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Current time:0:00Total duration:7:55

Sika dwa kofi (Golden Stool), Asante people

Video transcript

we're at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology 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 Ashanti nation in Ghana it was incredibly important to the Ashanti 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 oh say - - an important King was able to unify all the surrounding lands he created the nation of the Ashanti people the golden stool falls from the sky and lands in the lap of oh say - - 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 said to be the soul of the Ashanti nation so it takes on the essence of the entire group in the same way that we'll see a man stool or a woman's stool can take on the essence of that person absolute in a way the stool is more important than any single king of the Shanti people it is far more sacred than the Ashanti Heaney himself and in fact the golden stool is always given its own stool or its own chair on which to sit next to the Ashanti Heaney like we see in this picture this is an area that is rich in gold and the gold comes to symbolize royalty for the Ashanti 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 it's gold in the form of a textile color or it's 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 Wade with brass so you would use these on one side of a 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 in every part of daily life so it's a really wonderful way to learn about the Ashanti people we see two here that show images of the Ashanti King both of these depict a group of figures gathered around central umbrella that umbrella is really important because underneath it we know is the Ashanti Heaney 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 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 sword bearers swords are very important symbols of rule and they would have had gold handles and then we see next to 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 sword bearers 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 Ashanti modes of communication that is that you don't speak directly if you can you let art speak for you and you often speak in Proverbs yes 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 crocodile has to do with the idea of family sharing a stomach in other words your connection your essence your belly is connected to your family that's who nurtures you so if you go up on your own you're really not going to get very far in life and then we have a goat or 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 Ashanti people the continuing involvement of the British the British certainly since 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 Ashanti 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 Ashanti 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 Prem Pei the first that was the shock tahini in the late 1800s the Ashanti people hid the gold in stole the golden stool which was obviously very important in fact more sacred than Prem pay the first himself was in danger and the British really tried hard to hunt it down 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 said on its own stool so yeah Asante hua a Queen Mother assembled all the soldiers she could find to fight against the British know the Ashanti people were defeated but the stool remained hidden Ashanti were pretty successful in that they were allowed some autonomy and by the 1920s the British even agreed to allow Prem be the first to return and there was a promise made that the golden still 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 and woman's everyday stool used 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 tsun tsun tsun tsun as a Ashanti concept a traditional idea that your energy it's like an aura that touches the things that you use a lot so in order to keep your students who 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 shanty 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 Ashanti people say the golden stool is the soul of the Ashanti nation you