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Object Name
Akan artist
18th-late 19th century
Tool and Equipment
Copper alloy
H x W x D: 6.4 x 1.6 x 1.6 cm (2 1/2 x 5/8 x 5/8 in.)
Credit Line
Gift of Herman H. Kahn
Object number
Label Text
Although often identified with the Asante, the most numerous and best known of the Akan peoples, weights for measuring gold dust were made and used throughout Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. For more than five centuries, from about 1400 to 1900, Akan smiths cast weights of immense diversity. Their small size made them portable and easy to trade. Each weight was cast individually in the lost-wax method. What resulted was a unique piece, but one that had to be a specific weight to function. The shape or figure of a weight did not correspond to a set unit of measure: a porcupine in one set could equal an antelope in another, or a geometric form in a third. For important transactions, gold dust was placed on one side of a small, handheld balance scale, a weight on the other. Each party to the dealing verified the amount of gold dust using his or her own weights.
Visually, weights fall into two distinct categories: geometric and figurative. Stylistically they are divided into early (c. 1400-1700) and late (c. 1700-1900) periods. During the late period, figurative weights increased in both number and variety, although geometric weights were still made. Generally, late-period figurative weights have added details and textures beyond the basic form that would identify the subject. This object is a late-period figurative weight in the form of a man holding up a sword. This is intended not so much as a threatening gesture but as an affirmation of loyalty and a salute to the court and ruler.
Cast copper alloy figurative weight in the form of a standing man with bent knees holding up a sword.
Herman H. Kahn, New York, -- to 1969
Exhibition History
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017-ongoing
BIG/small, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., January 17-July 23, 2006
African Emblems of Status, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., October 29, 1982-April 3, 1983
Data Source
National Museum of African Art
See more items in
National Museum of African Art Collection
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts
On View
NMAfA, Second Level Gallery (2193)
Côte d'Ivoire