Brass casting at Ampabame Krofoforom: a case study

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Ampabame Krofoforom is a new township that is growing up in the south-western part of the Kumasi metropolis. It is about ten kilometres from the centre of Kumasi, on the old Bekwai road. [See Appendix 1] The establishment of this town has come about by the coming together of the people of four neighbouring villages namely: Adumasa, Abuabuta, Kwaso and Apaaso. These were all small farming villages. It was around 1959 when the chiefs and elders of these four villages met to plan a new township that will be closer to the city of Kumasi and which will give them access to some social amenities of the metropolis. Since the late seventies there had been a dramatic development in the way new block houses have been springing up in the town. This is mainly due to the fact that raw materials for building such as sand, stones and clay are in abundance within the environment. The brass casting industry of the town is also providing a great source of income for the majority of the people to raise their standard of living. Since the late eighties, Ampabame Krofoforom has been identified as a growing tourist centre mainly due to the attraction of its brass casting industry. The total population is about 2,000. The main occupations are farming, sand quarrying and brass casting. This town consists of about eighty households. The majority of the houses are built of mud and the inside plastered with cement screed and roofed with corrugated aluminium sheets. Brass casting workshops are scattered all over the town and craftsmen are found busily working most of the time. Each of the four villages settled in the new township has its own chief, but the local administration of the town rests in the hands of the Town Development Committee [T.D.C.]. This committee is responsible for the development projects that are being undertaken in the town. However, the chiefs are playing their role as traditional rulers. The four chiefs co-operate with the Town Development Committee for the town’s development. New development projects such as a new Junior Secondary School block, a bore hole, water supply and electrification projects are being carried out in the town. The study is about brass casting in this town. We cannot properly deal with this topic without touching on the place/significance of brass casting in the Asante society in general. R.S. Rattary (1923) has written, “There is a considerable literature dealing with the subject of Ashanti weights dating back to 1676 and ending, so far as I am aware, with an excellent article by Mr. N.W. Thomas in the 1921 Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute”. This shows that this craft in Ashanti can be dated as far back in the seventeenth century but again he records: “The art of casting in brass and bronze did not reach any high state of development in Ashanti until after the foundation of the Ashanti Kingdom about 200 years ago” 2 It was after the formation of the Ashanti Kingdom that the business of gold- weight expanded. Some writers like Dr. Kyeremanteng, Timothy F. Garrand, George R. Ellis, Doran H. Ross and many more have provided very useful information of some traditional crafts including brass casting yet very little seems to be known about the industry. R.S. Rattary confirms this statement by saying: “It is certainly surprising that despite all that has been written on Ashanti weights, very little seems known about them”.3 This study will help throw more light the brass casting industry in Ashanti. Brass casting is seen here as an ancient craft of the Asantes Brass casting centres in Ashanti include; Bekwai, Ntonso, Atebubu (now part of the Brong Ahafo). Bonkrong near Ashanti Mampong, and Kwadaso in Kumasi just to mention a few. The products out of this industry serve many useful purposes; they y be personal, social, religious or political. Timothy F. Garrand writing on brass casting says: “Weights and scales were part of the essential equipment of every Akan stool, and many of the finest weights were made for stool treasuries. They were in the care of the chief’s treasurer or Sannaahene”. He added that: “The goidweights of a state treasury (Sannaa) were carefully preserved as one of the inalien- able possessions of the state. The treasury collection might contain several hundred weights and was far larger than the ordinary man’s futuo. It included both geometric and figurative weights, some of considerable artistic merit, and among these were a few of exceptional size. The futuo is brought out when the chief’s Kra (soul) is to be cleansed and purified. This is done once a year at the Funkuo festival. Goidweights were used at the chief’s court for weighing out fines imposed under customary law”.4 These products form a good part of the Asante chief’s regalia including gold ornaments. Doran H. Ross writes: “The most spectacular products of the Asante goldsmith’s art are the hollow cast gold ornaments adorning select ceremonial state swords, lions, pythons, antelopes and crocodiles join such non-African motifs as sugar and machine guns to celebrate the power of chiefs and state. The wealth of the former Gold Coast is made explicit in these royal emblems whose rich often cryptic symbolism reveals the strength of Ghanaian chieftaincy and the complexities of thought and action surrounding it”.5 Swords (afena) are second only to stools as crucial items of Akan regalia; even today they serve several critical roles in Asante ritual life. “Their most important political function” says Doran H. Ross: “is in the enstoolment of a paramount chief (omanhene), when the ruler-elect holds a specific sword while taking his oath of office. Subchiefs hold another sword while affirming loyalty to the new leader. Different swords are used in rituals purifying the chief’s soul and the black state stools. Still others are (or were) carried by the chief’s official messengers or envoys”. Most of these swords have ornaments. He continues: “Bodwich, at Kumasi in 1817, was the first to note the existence of Asante sword ornaments (abosodee): “Wolves, snakes and rams heads as large as life, cast in gold, were suspended from their gold handled swords, which were held around them in great numbers”.6 Other casting depicts a viper with hornbill in its mouth, a symbol of chiefly patience referring to a story about a long-standing debt owed by the bird to the snake says Doran H. Ross. At Kumasi this ornament adorns the largest principal sword of state. The name of the sword is Mponponsuo, meaning “responsiblity,” which according to Doran H. Ross, stems from the tradition that Asantehene Opoku Ware I (r. 1720-1750) used this sword to dedicate his life to his people in war. Another author, A.A.Y. Kyeremateng (1964), a native of Asante, an anthropologist and the founder of the National Cultural Centre in Kumasi points out: “Some swords are more powerful than others”.7 (Afena bi da obi so). Sword ornaments just as gold-weights are cast by the lost wax (cire perdue) process and can be nearly 30 centimetres long, although 13 to 18 centimetres is the average. Doran H. Ross writes: “They weigh between one half and one kilogram, but based on a comparison with other Akan gold- work, their actual gold-content is probably low (between six and ten carats). These hollow castings are relatively thin walled (1.5 - 0.3 centimetres), yet casting flaws are rare” He added that: “Abosodee motifs are drawn from the natural and manmade world of the Asantes. Iconography derives from their perception of this environment: the behaviour and relationships of animals, birds and fish; the growth patterns of plants; and the functions of various objects. Some animals are known for their strength, wisdom, bravery, or patience. A plant may be admired for its beauty, smell of longevity, and an object may be identified with peace, war, or the family. These associations are the foundation of sword ornament symbolism’
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 Postgraduate Diploma in Art Education, 1992