British Museum collections, £12.99
Silver-gilt dish with a gold soul-bearer's badge
Dish: London, England, AD
Badge: Asante (Ashanti) Kingdom, modern Ghana, late 19th century AD
This silver-gilt dish was commissioned by William Alleyne, Marquess of Exeter and aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria and made in London by Robert Garrard (1793-1881) in 1874. The coronet and crest of the Marquess appears on the back of the dish. The gold badge in the centre of the dish was collected by Sir Garnet Wolseley's expedition in the first Asante War of 1873 as part of the indemnity obtained from the Asantehene (king of the Asante) Kofi Kakari, and later sold at auction at Garrard's.
Gold pectoral discs are worn by the young Asante male servants who acted as messengers and observers for paramount chiefs or the Asantehene. Referred to as akra ('souls'), the discs indicate the wearer's close links to the king and his position as a trainee for higher office.
By the nineteenth century the Asante had developed into a major power based on trade and warfare. Luxury European goods - such as silver vessels, clothing, flags, canes and hats - were donated to chiefs along with European guns and powder.
However, the centralized kingdom of Asante came under threat in the second half of the nineteenth century due to different government policies: one based on expansion via warfare and conquest, the other requiring peaceful development and trade. The British presence in Asante politics increased and in 1874 a British expedition invaded and partially destroyed Kumase, the Asante capital. In 1896 the Asantehene and some of his chiefs were forced to leave Kumase and lived in exile in the Seychelles. He was not to return until 1924 and in 1933 the Asante confederacy was restored under Prempe II (1892-1970).
M.D. McLeod, The Asante (London, The British Museum Press, 1981)