Missanga is treasure that washes up on the shores of Ilha – tiny pieces of ancient gold, shards of Ming Dynasty porcelain, exquisite Venetian and Bohemian glass beads sparkling away in the white sands. These miniature bundles of beauty are imbued with a rich and complex history – our link to the centuries-old African trade routes.
Your guide, Selemane, has been a Missanga man for many years, collecting, selling and trading. He will lead you on an intriguing treasure hunt along the beaches and coves and unravel some of the Missanga mysteries.
Amongst the jagged, fossilized coral rock watch how the young boys pan for gold, brass and copper and try to master their techniques. On the contracosta meet Ibraimo, a Makhuwa expert in treasure finds, who tells you his stories from a lifetime of beach combing.
Discover which beach yields the finest porcelain and the best places for the beautifully worn glass beads, gently reshaped from hundreds of years of rolling around the white coral sands of the Indian ocean.
Search for pieces yourself and start your own collection. Selemane has well trained eyes for spotting even the tiniest of glass beads, so you won’t come away empty-handed. This special blend of contemporary and ancient trade is one part of the incredible story of the African trade beads and you too can be part of it.
An introduction to the history of Missanga
Ilha de Moçambique was pivotal to one of the greatest trade routes ever – the extraordinary maritime route linking Africa, Arabia, India, Europe and the Far East. It was here on Ilha that the riches from Africa’s deep interior spilled out. Gold, ivory, ebony and slaves were exchanged for exotic spices, textiles, ceramics and other luxury items. The currency used to initiate these transactions was glass beads manufactured in far flung places including India, Poshan, Amsterdam,Venice, Bohemia and Moravia.
In the old days, a few beads might buy a life. Thousands of Africans were marched in chains from the interior and then paraded at low tide along the beach and up to the slave market. It was here that captains of trading vessels bought the slaves, often for just a small string of Missanga beads.
The journeys were perilous. Aside from bandits and pirates, ships laden with treasures battled high winds and strong currents and foundered on the coral reefs surrounding Ilha, spilling their precious cargo. Centuries later these riches of old continue to emerge from the watery depths.