THE PAST OF GOLD-WEIGHTS
Gold has been an important form of currency for centuries. Historically in Ghana, the Akan people have used gold as a currency for centuries. Metal working techniques from Western Sudan spread to Ghana through the sub-Saharan gold trade in the 1300s. These practical smithing techniques blossomed into a creative system of weighing which also became culturally symbolic. Gold-weights are weights which are made to weigh how much gold someone has, mostly used in the context of buying and selling.
HOW ARE GOLD-WEIGHTS USED?
Gold-weights are weights used to measure how much gold someone is selling you and therefore how much gold you are buying. Every gold-weight in Ghana is called abrammuo in Twi, the language spoken by the Asante people.
People use gold-weights to make sure that they are getting their money’s worth of gold. The seller knows how heavy each weight is. To use these weights, the seller arranges the right combination of weights on one side of a scale. For example, if you wanted to buy 30g of gold, the seller could put one weight of 20g and one weight of 10g. Then, the seller puts gold dust on the other side of the scale. Only when the scale was balanced would the buyer give the seller money to buy the gold dust.
DESIGN OF THE GOLD-WEIGHTS
The earliest gold-weights made by Akan goldsmiths (someone who makes things to sell or use only made of gold) are thought to be inspired by the weights used by Islamic traders. However, very quickly these designs were replaced by designs which looked like animals, tools and weapons. There are two techniques used to make these gold-weights, called “direct casting” and “lost wax casting”. Both these techniques could be combined, and allow the gold-weights to look very detailed and beautiful. Sometimes a gold-weight needs to be adjusted so that it weighs a specific amount.
CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE OF GOLD-WEIGHTS
Most adult men own a set of gold-weights or used the collections of a friend or family. The weights can be commissioned (produced specifically because someone ordered them to be made) or inherited from men on the mother’s side of the family. The Akan people believe also that, similarly to other intensely personal objects like stools, the owner’s soul becomes stored in the weights over time. This intimate relationship with the weights meant that it was believed that ancestors could exist in the land of the living through the weights. Therefore, ancestors were believed to be present at trading transactions and in other rituals. It is clear that these weights were culturally worth more than their weight in gold, as they allowed generations to connect with their ancestors.
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