The Asante are a culture living primarily in the Akan region of Western Coastal Africa, in what are now the countries of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Although they have a matrilineal society, with the line of descent traced through women, the Asante have a monarchy style of government that is predominantly—but not exclusively–ruled by men.
The Asante people use two different types of art: display art and personal art. Display art is made for the purpose of showing status, and this includes everything from elaborate stools to the regalia of court officials. Status art is usually made with materials that represent wealth and social standing, such as gold—which is also the main source of wealth in this region. Personal art, meanwhile, is not created with the intention of showing status, but instead is used for educational and/or spiritual purposes. The Asante are also particularly well known for the rich symbolism incorporated into their art; this includes philosophy expressed through Asante proverbs, which are statements or stories that provide a guideline for proper morals and values.
The Asante akua’ba figure depicts an abstracted image of a beautiful woman in the prime of her life. The Asante ideals of female beauty are portrayed through the large, downcast eyes, small straight nose, small mouth, high forehead, and wide, m-shaped brow. Akua’ma (plural) were traditionally used as fertility figures that were commissioned by women to help them in becoming pregnant. Women carried these figures around, fed them, and cared for them as if they were their own children.
This akua’ba has a number of non-traditional features, including its tall height, multi-tiered base of stacked geometric forms, decorative forehead scarification, and brown pigment rather than the traditional solid black. This figure also lacks the protruding belly button and breasts. This figure was therefore likely developed for the tourist trade, and meant for display rather than its original purpose.
Although the practice of using fertility figures is still popular in the Asante culture, the traditional akua’ma figures have been replaced with modern, Western European-style plastic dolls. Researched by Amanda Steimel
Asante gold weights are brass objects that were traditionally created to serve as weights to weigh gold dust, which used to be the currency in this region. The oldest known gold weights are simplified geometric forms, while human or animal figures with finer details developed later. Models were hand carved in wax and then cast in brass using the lost-wax casting process. Figural gold weights were expensive to make, highly valued, and served as a status symbol.
As is common in much Asante art, gold weights represent traditional Akan proverbs, which are sayings intended to guide people in exhibiting proper morals and values. This goldweight portrays a man holding a stick, and it may refer to the proverb, “It is the crooked stick that reveals who the true sculptor is,” which is about having to overcome setbacks to reach your accomplishments.
The use of gold weights for measuring gold dust has become obsolete with the transition to using paper money and coins as currency. The making of traditional style gold weights like Sculptor with Stick Gold Weight has endured, however, as these weights are now popular in the tourist trade and are mass-produced in workshops. Researched by Amanda Steimel
Asante kente cloth was traditionally woven using expensive silk threads in complex, geometric designs. The patterns and colors of the cloth represent Akan proverbs, which are sayings intended to guide people in exhibiting proper morals and values. The traditional pattern of kente cloth begins and ends with a group, or head, of five designs with a repeating design in between them.
This kente cloth is a traditional, woven piece that uses traditional designs, colors, and patterns. The head of the cloth alternates between the striped design Akyem and a design of stacked rectangles in gold, black, and green that taper inward towards the bottom, which are known as Fa hia ko twere Agyeman. The design in between the heads consists of a diamond shape composed of triangles in gold, black, and green and is called Aperemoo-canon.
Kente cloth was originally created for royalty and worn only during special occasions, and it served as a symbol of wealth and social status. Today, the traditional silk threads have been replaced with cotton or rayon, which is much less expensive, and kente cloth is purchased by anyone who can afford to buy it, and worn for any occasion. Kente cloth has also become a popular part of the tourist trade, where it has further developed into printed designs on clothes and bags that are mass-produced and exported. Researched by Amanda Steimel
Asante stools are an important symbol that represents a rite of passage in one’s community. Stools are typically gifted during one’s transition from childhood to adulthood or during another important life change, such as marriage. The stool is believed to be a sacred object that houses the being or the soul of its owner, and it also serves as a status symbol, to exhibit wealth and power.
Asante stools are hand-carved from a single piece of wood, and the designs used suggest the identity of the owner. This stool is a traditional Ghanaian stool known as an asesedwa. The center column of an asesedwa represents the gender of the owner; a rectangular column represents a man, and a round one represents a woman–and this stool was therefore made for a man. While this stool has cracks and repairs that suggest it may have been owned previously by an Asante man, Asante stools are also commonly made and sold in the tourist trade. Researched by Amanda Steimel
The state sword is regarded as one of the most important symbols in Asante culture, second only to the royal stool. Ceremonial swords have symbolic and spiritual references and serve many important functions in both rituals and politics. One of the most important functions is when an elected ruler holds a state sword during the oath of initiation into office. Most court officials that accompany the king also bear a sword as a royal symbol of status and power.
Asante state swords are divided into two types: the akrafena and the bosomfena. During the royal initiation of the king, the akrafena represents one’s soul and is carried on the right, and the bosomfena represents one’s ego or personality and is carried on the left. The sword in this exhibit is designed in the style of a traditional akrafena. This type of sword has a curved, cast iron blade that is pierced and carved along the cutting edge with geometric designs. The hilt us carved of wood and consists of two spherical forms with a cylinder in between them; while this handle is also incised with geometric designs, these were likely covered over with gold leaf. The geometric designs represent Asante proverbs that relate to the original purpose of the sword. Researched by Amanda Steimel
For more information, you may contact the researcher(s) noted in the title of this exhibit entry, or Dr. Billie Follensbee, the professor of the course, at BillieFollensbee@MissouriState.edu