Beads and Money: Wealth and Power. Beads and Money: Wealth and Power. Beads and Money: Wealth and Power
From economics perspective, beads have almost all attributes associated with money. Although they are indivisible, they are durable, portable, and nearly commensurable. Yet, these attributes are common in other objects that have been never served as trade currencies (Graeber 1996). Previous studies report that there is nothing ore that makes beads unique, but they are adornment objects. Thus, other objects adopted as trade currencies in different parts of the world are used basically for adornments. Silver and gold are good examples that were used to quote price for other products such as spondylus shells and cowries of Americas, Africa, and New Guinea, “primitive currencies”, as referred in today’s literatures. However, transaction decisions were not outsourced, the participants made the decisions according to their values and needs (Bohannan, 1959). Thus, they had their own processes that they used to establish value of each object. Focusing on such processes introduces critical notions of power, exchange, value, and the human person, which will be the main focus in this topic.
Many societies have used beads and other objects of adornment as their currencies for transaction for several centuries. For instance, local Indians accepted to trade the Manhattan Island with Dutch settlers, as commonly in many literatures, for 24 dollars equivalent to certain amount of baubles and beads (Graeber 1996). However, studies report that beads are widely used in many parts of the globe. It is explained that during this so many people around the world had the motive to adopt the European beads as the currency for trading different commodities including land. From this nature, ancient people are described as being primitive. That is, they lacked capacity to differentiate things that had precise value from worthless trinkets. Beads had served as a currency for trade in African countries for centuries, even before European merchants commenced bringing theirs. This served as an opportunity for European merchants to expand their trade activities into the region (Fagan, 2004). Again, the beads were among limited European products that could be easily adopted by inhabitants. As a result, beads became popular trade currency in other regions that had not adopted the objects before the merchants arrived.
Bohannan, P. (1959). The impact of money on an African subsistence economy. The Journal of Economic History, 19(4), 491-503.
Fagan, B. M. (2004). Before California: An archaeologist looks at our earliest inhabitants. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman Altamira.
Graeber, D. (1996). Beads and money: Notes toward a theory of wealth and power. American Ethnologist, 23(1), 4-24.
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