Goldweight in the shape of a spiral, possibly broken off at both ends.
Goldweights are small objects cast from brass used to weigh out quantities of gold and gold dust. They are cast using a lost-wax casting technique, wherein wax is sculpted into the desired shape and a mold is pressed around the wax model. Then, the mold is heated and the wax drained out, leaving a void in the shape of the original wax model. Liquid brass is poured into the mold and allowed to set before the caster cracks the mold open and retrieves the finished goldweight.
The object appears broken off at both ends and might have been part of a larger object.
The Akan gold fields were an important source of West African gold from antiquity through the 20th century. Gold was traded on a global scale through both the trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic trades. The use of gold in long-distance exchange was facilitated by the use of standardized weight measurements. Goldweights, based on divisions of the Islamic ounce, were widely employed throughout the Akan area to measure the quantity and value of gold.
Akan goldweights take many shapes. Different sized goldweights measure different amounts and values of gold dust. Goldweights also vary by their aesthetic attributes. Geometric designs are common and are found in the earliest archaeological contexts. Later goldweights take many figurative forms, often linked to proverbs, jokes, and poems. Still other goldweights duplicate adrinka, a system of visual symbols used in cloth decoration.
Goldweight in the shape of a three forked branches with rounded tops, attached to a short stump.
Akan goldweights, which were made in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire from the early 15th through the late 19th century, come in two basic kinds: abstract or geometric forms, and figurative shapes. This example, however, seems to defy this categorization, as the varying interpretations of goldweights very similar to this one seems to suggest. This weight could be a representation of a wooden backrest of the kind that the chief would use instead of a chair in times of mourning (in this case, the short end would stand on the floor, with the three longer branches pointing upward). Alternatively, this weight could be a stylized rendering of a chicken's foot-- other examples would sometimes be cast directly off a real-life model. Finally, this shape might represent a limb forking into three branches, or an indigenous religious object, whose function isn't clearly known.
Goldweight in the shape of two balls, connected by a short stick and with a small pin at one side, covered in a geometrical pattern of lines and triangles.
This goldweight might represent the 'base' of a sword or saber (also called a "pommel"), as representations of swords and sabers are a common motif in Akan goldweights. Alternatively, the design might be intended to evoke a more abstract object, possibly an amulet or other religious object.
Goldweight in the shape of a small bird, with a long, thin neck ending in a small head, resting to the side of the body.
Birds are a popular motif on the gold weights that have historically been used by Akan speaking peoples in what is now Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Like other weights depicting animals, humans, or artifacts, bird-shaped gold weights are linked to proverbs (or "mmebusem"). Proverbs existed independently of weights and many be used in a wide variety of contexts. Similarly, proverbs were not exclusively represented on gold weights, but on many other objects as well, such as staffs. Moreover, while some weights are linked to only one proverb, other weights might elicit a number of different proverbs, based on the individual choice of the speaker, as well as regional and linguistic differences. In the case of birds, there are dozens of proverbs that might be applicable depending on the kind of bird depicted, its bodily position, and the attributes it might carry. It is not clear what kind of bird is represented in this example; a general bird proverb that might be applicable says, "When the feathers of a fowl grow, they still remain attached to its body." In the Asante context of chiefs and commoners, this means that no matter how much the subjects of a chief grow in wealth or importance, they still owe allegiance to their chief.
Goldweight in the shape of a bird, possibly a fowl.
The Akan-speaking peoples of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire have long used goldweights to weigh amounts of gold dust needed in mercantile transactions. Birds are a common motif on these goldweights. Moreover, goldweights in the shape of birds are among the forms most unequivocally related to proverbs; a number of figurative scenes involving birds refers quite directly to specific proverbs. In the case of a single bird, such as this one, the association with a particular proverb is less clear, and indeed there are several options for interpretation here. One example of a proverb that might be applicable states, "When the feathers of a fowl grow, they still remain attached to its body."
Goldweight in the shape of a square base, bearing a solid, undecorated swastika form.
The shape known as swastika in the West, and variations of this form, is a common motif on the goldweights (and other objects) used and produced by Akan-speaking peoples since the 15th century. Informants from contemporary Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire give a number of interpretations for this form. It is sometimes called "asosa," or "monkey's hand," because of its supposed resemblance to the footprint of the colubus monkey. Alternatively, the form can be called "dindje blafou," or "crossed crocodiles," which refers to the idea that it is a stylized rendering of a common Akan motif and proverb: two crocodiles sharing one stomach. Finally, informants and scholars have interpreted the swastika-form and its derivatives as variations of the bow-armed cross, referred to as "nkyinkyim," which is also used as a shaved hairstyle by the maidservants of a queen-mother.
Goldweight in the shape of a square, with a geometric pattern of 2 spirals in the center and edged teeth along two sides.
Most Akan goldweights, including the oldest ones, represent geometric patterns. Goldweights such as this one have been used by Akan-speaking peoples in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire since at least the 15th century. According to Akan oral traditions, the soothsayer Djeya was the first to conceive of the equipment to weigh gold, including a balance with two pans, spoons, boxes for storing gold dust, vans and sifters, a small brush, touchstones, and the goldweights themselves. All this equipment was held together in a packet of cloth and parchment that was called "dja"-- short for Djeya, the name of the originator of the goldweighing apparatus. ("Dja" is the name used in Cote d'Ivoire; in Ghana the same object is called "futuo" or "samaa").
Goldweight in the shape of a solid rectangle with a geometric pattern of lines and incisions along its four long sides and an incised "X" form on the two short sides.
The Akan casters who were responsible for casting gold weights and other cast brass objects had achieved great technical skills; indeed, contemporary master casters from Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire still produce cast brass work of great technical mastery. As an example of the casters' masterful technical abilities, Niangoran-Bouah, a specialist on Akan gold weights, points to examples such as the one under consideration here. He argues that the profiles of certain weights give a design that can also be found, by way of projection, as a distinct sign on other weights. In other words, the brass casters were able to cast the characteristic Akan geometric signs both in front and in profile, which points to very long experience and indigenous experimentation with their material.
Goldweight with geometric pattern consisting of a double "star" form.
From about 1400 to 1900, Akan-speaking peoples of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire used small, portable weights for measuring gold dust. At first, the gold weights were primarily geometric, while figurative weights became popular from the 18th century onwards. According to some scholars, this Akan goldweight represents a double 8-rayed star, which might be the symbol for the planet Venus, locally known as "Afi". The star is composed of two crosses, one representing the male element and the other the female element-- together they show that the union of male and female elements is necessary for procreation.