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History of Money in Malaysia :  Early Money

Early Money in Borneo

Through the ages, money has become not only as medium of exchange, a unit of account, a standard of value and a store of wealth but also as a historical document on the culture, religion and the tradition of a society. Beads made of glass, cornelian and onyx were regarded as a status symbol and were believed to have special powers. Records indicate that when Chinese traders established trade with Sarawak soon after 10th century AD, beads were among their goods exchanged for local products like birds’ nests, turtle eggs, hornbill casque, bezoar stone and ant eater scales.

mgb15.jars.jpgJars, ceramic plates, bowls and brass items were used as a medium of exchange in the hinterland of Sarawak. The big brass cannons, including the miniature ones, were also very popular as barter trade currency in Sarawak, and were used until the beginning of the 20th century. The foreign silver coins, which were regarded as barter or pawn items were made into belt worn by ladies and sometimes by men of certain indigenous groups of Sarawak during the celebration of auspicious occasions at their longhouses.

Among the old stratified societies of Borneo, rank was expressed in a unit of weight, the picul. This is based on the amount of brideswealth due to the bride paid in brass cannon, sometimes substituted with weapons and brassware in the form of brass sireh boxes and brass trays. Brideswealth of 9 piculs was the highest while 7 and 5 were moderate but still of high rank.