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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Masterpieces of African Art : Akan Gold Benfra Bracelet
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Akan Gold Benfra Bracelet - CK.0257
Origin: Ghana/Ivory Coast
Circa: 1860 BC to 1900 AD
Dimensions: 4" (10.2cm) high x 4" (10.2cm) wide x 1.75" (4.4cm) depth
Collection: African Art
Medium: Gold


Location: United States
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Description
In many cultures throughout the world, gold has been associated with status, power, prestige and wealth. As early as the 15th century, European merchants wrote about the richness of African gold objects used for adornment and intended for public display. Gold deposits were discovered in all regions of Africa, and became the most important commodity during pre- colonial times. The region of the Akan, spreading from the forest zone and costal areas of Ghana to the southern shores of the Ivory Coast, is the richest auriferous zone in West Africa. Several individual tribes make up the Akan people, the Asante and Baule being among the most famous, all united by their common ancestry and language. The royal courts of the Akan people were reportedly the most splendid in Africa. Oral tradition and iconography in Akan works of art are very closely connected. Verbal and visual symbolism tells stories or proverbs. Imagery of royal power on court ornaments carry out messages that helps keep the balance and continuity within the society.

This dramatic bracelet would once have been worn by a chieftain or queen-mother from the Akan peoples. They are known as benfra (benfena or berenfena) bracelets and are usually worn on the left-wrist or forearm. They are cast in two halves and joined by a pin. They do not seem to have any specific symbolic meaning beyond a desire for conspicuous display of wealth. The finest, like this example, have a complex spiky design with additional incisions of parallel lines and concentric circles. They were hollow-cast around a clay core and then decorated with modelled designs. They are also known to have been produced in silver or gilded wood.

Ref: T.F. Garrard, ‘Gold of Africa: Jewellery and Ornaments from Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal in the Collection of the Barbier-Mueller Museum,’ (Munich, 1989, pp.70-71). - (CK.0257)

 

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