I’ve previously written about Aboriginal contacts with what is now Indonesia and the Kilwa coins problem as well as about African contacts with Sri Lanka – the two are related – essentially we can show that there were East African trading links with Sri Lanka well before the Kilwa state in East Africa, and this could provide a path for the Kilwa coins to reach Indonesia by way of trade.
Over the weekend I happened across an article from the Jakarta Post on how Chinese coins had been used in the Indonesian archipeleago for several hundred years in the abasence of any local currency.
It seems more than possible that any Kilwa coins that ended up in Java or whereever could just have joined the pool of circulating coins as small change, just as VoC duits joined the pool of currency.
This isn’t quite as wild an idea as it sounds. The Australian 5, 10 and 20c coins are still the same size and weight as their British antecedents, the sixpence, shilling and florin. Before New Zealand downsized their coinage, it wasn’t at all uncommon to get NZ coins in your change along with the occasional pre-downsizing British or Irish 5p or 10p coin, and even more rarely coins from Fiji or Malaysia which were the same size and weight. Everyone was happy to accept the coins despite their different origins and face values, especially given the coins low purchasing power.
Since NZ downsized their coinage non Australian coins have all but disappeared out of the circulating pool of currency, and we no longer get exotica in our small change.
The other thing about coins is that they are long lived. When I was a child before the currency went decimal, it wasn’t that unusual to get worn and battered Queen Victoria pennies and half pennies in your change – in a society where coins were not used in daily transactions one could imagine them staying in circulation for a couple of hundred years.
Putting this all together one could build a scenario where plausibly Kilwa coins could have entered the pool of circulating currency in Java, and ended up mixing with considerably newere VoC duits. The puzzle is of course why no Chinese coins in the mix if they come from a single shipwreck …
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