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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Akan Goldweights : Akan Brass Goldweight in the Form of a Bird (Sankofa)
Akan Brass Goldweight in the Form of a Bird (Sankofa) - PF.9955
Origin: Ghana
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD

Collection: African
Medium: Brass

Location: United States
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Akan goldweights have aptly been described as ‘tales in bronze’ as they symbolise a variety of local proverbs. This example depicts a bird with its neck twisted backwards, perched on a tiered pedestal. There are many interpretations of its meaning but the most common proverbs associated with this form are as follows: ‘Pick it up if it falls behind’ (whatever mistakes one has made in the past can be corrected), ‘Go back and pick’ (any aspect of culture that doesn’t draw from its past to replenish the present and cast a shadow into the future will die), ‘When it lies behind you, take it’ (use the wisdom of the past), or simply ‘one foot should be in front of another.’ Known as ‘sankofa’, this image is a symbol of wisdom, knowledge and the importance of heritage.

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. (AM) - (PF.9955)


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