In African homes as well as the Caribbean, they are part of the gift packages presented to a newborn by family members and well-wishers. They can be copper or silver, but gold is much appreciated.
For children, they wear the bangles till the wrist outgrows it. The bangles are then preserved for another baby to use and new one made or purchased for the young adult.
But bangles are not the preserve of infants. They also adorn the wrist of many West Indian women in the Caribbean and Indian females in the subcontinent.
In African societies in times past, bangles also called manillas served as a dominant form of currency for market purchases, bride price and burials. They also served as currency for one of the dastardly acts of human exploitation.
“The trading and purchase of slaves- fostered a system where the incoming voyage of Europeans took manillas to West Africa to obtain slaves, who were then taken to the Americas to live a life of bondage. The price of a slave valued in manillas varied depending on the time, place and type being offered.”
With the decline of the slave trade, the manillas were also phased out as a form of currency. The British initialed a major recall of all manillas and replaced them with the British West African currency. Available manillas were melted and transformed to other usable goods.
Nonetheless, the fascination with bangles/manillas by women along the West African coast and in Caribbean states continues serving as desired piece of fashion jewellery and a social status symbol. The wearer with more gold pieces is regarded as wealthy or associated with a rich partner.
The horseshoe shaped bracelet or bangles are often decorated with balls on each end. In its inception, these bracelets/bangles were predominantly made from copper as it was the “red gold” of Africa.
Irrespective of its size and composition, bangles continue to be symbols of wealth. They are usually made of metal, wood, glass or plastic. Among African communities with Islamic presence, the bangles when worn also connote spiritual fortification.