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Akan Gold weights: Values perspectives of a non-western cultural artifact

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license

This thesis discusses the value and meanings of cultural artifacts from the Akan material culture known as gold weight. Before colonial contact, the gold weights were essential objects in the everyday lives of the Ashanti, also known as the Akan people of Ghana, West Africa. The weights were called abrammuo in the Akan language, made of brass alloy mounted with geometrical motifs and figurative symbols. The abrammuo, as a set of miniature weights, were kept in the futuo, a leather bag that also contains additional apparatus such as brass spoons, scales, brushes, feathers, gold pans, etc. According to Garrard (1980), “as long as gold dust remained a currency in Akan society, gold weights has been significant for weighing gold at the market or during social, and political arrangements such as birth, rites of passage, deaths, and funerals, during marriage or for state fines and toll purposes” (Garrard 1980,171-176). In other contexts, the gold weights played the role of an agent of social, economic and political stability among the Akan and within the gold trade system network. With the fall of the Ashanti kingdom to British colonialism, a significant number of weights lost their primary functions and found their way into a net of western art collectors, private art galleries, and museum collections. I argue that the value (s) embedded in the weights in traditional Ashanti culture were traded for a western canon of artistic and aesthetic values. My inquiry focuses on the changing meaning and significance of the gold weights through western museum representation and exhibition.

Keywords: colonialism, materialism, cultural artifacts, material culture, Akan, gold trade, gold weights and value theory, museum studies

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