Essay, part 1 Introduction
Essay, part 2 Trading Gold for Salt
Essay, part 3 Mining the Gold
Essay, part 4 Using Gold-Dust as Money
Essay, part 5 Trading with Europeans

Trading with Europeans

 In the fifteenth century, ships from seafaring European nations began to arrive on Africa's Gold Coast. The Portuguese arrived first and established a fort on the coast where they traded solid brass ingots called manillas in exchange for Akan gold and slaves. The Akan melted the manillas down and recast them into objects for their own use.

Not long after the Portuguese established trade with the Akan, gold-seekers from Holland and England arrived, followed by traders from Sweden, Denmark, and France. The Akan bought many things from the Europeans including pigeons, chickens, pigs, sheep, sugar cane, pineapples, bananas, oranges, red peppers, tobacco, guns, gunpowder, tools, eye-glasses, cloth, carpets, hats, lace, paper, liquor, brass locks, bells, bugles, and glass beads.

Trade competition

All traders, Akan and European alike, operated out of self-interest and tried to establish trade rules and procedures that would increase their own profits. Shipowners from European nations vied fiercely with each other, hoping to acquire sole trading rights and sole access to Akan gold.


 Manilla is Portuguese for "bracelet for the hand." Used as currency, a manilla is a C-shaped brass ingot that comes in a variety of sizes and weights.


This handa is a form of currency from Congo that is made of copper.

 Tolls and tributes

The Akan increased their trade earnings by collecting tolls from European ships anchored off their coast. They also collected rents from the Europeans who operated trading forts along the coastline.

Coins replace gold-dust currency

By the mid-1800s the Akan began using coins as currency. Their four-hundred-year-old tradition of trading with gold-dust could not keep pace in a faster-moving world. Foreign traders did not want to spend several hours negotiating every transaction with weights and scales. As the Akan modernized, their weights gradually lost their usefulness and the gold-dust system faded into the past.

Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies