King Otumfuo Osei Tutu, the 16th Asantehene, King of the Ashanti. Photo source
Seeing an Indian or Sumatran bride one may be overwhelmed by the amount of gold jewelry they are traditionally decorated with. But if one happens to see the king of Asante in all his ceremonial attire the impact will be even more impressive.
Asante (Ashanti) used to be one of the most successful and powerful kingdoms of West Africa. Natural gold resources brought wealth and influence to the country. Gold dust was the currency and gold objects were symbols of power and prestige. The wearing of gold jewels and gold decorated regalia was restricted to the king and major chiefs, and certain of their senior officials and servants. Gold-dust which had been accumulated during a successful career could only be turned into regalia with the king's permission. The amount, size and form of gold ornaments used by officials at each lever of the hierarchy was strictly determined.
Asante chiefs wearing gold ornaments. Photos source
This gold jewelry and regalia was usually seen only on special days when senior chiefs appeared in public heavily decorated with gold and wearing rich silk robes. The weight of gold that the king wore on his arms, wrists and fingers was so great that he was obliged to rest his hands on the heads of small boys who stood before him.
Gold jewels also served as badges to show the rank of the wearer. Circular gold plates suspended around the neck were usually worn by special royal servants called "king's souls". Crescentic gold pectorals were given as rewards to the priests of gods who were believed to have helped the Asante.
Asante gold necklace, 19th c. the British Museum
Gold regalia often featured in the reports of admiring European visitors to the Asante court in the early 19th century. In 1817 the British envoy Thomas Bowdich spent three months in Kumasi where he received a state reception. He left a vivid description of the richly ornate court of the Asantehene Osei Bonsu:
" the royal stool, entirely cased in gold, was displayed under a splendid umbrella, with drums, sankos [harp-lutes], horns and various musical instruments, cased in gold, about the thickness of cartridge paper; large circles of gold hung by scarlet cloth from the swords of state, the sheaths as well as the handles of which were also cased; hatchets of the same were intermixed with them; the breasts of the Ocrahs [soul-washers], and various attendants, were adorned with large stars, stools, crescents, and gossamer wings of solid gold."
Asante ceremonial dancer in traditional royal attire. Photo source
Displays of gold objects can still be seen on ceremonial occasions in Kumasi, Ghana. The Asante monarchy continues as a constitutionally protected, sub-nation state and traditional state within Ghana. Asante king still rules over his people and on special days he bedazzles the crowd appearing in public all covered with royal gold from head to toes.