Once called the Gold Coast, the modern day country of Ghana has long been known for its abundant resources of gold that propelled the development of trade and caused one of the most significant outpourings of art from West Africa. Slaves and European firearms, as well as other luxury goods, also factored prominently in regional and international commerce.
This wooden stool is covered with handsome repoussé (hammered) brass sheeting that suggests ownership by a high-ranking court official or royalty from one of the Akan kingdoms. The stool’s hallmark upward curving seat ultimately derives from the original Golden Stool—the Sika Dwa Kofi or “the Friday-born Golden Stool”—of the Asante kingdom. The Asante are preeminent among the Akan kingdoms, and their Golden Stool, which is traced to the beginning of the 18th century, is venerated as the central symbol of the Akan people.
Akan art is distinguished by imagery and abstract patterns that correlate with a repertoire of thousands of proverbs addressing all aspects of life. This stool is no exception. The support of the stool depicts a powder keg and two rifles, one front and one rear, communicating military might while also reflecting one of the key goods of European trade—firearms. Narrative and symbolic images on the seat further enrich the expressive power of the stool. Flanked by bands of geometric patterns and two pairs of crossed swords, the central field of the seat depicts three captives being led away by captors, whose brimmed hats suggest they are European. Beneath this unusual scene are two birds, each with its head turned toward its tail, that derive from the Akan system of graphic symbols known as adinkra. These two images represent the adinkra sign for sankofa. Poignantly touching an egg (the future) to the tail (history), the sankofa symbol reminds that history provides the lessons for the future. The juxtaposition of the scene showing both the captives and the sankofa birds, combined with the powder keg and rifles, may suggest that a ruler needs to wield force in order to guarantee safety. However, given the subtlety of the Akan intellect and the role of proverbs and symbols as a basis of oratory and debate in their society, a message could be drawn that the European source of guns and gun powder, and the benefits of trade and regional domination they made possible, was also the source of grief not to be forgotten.