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Akan artist
18th-late 19th century
Tool and Equipment
Copper alloy
H x W x D: 9 x 3.5 x 4.5 cm (3 9/16 x 1 3/8 x 1 3/4 in.)
Credit Line
Gift of Ernst Anspach
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. Although geometric weights were still made in the late period, figurative weights increased in both number and variety. 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.
Weights may act as display pieces implying wealth in both the size of individual weights and the number owned. The size and quality of this figure implies that it was once used by rulers as both a weight and for display. It depicts a seated man on a typical Akan stool. He holds in his upraised right hand the hilt of a sword with its blade broken off. The blade may have been broken through use or been deliberately removed to make the weight more accurate, or it may have been cast as broken as a reference to a proverb. Hanging from around the man's waist, both in front and back, are reproductions of iron gongs. He wears a necklace with three round forms, possibly representing amulets.
Weight in the form of a male figure seated on a typical Akan stool (curving seat, central post, side legs). The figure holds the hilt of a sword with blade broken off in his upraised proper right hand. Hanging from around the waist down between the knees is a reproduction of an iron gong, with the same over the buttocks. The figure wears a necklace with three round forms, possibly representing amulets.
Merton Simpson, New York
Tom Alexander, -- to 1976
Ernst Anspach, New York, 1976 to 1990
Exhibition History
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017-ongoing
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)