

Today’s short introduces you a pre-colonial currency used among the Mende Tribe of the Republic of Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa. Kissi pennies were used in trade by the Mende, as well as among other tribes along the coast of West and Central Africa. Kissi pennies were also referred to as guenze, koli and kilindi. 

They are long iron rods made by blacksmiths as a standardized medium for trading in goods and services. These thin metal rods were formed with a T on one end called the "nling" or ear, and a sort of flat paddle shape on the other end called the "kodo" or foot. Kissi pennies ranged in length from about 6 to 16 inches. 

As an example of historical values that might be attributed to kissi units— a bunch of bananas may be bought with a couple Kissi pennies, while the cost of a cow might require 100 bundles of Kissi pennies. Because each Kissi had a relatively small value they were often gathered and bound into bundles when used in trade.

Even after Kissi pennies were no longer used as currency, they continued to be used in some societies as tokens for completing rituals. They were found on tombs and graves, believed to channel the souls of the dead and became known as “money with a soul.” 

European travelers collected kissi pennies. Today, many can be found in museum collections around the world, may be picked up in cultural marketplaces or in the inventory of numastic or currency dealers.

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