I. The history, significance and usage of Asante royal regalia continued

5 Necklaces

Long strands of beads (ayannee asaadee) are also worn as necklaces by both men and women in Asante. Occasionally necklaces are made of solid gold or cast gold links that are joined together to form long chains known as moan sika. Chains such as this are recorded by Bowdich (1819), Dupuis (1824) and others as being worn around the neck or crosswise over the chest and right shoulder underneath the clothing during major public events. Such chains were customarily restricted to the Asantehene and a few of the highest ranking chiefs. They are said to represent the cords that symbolically pull the soul of the ruler to the spiritual realm (Garrard 1989, 28).

6 Bracelets/anklets

Bracelets form a prominent part of the regalia of the Asantehene, the Queen Mother (Asantehemaa) and other chiefs and are worn in multiple numbers on both arms. Some bracelets are composed of hollow cast gold beads of abstract and representational forms strung on wire, cord or raffia while others are cast from solid gold. The most impressive examples of this type of bracelet are the cuffs (benfra), which are cast in one piece or are occasionally hinged and completely cover the wrist and lower half of the forearms. There is also an infinite variety of smaller, hollow cast or forged bracelets. Asante anklets (aberemponnaasee) are similar in form and composition to bracelets, only larger, and are worn in multiples on both legs in order to emphasize the rank and wealth of the wearer.

Bracelets worn on the right arm of Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II

Plate 4. Bracelets worn on the right arm of Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Tutu II (Image reproduced by kind permission of G. Frimpong)


7 Finger-rings/toe-rings

The Asante goldsmith has traditionally been called upon to produce a great variety of rings for every finger and toe, principally in cast, but sometimes in forged, precious metals. The range of motifs is perhaps wider than for any other category of regalia and can run the gamut from simple cast or stamped abstract bands to enormous hollow cast rings with freestanding symbolic animals and plants. There is a hierarchy of importance attached to their designs, with some reserved for the Asantehene and the paramount chiefs, while others are allowed to lesser chiefs, court officials or anyone wealthy enough to afford them.

Figurative rings are worn primarily by chiefs, on certain fingers and toes, for specific public appearances, while floral designs or more abstract patterns deriving from them can be used by both male and female royals. Some of the more abstract designs of finger-rings are appropriate only for a certain specified use because of their symbolic content, and are always worn on a particular finger, with those of the right hand taking precedence over those of the left.

8 Ear-rings

Cast gold rings decorated with linear spiral patterns are worn in the ears, in the nose or on the forehead and are one of the most ancient forms of gold jewellery known in West Africa. They date from the first millennium ad and continue to be made throughout the Sahel region, from the Atlantic coast in the west to the town of Gao in the east. From the 11th century ad onwards gold rings of this form were traded across the Sahara to North Africa, where they were acquired by European merchants.

9 Head-dresses

Many types of crowns, hats (collectively called ekye), turbans and headbands (abotire) are worn by the Asantehene, his chiefs and high-ranking members of the royal court. They are made of a variety of materials, including several types of cloth and hard and soft animal hides. According to tradition, the first item of royal head-dress was created by Osei Tutu, the founder of the Asante state. Versions of this head-covering continue to be created and are worn by the Asantehene-elect during the installation ceremony when he dances before the assembled chiefs and people carrying a state sword in his right hand and a shield in his left. Another head-dress that is only worn by sword-bearers and members of the royal bodyguard during rituals and public celebrations is the small kidney-shaped hard leather skullcap (krobonkye) which sits crosswise on the back of the head.

10 Head-dress ornaments

Most royal ceremonial head-dresses are richly ornamented with solid gold castings of animals, shells, leaves and amulets encased in precious metal coverings. The same forms can also be made of carved wood covered with gold foil. The head-dresses of some court personnel are further decorated with sheet gold or silver strips that are embellished with repoussé crescents and rosettes. All of these motifs have symbolic significance as they allude metaphorically and proverbially to the military prowess and bravery of those who wear them.

11 Hair-pins

The cast gold hair-pins (ntiriba or tiduaba) that are made in Ghana are stylistically similar to those seen in North Africa. These pins were worn by women in their carefully plaited hair or in elaborate wigs made of horsehair. The use of cast gold to make hair-pins indicates that such items were made for high-ranking female relatives of chiefs.