The History of Money Paperback – March 10, 1998 by Jack Weatherford (Author)



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“If you’re interested in the revolutionary transformation of the meaning and use of money, this is the book to read!”—Charles R. SchwabCultural anthropologist Jack Weatherford traces our relationship with money, from primitive man’s cowrie shells to the electronic cash card, from the markets of Timbuktu to the New York Stock Exchange. The History of Money explores how money and the myriad forms of exchange have affected humanity, and how they will continue to shape all aspects of our lives—economic, political, and personal. “A fascinating book about the force that makes the world go round—the dollars, pounds, francs, marks, bahts, ringits, kwansas, levs, biplwelles, yuans, quetzales, pa’angas, ngultrums, ouguiyas, and other 200-odd brand names that collectively make up the mysterious thing we call money.”—Los Angeles Times Read more

About the Author Jack Weatherford is the New York Times bestselling author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, and The History of Money, among other acclaimed books. A specialist in tribal peoples, he was for many years a professor of anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota and now divides his time between the United States and Mongolia. Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. IntroductionThe World MarketA young mother, barefoot and bare-breasted hurries out of a mud hut with her nursing baby tied loosely at her side in a cloth sling and with six eggs floating in a bowl of milk balanced delicately on her head. Even though the sun has not yet broken over the horizon, sweat ripples across her face and drips from the gold ring piercing the middle of her lower lip. From the ring, the sweat drips down her chest and rolls across the decorative scars that glisten on her stomach.One morning in every five, she arises before dawn to begin the eleven-mile trek from her village of Kani Kombole in the West African country of Mali to the town of Bandiagara, where a market is held every five days. She hurries out of the family compound to join her sisters, her female cousins, and the other village women who have already begun the slow climb up the cliff that contains the tombs of their ancestors and that forms part of the Bandiagara Escarpment, a rise of some 1,500 feet to the plateau above.As the panting women slowly climb the rocky face of the escarpment, the mud and thatch huts gradually recede from view until they appear to be nothing more than sand castles on a beach. In the heat, the two-and three-story huts, the rickety corncribs, and the goat pens seem to melt in the first rays of the penetrating tropical sun. The women march for nearly three hours. They carry their nursing infants with them, but must leave behind the heavier children who are too young to make the arduous journey on their own. On her head or back, each woman carries something to sell in the marketplace—a bag of tomatoes, a bunch of small onions, a bowl of chilies, or a sack of sweet potatoes. Flies buzz around them constantly, attracted by the moving feast of fresh foods. Occasionally, the women stop to rest on some large rocks in the shade of a lonely and misshapen baobab tree in an otherwise austere landscape. They take small sips from the milk bowl, but they cannot rest for long. Pestered by the growing swarm of insects and always in a hurry to get to market before their customers arrive and before the heat of the sun peaks, the women push solemnly ahead.A short distance ahead of the women, a small caravan of men marches with donkeys piled so high with millet that they look like parading haystacks. Even though all of the travelers come from the same village and often from the same families, the men and women travel in separate groups on their separate missions.On the other side of the world in an apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a young man clutching a new leather briefcase given to him as a graduation gift waits for an elevator. Dressed in a gray suit, gym shoes, and a raincoat, but without a tie, he steps into the elevator, which is already crowded. With a silent nod, the young man puts the briefcase between his knees and awkwardly ties his floral-print silk tie without elbowing his neighbors. As he leaves the building and moves onto the sidewalk, he joins a rapidly moving column of people from adjoining buildings headed for the subway where they join even more people pressed together in the cars that carry them south to the Financial District at the southern tip of the island. After emerging from the subway, the man pauses to buy a sesame bagel, which he plunges into his pocket, and a paper cup filled with fresh-roasted Ethiopian-blend coffee, which he sips through a hole in the plastic lid. Five days a week he makes the same commute from his apartment building to the New York Stock Exchange, situated among some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world.The town of Bandiagara, Mali, lies in the Sahel, the borderland between the southern Sahara and the thick rain forest along the West African coast. Once in the market, the women of Kani Kombole go their separate ways. One takes her onions to the onion truck where the buyer will transport them to the city. Those with tomatoes spread out their sashes on the ground and arrange their produce on them, protecting their goods from the sun under small canopies of thinly plaited straw on gnarly sticks. The woman who had balanced the milk and eggs on her head takes her load to the dairy area, where she displays the eggs in a small gourd next to the larger bowl of milk. Once she has sold her goods to townspeople or traveling wholesalers, the village woman might buy a plastic pail, some tobacco, a block of salt, a few cups of sugar, or some other luxury goods to take home with her. The food, however, is for the townspeople to buy, not her. The few overripe bananas from the coast, the dried dates brought in from an oasis in the Sahara, and the expensive oranges from the coastal farms cost more than the whole load of vegetables or milk that she was able to bring to market.Except in the Muslim communities where almost all public activities fall into the domain of males, women operate and manage the markets throughout West Africa. The women carry the produce to and from the market, and they negotiate the buying and selling. Most of the people who come to the market as buyers or sellers are women. Although men may wander through on a specific mission, the interactive style of the market is female and based largely around enduring ties of kinship, friendship, and personal knowledge of one another.Despite their illiteracy and complete lack of formal education, most of the women in the marketplace at Bandiagara can negotiate, buy, and sell with great facility. They barter produce for produce, will accept payment in coins and paper money—often in several different currencies—and can make change. Even though they cannot read the words on the money, they recognize the value of the different bills primarily by their color, shape, size, and the images on them. Because transactions are made publicly in front of a line of other attentive women, the marketplace abounds in advice and help in each transaction to make sure that it proceeds according to tradition. Women bargain and barter often without even sharing a common language. All they need is a couple of words and a set of hand gestures to signify the numbers. A clenched fist means five; a hand clap signifies ten.The milk seller’s primary competitors in Bandiagara are not other women like her in the neighborhood; they are the dairy farmers of Wisconsin, New Zealand, and the Netherlands. The imported milk is condensed, canned, and distributed free in the poor countries of Africa. Although clearly marked “not for sale” in English, it persistently shows up for sale in the stall immediately next to the young mother from Kani Kombole. The amount of canned milk for sale depends in part on economic conditions in North America, Europe, and the South Pacific. It depends on how much milk Nestlé, Hershey, or relative to the French franc, to which the West African franc of Mali is tied. It depends on how hot the summer is and how much ice cream people eat; it depends on the world’s annual yield of soybeans, one of the major competitors of milk products. The amount of canned milk for sale in Bandiagara in any given month also depends on the dairy subsidies and the foreign aid appropriations made by the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C.; the food policies of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees in Geneva and the European Common Market headquartered in Brussels; and the mercurial aid programs of religious and other private charitable organizations around the world.When there is an abundance of donated milk on the Bandiagara market, the young mother is less likely to sell her fresh milk. When the cans of milk disappear, she will earn more money and will be able to take home more goods that day. Her eggs provide a small financial cushion that help to stabilize her income somewhat, since foreign food programs frequently donate milk products but rarely send eggs abroad. She can usually sell the eggs, even on days when she and her family drink the bowl of unsold milk rather than carry it all the way back to Kani Kombole.

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