Traditional Currencies: From Livestock and Shells to Modern Fiat Money

  Cattle are a major form of wealth in many traditional societies in southern Africa. For example, people can use cows to carry out political transactions or maintain family relations, criminals use cows to compensate victims, and the bride price for ordinary people’s marriage is also in units of cows. Cows have even further become a medium for trading and measuring value, not just Only the object being traded. Finally, just like the rich in modern society chase money, the traditional powerful will yearn for a huge number of cattle, because cattle are wealth that can be further traded for various things.
  For urbanites who only think of beef as food, cattle as wealth may be a bit difficult to understand, but it was actually quite common at one time. South African anthropologist Jane Komarov’s research on Botswana’s cattle economy quoted Adam Smith’s and Marx’s analysis of cattle as wealth: cattle have convenient mobility, both certain specifications and Different mutations can continue to maintain and increase value, of course, the premise is not to encounter rinderpest.
  If it is said that the cattle in southern Africa already have the characteristics of currency, the shell coins widely used in the ancient West are more similar to the appearance of money we are familiar with every day – light and easy to carry, consistent in size and not easy to be damaged and counterfeited. The difference may be that shell coins It is not issued by the central bank and is used across national borders. Most of the shell coins in West Africa come from the “Monetaria Moneta” (Monetaria Moneta) produced in the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean. It is used from South Asia to Africa. Later, Europeans also mostly used shell coins when buying black slaves.
  Cargo shellfish is a kind of shellfish that lives in the intertidal zone. The shell that is loved by humans is hard and shiny, and it is oval in shape, unlike many shellfish that are spiral, oddly shaped, or have sharp or rough surfaces. They do not only stick out It crawls on fleshy feet, but it also stretches out a large mantle to cover and protect the outer shell to make it smooth and round. When Arab geographer Masudi arrived in the Maldives in the 10th century, he saw local people inserting coconut branches into the water to raise shellfish, and finally harvested them on the beach to expose them to the sun, forming a special “coinage” industry.
  The issuance of the two “bio-currencies” of cattle and shellfish is actually based on the ability of reproduction and reproduction of organisms. From an individual point of view, each shellfish on the beach is a different existence, but it is important for humans that all shellfish have almost similar “casting specifications”, which makes their remains can be Become a completely objective and formalized “general equivalent”, which is completely empty in itself but can be used to do everything, as the German sociologist Simmel said in “Philosophy of Money”.
  In the 19th century, Europeans discovered the “Monetaria Annulus”, a close relative of the East African shellfish, which was cheaper than the Maldives shellfish. This new shellfish coin was introduced into West Africa in large quantities, causing inflation and declining shellfish. Coins were also quickly replaced by official currencies issued by colonial governments. Compared with the issuance of “biological currency” which depends on the habitat, reproduction and capture of organisms, in the era of artificially minted coins, it depends on the policies of the central bank and other issuing agencies. Severe inflation is usually inseparable from wars, such as Zimbabwe The road to huge inflation is related to the large amount of military expenditure required by the Zimbabwean army to go to Congo to participate in the war.
  Since Zimbabwe fell into astronomical inflation in 2008, it stopped issuing Zimbabwe coins the following year. Since then, in addition to bartering, the main choice for people to trade and preserve their wealth is to use US dollars. Zimbabwe’s attempt to issue a new currency in 2019 failed after only 9 months. The people have always distrusted the national currency and would rather pay a premium to exchange it for the U.S. dollar. Recently, the government launched a new digital currency linked to gold, hoping for a successful and stable operation.
  Money is always a supra-personal system that can be intervened through policy and power. At the same time, it is the possession of the individual, serving various interests and motives, the tension between which will last forever.

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