Akan

By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

GhanaAsante peoples

Vessel

Early-mid 20th century

Ceramic

H x W x D: 25.4 x 21 x 21 cm (10 x 8 1/4 x 8 1/4 in.)

Gift of Emil Arnold

69-35-36

Photograph by Franko Khoury

National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian Institution

Among the Akan-speaking peoples of southern Ghana and adjacent Côte d’Ivoire, ritual pottery and figurative terracottas are used in connection with funeral practices that date at least to the 1600s. Some of these traditions continued to the 1970s. One tradition known as abusua kuruwa (“family or clan pots”) employs highly decorated forms of domestic pottery. This Asante example with a long cylindrical neck and multi-lobed stopper is typical. Although these are often kept in shrines or stool rooms for use as water or medicine containers, their most important use is in funerals. All of the relatives of the deceased shave their heads, and their hair, along with the hair of the deceased, is placed in the pot as a symbol of the matrilineal clan unity. The ladder depicted on the side of the pot refers to a proverb about the inevitability of death (Cole and Ross 1979: 120).

Old postcard image of mmaso in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire. Photo by Robert Soppelsa.