Akan Gold Weight

nak-0614-12_akan_f_

NAK 0616-10

Akan Gold Weight ”Bird Tree”

H: 5 cm (1,98″), 9 cm with stand (3,6″)  x W: 2,2 cm (0,86″)

Akan goldweights were used as a measuring system by the Akan people of West Africa, particularly for weighing gold dust, which was currency until replaced by paper money and coins. They are referred to locally as mrammou and the weights are made of brass and not gold. Used to weigh gold and merchandise, at first glance the goldweights look like miniature models of everyday objects. Based on the Islamic ounce, each weight had a known measurement. This provided merchants with secure and fair-trade arrangements with one another. The status of a man increased significantly if he owned a complete set of weights. Complete small sets of weights were gifts to newly wedded men. This insured that he would be able to enter the merchant trade respectably and successfully. Beyond their practical application, the weights are miniature representations of West African culture items such as Adinkra symbols, plants, animals and people.

Each weight was meticulously carved, then cast using the ancient technique of lost wax. As the Akan culture moved away from using gold as the basis of their economy, the weights lost their cultural day-to-day use and some of their significance. The skill involved in casting weights was enormous; as most weights were less than 2½ ounces and their exact mass was meticulously measured. They were a standard of measure to be used in trade, and had to be accurate. The goldsmith, or adwumfo, would make adjustments if the casting weighed too much or too little. Even the most beautiful, figurative weights had limbs and horns removed, or edges filed down until it met the closest weight equivalent. Weights that were not heavy enough would have small lead rings or glass beads attached to bring up the weight to the desired standard. There are far more weights without modifications than not, speaking to the talent of the goldsmiths. Most weights were within 3% of their theoretical value; this variance is similar to those of European nest weights from the same period.

Early weights display bold, but simple, artistic designs. Later weights developed into beautiful works of art with fine details. However, by the 1890s (Late Period) the quality of both design and material was very poor, and the abandonment of the weights quickly followed.

Tim Garrard (April 28, 1943 – May 17, 2007) studied the Akan gold culture. His research was centered on goldweights and their cultural significances and purposes. He was also interested in the gold trade, the creation of the weight measurements, and how Akan trade networks operated with other networks. His works and those that use his work as a base are very informative about broader Akan culture.

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