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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Archive : Asante Gold Frog Ring
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Asante Gold Frog Ring - LO.935
Origin: Ghana
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 2.1" (5.3cm) high x 2.25" (5.7cm) wide
Collection: African Art
Style: Asante
Medium: Gold


Location: Great Britain
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Description
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 warning.

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. - (LO.935)

 

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