African Gold-weights in the British Museum

Fiona Sheales

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Glossary of Twi terms used in the text


abebusem (pl. mmebusem) a proverb or saying

abosodee a representational lost wax gold casting which is attached to the sheath of a state sword

abosom (pl. obosum) god, power, divinity

abrammuo (pl. mrammuo) a gold-weight

abusua matrilineal descent group

abusua kese great matrilineal clan

adaka box or chest for storing gold-dust

adaka kese the Asantehene’s Great Chest, used for storing reserves of gold-dust

adampan open rooms overlooking the street in elite houses

adawa antelope

adinkra dark brown, red or black cloth stamped with black designs worn at funerals, or light-coloured cloths with stamped designs worn on festive occasions

adwini ba bone spatula

adwini dua wooden spatula

adwini pono a wooden block used to fashion wax on

afa bellows

afena sword

afenatene a long sword with multiple blades

afotosanfo trained weighers and servants of the royal bedchamber

akaa wax

akaa tatere flat round cakes of wax

akoben side-blown elephant horn


akoko ani a small seed weight (literally ‘a chicken’s-eye’)

akonkromfi chair with folding legs and decorated with brass-headed nails based on a European prototype

akontuma large balance scales used for weighing heavy amounts of gold-dust

akrafena swords of the soul

akuaaba(pl. akuamaa carved wood fertility figures

akyeneboa monkey

anansesem folk tales

Asantehene title of the Paramount Chief of Asante

asipim chair decorated with brass tacks, copied from a European prototype

asuman (pl. suman) amulets/fetishes

aya a chevron-patterned fern leaf

bala lute harp

banda/benda originally the name of a flat metal currency bar but also of a gold-weight

bata a civet cat

batafo state traders

batakarikese a man’s outfit comprising a tunic and head-dress that are covered in amulets; this outfit is worn during times of conflict including war and at important funerals

bodua horsetail flywhisk

bosomfena swords of the ego, personality (literally ‘swords of the God’)

cire perdue the lost wax casting method

damma seeds of the Abrus pecatorius bush occasionally used as gold-weights

dampon kese a room in the chief’s palace in which the treasury was kept

dwa the state of being cool

dwanimen the ram’s horn symbol

dwinfour the goldsmiths’ quarter of Kumase in the early 19th century

ebura a furnace

ekyem shield

famfa (pl. mfamfa) scoop used for removing impurities from gold-dust

foa wax model of the object to be cast

forowa (pl. mforowa) vessel constructed from sheet brass, usually used for keeping vegetable oil or shea butter pomade

fotosanfo a gold-weigher in the chief’s treasury

Fotosanfohene ‘keeper of the leather bag’ (i.e. the bag containing the royal gold-weights)

futuo the leather bag or cloth and skin wrappings in which the gold-weighing equipment is kept

futuo-bo/futuro-bo name of a swastika motif

Gyasehene Head Treasurer

Gyasewa fekuo the name of the Asante state exchequer

gyata lion

gyinae casting sprue

huhuamoa gold-dust sieve

hwedom large chair with flat backs and stretchers copied from a European prototype

karibo a metal or stone gold-weight

kente narrow-strip cloth with complex weft inlay patterns

keteanofena swords of state (literally ‘edge of the sleeping mat swords’)

kotokuo(pl. nkotokwaa) leather satchel or money bag, made in pairs, one to hold the chief’s gold and the other his weighing equipment

kra soul or life-force

Kramo a name for Muslims who resided in the Akan region and those that lived in the northern states of Gonja, Kong and Dagomba

kuduo cast brass vessel used for storing gold nuggets, gold-dust and valuables, also used as a container during rituals for offering drink, food and sacrifices to ancestors and spirits

kuwamu a common motif of a crocodile eating a mudfish

Kwaman name by which the Asante were known before the battle of Feyiase in 1700–1

mforowa (s. forowa) sheet brass containers for storing shea butter pomade

mpane an iron needle

mithqal Islamic weight unit used for weighing gold

mframa nsenia ‘wind scales’

mmogye (s. abogye) human jawbones

mogya bloodline

mpaboa sandals

nkomma dwa stools

nkomma fufuo white stool

nkonnwa tuntum blackened ancestral stools

nsawa brass spoons used for gold-dust

nsuaefena sword on which oaths are sworn

ntakara feather, used for extracting gold-dust from box; also a quill used for storing gold-dust

ntoa belt worn by soldiers that holds small knives, cartridge containers and powder flasks as well as amulets

ntoro a named group with its own dietary and behavioural rules to which children belonged through their father; also a spiritual essence passed from father to child

ntuatire carved umbrella finial

odabaw tongs

Odwira the annual soul-washing rite

ohene a chief or big-man

okotoku kurani the royal treasury bag bearer

okyeame poma linguist’s staff

oware vernacular name for a board game, known generically as mancala

owo snake

peredwan a measure of approximately 70g of gold-dust

papa fan

puya European nest-weights

safi an Islamic amulet

safoa key

sanaa/ohene foto chief’s treasury (a larger money bag, the king’s purse)

sannaahene king’s treasurer

sankofa a common motif of a bird looking backwards

sankuo lute harp

sebe Islamic amulet

sekan/sepow blade/knife

semoa small clay crucible

sika gold

Sika Dwa Kofi ‘the Golden Stool born on a Friday’, the ultimate symbol of power in Asante

sikananfo(pl. sikadwumfo) goldsmith

sika futura gold-dust

sika mmera gold elephant-tail fly-whisk, symbol of wealth

sumpene circular stepped platforms or dais burnished with a coat of red clay

sunsum a part of the soul that is the essence, spirit or personality and inherited from an individual’s father

suru a weight representing £1 worth of gold-dust

taa tobacco

taasen tobacco pipe

togyefo tax collectors

twaboo touchstone for testing the purity of cast gold ornaments or nuggets

Twi language spoken by the Akan peoples of Ghana

uqiya Islamic weight unit used for weighing silver

ya abuse

yawa imported brass vessels