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Past Exhibitions

Akan Goldweights

February 16th. 2011. - August 20th. 2011.

Exhibition and catalogue by:

Marija Ličina, MAA curator

Exhibition catalogue

Akan Goldweights

Exhibition objects


About the exhibition

The exhibition has been prolonged till August 20th. It showcases more that 500 goldweights from the collection of the Museum of African art, over 200 goldweights from the collection of the Slovene Ethnographic Museum in Ljubljana and examples from private collections along with the scales, boxes and spoons for gold dust.

Akan goldweights are quite unique in the world for their forms - they depict humans (warriors, medicine-men, hunters…), animals (birds, crocodiles, anthelopes…), flora (peanuts, oil palm flowers, calabashes…), artefacts (drums, sandals, cannons…) and numerous other firgurative and geometric motifs.

So distinquished by their shape, like art forms cast in bronze, only few centimeters in size, the goldweights of the Akans are as significant testimonies of the rich gold deposits of West Africa. They were used for mesuring gold dust, which was circulating as currency in Ghana and Ivory Coast among the Akans from the 15th until the end of the 19th century, in everyday activities – in markets, royal treasuries, and for payments of state taxes and tolls.

The Akan Goldweights exhibition, by Marija Licina (MAA curator), will present the importance of natural gold resources, trade and cultural contacts of the region of West Africa in the global history. The representative collection of the Museum of African Art, with more than 500 goldweights and the collection of the Slovene Ethnographic Museum with over 200 goldweights that are to be exhibited for the first time, are the basis for unraveling a number of themes:

  • GOLD OF AFRICA IN THE OLD WORLD:
    • Trans-Saharan gold trade, from 10th to 16th century.
  • GOLD DUST AS CURRENCY AND THE UNITS OF WEIGHT:
    • Gold production and trade in the “golden kingdoms” of Ghana, from the 15th to the 19th century;
    • cultural contacts and exchange between African, Arabian and European civilisations.
  • THE EMBLEMS OF TRADITION AND SOCIAL VALUES:
    • Goldweight motifs as illustrations to proverbs and sayings.

Tours through the exhibition are scheduled for every Saturday in March, starting at noon. Visitors are invited to join the author as she discusses gold trade in the region from the African coast of the Medditerranean to the Gulf of Guinea (the period from the 10th to the 16th century), “follows” the desert caravans and European overseas fleets aiming towards the Akan fields of gold, explains the custom of bargaining “till the last grain of gold” or the colour of flame for casting sculpture-weights in bronze, and other issues from the history and culture of Akan peoples.

Just like the shapes of the goldweights, their meanings are very diverse: they often illustrate proverbs and folk tale wisdoms, keep memories of battles, myths and legends, or bring forward other specific symbolism. Here are some of the Akan proverbs:

  • Between the key and the lock, one is senior – there must be a leader, even among the equal.
  • You do not need a big stick to break a cock's head – is said for a powerful man who unnecessarily mistreats the poor and unprotected.
  • The strength of the palm tree is in its branches – the king’s power lies in the number of his subjugates.