- Place of origin:
before 1874 (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Early European visitors to Ghana, West Africa, described dazzling displays of court regalia at the court of the Asantehene, the ruler of Asante state. The region’s natural gold resources had made the Asante wealthy and court regalia, which included textiles (kente), ivory and gold, reflected high levels of skill and technology.
This cast gold pectoral disc was worn around the neck by those responsible for the ritual purification of the Asantehene’s soul. The Asante call the discs akrafokonmu, usually translated as ‘soul discs’ or ‘soul washers’ badges’.
Following Asante efforts to protect a coastal trading outlet, British forces invaded the state capital Kumasi on 4 February 1874. The Asantehene, Kofi Karikari, fled leaving behind much precious regalia which was captured and later sold at auction at Garrard’s, the London crown jewellers. The Museum’s accession registers record the purchase of this and twelve other items of Asante gold and silverware from Garrard’s on 5 June 1874.
Cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer' as a badge of office, a disk decorated with concentric incised bands, with a pyramidal boss.
Place of Origin
before 1874 (made)
Materials and Techniques
Diameter: 3.75 in
Object history note
One of thirteen items of gold/silverware which entered the V&A’s collections on 5 June 1874 (Metalwork dept. accessions register facsimile) with the source listed as ‘Garrard’. Following Major-General Sir Garnet Wolseley’s invasion of Kumasi (capital of the then independent state of Asante, Ghana) on 4 February 1874, the palace of the Asantehene was ransacked and the Asante forced to pay a war indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold. On return to the UK, some of this gold was auctioned by Garrard’s, the London’s Crown jewellers, which is almost certainly how the V&A acquired these pieces. Records of the auction were lost during the Second World War.
Historical context note
'Soul washing' is a ceremony at which the Asantehene is ritually purified. Cast gold disks called akrafokonmu ('soul washer's disk') were protective emblems worn by important members of the court, including royal attendants known as akrafo, or 'soul washers.' Individuals selected for this title were beautiful men and women born on the same day of the week as the king. They ritually purified and replenished the king's, and thus the nation's, vital powers.
Source: Alexander Ives Bortolot, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer' as a badge of office, Asante, Ghana, before 1874
Jewellery; Metalwork; Black History; Ceremonial objects; Africa