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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Akan Gold : Bird and Coiled Snake Gold Ring
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Bird and Coiled Snake Gold Ring - RP.012
Origin: Ghana
Circa: 18 th Century AD
Dimensions: 1.75" (4.4cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Gold


Location: UAE
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Description
This spectacular gold ring would once have belonged to an Asante chieftain. Whilst clearly a symbol of wealth and prosperity, it also had a deeper, proverbial meaning to its original audience. The Akan tribes had a long tradition of imbuing objects with moral and social significance, most famously the figurative weights used in the gold trade. This example depicts a bird, probably a hornbill, with its neck caught in the mouth of a coiled snake. It represents the qualities of perseverance and patience (on the part of the snake). According to the legend, the hornbill borrowed money from the snake but refused to pay it back, believing that his ability to fly would always give him the advantage. Eventually drought and shrinking water holes forced the bird to land, leading to its capture.

The band of the ring is incised with diagonal hatching and the body of the snake with regularly spaced ovals. The bird rests on a small platform, projecting from the snake, with large raised circular eyes and a prominent crest. This would have been just one part of the royal regalia, worn with other gold rings, staffs, sandals and jewellery. This glittering display has impressed visitors to the region since the arrival of the first European traders in the fifteenth century. Gold ornaments were often melted down and re-made as fashions changed or assets had to be liquidised. The style of this ring points to a date in the eighteenth or nineteenth century as Asante jewellery became more ornate and in its proverbial symbolism- more eloquent.

Ref: T. F. Garrard, 'Gold of Africa: Jewellery and Ornaments from Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali and Senegal', (Munich, 1989)

P. McClusky, 'An Art of Persuasion: Regalia from the Asante Kingdom', in Art From Africa, (Seattle, 2002), pp.79-81. - (RP.012)

 

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