Traditional goldsmithing: an analysis of symbolism in goldsmithing and gold products at Tarkwa

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It is not the main aim of this dissertation to present a complete list and account of all the techniques and working procedures of gold work in the traditional society. The plan of the thesis transcends the framework of these techniques and processes into the field of mystery, and symbolism in gold work as a whole. The author seeks to investigate in what form symbolism occurs in gold products at Tarkwa, the basic meaning developed in their uses and the significance of their general acceptance to the Ghanaian traditional community. To analytically demonstrate this in the goldsmith’s art is therefore the main object of this thesis. The choice of illustrations and their interpretation have been guided by this intention. It is a research effort aimed at collecting essential facts about a Ghanaian civilization - goldsmithing - in which rites and rituals combine to play an important role. In recounting and analysing the smith’s craft we have a picture of a well-ordered society, rich in traditional beliefs and custom. In the thesis ‘gold products’ denotes jewelry that have been fabricated and cast by the cuttle-fish bone casting technique. This is the method used by the smith of Tarkwa to the neglect of lost-wax casting technique. Therefore, this technique does not form a subject of discussion in the thesis, although its art forms and symbolism can as well appeal to the society. The thesis introduces the people of Tarkwa and gives a general literature review of gold in Ghana. It also looks at some of the important rituals performed by the native gold seeker and the smith in the course of their work. Here, the reader’s attention is briefly focused on the furnace, workshop and the system of apprenticeship. Efforts have been directed to examining the social background of the smith and the hidden mystery of his art. The smith’s adoption of the society’s style and method of work features prominently in the discussion. Style becomes identical with form and function. Therefore, an indepth analysis of traditional and contemporary forms and function of jewelry and their underlying significance in the society has been made. A closer look at symbolic designs also forms another major area under review. The concluding part of the thesis gives a summary and examines some of the problems facing the smith’s craft. Suggestions and recommendation have also been made towards the advancement and bright prospects of the craft.
A thesis submitted to the Board of Postgraduate Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the Degree of Master of Arts in African Art, 1992