- Place of origin:
before 1874 (made)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Natural gold resources generated wealth and influence for the Asante kingdom in Ghana, West Africa. From around 1600 small weights (mbrammoo) in brass and bronze were used to weigh gold dust, which was used for all commercial transactions. Anyone involved in trade and commerce owned, or had access to, a set of weights and scales.
Geometric shapes and designs predominated amongst the early weights but more naturalistic representations of court regalia began to appear in the 17th century. By the 18th and 19th centuries the weights reflected a wide range of human and animal figures, often in scenarios designed to represent popular Asante proverbs.
This brass weight is in the form of an antelope with extended horns. Antelopes were important animals to the Asante. Traditionally, they belonged to dead chiefs (amanhene). The extended horns on this antelope refer to the Asante saying, ‘Had I known’ or, ‘If I'd known my horns were to grow so long I might not have started.’ This is a visual pun on the benefit of hindsight and is an appeal for thought before action.
The Museum bought this weight for 4s in April 1874 from a Sergeant Pearce of the British Army, 2 months after a battle at the Asante capital, Kumasi. During the battle on 4 February 1874 the palace of the Asante leader, Kofi Karikari, was ransacked. The Asante were forced to pay a war indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold. Major-General Sir Garnet Wolseley ordered the collection to be sold at Garrard’s, the London crown jewellers, so that the proceeds could provide pensions to the widows of British casualties.
Cast brass goldweight in the form of a mythical animal with exagerated horns
Place of Origin
before 1874 (made)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 1.25 in, Length: 3 in
Object history note
Purchased from Serjeant Pearce for 4 shillings. Received by V&A stores 27 April 1874. Probably acquired through British invasion of Kumasi (capital of the then independent state of Asante, Ghana) on 4 February 1874 during which the palace of the Asantehene, Kofi Karikari, was ransacked. Following the invasion the Asante were forced to pay a war indemnity of 50,000 ounces of gold. Major-General Sir Garnet Wolseley ordered the collection to be sold at Garrard's, the London crown jewellers, so that the proceeds could provide pensions to the widows of British casualties.
Historical significance: Goldweights were not simply functional items. They symbolised the meeting of communities for trade. Many carried messages of peace and goodwill. Geometric shapes and entwined plants reminiscent of Islamic art, probably influenced by long-standing links with Muslim North Africa, predominated among the early weights.
Historical context note
The trade in gold provided opportunities for artistic expression. Antedating the establishment of the Asante kingdom by about two centuries, the gold trade relied on a standardized weight system derived from North African, Dutch, and Portuguese precedents. To measure the gold dust, Akan merchants used diminutive brass weights called abramo. The form these weights took changed over time: the earliest weights were geometric, reflecting the influence of North African Islam, but by the seventeenth century naturalistic representations of court regalia were more prevalent. This shift may reflect the Asante kingdom's growing regulatory role in the gold trade. References to Akan proverbs in the form of complex images of animals and people appeared somewhat later, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Cast brass goldweight in the form of a mythical animal with exaggerated horns, Asante, Ghana, West Africa, before 1874
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Patterson, Angus, "Asante Goldweights", The Journal of the Antique Metalware Society, Vol. 15, June 2007, p. 39
Asante Goldweights (The Belinda Gentle Metalware Gallery 01/01/2007-31/12/2007)
Metalwork; Africa; Tools & Equipment; Black History