1 Manillas from the Kingdom of Congo
The first Europeans (Portuguese, Diogo Cão) came to the Kingdom of Congo in 1483. The Congolese King Nzinga Nkuwu and six notables were baptised in 1491. Nzinga Nkuwu adopted the Christian name João (I). King João I (died in 1506) and was followed by Affonso I. King João I could only offer the Portuguese ivory and raphia fabrics. The copper from the Kingdom’s centre was not of a high enough quality to be successfully traded with Europeans. Dom Affonso I was the Nsundi ruler from about 1485 until João's death in 1506. As the successor to João I, he retained access to this region’s copper mines (Mindouli-Boko Songo, see Map 1), so that between 1506 and 1511 he could also export 5,200 copper bracelets (manillas) to King Manuel I of Portugal (Hilton 1985:50–55, Brásio 1952, vol.I: 294–323). Early references to manilla occurrence and use in the Kingdom of Congo can be found in the “Monumenta Missionaria Africana” published by Brásio, especially in volume I “Africa ocidental (1471–1531)”, in which the Portuguese missionaries’ correspondence is documented.
Herbert (1984:140–143), Hilton (1985:54–55), and Dupré & Pinçon (1997:50) probably wrote about this situation with reference to Brásio, but usually only using the term copper rings. In the Portuguese texts published by Brásio in 1952, however, manjlhas are clearly mentioned.
For this the following text excerpts:
1) Brásio, António (1952, vol. I) Only the passages mentioning manillas are listed here:
– p. 294, document 83: “Carta do Rei do Congo, a. d. Manuel I (05-10-1514)” – “Letter of the King of Congo to King Manuel I of Portugal from 05/10/1514”
– p. 295: Nós emtã os mãdamos e lhe demospera elles ambos e pera Gonçalo Royz myll e quynhentos manylhas e çento e cynquoenta espriuos. – We sent them now and gave him [meaning the Fernando de Mello]7 for both [the Portuguese King?] and Gonçalo Roiz 1,500 manillas and 150 slaves.8
– p. 297: […] e os mãdámos eo dito navyo de Fernã de Mello e mãdámos ao dito Fernã de Mello pera Nos compar o dito socoro, que avyamos mester, oytoçentas manjlhas e cyncoent espriuos pera elle e pera sua molher e çyncoemta manjlhas pera o seo fylho trynta e pera o captitam e espriuam vynte, […] – […] and we sent them in the ship of Fernão de Mello and we instructed the Fernão de Mello said to buy us the help that we had to have, 800 manillas and 50 slaves for him and for his wife and 50 manillas for his son, 30 for the captain and 20 slaves, […]
– p. 301: […] e mãdáuamos hũa carta a suallteza e outra pera Rainha dona Lyanor, pollos quaes nosos parentes mãdáuamos (a) elle sete centos manjlhas e muytos espriuos e papaga yos […] – […] and we sent one Letter to His Highness and another to Queen Eleanor, whereby our relatives gave him 700 manillas and many slaves and parrots […]
– p. 303: […] e mãdamos ao dito Fernã de Mello mjll manjlhas e certos espriuos e de nós ao ditto estruam Jusarte vinte espriuos e trezentas manjlhas, por que nos dizia que era sobrynho suallteza
[…] por que elle nos dizia que se mãdasemos a suallteza manjlhas ou espriuos, suvallteza que averya memoorja
[…]. Em tam mãdamos cõ elle a Joam Fernandez con quatro certs (centas) manjlhas pera Vós e vynte espriuos pera em Portugal nos coprar allguũ vistydo, por amdarmos vistido como seluaje. O quall Fernã de Mello, tãto que ho navio cheguou à Jlha lhe tomou ametade das manjlhas e nouem espriuos e Nos ficaram honze e das manjlhas mãdou as por escrauros e mãdou que desem trynta manijlhas porc ada espriuo." –
[…] and sent to the said Fernão de Mello 1,000 manillas and some slaves and to us said Estevão Jusarte 20 slaves and 300 manillas, for he had told us that he was the nephew of His Highness.
[…] for he said that if we sent to His Highness manillas or slaves, then His Highness would remember.
[…] So we sent João Fernandez through him 400 manillas for you and 20 slaves to buy clothes for us in Portugal, so that we were not dressed like savages. That Fernão de Mello, as soon as the boat reached the island of São Tomé, took from him half of the manillas and 9 slaves, and left us eleven slaves, and he caused them to give thirty manillas for each slave.
– p. 305: […] e mãdamos ao dito Fernão de Mello duzemtas manjlhas e sençenta espriuos […] – […] and sent to the Fernão de Mello 200 manillas mentioned and also 600 slaves […].[…] e mãdamos duzentas manjlhas pera Vos e çertos espriuos e pera o dito Pedro Afomso leuar a Portugall e Nos cõprar lá alguũ vistido. – […] we sent 200 manillas for you and some slaves for the mentioned Pedro Afomso, so that he took her to Portugal and bought us clothes there.
O quall navio tanto que à ylha cheguou, Fernã de Mello Nos tomou amatade das manjlhas e espriuos […] – As soon as the ship reached the island (São Tomé) Fernão de Mello took half of the manillas and slaves from […]
- p. 521, Document 153: “Carta de D. João III ao Rei do Congo (Fins de 1529)” – “Letter from D. João III to the King of the Congo Empire (late 1529)”
– p. 526f: […] se uos bem pareçer seja asy, porem a my(m) nam me pareçe hommrra vosa ne de voso Reyno, por quem ais de louuar lhe hé tirarese cadanno de Comgo x escrauos e dez mjill manjlhas e outros tamtos demtes de marfym, que dizer se (que) já e Comgo nã há resguate nhuũ, ne vay somete hũu navyo cadanno; asy cõ ysto e o all seja como vós quiserdes. – […] if it seems so to them, then it should be, but it does not seem to me the honour of your king, because more than praiseworthy 10,000 slaves and 10,000 manillas and just as much ivory (teeth) were withdrawn from the Congo each year. To say that there is no salvation in the Congo, not even a ship goes every year, so that's how you want it.
A translation of the original Portuguese text into English can be found at Newitt (2010:152–153):
However, it does not seem to be to the honour of you or your kingdom because it would be more praiseworthy to draw each year from the Congo 10,000 slaves and 10,000 manillas and as many tusks of ivory […].
Randles (1968:178) summarises these notes of Brásio as follows:
Dès 1514, 2300 manilles de cuivre sont exportées de l’embouchure du Congo. Ce cuivre provient des fameuses mines de Bembe qui deviendront, dès le début du XVIIe siècle, l’objet de la convoitise des Portugais de Luanda. – Since 1514, 2,300 copper manillas have been exported through the mouth of the Congo. This copper came from the famous copper mines of Bembe, which since the beginning of the XVII. Century were the desire of the Portuguese in Luanda.
2) Herbert, Eugenia W. (1984:140):
In 1506 the King of Congo, Don Afonso, sent 500 manillas of copper to King Manuel I of Portugal […]. […] Manuel I quickly recognised the wealth […]. In 1516 he sent an emissary to learn more about such local trade goods as copper, ivory and slaves […]. By the next decade relatively large quantities [of copper manillas] were being shipped north to the Guinea coast, probably to Benin in particular, which clung to its preference for copper manillas. The linchpin in this regional trading system was the island of São Tomé9.
Fernando de Mello, the São Tomé way station governor, played a less than trustworthy role in this trade, as can be seen in the previous quotes.
Further information about copper manillas from the Kingdom of Congo are added here by Herbert from Brásios’ “Monumenta Missionaria Africana”. (see also page 12).
3) Hilton, Anne (1985:54):
The copper from within the nuclear kingdom [of Congo ] was poor and in the mid-seventeenth century, it was unacceptable on the European market. The Mindouli-Boko Songo (see Map 1) copper however, was of excellent quality, dominating the interregional copper trade of that century. All the early sixteenth-century copper was exported in the form of manilla armrings and this was the characteristic form of the Mindouli-Boko Songo10 exports.
4) Cuvelier’s sources were:
a. Paiva Manso, Leon Maria Jordan, Visconde de: Historia do Congo: obra postuma. Documentos. Lisboa 1877
b. Historia do Reino do Congo. Manuscrit No 8080, F. G. de la Bibliothèque Nationale du Lisbonne
c. Cavazzi, Giovanni Antonio: Istoria Descrittione de’ tre Regni Congo, Matamba et Angola. Milano 1690
Cuvelier, Joseph (1946):
– p. 108: […] en l’année 1506 […] Dom Affonso (Mbemba Nzinga) fit des présent...