Kumasi, Ghana – West Africa
On the road to Kumasi, we left our vehicles and made our way up stairs through dilapadated rooms and came out on the second level of a merchant with tons of “stuff” for sale. Burlap bags of trade beads…an entire room with carved chief’s chairs in different sizes and stages of disintergration; antique gold weights; bronze figurines from all over Africa…the array was stupifying. The six of us set to immediately…dumping out bags on the floor…examining …and bargaining. (See some of our “finds” at the end of this entry.) Completely brain-dead from all the power-shopping-decision-making, we continued the drive to Kumasi, second guessing ourselves….”should we have bought the gold weights?….how about the bronze figurine?…” Very exhausting.
A little background information:
– Gold weights were used to weigh gold dust for about five centuries. The first ones were geometric forms, but by the 17th century, forms representing humans, animals, etc., started appearing.
– Trade beads are found all over West Africa and there is a big demand by collectors for rare ones. They were originally created in Europe (Venice, Bohemia, and Holland). The history of these beads date back to the 15th century when Portuguese trading ships arrived. The beads were a major component of the currency exchanged for people (slaves) and products. Millions of beads were traded to Africa, and eventually designs were produced specifically for the African trade, e.g. millefiori, and chevrons. I am definitely not a collector – call me a “hunter-gatherer” – but it was impossible to resist these extremely colorful necklaces.
– “Stools” and “chairs” play a big role in Ghana. It is the first gift a father gives his son and as the child grows, bigger and bigger chairs are given to him. It is also considered an insignia of rank. King Tutu, the founder of the Ashanti kingdom, had a gold stool! There was no solid gold chair available, but this one was…and how were we going to get this home?
Kumasi is the historical and spiritual capital of Ghana and has a population of neary one million. A big city with a fantastic central market, one of the biggest in Africa where traders from all over Africa come to sell their wares. Leather goods, pottery, kente cloth along with fruits, vegetables and provisions were sold here.
The Ashanti people were one of the most powerful nationals in West Africa until the end of the 19th century when the British annexed Ashanti country. There were going to be two main highlights in Kumasi: visiting a local Ashanti King and attending an Ashanti funeral. First up was a visit to a local King. But before we even entered a simple building, there was another tribal dance taking place in the area.
After that, we were ushered into the presence of the King….sitting in his study with a Christian calendar behind him…
…absolutely loaded with more “bling” on one person than I have ever seen and dressed in colorful “Kente” cloth (once made exclusively for Ashanti kings of silk). This massive gold jewelry was centuries old and probably extremely heavy. Ghana was not named the “Gold Coast” for nothing! Europeans came to Ghana over 500 years ago searching for gold and obviously found it.
The little boy sitting at his feet, was his ritual arms bearer.
Tomorrow was a long-awaited Funeral…the first time any of us ever looked forward to attending a Funeral…