Akan Gold Pendant Portrait Head


For most Akan, gold is not just wealth. Gold is imbued with enormous spiritual value, especially within the ranks of leadership. Thus, while the economic function of gold among the Akan has diminished with its demonetization by the British colonial administration in the nineteenth century, gold has retained its fundamental significance in political regalia. Using modest technology – lost-wax casting and smithing – Akan crafts people have fashioned intriguing and exquisite forms. The use of gold in leadership regalia is rooted in tradition, belief, and intrinsic worth, as is the use of its inferior relatives, silver and brass. It is, therefore, possible to differentiate among leaders – priests, political functionaries, lowly-ranked and paramount chiefs–simply based on the principal medium of the accouterments.

Among the diverse kinds of gold jewelry featured in Akan chiefly dress are pendants of different sizes and shapes, including human, animal, and abstract designs. Today these objects, cast by the lost-wax technique, are no longer a royal prerogative. They have been documented in the ornamentation of young women undergoing puberty ritesa nd in the possession of persons of wealth and high status. Their current broad geographical distribution also suggests the influence of twentieth-century globalism. Indeed, gold pendants are no longer being manufactured exclusively for use in Africa but are made for sale in tourist shops and galleries, and for export.

The male human head on this pendant has an elaborate coiffure and similar male portrait heads are seen on Akye wooden combs. The male portrait head on this gold pendant might depict a respected leader, a revered ancestor, or a historical figure who holds significance within Akan society. These pendants could be worn as a symbol of status, lineage, or allegiance to a particular lineage or group within the Akan community.

First half 20th century
Diameter: 2 ½ in, 6 ⅓ cm

Roger Bédiat (1897-1958), Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Noir d'ivoire (Yasmina Chenoufi), Paris, France (2016)


Expocat.: "West African Gold Ornaments", Barcelona: Galeria David Serra -Fine Tribal Art, 2022:81

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