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Medium of exchange in traditional Nigeria societies

By Anuli Nkemdilim Nwogbo
26 March 2023   |   1:36 am
Money or currency, which serves as, a measure of exchange for goods and services has not always been in form of paper or coins. In our various traditional societies, we had items and objects which served the purpose of money/currency.

Money or currency, which serves as, a measure of exchange for goods and services has not always been in form of paper or coins. In our various traditional societies, we had items and objects which served the purpose of money/currency. The society determines these items and consequently places value on such items. At that period exchange for goods and services was done by barter.

In Nigeria, currencies or what we know now, as medium of exchange did not start with paper currencies or Naira and Kobo. Before the introduction of currencies, several local objects were used as a means of trade and exchange. It is noteworthy that before Nigeria’s first contact with Europeans, trade was done by barter. This is an exchange of goods for goods as against currencies. For example according to Appolos Oziogu, the Portuguese and the Dutch who were the first Europeans to visit the West African Coast traded in pepper, copper, Ivory, Cotton and Slaves.

The purpose of this paper therefore is to showcase those objects that served as medium of exchange in our various traditional societies before the introduction of paper and coin as medium of exchange.

Medium of Exchange
A medium of exchange is a function of money that expedites trade between a buyer and seller because it is widely accepted as payment for goods or services. It can also be seen as an intermediary instrument or system used to facilitate the purchase and sale of goods and services between parties.
For a system to function as a medium of exchange, it must represent a standard of value. Also, all parties to the transaction must accept that standard.

Furthermore, for an item to serve as a medium of exchange it must possess certain characteristics, some of which include, the value has to a widely accepted and reasonably stable. It should also be dividable into smaller units.

Purposes of a Medium of Exchange
As noted, the primary purpose of a medium of exchange is for smooth transactions between parties. An effective medium of exchange has a reasonably stable value that is known and accepted by all parties.

That relative stability gives currency, as the primary medium of exchange, another important purpose: It can be stored for a long period of time. The concepts of saving and investing evolved from the potential of currencies to serve over the long term as stores of value. Currency and money are mediums of exchange. They are necessary in an economy for efficient trading and boosting the activities related to trade and exchange. Significantly, they have purchasing power, stored value, and common terminology and act as a standard unit measurement.

It is a system of exchange in general use in a particular country. It is a medium used for exchange for goods and services. It could be in form of money that is paper or coin issued by a government and accepted to face value. It could also be in form of barter, in this case goods and services for other goods and services.

Objects used as medium of exchange in traditional societies
Iron Currency: Iron played significant role in the fashioning of implements as medium of exchange in the olden days. Some currencies used as medium of exchange and fashioned out of iron include- bars, rings, hoes, spears and axes. These currencies for example the Y shaped currency known as Ogoja Ponny were used in Ogoja area of Cross River State. It was specially used for payment of bride price, U-shaped copper currency called Okpho-okuk used by Efiks, Calabar, Iron bar currency, Iron hoes of different shapes and sizes.

Beads: Beads have a history in antiquity in Nigeria with earliest evidence coming from NOK Culture (500BC-AD200) where a good number of quartz stone bead have been recovered. Also in Igbo-Ukwu, a large quantity of beads was recovered from the tomb of a priest/king. At Ife, Benin and areas surrounding them, beads are still very much valued. Other areas where beads were used include Ife, Benin, Kano, Bida and Vere are still famous for local beads. All these beads are form of currencies.

Cowries: Cowries are perhaps the most widely used medium of exchange in our traditional society. They are basically of two types; according to Basden (1938) the larger cowries were preferred in the west of the Niger whereas in the east, the smaller types were preferred.

The Cowries were in most parts of Nigeria and a known variously as Sedere among the Fulani, Owoeyo among the Yoruba, Ayola in Awka. It was used for the purchase of slaves. Among the Birom of Plateau, it was used to procure wife as well as slave.

Cattle: This was predominately used by the Fulani. The fact that Fulani man’s main occupation was and are still cattle rearing. Generally, animals were used as currency then for example horses were used by the Fulani to buy slaves. It was recorded also that Fulani used horses and saddles as currency. In Biu area, horses and goats were at some time used in paying taxes.

Other objects include Feathers, bottles, bundle of wood, U-Shaped copper currency (Okpho-Okuk), needle brass, manila, and leather coin basket.
The use of feathers in Nigeria was basically among the people of Wamba. Woven Bundle of Wood, this was used as currency among the Mumuye tribe.
Textile: Textiles were used as medium of exchange in our indigenous society, in Biu sleeveless shirts were used while in Benin, a kind of loin wrapper known as pawn or pagne was used as a medium of exchange, and it was also used in Gwato for buying slaves.

Other objects used for currency include bottle example is the African bottle used for the purchase of slaves in Port Harcourt, woven bundle of wood used as currency among the Mumuye tribe, and feather currency used in Wamba in Plateau State
Nwogbo is of National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja

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