Some Ingestible and Other Types of Consumable Currencies
We normally think of currencies as being used to obtain consumables, but not of being consumable themselves. However, human beings have developed, as part of a broad range of exchangeables, at various times and places, types of exchangeables that can be consumed, or ingested (eaten, smoked, or drunk). These consumable currencies are, most notably, opium, coca, cacao, salt, and tobacco. Other types of consumable, but noningestible, currencies include brass, iron, wood, and cloth.
Although a substantial debate has raged on in anthropology over what "money" is (e.g., Polanyi 1957a, 1957b; Bohannan 1959; Dalton 1961; Bohannan and Dalton 1962, 1965; Codere 1968, Melitz 1970, 1974), less attention has been given to what "currency" is. Although it is not possible, in this brief space, to settle the argument about money, it is possible to examine some curious representatives of the broad category of currencies, namely the consumable currencies, of both noningestible and ingestible varieties.
Consumable, ingestible currencies have two salient characteristics: (1) they can be manufactured, or produced in quantity, in an attempt to fulfill their producers' wishes and (2) they have some kind of inherent value of a practical, utilitarian nature (i.e., they can be ingested or otherwise consumed), giving some real and/or benefit to the persons who consume them.
Consumable currencies are a subcategory of a larger class of special currencies that have developed under particular historical, social, and cultural conditions, undoubtedly in response to special contextual circumstances. Some of the special circumstances in which these currencies are found include rituals (e.g., the use of brass cannon in the bride-wealth of the Dusun of Brunei -- Shariffuddin 1969, 91, Davidson 1977, 57-58, Photographs 10A-B), peculiar economic constraints (e.g., the increase in the use of opium as currency following