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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Akan Gold : Akan Gold Pendant Depicting a Mask
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Akan Gold Pendant Depicting a Mask - CK.0020
Origin: Ghana / Ivory Coast
Circa: 16 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 1.875" (4.8cm) high x 1.5" (3.8cm) wide
Collection: African
Style: Akan
Medium: Gold

Location: United States
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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.

Some of the finest gold castings from this area are in the form of human heads, or more specifically, human faces. Although they are commonly referred to as “mask,” they have no known association with masking traditions or cults. These faces generally depict males with beards and small moustaches, although they could represent anyone, whether male or female, beautiful or ugly. The Baule call these pendants ngblo meaning, “a human head.” Both men and women traditionally wear them as hair ornaments or as necklaces. Occasionally, they are still publicly displayed during special festivals as signs of wealth and beauty. There was no particular restriction regarding the ownership of such ornaments. These works were not the private regalia of the king and his loyal followers, for they could be owned by anyone rich enough to afford one. Such pendant heads are said to represent “portraits” or friends and lovers. Others are told to depict deceased ancestors or former kings.

A band of concentric rings frame the face that adorns the center of this pendant. A line of decorative keloid scarification marks the space in between the brows and is a characteristic mark of the Akan peoples. Scars such as this served both as beauty marks and a form of tribal affiliation identification. - (CK.0020)


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