Saturday, June 29, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: The Ghana Hornbill Goldweight, c. 1880

The majority of the wealth and prestige for the Asante kingdom in Ghana, West Africa centered around the excavation of gold.  The measurement of this precious ore was an exact science as early as 1600.   Weights called mbrammoo were crafted in brass and bronze and used to weigh gold dust, which was used as a currency for all commercial transactions. Sets of these standardized weights would have been owned by merchants throughout Ghana.

This brass weight from the V&A is surmounted by the figure of a hornbill bird--a popular subject for Asante goldsmiths. This plucky bird is shown standing on the top of a seven-stepped pyramid. In the West African culture, the hornbill is a symbol of both male and female fertility and is considered the embodiment of peaceful, thriving communities.  A popular saying states, "a bird has a long bill it uses it for eating on its own side of the river and not for stretching across the water." Similarly, these weights represented the meeting of communities for trade, carrying messages of peace and goodwill. 

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