Before the advent of the British in Nigeria and the introduction of their currencies: Pounds, Shillings and Pence which preceded Naira and Kobo, there were several forms of local currencies used by indigenous peoples of Nigeria.
In Igboland, South East Nigeria, there were various forms and values of local currency used for means of trade and exchange. However, the two major forms of the local currency are known as Okpogho/Ego Igwe and Ego Ayoro.
1. Okpogho/Ego Igwe (Manilla): Okpogho/Ego Igwe, otherwise known as Manilla is a form of commodity money made of iron, bronze and copper. They are also known as iron currency. In the precolonial days, iron was a metal of high value cherished among the Igbos and thus when smithened into elaborate bars was used as a medium of exchange. Since, the Portuguese and the Dutch were the earliest Europeans to visit Nigeria, Okpogho was used in the trade of various goods and items such as cloths, gins, tobacco heads, beads, salt, palm oil and dry fish. Okpogho comes in various sizes and shapes such as bars, rings, hoes, spears axes. The value is inherent in its weight, intricate designs and shapes. Till date, when someone is wealthy or rich, Igbos will say: “O nwere Okpogho” or “O nwere Ego Igwe” which translates to that the person is extremely rich.
2. Ego Ayoro/Cowry: In precolonial Igboland, cowries were commonly used as a form of local currency. A cowry is a small, glossy olive-sized shell about a half inch long. In Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart,” cowries were used by the Umuofia People as a means of exchange and a payment of bride price. It has both monetary value and spiritual significance. Cowry shell has a universal status as various civilisations of the world used it for various reasons. The shells were also believed to possess the power of fertility which signifies prosperity. In recent years, cowries have been integrated into pop culture and modern fashion. Cowries can be woven into African braided hairstyles and headpieces.
Cowries have now taken root in pop culture
Beyonce wearing cowries
Cowry-inspired hairstyles and headpieces.