The Asante region of southern Ghana is a
remnant of the Ashanti Empire, which was
founded in the early 17th century when,
according to legend, a golden stool descended
from heaven into the lap of the first king, Osei
Tutu. The stool is believed to house the spirit of
the Asante people in the same way that an
individual's stool houses his spirit after death.
The early Asante economy depended on the
trade of gold and enslaved peoples to Mande and
Hausa traders, as well as to Europeans along the
coast. In return for acting as the middlemen in
the slave trade, the Asante received firearms,
which were used to increase their already
dominant power, and various luxury goods that
were incorporated into Asante symbols of status
and political office.
As a consequence, gold was also considered an
integral component of their art and belief.
Considered an earthly counterpart to the sun, it
was the physical manifestation of life's vital
force, or "soul" (kra), and was incorporated into
the ruler's regalia to represent his purity and
vigor. At the political level, gold indicated the
kingdom's dominance over rivals. Much gold
entered the Asante court via tribute or war, and
was then worked by artisans from conquered
territories who introduced regional sculptural
forms that were adopted for official use at the
kingdom's capital in Kumasi. The court's
sovereign power was further displayed through
its regulation of the regional gold trade.
Numerous art forms displayed at court were
made of gold. Cast gold disks called
akrafokonmu ("soul washer's disk”) were
protective emblems worn by important members
of the court, including royal attendants known as
akrafo, or "soul washers." Individuals selected for
this title were beautiful men and women born on
the same day of the week as the king. They
ritually purified and replenished the king's, and
thus the nation's, vital powers. Another insignia
of courtly power were afena, curved swords with
distinctive gold-covered hilts and pommels worn
by high-ranking individuals.
Cast gold ornaments exhibiting imagery of
political and martial supremacy dangled from
sword hilts and scabbards and enhanced the
prestige of those who wore them. Finally, court
linguists who acted as the king's advisers and
spokesmen carried gold-covered wooden staffs
of office called kyeame poma. As early as the
nineteenth century, these staffs displayed
elaborately carved finials portraying political
symbols and motifs from Akan proverbial lore.
Among the Asante people of Ghana gold rings
became a sophisticated art form. Some were
worn by chiefs, others adorned the fingers,
thumbs and toes of wealthy men and women.
Rings with a large diameter were most likely
worn on the thumb or big toe. While iron rings
were often worn for their supposed magical
protective powers, gold ones were purely for
ostentation. The most striking feature of Asante
gold rings is their wealth of proverbial imagery,
especially those created after the 18th century.
Most of them depict animals or objects
associated with an Akan proverb. In this way the
ring conveys a message to the beholder,
emphasising either power, wealth, bravery or
This beautiful gold ring, bearing a three-
dimensional frog on the top, would have
belonged to the ruler’s regalia, symbolising his
strength and virility. This unusual royal symbol
would stand for the Akan proverb that says: “the
length of the frog is known only after his death”
(a man’s worth is not appreciated in his lifetime).
Proverbially enough, even today, long after its
wearer’s mortal departure, this ring exhumes his
aura of royalty and vigor.