- Museum number
- Series: Asante Gold
Fly whisk made from an elephant's tail (sika mmera) decorated with gold and silver binding and with gold and glass beads. The central part of the tail, now forming the handle of the whisk, is covered with textured gold sheet decorated with dot marks punched from the rear, possibly in imitation of the ray or shark's skin used to create sheaths for state swords. The larger section of this gold sheet is attached to the elephant tail by a number of domed nails or rivets. There are two bands of interwoven gold and silver strips arranged in chevron patterns on either side of the grip which is also covered with gold sheet. This probably contains a protective suman (charm) as, where parts of the sheet gold have been lost, small areas of cloth binding are visible beneath the gold. Lost wax cast gold beads and multicoloured glass beads have been bound to the hairs of the tail which form the whisk using black and blue cotton thread. Some, perhaps all of this thread appears to be machine made.
- Production date
- 19thC(late) (?)
Height: 56 centimetres
Width: 6.50 centimetres
Depth: 3.50 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- The elephant, an obvious symbol of power, was a royal beast and whoever killed one was supposed to surrender its tusks, tail and ears to the monarch. The ears were used as drum skins, the tusks made into side blown trumpets and the tail became fly whisks.
Elephant-tail flywhisks (sika mmera) are traditionally carried by small boys (aperahofo) who always walk and perform their public duties in pairs. These boys are normally the grandsons and nephews of the king or chief for whom they work, and they are not paid for their service. Their office is the least important of all the posts in an Akan court. Flywhisks are held in the right hand, but rested, when not in use, on the left shoulder. They are not allowed to touch the bearer’s skin, but rest upon a fold of cloth drawn up over the shoulder. Aperahafo walk in pairs just in front of the king they serve in processions, one to each side, while they flourish their flywhisks from time to time. When their master is seated, they are grouped behind and to each side of his chair or stool. Not every chief is allowed the use of elephant-tail fly-whisks as part of his regalia; only prominent male citizens or court members who had accumulated sufficient reserves of gold dust and jewellery were honoured with the title oberempon or ‘big man’ and were allowed to possess one. The ceremony where such an honour was publicly conferred took the form of a mock elephant hunt through the streets of the big man’s neighbourhood where he would enact hunting and killing an elephant.
It is unclear if the beads were originally fixed using cotton thread or whether it has been added at some later date.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2009-2016 8 Jun-11 Jul, London, BM, G24, 'Relating to Ancestors'
- Fair. Sheath has numerous holes and splits. Some of hemispherical balls are missing. Fly-whisk hairs are damaged at ends.
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Previous owner/ex-collection number: R.3787/1937 (Wellcome Collection number)