Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Gold Weight: Sword

18th–19th century
Akan peoples
H x W x D: 3 1/8 x 7/8 x 3/4 in. (7.9 x 2.2 x 1.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Ernst Anspach, 1994
Accession Number:
Not on view
Cast brass gold weights, known as abrammuo (sing. mrammuo), were developed by Akan merchants and rulers to standardize the trade in gold dust from mines in present-day Ghana in networks of exchange that extended beyond the Sahara Desert. Domestically, gold was valued by the Akan kings for its decorative and symbolic qualities. Aside from bringing enormous wealth to the Akan kingdoms through trade, gold was considered the earthly counterpart to the sun and an incarnation of kra, or life force, and was incorporated into a wide spectrum of courtly paraphernalia. While the earliest gold weights from the fifteenth century displayed abstract or geometric motifs inspired by North African Islamic traditions, later weights from the seventeenth century onward were figurative in design. Some take their imagery from royal accoutrements, likely in reference to the Akan kings' increasing involvement in the regulation of the trade at this time.

The weight presented here illustrates an item of regalia displayed by the king and other high-ranking officials of the Akan courts. This diminutive sword represents an afena, a curved sword decorated with intricate cast gold ornaments worn by attendants to the king. Such amulets, constructed from Qur'anic texts folded and encased in leather, are evidence of the cosmopolitan nature of the Akan courts' engagement with the outside world through trade.
Ernst Anspach, New York, until 1994

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