By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Ghana; Asante peoples

Soul washer’s disk


H. 11.4 cm (4 ½”)

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase with funds from Margaret H. Demant, 1990.19

Objects commissioned by African rulers often bespeak wealth through the use of expensive, rare materials, complex technologies, and the appropriation of foreign iconography. Gold, ivory, brass, iron, copper, and beads are often associated with royalty, depending upon which materials are available locally or obtainable through long-distance trade. This repoussé gold emblem with a radiating floral motif reflects the Asante kingdom's pivotal position in the gold trade and the Asante's ability to adopt cultural elements from Islamicized nations to the north and from the European traders who arrived on the Atlantic coast to the south. This type of disk is called a "soul-washer’s badge" and was worn around the neck of an official who maintained the purity of the soul of the king or chief. The designs, as well as the spiritual function, of the badges may stem from Islamic tooled leather talismans worn by the Asante.