Visual Archaeology Interpretation



Akan Gold Photograph Doran Ross

The thread follows the needle.
No one goes to the house of the spider to teach it wisdom.
When the occasion arises, it calls for an appropriate proverb.
A proverb is the wisdom of all and wit of one.
Only the elephant can uproot the palm tree.
When a chief falls, it is said, “A great tree has fallen.”

Akan Proverb

Grade Level K-12
Art • Language Arts

One of the distinctive features of Akan art is that images from their environment and culture are directly related to proverbs. This verbal/visual connection pervades the visual arts, dance, and music. The Akan peoples, including the Asante, use proverbs everyday and on formal occasions of every variety. A casual "how are you doing?" might prompt the response "no condition is permanent." This spontaneous use of metaphoric speech in informal situations reveals the Akan use of visually-oriented verbal images which are typically conventionalized proverbs, in addition to being a way of thinking and speaking. Formal occasions, by contrast, call for a more formalized use of language, and here proverbs play their most important role. Speech making and debate are crucial means of communication, and eloquence is always highly respected.
The ability to speak with wisdom, confidence, and conviction is especially valued by the Akan, and best understood through the office of okyeame, wise advisor to the Asantehene and other chiefs. At public events the okyeame (pronounced o-cham-ee) sits or stands next to the Asantehene for whom he acts as chief advisor, judicial advocate, military attaché, foreign minister, prime minister, and political trouble-shooter. He offers prayers and toasts, is known as the authority on local lore and customs, and serves as intermediary between the king or chief and those who wish to talk to him. People who wish to converse with the chief speak instead to the linguist, who in turn speaks for them to the chief. Conversely the king or chief does not speak directly to his subjects or guests but speaks through the linguist who embellishes his words with appropriate metaphors, proverbs and other sayings.


The Asante value gold above all other metals, and in the past, besides making gold jewelry, they used gold dust as money. When a man wanted to buy something, he carried a bag containing a little brass box of goldweights, and a scale. The goldsmiths with all the skill and care they used in making jewelry made the goldweights. At first the weights were made in simple geometric shapes. Later they took the form of animals and people, plants and insects, stools, state swords, guns and drums. Many of the weights illustrated proverbs.

The method of casting jewelry and goldweights, the lostwax process, is still used today in West Africa by makers of fine metalwork. The goldsmith first models the piece of sculpture in wax. He makes the model solid if it is a small goldweight. For a larger sculpture he shapes the wax over a core of clay. The finished model is painted with a thin watery mixture of fine clay, and then coated with layers of coarse clay to make the mold for casting. When the mold is heated, the wax melts and runs out through a hole left by the wax. Then molten metal is poured into the mold to fill the space left by the wax. After the goldsmith judges that the metal is cool and hard, he breaks open the clay, takes out the casting, and smoothes and finishes it with a file.

Wrapped in Pride Exhibition

Akan Cultural Symbols Project

African Art and Life: University of Iowa Stanley Collection of African Art

Wrapped In Pride Lesson Plan


Akan Art and Proverbs

















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Copyright ©2004 Linda Kreft