The commonly used term ASHANTI GOLD WEIGHTS is somewhat misleading, as the Ashanti didn’t use gold dust as a currency—the weights being used to measure out gold dust—until 1700 (The Arts of Ghana by Cole/Ross), while this art form has been in existence since the pre-European 1400’s. The Ashanti are credited, however, with introducing representational art to this genre—so anything depicting a person or animal, post-1700, can rightly be called an ASHANTI GOLD WEIGHT.
Fashioned of cast brass using the cire perdue (lost wax) method, GOLD WEIGHTS are of three types: 1. abstract, with geometric patterns (the earliest incarnation), 2. chiefs, especially seated or on horseback, and 3. depictions of people engaged in various everyday activities (including intimate ones!). The seated chief remains the most common image.
In addition to their use as a means of conducting trade, some GOLD WEIGHTS were thought to have spiritual powers. They were a standard wedding gift, given to a young man along with two pounds of gold dust and a rifle. As do ADINKRA SYMBOLS, many GOLD WEIGHTS depict proverbs. Note the tremendous variety of imagery here, taking note of the unfortunate seated figure (right center of display) with a sepow knife thrust through his cheeks—so he can’t curse the chief before his execution! GOLD WEIGHTS have the distinction of being more varied than any other Ghanaian art form.