Our money gallery boasts a vast collection of objects, all with their own unique history. It is reflective of the fact that money has had an important role in the evolution of many societies. One of the special items we possess is the Katanga cross, which appears to captivate many audiences. This particular piece is very interesting as it illustrates how money has varied over time and across continents. This post explores more of its history.
The Katanga cross gets its name from the region it originates from – the Katanga area in the southeast Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC].
Initially, it was dated back to the AD 19th century when Europeans had documented its use. Since then, however, it is generally thought to have been in use since at least the 14th century.
It had a striking shape, cast in the form of a cross, and this object varied in size: they were either were small, medium, or large. Both of ones we have here appear to have been average-sized ones. They were copper ingots – ingots being pieces of metal cast in a form for shaping, melting or refining. Applying heated copper over sand, cast in the shape of a cross, produced this peculiar, but lovely, item. Once cooled, the dominating feature was a ripple pattern, giving it a fascinating look.
As money, it was worth about six cows, or twelve bags of flour in general society, and it was used as a bartering currency between different villages. Its use as currency formally ended in the 20th century; however, it still functioned as a ceremonial gift for a while. The flag of Katanga also used the cross as an emblem briefly during the 1960s, when trying to gain independence from the DRC.
As such, it is easy to see how it may immediately draw one’s interest. It is a very popular item for discussion when brought out during object handling sessions, as both children and adults alike can hardly believe it was used as a form of money! It is far different from the coins, paper currencies, and bank cards around nowadays. Today, we largely think of money in a different way – cash or cards used to make payments. The introduction of electronic credit has only continued to accelerate this shift towards this; therefore, the unique features of the Katanga cross remain a great example of the wonders of money!
By Khirone Bandama