Asante kuduo vessel
and figural goldweights
Asante goldweights

Gold was a principal source of wealth and status for Asante. The Asantehene and his court officials were traditionally bedecked with a profusion of
gold ornaments and insignia of office. Cast gold ornaments were made by highly skilled craftsmen answerable directly to the Asantehene, who
could veto their manufacture for persons who were not entitled to them. Gold dust was used as currency for trade and payment of fines. It was
weighed on special scales with bronze weights, many of these in figurative form made by the lost wax technique.

Goldweights, called mrammuo, provide great insight into the art, bronze casting tradition, and economic trade history of Africa.
Beginning in the late 1300s, gold that was mined in southern Ghana began to be traded northward. Gold was traded from southern Ghana to the
African Sahel and then across the Sahara desert. The Akan people began producing goldweights that corresponded to the weights and
measurements of their trading partners. For instance, the Akan goldweights were based on an Islamic and Sahelian ounce. This production of
various gold weights used to compare with the standards of fellow traders continued as the Akan peoples traded with the Portuguese after 1470
and the Dutch after 1600. From circa 1400 to 1900, goldweights were used by the Akan and Akan-related peoples of southern Ghana and regions
of the Côte d'Ivoire to weigh gold dust.

The variety of goldweight types derives from both artistic creativity and the history of gold trading. The great variety of weights grew from necessity
and their forms demonstrate surface decoration, organic, abstract, and geometric forms and symbolism.

Complete sets of gold weights are an indication of status. Wealthy and powerful people tend to have larger and more ornate sets of goldweights
than others. When a young man is eligible for marriage, his father usually provides him with a small set of goldweights as a necessary tool to earn
his livelihood. In fact, a goldweight collection is related to one's soul and sometimes included in religious ceremonies for purification.

Asante Kuduo containers

Kuduo were created to store valuable possessions such as gold dust, and served the symbolic purpose of safeguarding their owners' kra, or life
force. They played an important role in ceremonies intended to maintain the spiritual well-being of those who owned them. At life's end, kuduo were
left at their owners' burial sites along with other personal possessions. If the kuduo belonged to a paramount chief, it would accompany his
ceremonially blackened stool in a special room devoted to his spirit and memory. The latch mechanism typically displayed on the sides of such
vessels refer to their role in retaining and protecting the souls of their owners.
Examples below for reference purposes
Bayly Museum
British Museum/Werner Forman Archive
Goldweights representing human figures
Akan - Ghana 17th - 19th century
Brass, height 2 - 4 cm each
Private collection, London
Examples below are of traditional Kuduo containers
Container (Kuduo), 19th–20th century
Brass; H. 6 11/16 in. (16.98 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964 (1978.412.384a,b)
Metropolitan Museum of Art - NY

Displaying a vibrant combination of geometric and figurative imagery, this brass kuduo was the treasured possession of a king or courtier
from an Akan kingdom. Early kuduo from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries take forms that suggest a North African inspiration,
possibly a result of the region's participation in the trans-Saharan gold trade. Later vessels like this example often incorporate openwork
bases and feature figurative compositions on their lids. Here, a leopard prepares to eat a pig and chicken, perhaps in reference to the
dominant position of the kuduo's owner within society.

Kuduo were created to store valuable possessions such as gold dust, and served the symbolic purpose of safeguarding their owners' kra, or
life force. They played an important role in ceremonies intended to maintain the spiritual well-being of those who owned them. At life's end,
kuduo were left at their owners' burial sites along with other personal possessions. If the kuduo belonged to a paramount chief, it would
accompany his ceremonially blackened stool in a special room devoted to his spirit and memory. The latch mechanism typically displayed on
the sides of such vessels refer to their role in retaining and protecting the souls of their owners.
Container (Kuduo), 18th–19th century
Ghana; Akan, Asante
Brass, pigment; H. 6 7/8 in. (17.46 cm)
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jeffrey S. Hammer, in memory of Dr. Milton Gross, 1981 (1981.431.14)
Metropolitan Museum of Art - NY

Ornate, cast brass vessels known as kuduo were the possessions of kings and courtiers in the Akan kingdoms. Gold dust and nuggets were
kept in kuduo, as were other items of personal value and significance. As receptacles for their owners' kra, or life force, they were prominent
features of ceremonies designed to honor and protect that individual. At the time of his death, a person's kuduo was filled with gold and other
offerings and included in an assembly of items left at the burial site.

The elaborate form and complex iconography of this kuduo reveal the broad range of aesthetic traditions from which the Akan peoples have
drawn to create their courtly arts. Goods from Europe and North Africa, received in exchange for Akan gold, textiles, and slaves, included
vessels that may have partly inspired the design of this and other kuduo. The repeating bands of geometric patterns incised into the surface,
as well as the elegantly flaring foot, body, and handle, may reflect Islamic influences. A latch mechanism on the exterior reflects the value of
the materials kept within and alludes to the vessel's symbolic function of keeping its owner's kra secure.
Sotheby's - Paris
Paolo Morigi collection : Important African Art
Auction Date : Jun 6, 2005


kuduo, en laiton, dont le bassin repose sur une base ajourée. La panse est rétrécie en son
milieu, selon un bandeau orné de motifs géométriques très finement ciselés, imitant la
calligraphie arabe. Le couvercle est orné de cinq figurines illustrant une scène où le
personnage principal, assis sur un siège, est entouré de sujets, portant entre autre un sabre et
un fusil.

Condition Note: Le coffre de la serrure est manquant. Petits manques et restauration indigène.


Le couvercle des kuduo - utilisés par les Akan comme contenants sacrés, remplis d'offrandes
destinées aux divinités et aux ancêtres - est traditionnellement orné de figurines, illustrant le
plus souvent des proverbes. Ici, le type de siège - rectangulaire, en bois - et les attributs portés
par les personnages secondaires -sabre, fusil - permettent d'interpréter la scène comme la
représentation, connue en pays Frafra, d'un capitaine de l'armée demeurant assis sur son
siège, s'en inspirant, pour diriger son armée (Owusupu-Sarpong, in Dapper, 2003 : 48).

haut. 22 cm

8 1/2 in

Estimate:€ 6,000 - € 9,000
Price Realized: € 0
Akan peoples (Ghana), Kuduo (ritual vessel), 18th or 19th
century, cast copper alloy. 21.9x16.8 cm.
The Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio.
This container, called a kuduo among the Akan peoples of Ghana, was made from an alloy of copper using the
lost-wax casting technique. Recent research suggests that they began being produced roughly 500 hundred years
ago by Akan artisans. The prototypes for the kuduo were vessels produced in Egypt and Syria 500-700 years ago,
and carried across the Sahara Desert by merchants who traded the Middle Eastern containers for gold. One of the
richest gold producing areas of the world is found in what is today central and southern Ghana, the home of the
Akan peoples. It is likely that these same merchants introduced the technology, lost-wax casting, used to produce
kuduo and other important objects used as status markers in Akan society. It is interesting to note that there are
no significant deposits of copper located in West Africa. Therefore, copper and its alloys came to be a valued
trade commodity, first imported from the north and later from the coast of West Africa where, beginning in the 16th
century, European merchants brought copper alloy artifacts to trade for Akan gold.

Dating kuduo is difficult since the tradition, in effect, died out over one hundred years ago. A few kuduo are still in
use, found in shrines and the treasuries of Akan chiefs, but no information about the origins of these objects is
maintained. Most of the kuduo that are today maintained in museum and private collections, were found by
accident while excavating new roads or digging the foundations for buildings. These objects do not carry any
inscriptions identifying when or where they were made. Nor has a single kuduo been discovered in an
archaeological context. In lieu of hard chronological data, one may hazard an educated guess that those kuduo
that stylistically are most similar to the imported Middle Eastern vessels are the earliest examples of the tradition,
and those that display Akan innovations, are later. We may tentatively date, based on style, the Toledo Museum of
Art kuduo to the 18th or 19th century.

This "casket" kuduo, with its hinged and hasped lid, is embellished with figurative imagery that one would not find
on a metal vessel from the Middle East, a leopard attacking an antelope. Such imagery is tied to a verbal/visual
mode of communication that is central to Akan culture. Visual images, both figurative and abstract, carry meaning
associated with an enormous body of proverbs. There, for instance, are many proverbs associated with leopards
and antelopes. In this case, the leopard/antelope is a metaphor for power--the power of a paramount chief over
lesser chiefs, or a chief over his subjects.

Kuduo were formerly made to serve as ritual containers used to hold the personal effects of wealthy individuals.
They were often buried with their owner when he or she died. Examples like this one, ceased being produced at
the end of the 19th century because there was no longer a local demand for such objects. However, by the third
decade of the 20th century, kuduo began being produced again, but for the tourist trade. Though there are many
fine examples, few "modern" kuduo match the quality of craftsmanship and elegance of form associated with the
former tradition.


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 Ashanti people in the same way that an individual's
stool houses his spirit after death.

The Asante number 1,5 million. 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. The forest surrounding the Asante served as an important source of kola nuts, which were sought
after for gifts and used as a mild stimulant among the Muslim peoples to the north. In traditional Asante
society, in which inheritance was through the maternal line, a woman's essential role was to bear children,
preferably girls.

The art of Ashanti can be classified into two main groups: metalwork (casts of brass or gold using a lost-wax
method and objects made of hammered metal sheets) and woodcarvings. Fertility and children are the most
frequent themes in the wooden sculptures of the Asante. Thus the most numerous works are akua’ba fertility
figures and mother-and-child figures called Esi Mansa. The acua’ba are dolls with disk-shaped heads
embodying their concept of beauty and carried by women who want to become pregnant and to deliver a
beautiful child. The fame of these objects derives from a legend asserting that a woman who has worn one
will give birth to a particularly beautiful daughter. A Ghanaian source indicates another use: when a child
disappeared, the acua’ba statue was placed with food and silver coins at the edge of the forest to attract the
malevolent spirit responsible: the spirit would then exchange the child for the statue. Sculptured mother-and-
child figures show the mother nursing or holding her breast. Such gestures express Asante ideas about
nurturing, the family, and the continuity of a matrilineage through a daughter or of a state through a son. The
mother-and-child figures are kept in royal and commoner shrines where they emphasize the importance of
the family and lineage. The Asante are famous for their ceremonial stools carved with an arched sit set over
a foot, referring to a proverb or a symbol of wisdom. They are usually made for a chief when he takes office
and are adorned with beads or copper nails and sheets. In rare cases, when the chief is sufficiently
important, the stool is placed in a special room following his death to commemorate his memory. Ashanti
chairs are based on 17th-century European models and, unlike stools; do not have any spiritual function.
They are used as prestige objects by important chiefs during festivities or significant gatherings.

Also are produced staffs for royal spokesmen, which, like the handles of state swords, are covered in gold
foil. The success of the Ashanti Empire depended on the trade in gold not only with Europeans at the coast
but also with the Muslim north. Gold dust was the currency, weighed against small brass weights that were
often geometric or were representations recalling well-known proverbs. Asante weavers developed a style of
weaving of great technical mastery, incorporating imported silk. The Asante developed remarkably diverse
kuduo containers cast of copper alloys. Kuduo were used in many ways. They held gold dust and other
valuables, but could also be found in important political and ritual contexts. Some kuduo were buried with
their owners, while others were kept in the palace shrine rooms that housed the ancestral stools of deceased
state leaders. Life and the afterlife, the present and the past, were enhanced and made more meaningful by
the presence of these elegant prestige vessels. The Asante also cast fine gold jewelry, as do the Baule of
Côte d'Ivoire, who separated from them in the mid-18th century. The deceased are honored by fired-clay
memorial heads.