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Sika dwa kofi (Golden Stool), Asante people

Video transcript

(introductory piano music) - [Narrator 1] We're at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology talking about the Golden Stool. We're actually going to be looking at several different objects to make sense of this very important object that we don't have in a collection, it still exists in the Asante Nation in Ghana. - [Narrator 2] It was incredibly important to the Asante people that that object remained in their possession but that's a story we'll come back to. Let's talk about its origin. - In the early 1700s a man named Osei Tutu, an important king, was able to unify all the surrounding lands. - He created the nation of the Asante people. - The Golden Stool falls from the sky and lands in the lap of Osei Tutu. - So this is a miracle. - Absolutely. And this is a wooden stool covered in gold which was said to have been made in the heavens. It's said to be the soul of the Asante nation, so it takes on the essence of the entire group. In the same way that we'll see a man's stool or a woman's stool can take on the essence of that person. - So in a way the stool is more important than any single king of the Asante people. - It is far more sacred than the Asantehene himself. And in fact the Golden Stool is always given its own stool or its own chair in which to sit next to the Asantehene like we see in this picture. - This is an area that is rich in gold and the gold comes to symbolize royalty for the Asante people. - They were in charge of the gold trade through North Africa. This was long before Europeans were even there. But also gold is the color of royalty so whether its gold in the form of a textile color or its the material of gold, it was reserved for royal use. - So let's look at the objects in this case that relate to the trading of gold. - We have a scale which shows how gold would have been weighed. And it would have been weighed with brass. - So you would use these on one side of the scale and measure out the gold on the other so that you knew you were measuring the accurate amount of gold. - What we find is a whole host of brass weights fashioned into very elaborate figures that depict almost every activity and every part of daily life. - So it's a really wonderful way to learn about the Asante people. We see two here that show images of the Asante king. - Both of these depict a group of figures gathered around a central umbrella. That umbrella is really important because underneath it we know is the Asantehene or an important chief. - So the umbrella was a way that you could identify the king in a crowd. - The king would also be wearing sandals. And we have a brass weight of just sandals depicted. And in that sense we can understand that the king is divine. In other words, he is seen as an intermediary between the everyday lives of his people and the supernatural realm. He's there to harness the good powers of the supernatural to help his people. - He's between the heavens, below the umbrella, but he's above the earth, symbolized by the sandals that he wears. - So he's always sandwiched between the two. - In one of these gold weights we see the king surrounded by his retinue under an umbrella being carried in a palanquin. And surrounding him are his swordbearers. Swords are very important symbols of rule and they would have had gold handles. - And then we see next to it another image of the king, this time with his wife, with the queen. - Could be the queen mother, it could be his wife, there's an umbrella, and then two swordbearers in front of him. We also have other brass weights that just depict one figure and these relate to particular proverbs or stories about virtues. And here we get at this important part about Asante modes of communication. That is that you don't speak directly, if you can you let art speak directly for you. - And you often speak in proverbs. - Yeah, so each one of these have messages if you understand this language, if you can decode it. You can know what the messages are. - So one of the ones in the case shows two crocodiles sharing one stomach. - And this double-headed crocodile has to do with the idea of family sharing of stomach. In other words your essence, your connection, your belly is connected to your family. That's who nurtures you. So if you go off on your own you're really not going to get very far in life. - And then we have a goat. - Or a ram with these curved horns and one proverb states that rams move back before they charge so the idea is that you have thoughtful contemplation, you move away from what you're about to do to make sure it's the right path. - So we're looking at these gold weights and that brings us to another important part of the history of the Asante people. The continuing involvement of the British. - The British, certainly since the beginning of the early 19th century, were interested in securing a way to control gold in this area. And they named this area the Gold Coast. The Asante, obviously, were not wanting to give up their control of this precious material which had this royal significance. - And in 1874, the British destroyed the Asante capital, took lots back to England, much of it remains in the British Museum collection today. And one of the objects of course that they really wanted to get their hands on was the Golden Stool. They first exiled Prempeh I, that was the Asantehene in the late 1800s. - The Asante people hid the Golden Stool. - The Golden Stool, which was obviously very important, in fact, more sacred than Prempeh I himself, was in the danger. And the British tried very hard to hunt it down. - The British governor said, and I'm reading here, from a record of what happened, he said, where is the Golden Stool? I am the representative of the paramount power. Why have you relegated me to this ordinary chair? Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to bring the Golden Stool for me to sit upon? - This was so offensive to the people of Ghana that a foreigner would come and demand their most precious and sacred object to sit on. This is not a stool anyone was allowed to sit on, in fact, it sat on its own stool. So Yaa Asantewaa, a queen mother, assembled all the soldiers she could find to fight against the British. - Now the Asante people were defeated but the stool remained hidden. - The Asante were pretty successful in that they were allowed some autonomy. And by the 1920s the British even agreed to allow Prempeh I to return and there was a promise made that the Golden Stool would not be taken and the Golden Stool was allowed to come out of hiding. Men and women are gifted stools by their parents when they come of age and the idea of stools is really central not just to kingship, but to everyday people. And this brass weight in this case is a replica of what a man or woman would sit on but made of wood. So a man or woman's everyday stool made for things like sitting and socializing, sitting and eating, sitting and working, it sounds very ordinary to us, but stools that one uses often take on their soon soon. Soon soon is a Asante concept or traditional idea that your energy, it's like an aura that touches the things you use a lot. So in order to keep your soon soon intact, when you leave the room, traditionally, you would tip over your stool so that no one else would sit on it. They would know that that was not intended for you. In that sense the Golden Stool is also kept turned on its side as we see in this photograph. - So the gold weight tells us something about the importance of stools in the Asante culture but also about a personal energy that over the course of our lives, the objects that we use become imbued with. - That helps us to understand why the Asante people say the Golden Stool is the soul of the Asante nation. (light piano outro music)
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