miércoles, 22 de enero de 2014

The earliest money: The "Blood money" and the "Bride price".

1.2.- The earliest money:  The "Blood money" and the "Bride price".

Translation of an article published in Spanish: “El Eco Filatélico y Numismático” (November 2007). Vol. 63 (n. 1157): pp. 44-46.

    Prior to the emergence of "economic money", well known and used at present, there were other types of "currency" whose function was to maintain the delicate balance in social relations between humans, which have always been on the border of two opposing choices, cooperation and competition.
To encourage cooperation, "hospitality" was institutionalized. This institution appeared late in the Roman Empire, previously has been in use by the Iberian peoples, as evidenced by the numerous "hospitality tessera" found on archaeological sites (1). These tesserae are small bronze plaques with different shapes, from the purely geometrical, that fit together like a puzzle (Figure 1a), to the most frequent forms of animals (Figure 1b) or holding hands. In each pair of twins and supplementary plates, is written in Latin or Iberian characters an hospitality password, an inscription which contains the covenant established between two cities, two tribes, or between a city or a tribe and one or more individuals. While a copy is held by the community which has delivered, the other is left to the person who has received hospitality. In this case the tessera is a passport for the wearer that in the future, will be received in the town as a friend, even in the distant future.

Figure 1a,b .- Hospitality Tesserae from the Custodia (Viana, Navarra, N. Spain).


The institution of "hospitality" is well documented in Roman times in the Iberian area, is an old tradition, which served both within the community of individuals and cities of the same culture, or between communities or individuals between the cities of different regions. It is an early manifestation of international law. This tool, facilitated cooperation through the institution of Hospitality, and the competitive relationship was prevented. Competition inevitably leads to hostility, we can observe the common etymology of this two opposing words Hostility/Hospitality.


We can go back in time to observe the customs and institutions of certain primitive cultures, that even today (although probably not for long) survive in remote regions of Melanesia, and we can find elements prior to the institution of Hospitality previously commented.


In these societies there are frecuently two types of "currency" which have a very specific function. The first is called "blood money" (or blood price), whose function is to compensate the family of a homicide victim. The payment of this money to the relatives of the victim by the aggressor, restores social peace, which otherwise would lead to the implementation of the "Talion Law", which would produce more bloodshed (2).


The second type is the "money of the Bride” (or bride price) which it groom's family must submit as changes to the family of the bride, and we can find today in our culture residually in the form of "dowry payment" (“arras”) given by the groom in the wedding ceremony.


While in some societies, both monetary types are identical, ie using the same "currency" for both purposes, in other cases, each has its own specific function. For example Wodani people, inhabitants of the highlands of the province of Irian Jaya (West Papua) used cowries, known as "Kipe" in all sorts of social and economic relations. For Wodani, the origin of Kipe is a mystery, and accordig to the tradition these snails have reached to the region at the same time as men. Kipe is described with human anatomy: it has a nose, anus, thighs, skin, eyes, mouth, teeth. In fact, considering this shell money as a "person", it is appropriate to make payments by marriage or manslaughter (in both cases the loss by the extended family of a married daughter or son died). In this case the " bride price" acts metaphorically as "blood money", the money is "virtual people" and in both cases serve to offset the loss of an individual in the group, either a daughter who marries and leaves the clan to go with her husband, or a son who is killed in a dispute with a neighboring clan.


In contrast, among Maeng people of New Britain (Papua New Guinea) there are two main types of currency, the "Page" are Tridacna shell rings and the "Tali" made from strings of fragments of gastropod molluscs. Within the "Page" is divided into two categories, the "Agiana" are the most valuable, each shell money has its own name and history, and are collectively owned. It is this coin, the more valuable, which is used exclusively as "blood money ". A second category of rings "Page" are "Vulutu" which can be individually owned and used as "bride price". Finally, the third group of shell currency the "Tali" is used to reward certain actions, especially in ritual ceremonies.


Figure 2.- Coins "Ndap" and “ke” of Rossel Island (the easternmost island of the Louisiade Archipelago, Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea).
In Rossel Island there are also two different types of shell money, the "ndap" and “ke” (Figure 2). According to tradition, the money "ndap" and some "ke" were made by a god in sacred places, and while the “ndap” may only be possessed by the chiefs, the latter may belong to women. A curious transformation has taken place a few years ago, “ndap” shell money is subdivided into 22 distinct types, of which the four highest values are traditionally used as compensation to relatives of victims of cannibalism (very popular tradition in the area, and origin of this peculiar "blood money"), the disappearance of this practice for some time, has also changed the role of the shell of the four most valuable coins, which has now moved to the category of "inalienable objects".


Figure 3 Shell-money "Bakhia", Solomon Islands, used as "blood money"
Not all "blood money" are as humble as those used in Rossel Island. In the Solomon Islands are sophisticated objects made with a highly ornamented shell ring, called "Bakhia” (Figure 3) used as ornament and as currency in special occasions, such as to end a war between neighbors.


Figure 4 Ceremony payment of "bride price" in Maprik (Papua New Guinea)
Also, sometimes the "Bride price" are spectacular, such as large Tridacna shell disks used in Maprik area, in East Sepik River (Figure 4), and even we can find true works of art. The "Talipun" is the most famous currency used as “Bride price, that even is represented on the bank note of five kina currently circulating in Papua-New Guinea. This shell money is used in some northwestern small villages of Boiken area and in some remote villages in the Abelam territory in Papua New Guinea, and consists of two parts: the most valuable piece is a fragment of the marine snail Turbo marmoratus, obtained through the trade with coastal tribes. Adequately cuted, acts as a baseline, while the top is occupied by a kind of mask made from wicker and clay, which can take many forms and is usually decorated with feathers and with different natural pigments (Figure 5). The mask is attached to the shell with a rope and each "money" can be used for several generations, replacing or repainting the mask when it deteriorates.

Figure 5 "Talipun" used as "Bride price" in the Sepik River area (Papua New Guinea).

Significantly, these two types of social currency, the "blood money" and "bride price" appear in cultures far removed, even on diferent continents from time immemorial, long before the emergence of the concept of "economic money". In any society, the most valuable is the life of the individual who contributes his work to the survival of the group, and in primitive societies emerged some "currency" which had precisely the value of life of its members.


(1) The historian Diodorus Siculus states that the Celtiberians competed for the best hospitality to foreigners.

(2) Currently, in many Muslim countries (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia ...), Koranic laws provide, that under certain circumstances, that the relatives of the condemned can to pay to the victim relatives the "diya" (blood money) in order to obtain his pardon and save his life.

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