Crab claws and peanuts cast from life, tiny representations of a crocodile, a royal sword, an ivory trumpet, and other diverse forms ranging in style from geometric to representational appear in this set of goldweights—brass castings used as counterbalances for weighing gold and gold dust. Their weight corresponds to as many as sixty different units of measurement, including Akan, Arabic, and European standards. Goldweight imagery relates to Akan proverbs, folktales, and riddles.
For centuries before the rise of the Akan states and the founding of the Asante Kingdom, gold was mined in West Africa, south of the Sahara, and gold was the basis for the trans-Saharan trade. By 1482, Europeans began to establish trading forts in coastal Akan areas. As gold trade routes shifted from the Sahara to the coast, Akan royal courts became the most splendid in Africa. When the Asante confederacy was formed at the end of the seventeenth century, Asante kings controlled the use, sale, and taxation of gold, which was the main source of the kingdom’s wealth until the use of gold and gold dust as currency was outlawed by the British as they colonized the region, ca. 1900.