The Colonial Period

Looting and Despoliation in Africa

Shield (Early 20th century) by Ganda PeopleMudec - Museum of Cultures

Italy's colonial ventures

This section of the collection focuses on the impact of Italy’s colonial ventures on the development of Milan’s civic ethnographic collections. 

"Pipe" Club (Early 20th century) by Nguni PeopleMudec - Museum of Cultures

In the second half of the 19th century, new travelers set off for distant lands, including Giuseppe Vigoni (1846-1914), Senator of the Kingdom of Italy and Mayor of the City of Milan, whose pursuit of distant lands was no longer in the name of scientific curiosity, but rather aimed at surveying which resources could be exploited after military conquest.

Kpinga, multi-bladed throwing knife (Early 20th century) by Zande PeopleMudec - Museum of Cultures

African weapons of assorted origins were considered “colonial trophies”.

Spear, Tuareg People, Early 20th century, From the collection of: Mudec - Museum of Cultures
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Shield, Ganda People, Early 20th century, From the collection of: Mudec - Museum of Cultures
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Ritual Axe (Early 20th century) by Songye PeopleMudec - Museum of Cultures

In many areas of Central and Western Africa, axes symbolized the power of the ruler.

This elaborate ornamental weapon was produced by the Songye, probably by the Nzappo Zap group who lived in the Kasai region, along the south-western flow of the Congo River.

Some researchers believe that the heads that are engraved on the bars that connect the blade to the handle represent rival groups that were conquered, while other scholars suggest they represent masks associated with the Kifwebe spiritual society, symbols of the reciprocal respect between the society and the ruler.

Manilas, Bracelets-money (19th-20th century) by Peoples of West Africa and Central AfricaMudec - Museum of Cultures








The Manillas
of the African Collection 


The term manilla – which refers to objects in the shape of a horseshoe that were worn on the wrist, neck, forearm, ankle, or calf and used as a means of exchange – could derive from the Latin manus (hand) or monilia (collar or necklace), or from the Portuguese manilha (bracelet). 

Manilas, Bracelets-money (19th - 20th century) by Peoples of West Africa and Central AfricaMudec - Museum of Cultures

Also known as bracelet money, manillas were widely used south of the Sahara, particularly in West and Central Africa. In Nigeria their use is documented as early as the 15th century.

Manilas, Bracelets-money (19th - 20th century) by People of West and Central AfricaMudec - Museum of Cultures

In traditional African societies, this form of currency served a dual role: as decorative accessories and as a form of accumulation of wealth (wedding coins).

As such, manillas represent one of the oldest expressions of premonetary systems documented and used throughout Africa, associated primarily with wedding ceremonies or for purchases of particularly large and important items.

Manilas, Bracelets-money, Peoples of West Africa and Central Africa, 19th-20th century, From the collection of: Mudec - Museum of Cultures
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While today it is generically identified with the term 'manilla', this form of jewelry-currency was actually known by different names and attributed different kinds of value depending on its area of use. When European travellers, settlers, and merchants became aware of their monetary significance among local populations, they too gave them an economic value and a rate of exchange with the currency of the colonizing country.

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