Gold work from Asante

From Kumasi, Asante (Ashanti) Kingdom, modern Ghana, early 19th century AD

The Asante kingdom, since the end of the seventeenth century, had exploited vast local gold resources. In return for gold and slaves sold on the coast, the Asante imported firearms which they used to extend their rule.

These gold objects were collected in 1817 by Thomas Bowdich (1791-1824), who travelled to Kumasi as one of a party of four Britons, a diplomatic mission despatched by the African Company of Merchants in order to improve Asante-British relations. At that date the Asante kingdom dominated the interior of the Gold Coast and was the source of much of the trade reaching the European forts on the coast. The mission became one of the earliest scientifically planned ventures into the interior of Africa to leave a detailed account of its observations and discoveries.

Bowdich's account of their stay in the Asante capital, published in Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (1819), remains the best account we have of the Asante state at the height of its power. The author's attention to detail, the accuracy of observation and the wide range of inquiries made and recorded make it a valuable source for anthropologists and historians. Bowdich also made a collection of local art and craft work, the majority of which survives in the British Museum. He tells us little about how he formed his collection, yet it has the appearance of having been made in a systematic way.

The specimens he obtained represent the main indigenous technologies available to the Asante. Here are illustrated several items of goldwork: small castings of a sanko (a musical instrument), bell, drum and two pectoral ornaments.

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More information


M.D. McLeod, The Asante (London, The British Museum Press, 1981)

M.D. Mcleod, 'T.E. Bowdich: an early collector in West Africa' in Collectors and collections, British Museum Yearbook No. 2 (London, The British Museum Press, 1977), pp. 79-104

T.E. Bowdich, Mission from Cape Coast Castle (London, J. Murray, 1819)


Length: 4.100 cm (musical instrument)
Length: 4.100 cm (musical instrument)
Diameter: 1.400 cm (drum)
Diameter: 1.400 cm (drum)

Museum number

AOA Ethno 1818.12-15.2;AOA Ethno 1818.11-14.3;AOA Ethno 1818,12-15.7;AOA Ethno 1818,12-15.5-6


Collected by Thomas Edward Bowdich (1817)


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