This beautiful gold pendant was made by the Akan peoples of what was once appositely named the Gold Coast – now Ghana. It comprises a flat, slightly convex disk which is slightly longer than its width. The surface texture is extremely finely rendered as horizontal lines, and the perimeter of the face is marked with a beaded band. The face is very expressionist in general form, with small, oval eyes surrounded by the same beading as just mentioned, with a very long nose that arises between the eyes and proceeds almost of the base of the pendant. There are five small cut-out triangles, two on each cheek, one where the mouth should be, and one on the forehead. There is a small double suspension loop at the top of the forehead.
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 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. Small secular pieces are also known, but have little social value beyond asserting the wealth of the wearer. The most important pieces are those that send social signals, and that mark out the wearer as something out of the ordinary. 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. Pieces such as this represent wealth, ancestors and continuity, all matters of importance to the Akan, and the fact that it is made from gold add to its impact as a status signaling device.
This beautifully-executed gold masterwork would be a superb contribution to any jewellery collection, or collection of African art.