Katanga is a rich copper mining region is the south-eastern portion of Zaire.
Copper X-shaped ingots are often called "Katanga crosses," named after a region in Africa along the Kasai River in
Zaire, one of the areas where they have been found. Called "handa", they are the classic currency associated with the
region. The ingots weigh anywhere from around one half pound to some two and half pounds, but their exact value in
units of weight is unknown.
For centuries these crosses served as indications of wealth and were used as bridewealth payments, trade, and
currency. And, since they have been found in burials, they have also been associated with ritualization. Large crosses
were convenient for stacking in royal treasuries and for transporting to areas of heavy demand. The Congolese
regarded the non-ferrous metals -- copper, lead, and tin -- as very precious materials. Metals were a widespread means
of exchange and important in settling social contracts, such as marriage. Early in this century, one cross might purchase
five to six chickens, two lengths of good fabric, eight to nine pounds of rubber, or six axes.
The Katanga region declared its independence from The Congo (now Zaire) shortly after Belgium granted the region its
independence in 1960. In 1961 Katanga issued its first coins, a copper 1 Franc and 5 Franc for circulation. A gold
version of the 5 Franc was also issued as a non-circulating commemorative. As an homage to it's heritage, the coins
pictured the Katanga Cross. After years of fighting Katanga was forcibly reunited with The Congo in 1963.
Sources: A History of Art in Africa / Africa - The Art of a Continent / The Tribal Art of Africa
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