African textiles, £10.99
Gold pectoral discs
Asante (Ashanti), 19th century
Court regalia worn by chiefs and servants of the Asantehene
The southern coast of Ghana in West Africa used to be referred to by Europeans as the Gold Coast due to the production and trade of gold. Portuguese traders arrived in West Africa in the late fifteenth century and named the meeting place with the local ruler Elmina ('the Mine'), in reference to the widespread use of gold in the region.
Gold production formed an important part of the Asante economy and trade with Europe. All nuggets were surrendered by the finder to the king, the Asantehene, who employed craftsmen (sikadwinfo) to convert nuggets into gold dust for royal use. By the nineteenth century gold was used to buy weapons, European metalwork and luxury items.
One of the widespread items of goldwork was the pectoral disc, kra, worn by the servants of the ruler, who 'washed' or purified the king's soul. The kra are therefore sometimes referred to as 'soul-washer's' discs. However, they are also occasionally worn by the king himself, by girls at puberty rites or by the principal mourner at a funeral.
M.D. McLeod, The Asante (London, The British Museum Press, 1981)