19th Century AD to 20th Century AD
Akan goldweights have aptly been described as ‘tales in bronze’ as they symbolise a variety of local proverbs. The leopard with emphasised spots was a very popular motif and recalls the saying: ‘When rain falls on the leopard it wets the spots on his skin but does not wash them off,’ meaning a man’s nature is not changed by circumstances. In this example, the leopard is captured in the act of devouring a snake and his long tail curls forward in an arc towards the head. Over time the surface has acquired a wonderful green patina.
Akan is the name of a language spoken by related groups of people in Ghana (previously the Gold Coast) and south-eastern Ivory Coast. Gold fueled the Akan rise to prosperity and was traded first across the Sahara and ultimately to Europe and the Americas. Brass gold weights were part of the paraphernalia of the trade, that also included scales, spoons, shovels and gold dust boxes. Created out of brass using the ‘lost wax process’, they were placed on scales to counterbalance piles of gold dust. The earliest examples dating from the fourteenth century were abstract in form but by the later period they assumed a wide variety of figurative and zoomorphic shapes. Ownership of a complete set of elaborate weights was regarded as a mark of status, and they were often presented to young men at their weddings to mark the start of their business careers. The skill in casting these weights was enormous as in addition to their aesthetic appeal they had to weigh a specific amount. Even the most beautiful figurative weights occasionally had limbs or horns removed or filed away to achieve this. Another examples would have small lead rings or glass beads attached to bring the weight up to the desired standard. The enthusiasm for these elaborate weights which had obvious practical drawbacks demonstrates the significance that the Akan peoples attached to proverbial wisdom in the conduct of their everyday lives.