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Treasures of Africa

Beloved and renowned the world over, Ashanti culture produced beautiful relatively modern work. Join The Blog of Jewelry as we dive into the world of African jewelry and explores some of the pieces and themes that make these designs so unique and charming.

Jewelry in Ghana and the Ashanti Empire

Posted by Charlotte Moy on

The area that is now the Republic of Ghana was inhabited by other states and kingdoms throughout history. These include the Bono State, the Kingdom of Dagbon, and the Kingdom of Ashanti. [1] Ghana’s history shaped its use of jewelry for symbolic and ceremonial purposes and jewelry still serves an important role in Ghana’s culture today. Individuals use jewelry as part of both traditional and modern dress, with details that vary according to a person’s gender, generation, and status, as well as the occasion. [2]

The Ashanti Empire

The Ashanti Empire, also known as the Asante Empire, is known for its history of creating elaborate jewelry. Members still wear gold, bronze, and beads in special ceremonies today. The empire was founded by the Akan people, who migrated to Ghana from the Sahel and Sahara. [2] Beginning in the early eighteenth century, the power of the Ashanti Empire fluctuated over the following three hundred years, and in the nineteenth century controlled most of what is now Ghana. [3] The Ashanti kingdom still exists today as a sub-national traditional state of Ghana. [4]

The Ashanti empire influenced craft production throughout the region. They had access to gold and contact with Islamic artists and traders. They encouraged the production of gold jewelry because they believed it had supernatural abilities or spiritual power. They used objects made from gold to protect the power of the empire or the safe spiritual travels of the deceased. [5] This contrasts with some other societies that see gold as a negative force and therefore make jewelry from silver. [6]

In addition, the Ashanti would demand tribute from conquered people, whose artists would sometimes introduce new methods of working with metal, such as lost-wax casting and special hammering techniques. They used these techniques to produce brass and gold jewelry, as well as weights, beads, and urns. [7] The technique of lost-wax casting was originally North African but is still used today by artisans in Ghana. [8] It involves sculpting an image in wax and surrounding it with an encasing mold that has an inlet, which is then used to pour in molten bronze. The wax melts and flows away when it comes into contact with the bronze. [9] Many people find the technique challenging because imperfections are often not evident until the process is complete. Lost-wax casting also disallows exact reproduction because each wax model can only be used one time. [10]

The Ashanti Kingdom still uses gold jewelry for royalty and ceremonial use today. Distinguished members of the royal court wear a ceremonial heavy gold badge around their neck. The asantehene (the king) and the paramount chiefs sometimes wear so much gold jewelry on their arms at important ceremonies that they require assistants to help support the weight. [11] This sundial necklace is modeled after an Asante chief’s bracelet from the late 18th or early 19th century.

Some traditional objects have been repurposed as jewelry in the modern era. In the precolonial era, artisans produced copper-alloy goldweights to be used on scales weighing gold dust. Artists still produce goldweights in a variety of shapes (such as animals, plants, and people) today and many people wear them as jewelry. [12]

Other Uses of Jewelry in Ghana

The Ashanti are not the only group that has continued to use ceremonial jewelry. Tribal structures are still important in rural Ghana, with village chiefs, divisional chiefs, and a paramount chief who serves as the highest authority in a clan. To mark important occasions, paramount chiefs will don ceremonial clothing along with gold and silver jewelry. [13] Their jewelry might include rings , beaded bracelets, and necklaces; they will also use pieces to decorate their heads and sandals. [14] In addition to decorating the chief for an important occasion, often each piece of clothing or jewelry reveals something about the chief and the history of the clan. [15] Clothing, jewelry, and other accessories can signify the wisdom, wealth, and power of a leader. [16]

Beads are another symbol of wealth and status that are sometimes also used as a form of spiritual protection. During naming ceremonies, adults decorate a child’s arms and legs with beads and other jewelry. At ceremonies for the deceased, family members will dress their loved one in expensive cloth and jewelry. [17] In some groups, young girls wear a string of small beads around their waist as a protective device and to indicate their age and marital status. Among the Dangbeli, a subgroup of the Ga-Dangbe ethnic group, priestesses indicate their role, rank, and deities by wearing a certain number of nyoli and tovi beads. Chiefs also use beaded bracelets to indicate their position in a tribe. [18]

Get Inspired

The Museum of Jewelry offers a variety of statement pieces inspired by the jewelry of the Ashanti/Asante tribe. In addition to a variety of gold pieces, there are options featuring jewels and volcanic glass, like these Africa-inspired earrings . You can view the entire collection of African jewelry here and see what inspires you.




About the Author

Charlotte Moy is a freelance writer who holds a PhD in History and several years of teaching experience. She loves finding the weird and wonderful parts of history that grab your attention and excels at researching and creating content on other topics as well. Find out more about her on LinkedIn





Footnotes:

[1] "Ashanti Empire," Wikipedia.

[2] Salm, Steven J. and Toyn Falola. Culture and Customs of Ghana (Greenwood Press, 2002), 118.

[3] Robinson, Peg, Patricia Levy, and Winnie Wong. Ghana (Cavendish Square, 2018), 23 and "Ashanti Empire," Wikipedia.

[4] Robinson, 25.

[5] "Ashanti Empire," Wikipedia.

[6] Salm, 90-91.

[7] Salm, 119.

[8] Salm, 91.

[9] Salm, 91 and Robinson, 106.

[10] Robinson, 106.

[11] Salm, 91.

[12] Salm, 119.

[13] Salm, 91.

[14] Robinson, 70.

[15] Salm, 86.

[16] Robinson, 109.

[17] Salm, 86.

[18] Salm, 85.

[19] Salm, 119 and "Dangme Language," Wikipedia.



References:

"Ashanti Empire." Wikipedia. Accessed September 28, 2020.

"Dangme Language." Wikipedia. Accessed September 28, 2020.

"Ghana." Wikipedia. Accessed September 28, 2020.

Robinson, Peg, Patricia Levy, and Winnie Wong. Ghana. Cavendish Square, 2018.

Salm, Steven J. and Toyn Falola. Culture and Customs of Ghana. Greenwood Press, 2002.

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