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Badge

  • Place of origin:

    Ghana (made)

  • Date:

    before 1874 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Cast gold

  • Museum number:

    369-1874

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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’. The distinctive multi-petalled shape of this disc represents the bud of the fofoo plant before it opens to reveal yellow florets.

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.

Physical description

This cast gold pectoral disc was threaded onto a stick to which white pineapple fibre cord was tied to the ends so that it could be worn around the neck by those responsible for the ritual purification of the Asantehene’s soul. The Asante call the disks akrafokonmu, usually translated as ‘soul discs’ or ‘soul washers’ badges’. The distinctive multi-petalled shape of this disc represents the bud of the fofoo plant before it opens to reveal yellow florets.

Place of Origin

Ghana (made)

Date

before 1874 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Cast gold

Dimensions

Height: 5.12 in, Width: 4.75 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

Descriptive line

Cast gold badge, worn by the Asantehene's (king's) 'soul washer' as a badge of office, Asante, Ghana, before 1874

Labels and date

Regalia
Asante people, Ghana
Before 1874

The natural gold available in Ghana made the Asante people wealthy and powerful. Their court regalia, which included textiles, ivory and gold, reflected high levels of skill and technology. Much Asante gold, including most of these pieces, was taken as war indemnity by British forces following an invasion in 1874.

Gold and silver

Museum nos. 368:1 to 3-1874 (pipe), 369-1874 (pectoral disc), 372-1874 (ornament), 373-1874 (ornament), 374-1874 (ornament), 375-1874 (ornament), 376-1874 (bead), 377-1874 (ornament), 378-1874 (ornament), 379-1874 (spoon), 380&A-1874 (anklets)
Purchased by the Museum from an auction held at Garrard's, the London crown jewellers, in 1874

Museum no. 895-1875 (ornament)
Bought from Lt. Col. the Hon. J.R.W. Vesey in 1875

Museum no. M.454-1936 (ornament in the form of a bird)
Bought from Mr W.C. Smith in 1936 []

Materials

Gold

Techniques

Cast

Categories

Jewellery; Metalwork; Black History; Ceremonial objects; Africa

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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