Culture

Thanks to the high content of raw materials, particularly gold, in their country, the Ashanti are excellent goldsmiths and have kept alive the splendid tradition of jewelry in this noble metal. But there are fewer remaining traditional terra cotta funerary sculptures which, in spite of only intermittent practice through centuries, remains nevertheless one of the essential components of their rich cultural heritage, in addition to the more obvious signs of royalty (royal jewels, treasures, thrones and seats, crowns, sandals, swords...). The first accounts of the European travellers from the XVIIe century unambiguously report the ritual practice of the funerary portrait.

It is thus on the fortieth day after the death of an important figure that a short family ritual followed by a celebration which takes place to dedicate both the terra cotta effigy and the smaller figures of its close relations.

Pieter de Marees notes that « ... all the affairs of the deceased, including his weapons and clothing, are buried with him and all the gentlemen who had served him are naturalistically represented in clay, and then painted. They are arranged around the tomb, one beside the other... »

However, these sculptural representations are not portraits. There is a naturalist element to the piece, with a great wealth of details: the faithful representation of a complicated hairstyle, exact restitution of plaits, braids, chignons, small buns of hair, various scarifications, a beard, and a necklace. Apart from this realistic style, the artist also represented more « traditional » appreciations of beauty, hand crafted, artistically free interpretations of the deceased, more suggestive, evocative, cultural, and ethnically identifiable, thus facilitating the mysterious poetic relationship between man and the supernatural, between life and death.