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A Very Unique Kissi Penny

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By Edited Mar 28, 2016 2 0

Measuring about 33 to 36 centimeters in length, a Kissi penny is a curious form of money, native to Sierra Leone and Liberia. This West African currency was in use as late as 1945. Since the rounded end of the penny symbolizes the head and its pointed ends represent the foot, it was said to be money with a spirit. When a village chief passed away, many of these coins were broken and put into his resting place.

The author of the book The African Slave Trade, Basil Davidson, notes that the slaves were bought for lengths of iron. Even though there is still some disagreement among the experts on whether Kissi pennies were used in slave trade, it is certain that they were used to purchase wives.

Kissi money was widely used in connection to funeral practices and burial customs. When somebody dies, it was considered appropriate to bury him in his or her native village. If the person died far away from home, it was not always convenient to bring the body home. So, the solution was to transport the soul via Kissi penny. A member of the family of the deceased would travel to the location where the death occurred and would procure a penny from the local medicine man who would attach the soul of the dead person to it. The relative would then carry the penny back to the native village ad bury it with respect in the ancestral grave.

The journey back would have to be made in silence. The common belief was that if the he spoke to anyone on the way the soul would leave the Kissi penny and return to the location of death. The family member would then have to go back as well to fetch the soul and to sit with the medicine man for a second time. If it was absolutely vital to speak during the trip, the relative could do so, but not until carefully putting the coun on the ground. Once it was picked up again, silence was gold.

Considering its unusual length, the coin would not be practical for pockets, but the shape was practical in the old days because it could be carried on the head (like branches). Wealthy people stored the pennies in the roof where the condensation would form on them and drip below. The amount of “rainfall” from the ceiling would then be an ostentatious display of the wealth of the host.

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