Times & Places

The Trans-Saharan Gold Trade

Vast quantities of gold beneath the soil provided the basis for the Asante’s wealth. Centuries before the Kingdom of Asante (established c. 1701), numerous subgroups of Akan peoples mined gold in the forests and panned for gold in local waterways. From 1400 to 1900, gold dust and small gold nuggets served as currency throughout the region.

In order to complete transactions in gold, the Akan made weights equivalent to those used by their trading partners. Initially these weights approximated an Islamic ounce, the standard used in North Africa and the Middle East. With the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1470s, the Akan’s weight standards adapted to the new partnership. A similar evolution occurred in the 17th century when Dutch traders introduced another measuring system.

In addition to weights and a variety of containers for gold dust and nuggets, many utilitarian objects were necessary for the preparation and exchange of gold. These objects include scales, spoons, sieves, and blow pans (shovels).

Excerpt from

  • Roslyn Walker, The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana, Label text, 2018.

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