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HOME : African & Tribal Art : AS.On Loan : Akan Leather Sandals with Gold Ornaments
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Akan Leather Sandals with Gold Ornaments - PF.6126 (LSO)
Origin: Ghana
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 11.5" (29.2cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Leather, Gold
Condition: Very Fine

Additional Information: AS

Location: UAE
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This striking pair of gold-adorned sandals was worn by an Asantahene, a tribal leader of the Akan people of what was once the Gold Coast, modern-day Ghana. The Akan are a loose assemblage of tribes – including the Akuapem, the Akyem, the Ashanti, the Baoulé, the Anyi, the Brong, the Fante and the Nzema – that share general cultural trends while maintaining separate tribal identities. Their society is highly ritualised, with numerous gods under a main deity who varies according to the group in question (Onyame – the Supreme One – is the Asante deity), and a host of lesser gods (Abosom) who receive their power from the principal god, and are mostly connected with the natural world (earth, ocean, rivers, animals etc). The Akan tribes are highly independent and autocratic – their nation has come under the covetous gaze of numerous European and Northern African (Islamic) colonialists, and this has made them rigid in terms of social order and centralised power. The main reason for this imperial interest was the long history of gold mining and gold working in the area, which has been taking place for at least 600 years.

The Akan consider gold to be the embodiment of sunlight and a physical manifestation of life’s vital force, or “kra”. The economy is based upon the trade in gold, which is most prominently used for the manufacture of regalia for the royal courts but also finds its way into almost every aspect of elite life. For example, “Akrafokonmu” (lit. “soul washer’s disk”) pendants are worn by a series of beautiful young people whose energy replenishes that of the king. The use of gold was highly sophisticated, with a regimented and standardised system of gold-weights being used all over the region; to make these the Akan traders originally relied on a system of geometric weights which was inherited from Islamic traders.

Solid gold and gilding was used to make many of the court insignia that signalled status in the Akan royal court system. Elites often wore gold jewellery, as did the king and his retinue. Special insignia were made to mark out courtiers with particular functions, such as translators, and diplomats also wore expensive attire to signal their status. These sandals are made from leather which has been extensively tooled and decorated across the soles with a hatched geometric design that probably had the dual effect of providing decoration and grip. These incised designs have been highlighted with pigment in burgundy, brown and yellow. The straps, which are secured with metal studs, run from the sides to a central thong that sat between the first and second toes. Each strap bears ten plaques of thin gold, decorated with a herringbone and foliate designs. These plaques are separated into two groups of five by a central yellow silken tassel. The workmanship is excellent. The low degree of wear highlights the ceremonial nature of such items, which could not have been worn on an everyday basis. These are beautifully-made and would be a fascinating addition to any serious collection of West African art. - (PF.6126 (LSO))


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