Whenever European societies came into contact with primitive societies guns, particularly rifles, became a favorite article of trade. Guns were a virtual necessity in certain parts of the world, and they were durable, making them serviceable as a medium of exchange and store of value. Guns are sufficiently durable to be passed down from one generation to another, and even in the United States old guns are a favorite of antique collectors.
During the nineteenth century rifles in southwestern Africa served as a medium of exchange, and rich chiefs owned stores of rifles as a conspicuous form of wealth. In South Africa colonists found that rifles rivaled spirits as a preferred medium of trade with the natives. In parts of Mozambique rifles, ammunition, and gunpowder were media of exchange.
In regions of the Congo guns not only were used as a medium of exchange, but a monetary unit of one gun evolved and goods were priced in guns. Even though goods were priced in guns, guns were not involved in every transaction. Instead, goods were often traded for other goods whose value could be equated to the required number of guns. A gun came to represent a certain quantity of cotton cloth, some salt, brass wire, hoop iron, crockery, powder, spirit, and perhaps a big brass pan.
A fictitious rifle monetary unit also arose in Angola. Prices were quoted in rifles but payment was made in a basket of other goods of equivalent value. A basket of goods containing 50 to 60 items was necessary to pay for elephant tusks equaling one rifle in value.
Rubber plantations in Brazil paid Indian agricultural workers in cheap rifles that were only good for 40 to 50 shots. The short life expectancy of these rifles assured that the Indians would return to the plantation to work. An Indian fortunate enough to acquire a good gun would probably never be seen again. Indians in the United States also valued rifles, and eagerly exchanged other goods for rifles.
To a society that lives by hunting a gun is one of the most useful tools to be had. Also, intertribal warfare made the acquisitions of guns a necessity because tribes without guns were doomed to extinction.