Diminutive Akan Bronze Goldweight Demon 

Standing less than 4″ tall, this tiny demon packs plenty of charismatic menace. A recent arrival to QBO, it will be on offer at our upcoming Beehive Sale (3rd St, downtown Corvallis, Fri & Sat.) This figurine was made by the Asante (or Ashanti), part of the Akan people of Western Africa. Historically, the Akan kingdoms were located in the present-day countries of Ghana, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire and Benin, today the Asante people number around six million. The Asante traded broadly with their neighbors so these figurines spanned quite a geographic range even before they started being reproduced as souvenirs in the 20th and 21st centuries.

From its pointed face with broad, faceted eyes and curved mouthparts, spurs coiling off its long legs and insect-like wings, it’s possible this represents a locust-demon, in which case the leafy plant it sits astride would be a food-crop. Because locusts swarms can trigger famines, they were regarded in early history as god-sent plagues of punishment, or demons personified. 

Or, this demon may be a Sasabonsam (or Asanbosam), a human-like West African vampiric entity believed to live up in trees, always ready to EAT any unlucky human who intrudes into their territory. Sasabonsam have pink skin, long red hair, legs that loop around in the wrong direction, iron fangs and hooked iron feet. Oh, and 20′ bat wings, all the better to swoop down upon their prey! But, they’re only dangerous to humans. In nature they are protectors who oversee the forest’s cycles of renewal, so perhaps this one is actually perched on a tiny tree. 

In either case, demon effigies can be used as protective charms, facing away from their owner and out toward the world and any approaching threats. To that end, this figurine carries in its left hand a rattle, bell or ritual gong striker. With its right it brandishes an Akrafena, a curved Asante sword used in battle, as the primary weapon of the king’s bodyguards, and in ceremonies and rituals. The Akrafena was adopted as an Asante national symbol by Asante emperor-king Asantehene Opoku Ware the First in 1723. 

These Akan Bronze Goldweights (or mrammuo) have been made for at least 500 years and although decorative, they serve a practical purpose – weighing out gold dust, historically a currency used for trading throughout Africa. Authentic goldweights are based on the Islamic and Sahelian mithqāl, a unit of mass equal to 4.25 grams (0.149 oz). Goldweights are made by hand-sculpting figures in wax and then casting them in brass (not bronze in spite of their name.) 

They come in teeny (around the size of a lady bug) to ‘large’, like this demon, and are rendered in an astonishing variety of shapes: people doing everyday tasks, naughty couples and threesomes, deities, demons, both ritual and ordinary objects, and mythical animals such as conjoined crocodiles or the hero of Akan folklore, Anansi the wise trickster spider. There are also real animals such as lions, leopards, horses, chickens, lizards, turtles, fish, cranes, peacocks, beetles and scorpions. Weights too small to be figurines are tiny blocks impressed with traditional symbolic designs, each telling its own story. Akan religion, folklore and cultural life are richly complex so a complete, graduated set of these weights holds a great deal of meaning and is an elite status symbol as well as representing a substantial investment for the owner. 

Maybe start your own set with a tiny, perimeter-protecting demon? Hope to see you soon!