African designs, £9.99
AOA 1953,Af.5.1;AOA Q73,Af1012;AOA Af1818,1114.27a and b
Room 1: Enlightenment
Stool, leather treasure bag and sandals
Kumase, Asante kingdom (modern Ghana), West
Late 18th-early 19th century AD
'These items were made for life, to be used in the everyday. You can identify this by the worn effect of the leather bag, so too with the stool (for sitting) and the shoes (for wearing). I especially like the main design on the bag. These bold designs and symbols are a feature that travelled with the indigenous peoples of Africa to the Caribbean, who themselves migrated to England and other places. It is found in fabric for wearables and domestic interiors. My mother used to call these fabrics "big eye cloth", fabrics with bold symbolism in contrasting colours and wild repeats, often sold in market places here.' Janet Browne, of Antiguan origin
By the nineteenth century the Asante kingdom was at the height of its wealth and influence. It maintained a lucrative trade in kola nuts to the north as well as exploiting local gold resources to satisfy European demand on the coast. In exchange for gold and slaves, the Asante imported firearms.
In 1817, the African Company despatched a diplomatic mission to Kumase to foster Asante-British relations. Their main aim was to increase trade and to prevent further military incursions by the Asante along the coast. The mission itself led to a short-lived and unsuccessful treaty. Thomas Edward Bowdich, initially a junior member of this party, is principally remembered for his acute observations of the Asante recorded in a detailed account called Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee. His writing style eloquently captures both the excitement of encountering the new and the horror at some of the spectacles the party witnessed upon reaching the capital at Kumase. Although lacking analytical insight, the book has proved an invaluable descriptive resource for anthropologists and historians interested in the Asante kingdom at this time.
Bowdich also made an important and systematic collection of objects, now mostly housed at the British Museum. The collection represents the main technologies available to the Asante and gives an indication of the extent of their trading networks. Many of the objects are everyday items such as the leather sandals and the wooden stool pictured here. However, the leather treasure bag was a gift from a senior Asante.
B. Burt, Africa in the world: past and (London, British Museum Press, 2005)
J. Mack (ed.), Africa: arts and cultures (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)