Asante Ewer

Asante Ewer

Height: 62.000 cm (approx.)

P&E 1896,7-27,1

'It reminds me of a gourd called inkezo, igula and umlengezi which comes from a dried out pumpkin. These three types of vessels are used as household utensils equivalent to cups, basins or flasks in many parts of Africa. Travellers from other cultures noticed this. The pumpkin, in its dried form became a multi-purpose utensil. It was even used for musical instruments such as the xylophone (known as the African piano) and umakweyana, used by capoeira musicians in South America.' Betty Nosipho Hlela, from Durban, Umlazi Township, South Africa

This ewer was discovered in 1896 in the Asante kingdom on the west coast of Africa. It represents a rare survival of a lidded bronze vessel from the last years of the fourteenth century. The astonishing fact of its survival is matched by its intriguing find spot, proverbial inscription and royal heraldry.

On the front of the jug are the royal arms of England that were current from AD 1340 to 1405. The neck of the jug is decorated with six, symmetrically placed roundels containing a falcon with spread wings. Around the belly of the jug is an inscription in Lombardic letters which reads:

He that wyl not spare when he may
He shal not spend when he would
Deme the best in every dowt
Til the trowthe be tryid owte

('He that shall not save when he can
Shall not spend when he wants to.
Suppose the best in every fear
Until the truth is known').

Without the survival of the lid, it would not have been possible to date the ewer to the final years of the fourteenth century. Each of the seven facets of the lid contain a lion facing left and a stag couchant (lying down), without chain, facing right. The use of these devices place the manufacture of the jug firmly in the last years of the reign of Richard II, who used the symbol of the white hart between 1390 and 1399.

What brought the ewer to the west coast of Africa? Two other English bronze jugs from the late fourteenth century were found at Kumasi at the same time as this example. This may suggest that they left England as a set and that they all originated from the household of Richard II. However, the mystery behind their arrival at the Asante kingdom is still unsolved. A photograph from 1887 shows the jug placed under a sacred tree in a royal palace, suggesting that these items were held in high regard by the Asante people.

On display: Room 40: Medieval Europe